“Father” is a loaded word. Some of you are thinking right now about the dad you admired – or the dad you feared – or the dad you missed. So we don’t get hung up on our personal interpretations of the word “Father”, we need to know that when Jesus teaches His disciples to call the First Person of the Trinity “Father”, He is saying a lot more than just “Dad”. Or “Faja”, as our son calls me. Or “Father Dearest”, as our daughter calls me – with just a hint of sarcasm.
To the Hebrews, “father” meant not only the male parent, but also a person’s entire line of ancestors. Often in the Hebrew Bible we read, “So-and-So slept with his fathers” as a euphemism for “died”. It was through fathers that the line of life was traced – all the way back to God, who created human beings. The First Father. The Father of All.
In a similar – but infinitely smaller way – we say that George Washington is the Father of our country.
Because God is the ultimate source of our life – from the moment of creation, to our own conception and birth, to each day that we wake up and in each beat of our hearts – God is the source, the Father of our lives.
Here on earth, God has given Fathers the task of providing for their families to sustain their lives. That may sound a bit old-fashioned and chauvinistic, but God is the ideal to which fathers like you and me should aspire.
So to call God “Father” is to declare that He is the giver and sustainer of our lives. It’s an expression of the love and grace of God, demonstrated in His giving and sustaining our lives.
It is also an expression of our total dependence upon Him – that we do not draw even a single breath on our own. And that not a hair falls from our heads without His knowing about it.
So we pray with faith in His Fatherly love for us. John Calvin wrote that we “pray with the certain hope of obtaining our request” because we know that our heavenly Father loves us in fatherly fashion.
And Calvin continues, “… how angered God is by our distrust if we ask Him for grace which we do not expect to receive.” A loving father would be insulted if his child didn’t ask for something essential because he or she had so little faith in his or her father’s love. “Why didn’t you ask for a ride home from the party?” “I thought you’d say no.” That would cut out a good father’s heart.
So it is a bold step to call God “Father” when we pray – because it implies that we fully expect that He will do for us what is right. God wants to give us good gifts. He wants to extend grace to us. He wants to give us salvation.
Jesus made that point clearly when He asked in Matthew 7:
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
As the Shorter Catechism puts it, “draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us;”
To begin our prayer with “Our Father”, as opposed to “Hey, God”, speaks of the relationship that gives us our very lives. We declare our dependence on God and our faith in His love for us. All in two words.
Now for some more words: “Who art in heaven” – or – “Who is in heaven”. We are not limiting God to the eternal realm of heaven. After all, Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.”
Besides, God took up residence on Earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and dwells in the heart of every believer in the person of the Holy Spirit. So God is as much here as in heaven.
So why did Jesus teach us to say it? Only to remind us that God’s power and glory and wisdom and authority are way beyond anything we can imagine. We can imagine the earthly realm, because that is what we know.
But we cannot know the heavenly realm, and all our imaginings of it fall far short. So we pray to our Father, who is above and beyond anything we can know or even imagine – but who still, remarkably, wants to be called “Father”.
After that, we immediately make our first request of God – that His name would be “holy.” “Hallowed” in the King James Version. Or as the little boy told his mommy after Sunday School that he had learned that God’s name is “Harold.”
This petition is placed first in the prayer, because we want God’s name to be holy to us – set apart for us. It is not a name like “Harold”, which makes a good punch line. It is not a name to be thrown around carelessly.
So in this first request, it would seem that we are asking God to help us to respect His name as holy.
That makes sense: the One whose name is Holy, who holds the universe together by His will and His Word, deserves honor and glory. And that begins by honoring His name, by treating it with respect – setting it apart from the rest of the names we use.
The opposite of hallowing – or keeping holy – is profaning. Profanity is not cuss words or obscene words – it is using God’s name casually, without the respect it is due. It is also invoking God’s name while lying – or even when unnecessary: “I swear to God I locked that door.”
But what name of God’s do we want kept holy?” That’s a tough one, because God reveals His name to Moses as “I am” or “I am who I will be” – and we’re not likely to misuse those words. Or are we talking about the word “God” or “Lord”?
So what are we really asking? Calvin takes us back to Hebrew 101 – that a name corresponds with a person’s actions or characteristics. So the name of God, he would argue, is who God is and what God does – and we want that to be hallowed – holy – set apart.
The Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “That God would enable us and others to glorify him in all that whereby he maketh himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory.”
This petition is asking that God and all that God does may be recognized for their awesomeness, their power, their majesty, their glory, their perfection, their mercy, their truth, their goodness. It is an acknowledgement that all these good things come from God and not from ourselves or our world.
That speaks volumes about the passion with which many deny the work of God in creating all that exists. In Romans 1, Paul writes:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
This is Paul’s way of saying that all we have to do is look around us and recognize that it is God’s creation. To deny God as the source of all of it
is to profane the name of God – since God’s name reflects His work. To attribute the universe and our lives to dumb luck or renegade atoms is a refusal to hallow God’s name. So is denying that God is actively preserving and protecting and governing His creation – because He is very much at work, doing miraculous things all the time.
By the way, I’m not asking anyone to accept a particular view of what process God used to create it all – but I am asking all of you to accept that God did the work of creation.
So asking that God’s name be kept holy is a way of recognizing that He is the source of all creation – the Father of it all – and our Father. Amen.