Ezekiel 36:18-27

They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them.  I scattered them to many lands to punish them for the evil way they had lived. 2But when they were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!’  Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

For the next few weeks, we will be talking about the Lord’s prayer.  Why is that? Because we do not understand the true meaning of the most common prayer spoken in the world today.  Well, actually, the most common prayer spoken in the world today is Allahu Akbar, which means “God is the greatest.”, which is a translation of the Hebrew phrase, “Yahweh is one” and good Muslims pray that five times a day, or even more.  

The Lord’s Prayer is the second most common prayer spoken around the world, spoken in churches every day in every denomination. It is a rote prayer that Jesus chose as a summary of what is called the Eighteen Benedictions, a much longer Jewish prayer that Jesus said was just too long.  In Matthew 6, Jesus said that prayers should be snappy. God already knows what we want to pray about, so let’s get to the point. The Jewish tradition at the time was to have common times of prayer, either twice or three times a day. And most prayers were recited, not made up on the spot, as the evangelical tradition has it.  So let’s say that there was a Mennonite tradition that every good Christian should be singing eighteen hymn lines a day, three times a day. Then Menno stood up and told his students, How about if we just do one hymn three times a day, and my hymn will kind of summarize the most important parts? That’s the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s prayer begins “Our Father” in English or “Pater hemon” in Greek. You can hear that the word “pater” doesn’t sound that different from our English word “father” because our word directly descends from the Greek.  But it’s kind of stilted. I never called my dad “Father”. Because it’s too formal. “O Father, mayest I obtain the unlocking mechanism to the vehicular transport?” I didn’t talk to my dad that way. I doubt many of us did.  So why do we talk to God that way? Well, because Jesus taught us to, right?

Something I want us to consider is how things are passed on to us.  We read the Bible and we assume that we got Jesus’ words or whatever because we haven’t read it any other way.  But in reality, when Jesus taught the prayer to his disciples and when he prayed to his Father, he used the word “Abba”.  Which didn’t mean that he expected God to break into a rendition of Dancing Queen. Although that would be interesting. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “dad” or “papa” , a more casual, more friendly term.  I”m not sure why, but when they were translating the prayer into Greek, there was a general agreement that Pater would be the right translation. Maybe because they felt that God needed a bit more distance.

Calling God “Papa” is an interesting choice.  It is supposed to remind us that God is tender, provides, compassionate and always there for us.  There is a problem with this. That many of us didn’t have fathers that were tender, provided well, compassionate or always there.  Many of us had distant fathers, fathers that didn’t really care, or fathers that were focused on anything but being a dad.

Jesus knew that.  In fact, Jesus says something interesting.  In Luke 11, Jesus says, “If your kid comes up to you and asks for a loaf of bread, you won’t give him a stone, will you?”  Jesus said this because some of the ancient loaves of bread kinda looked like a round stone, like this. So Jesus is saying that the dads he’s talking too wouldn’t try to trick their kids by giving them a rock to eat.  *looks sheepishly* I gotta admit, if I had thought of it… or if Jesus hadn’t told me not to, I might have tried that. Just as a joke, mind you. They would have rolled their eyes and said, “Daaaad” and I would have given them food.  I wonder if I can still get away with that. Anyway, so Jesus says then, “If you then, being evil know how to give good things to your kids.” Well, I guess SOME of us aren’t THAT evil. “Then how much more will God— a father who is NOT like me at all— will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.”  In other words, God will respond not with a trick or a bad gesture, but with power to actually give us something loving and what we need.

Jesus is saying, I know some of you guys are bad fathers.  And some of you guys had bad parents. But God is both the earthly father, not the biological father.  Not the parent that abandoned us or abused us or harmed us. We have a parent in the spirit world that actually cares for us.  That provides us with everything we need. That forgives us and helps us and is always compassionate, always on our side, no matter what anyone says.  A parent who is always empathetic. That’s God. The good parent. The parent in heaven who cares for us when our parents on earth won’t or can’t.

