Hallowing the Name of God
The Prayer Jesus gave us to pray is two parts contemplation, three parts action, and concludes with one part celebration. That last part is voiced as “Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” It is a benediction of sorts and was added years after the ministry of Jesus. The action comes when the Prayer speaks of food to eat, forgiveness to seek, and evil to resist. With these petitions, we join with God in feeding the hungry, forgiving the wicked, and resisting all evil. That is all action!
It is the contemplation part of praying that I focus on today, and next week. Hallowing the name of God is the practice of entering the presence of God, honoring the voice of God, and surrendering to the purpose of God. Our church has a long history—if almost 22 years can be considered long—of contemplation as a fundamental form of worship. In our service today, chiming the hour and reflecting on the sermon testify to that tradition. Both call us to “be still and know that the Lord is God.” Both arise out of the practice of our Lord himself. The Gospel of Mark puts it this way: “It was very early in the morning and still dark. Jesus got up and left the house. He went to a place where he could be alone. There he prayed” (1:35).
Solitude, stillness, and silence are difficult for some people, including me and the whole clan of ADHD saints (unless, of course, I am reading and writing, both forms of activity). What is difficult for some of us comes naturally and warmly to some of you. But, then, some of you are hard to get moving! So, all of us practice patience and consideration for one another. None of us is perfect in all things that pertain to prayer. We are all seeking to pray the Prayer Jesus gave us, and believe the Prayer Jesus gave us, and live the Prayer Jesus gave us!
Today, as we calm our souls and rest our bodies here in the sanctuary and there in your kitchen, your car, or even your bedroom, let us say together the Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, saying: Our Father, creator in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Amen.
Yesterday, my sister called from Louisville. We talked about this and that, including that wonderful story in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8.
The Ethiopian diplomat is in his chariot, riding home from Jerusalem. He is reading the Bible, and thinking about what it says, and turning over in his mind the questions that percolate whenever we contemplate the great things of God. Suddenly, there is Philip, one of the Jesus people, thumbing a ride for no apparent reason.
What follows is a series of questions: Do you understand what you are reading? How can I unless someone explain it to me? Of whom, does the prophet write, about himself or someone else, and finally, What hinders me from being baptized?
They were on a desert road, the Bible says, and after this encounter, each disappears from sight: the Ethiopian, across the Sinai Peninsula and up the Nile river; and the Deacon—well, he vanishes into thin air, it seems. The text puts it like this: “The Spirit snatched him away, and the Ethiopian never saw him again.”
But there in the solitude of the desert and the stillness of the day, two strangers sat and talked, listened, and prayed. It was an episode of contemplation, of encountering the presence of God where it was least expected. The chariot traveler had been to Jerusalem to worship. It was there he had expected to encounter God and have his questions answered. But no, it was in the least likely place, on the desert road that goes south to Gaza, the text says.
It was right, then, that our conversation—my sister and me—turned to Ireland. “I wish you would go to Ireland with us,” she said. By us, she meant our brother David (who has been my house guest for a week and is even now on his 12-hour trip home) and our sister. The four of us meet several times of year: to connect, to laugh, to talk, and of course, to complain about how our parents messed up so many things! But in May, the three of them are leaving on a jet plane: to London, and Scotland, and Ireland. They want me to go.
I have been to London, several times; and I have been to Scotland, once, long ago. But I have never been to Ireland. Ireland is an enchanted land of islands, castles, and beer, plus St. Patrick. Among its celebrities I might mention the novelist James Joyce, the rockstar Bono, and of course, the famous convert and scholar C. S. Lewis. Ireland is known in Christian culture for its Celtic way of being Christian: their distinctive Celtic cross, the popular song “Be Thou My Vision,” and the island of Iona.
Have any of you been to Ireland? Are any of you of Irish descent?
The element of Ireland spirituality that most intrigues me is their understanding of what they call “thin places.” These are the sites where it is thought that the spirit world is close to the physical world, where heaven meets earth, where the Creator meets the creation, where the voice of God is heard most clearly and a vision of God is seen most surely.
The Prayer of Jesus calls us to seek and embrace the encounter with God; and often this happens at the thin places of our lives, the thin places on the landscape of our living. “Hallowing the name of God” brings us close to God. Surrendering to the purposes us God keeps us close to God. Where these things happen are the thin places of creation: sometimes in a cathedral and other times on a chariot; some times at a burning bush, with Moses, and sometimes in the sanctuary, with Isaiah.
