Needy People Need a God on Earth
What good does a God in heaven do a needy person on earth? Like the kid surrounded by a gang of bullies, our needs come upon us in the dark, in our fears, in our life and what do they say? "Where's your daddy now?" The name of God is how He is present on earth. Luther says, "'The essence of God is in heaven but His name still on earth.'" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 56). "'The name isGod-for-us in distinction to God-in-Himself'" (Ibid.). For observant Jews the name is so holy they won't pronounce it. Everyone else goes to the opposite extreme. They use the holy name to punctuate, and emphasize, or reduce the name to the textese OMG. Not needy people. They have got to have God on earth, and the only way is by His holy, precious name. To reduce that to jargon, to emphasis, to flippancy is the highest form of profanity and denies our deepest needs.
All people need a god on earth. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans had their gods on earth. They were tormented by them, tortured by them, tricked by them, tested by them. The Egyptian and Babylonian gods demanded sacrifice from them some time human, always animal, and always to appease them. The Greeks and Romans were more sophisticated. Their gods didn't demand human sacrifice, but they still needed to have their wrath against men appeased by sacrificing animals.
The ancients also looked to gods to direct their lives on earth, but were reduced to finding them in omens, portents, signs, and animal entrails. Great battles, great decisions rested on what the open up guts of an animals told them. More accurately what they told the priest who interpreted them. A shooting star, a flock of birds, a single owl, the turn of an intestine directed armies in march, people to marry, or what to do in time of great need.
That's one thing I will say for the ancients. They knew they were needy more than you and I do. Read your Bible. Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Belteshazzar need to know what God was saying to them and went to great lengths to meet this need. When God will no longer communicate to the apostate King Saul, he is driven by his need to the witches he himself has driven out of the land to try and reach Him. The king of Moab needs his god to help him in a desperate battle with Israel, so he publicly sacrifices his son in an effort to meet his need (2 Kings 3:27).
When sinful man recognizes his need, he has to have communication with God, He has to have God on earth. Modern man is driven in their need to find a god on earth. The great political divide in our country is in part because to both sides government is god. Their god has got to be in control of it or all is lost. With others, nature is god, and she is communicating to us through climate change and natural disasters that she is displeased, and we must appease her by changing our ways. For still others, they themselves are god. As long as they are happy, fit, and healthy all is right with the world, so as long as they stay positive, their god reigns.
As with ancient man, so with modern, you have to admit they feel their great need. It fuels their passion for politics, mother nature, and personal interests. And what of us? No, what of me. I pray the Litany feeling my knees more than my needs. I think about its length not its words. Though only the Communion liturgy is older than it, the depths of my need aren't enough to pray it. Though "Luther regarded the Litany as next to the holy Lord's Prayer the very best that has come to earth,'" I don't need it. Though the Litany places our suffering and dire needs in God's hands, and so calls on His name for relief (Reed, 623-4), I respond with that casual millennial, "I'm good."
Here's a paradox. God's name on earth reveals our great need, but it's also the greater answer. Our need is revealed and met "when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity." Notice we don't confess that God's name is holy on earth when it's entertaining, practical, or powerful, or lying about unused, but when it's taught in truth and purity.
It's not taught in truth when the demands of the Law are made doable or the promises of the Gospel are made conditional. If I give the impression that by trying hard or doing your best you can keep the Law, I'm denying the truth that no man is righteous and that all fall short of God's glory. If I give you the impression that the real sinners are anybody but you, I'm not teaching God's Word in truth or purity. Likewise, if I teach in such a way that I make your forgiveness dependent on your repentance, your faith, or a change of life or heart, I've poisoned the Gospel. If I make your salvation depend on anything in you, I take the Gospel out of the realm of objective certainty and history and place it in your heart and time. The Gospel isn't a done deal, but something that might be, could be done.