And then we get to the first request.  In Greek, a prayer is always stated in a command form, without even so much as a “please.”  That’s always bugged me, so sometimes in my translations I might put, “May you do this” or “please do this.”  But that’s not how it is in Greek. “God, hop to it! I got work for you to do! I’m saying it, so you better do it!”   And the first command of the Lord’s prayer, the first of seven is, “Hallowed be your name.”

The word “hallowed” is a weird word.  We don’t really use it anymore in English apart from the Lord’s prayer.  Sometimes we use it as “praised” or “glorified,” as if the first line in the prayer were a hymn of praise.  It’s not. It means, “Be holy.” So if we were going to read the line in the command form it would be, “Make. your name holy.”   God, right now, make your name holy! Like a Marine sergeant. Give me a hundred holy names right now!

If you think about it, that’s kind of weird. I mean, either God’s name is holy or it isn’t.  God has a name, in Hebrew it is Yahweh (or something close to that) and Jewish people didn’t even want to use that name because they didn’t want to mess the name up!  They wanted to take care that they didn’t make a vow they couldn’t keep in God’s name or they would accidentally use God’s name in a way that would be a curse against themselves or someone else and so besmirch God’s name.

But God’s name meant more than that.  And we can see what is meant by that in Ezekiel 36, which Marcia read a bit of.   God was talking to the nation of Israel just after Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple of Yahweh.  God tells them that he had to let Babylon do this because there were idols in the temple and the people weren’t doing the justice of God.  The whole land was corrupt, so God had to fix it. And NOW, God says, all the nations of the world are looking at Yahweh and saying, “You weren’t strong enough to protect your people.  You didn’t care enough about your people so you let other gods take them over,” because the general wisdom of the ancient world is that when nations battled, it was the gods of the nations fighting.

So God tells them, “My name has been sullied, made filthy because of your acts.  You did these horrible things and I had to clean up your mess and now the whole world is looking as if I am messed up.  My reputation is ruined.”

So God says, “I am going to make my name holy.  I’m going to clean up my reputation. I will do this by cleaning your heart, so you will do love and justice.  I will do this by sending you my Spirit so you can be loving in all you do. I will then bring you back to Jerusalem and I will rule you as the loving parent over a family of mercy and love.  And that’s how I’m going to make my name holy.”

Many years ago, I remember walking down the street and someone shook his fist as a local church and screamed toward the steeple, “Hypocrites!”   It is interesting that the majority of the west sees the main characteristic of the people of God is hypocrisy. They believe that the church is about hating homosexuals, oppressing women and supporting the military machine.  I wonder where they get that idea? They believe that the word of God, the people of God and the spirit of God is about violence, nationalism, white superiority and money grabbing. This is where the name of God stands. The reputation of God is waist deep in the crap of all the worst things in the world.  

The teaching of Jesus asks us to recognize that.  To cry out to God to repair the damage we have done to God’s name.   I am reminded of the sentence in the work of classic literature, The Cat in the Hat.  “This mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up, there is no way at all!”   Every time I talk to someone about Christianity, about God, this is the block. This is what stops.  This heretical teaching that has gone out into the world as if it were the very command of God to hate certain people and to support the evil empire of the world, when in reality it is actually the opposite!  God loves LGBTQIA. God cares for women and their health. It’s in the Bible. God loves the poor and wants them to live in justice. God is no respecter of any nation. Heck, God didn’t even create race, humanity did that!  God gives preference to the immigrant and the persecuted. But the twisted way the church is, the twisted teaching that fills the world, it seems like God intended that this evil persists.

So what did Jesus tell us to do?  The same with every situation that we can’t take care of ourselves.  Go to God and pray. When the doctors can’t help us, we need to pray to God for healing.  When we have people who are oppressing us and there seems no way out, we need to pray. And Jesus told us 2000 years ago to pray, “Our parent in heaven, clean up your name. Sanctify it.  Make it holy. Correct your sullied reputation.” Every day. Two or three times a day we cry out, “Sancify your name.” Even when we didn’t know what we were saying, we still speak out, “Make your name holy.”

And the answer is just the same as it ever was.  And we will talk about that more next time.

Steve Kimes