The Bible does not tell us where Mary was when the angel of the lord appeared to her and said the now famous words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” but it became for her a thin place. I suspect she returned to that place again and again seeking answers and inspiration.
I would like to go to Ireland, just to think more deeply about the thin places of life’s journey.
Is this sanctuary a thin place?
Is this a place where you, any of you, have seen the glory of the Lord or felt the wind of the spirit? Is this a place where you have heard God speaking to you in ways that could not be silenced and shuttered?
Where have been the thin places of your journey? Perhaps where you were converted or baptized? Where you first fell in love with Jesus, or the Bible, or what the Irish call the Wild Goose? John Wesley wrote about his experience at the Moravian meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London: “My heart was strangely warmed….” It lit a fire in him that burned brightly all across the English Speaking world. Three centuries ago.
Two years ago, in the spring of the year, I was driving to Charlotte to take Sam home. I heard a song on the radio. With my phone, I played it over and over again.
I found a church today,” the Gibson brothers sang, “you led me to its doors. There was love about, it made my spirit soar. We had worship there and Jesus name was praised. And I sang along. I found a church today.” The song ended with these words, “I’ll come back next week, and bring a friend along. He needs to hear your word, she needs to sing your song. Keep a fire in me, don’t let me get away. It feels like home. I found a church today.
What he found was a thin place. What he found was a hallowing of the name of God. What she found was an encounter with the holiness of God.
Sometimes this encounter with God is when and where you think it might be. My life was changed, as a teenager, here in the mountains of North Carolina. It was there at Ridgecrest (less than 36 miles from here) that I first surrendered, as we say, to the call of God upon my life. I don’t like some of the imagery that word “surrender” evokes. But it is true: the surrender of the self to God is at the core of the Christian life. You just never know when it will happen, and where, and why.
God surprises us. The Lord appears in places and people we least expect. Often God appears, and we are not ready, we do not see, we cannot hear. We go on picking blackberries, the poet wrote.
There is an old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It speaks to reality of our journeys. Some days and some years, we are not ready to hear the truth or feel the grace or embrace the call of God. We are oblivious to what is around us that is full of grace and truth. Many people were alive in the time of Jesus but paid him no attention.
I wonder sometimes how many times God set a bush afire before one old man noticed and stopped and took off his shoes. I wonder sometimes how many angels God sent before one young woman noticed and listened and responded “I am the Lord’s servant.” I wonder sometimes how many times the warmth and beauty of the Lord filled that Moravian meetinghouse in London before one young man opened his heart and life to the guidance of God. I wonder…
Here is my John Prine illustration for the day.
I wonder how many times I heard that song Paradise before I was converted, baptized, and filled with the Muhlenberg spirit. That happened on June 12, 2020, when I read the Facebook post of a friend in Birmingham. He wrote, “Watch this this tribute video.” I listened and heard, for the first time, “Take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay.”
The irony is that the small village of Paradise lay on the banks of the Green River that wound its way through Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, into Daviess County, Kentucky, and then into the Ohio River just outside of Owensboro, Kentucky. On the banks of the Green River by father was born and in the waters of the Green River he was baptized. A half century later, I moved to the Green River basin to pastor Third Baptist Church, just a few blocks from what is now the Bluegrass Museum and Hall of Fame. How many times I must have heard that song on the radio, or “Sam Stone” or “Illegal Smile” or “Donald and Lydia.” And never paid any attention. Never noticed. Never heard. Stayed unconverted, I might say, for another 30 years almost.
How is it that we can ignore something for so long that suddenly, mysteriously, marvelously seizes our imagination and redirects our affections?
The music of John Prine is an illustration, but the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the real thing. How is it we can be indifferent one day, one year, and open and singing “Hallelujah” the next?
Perhaps we stumbled upon a thin place. Perhaps we have wearied of other roads, other songs, other lords. Perhaps we have failed too many times, and are finally are ready to hear those wonderful words, “Come unto me, all who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Perhaps we can not longer ignore the fire in the road and the sound in the heavens. Perhaps we feel for the first time the holiness of God, for the first time we are hallowing the name of God.
Perhaps this is the thin place you are looking for.