No, the truth is you're the worst sinner in the world. There is no soul so black that yours is not blacker still. There is no life so filthy that yours is not filthier still. There is no hope let alone salvation in anything you do, say, think, or pray. Salvation is in Jesus' name. And in His name, there is nothing that you could have done, thought, or said, that He didn't carry to the cross on His body. And when His body was nailed to the cross, so were your black, filthy sins of body and soul. And there on a green hill, outside a city wall, almost 2,000 years ago, your sins were paid for by Jesus. There God mopped up the last of your sins using the holy body of Jesus. There long ago He washed away your dark guilt by His crimson blood. Your sins went the way of the sins of the world. God rolled them up in a ball, tossed them behind His back into a bottomless sea almost 2 millennia ago.
All this He did in Jesus' name circa 30 A.D., and God applied His grace, to your name when He called you by name in Baptism and made you His. He applies His mercy to you, when He trumps your fallen, dirty name with His holy name in Absolution. He applies His peace to you, when in Communion He gives you to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Prince of Peace.
In the strength of the food the angel gave to Elijah, he was able to journey 40 days and 40 nights to the Mountain of God. How much more strength is in the Body and Blood of God? I'd say there's more than enough for children of God to lead holy lives according to the Word all their lives. But anyone who doesn't do this profanes the name of God. And this truth drives us back to pray: "Protect us from this, heavenly Father." And this realization of our great need for protection drives us to our knees and squeezes the passionate Litany out of our cold heart.
The fact that only when we do finally see, touch, taste, feel our great need are we driven to prayer, exposes how we profane the Name most frequently and seriously. It's when we break the Second Commandment by not "calling it upon it in every trouble." And this failure can't be addressed by mechanically remembering to say your prayers. Failure to use the name of God flows from not believing that in Christ we really are His dear children and He really is our dear Father. We profane the name of God when our name becomes more important than His name. We profane the Name when what our conscience thinks, feels, believes about our sins is more important than what God in Christ does. Let me be clear: those who trust in their conscience dishonor God's name and cannot be saved (LW, 42, 35).
Do you see how insidious this is? You feel pious when your conscience is bothering you. You think your guilt is some sort of sacrament, and long as you're feeling bad about what you have done or who you are, that somehow makes you right with God. Instead of running to Absolution where forgiveness is pronounced in Jesus' Name and having your sins sent away forever, you think putting your name on your sin and guilt, owning it, somehow relieves it, somehow forgives it. It doesn't. Confession doesn't forgive sins. It binds them to you, and you go where they go.
I defile God's name by honoring my own, said Luther (Ibid.). He also said, "In this petition God becomes everything and man become nothing" (Ibid. 27). The greatest sin against the petition hallowed be Thy name' is, according to our Large Catechism, not regarding the name as the greatest treasurer and sanctuary that we have on earth (LC, III, 38).
"Protect us from this, heavenly Father" is what we're praying every Lord's Prayer. We aren't able in our own strength, faith, wisdom to use the name of God rightly. You use the divine, holy, powerful name of God rightly when in every time of need you call upon it. You use the forgiving name of God rightly when you believe in His name you have forgiveness for sins that are higher than the heavens. You use the Name of God embodied in Bread and Wine when your need for forgiveness, love, and acceptance is met by It not just in your soul but in your very body. You use the Name of God that is a strong tower when you seek shelter from the storms of life in its safety.
The entire life of the Christian is connected to the Name. It is the earthward side of God. We are baptized into the Name as kids, and we are taught to make the sign of the cross over ourselves for the rest of our lives as a reminder that that we've been redeemed in Jesus' name. We bow our heads at the Name not in fear but in great need. All that we need for this body and life and the next must come from God in Jesus' name.
Once God shows us our great, ever-present need, His name appears as a lifeline from heaven. It's the opposite of sound waves which become visible on the wings of the plane just before the sonic boom (Understanding Media, 12). It's in the great boom of your need that God's name becomes visible on you in Baptism, over you in Absolution, in you in Communion. And you call on It; you run into It, and you pray It as fervently as a drowning man and as confidently as a saved one. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers II (20171210); Lord's Prayer First Petition