Breathe - A Breath of Holiness


"A breath of fresh air" seems to have originated in the industrial revolution when smoke from factories and foundries choked the air. We all know a slight breeze can be such on a hot day. Same thing with salt air. As you drive down below New Orleans, there's a point where the fetid swamp smell gives way to salt air. We need such breaths of fresh air in life; we need a breath of holiness to pray. Even Jesus, in His state of humiliation when He didn't always use His full divine power as a Man, needed this. Note in the Gospels how many times Jesus slips off privately to pray. "He withdrew from men to take a few breaths of the air of eternity.." (Thielicke, Trilogy, 227). Sinners such as us need a breath of holiness.

You sure about that? Holiness is not just absence of sin but where sin can't exist. It's the Fire of God that consumes sin and sinners instantly. That's what happens to sinners in the presence of holiness. A breath of holiness is like a breath of chlorine gas to a sinner. It's anything but fresh, reinvigorating or comforting. We actually see what it's like in the NT. Remember demons encountering Jesus, even in His State of Humiliation where His divine power is veiled, are recognized by them, and what do they do? Listen as Luke records it: "In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by the unclean spirit of a demon. He cried out with a loud voice, 'Leave us alone! What do you have to do with us, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God'" (4:33-34).

When God's holiness encounters sin or sinners, it's like water and the Wicked Witch of the West. It's like vampires in sunlight. How can we take a breath of holiness praying, "Holy be Thy Name" when we profane it so much? Whenever, wherever we teach or live contrary to God's Word we're profaning His name. The Heb. 12 reading doesn't say Esau is 'godless' but literally 'profane'. Let there be no fornicator "or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright." He treated something divine and holy as ordinary. Or how about, Nadab and Abihu, 2 of the first priests in the OT Church. They were part of the leaders who "saw the God of Israel. ... But God did not raise His hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11). Now skip to Lev. 10: "Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord,...So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" (1-2).

You come in contact with holiness and treat it as ordinary, and you're guilty of profanity. You're the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark who dared look inside it. Such profanity got their faces melted. Well, we can't look into the OT Ark; we don't have a birthright to sell or strange fire to offer the Lord, so what does our profaning His name look like? It's your OMG's. It's your treating the 3 holies of God: Holy Baptism, Absolution, and Communion as plain water, words, and bread and wine. It's your appeals to luck, chance, fate, or coincidence: How many times you begin with, "Luckily" or "By chance" or "Coincidently." Crediting these is profaning the God who reveals Himself to be all powerful, knowing, and present, the counter of hairs and keeper of sparrows. Read 2 Chr. 16: King Asa "was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he didn't seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians" (12-13). Read 2 Kin. 1: King Ahaziah fell and was injured. So he sent slaves, "Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury." But Elijah meets them and says: "'Is it because there's no God in Israel that you're" consulting the god of Ekron (2-3)?

Go to your doctors; take your vitamins; take your preventives; get your vaccines; wear your masks but do we do so because there's no God among us? Do we consult the gods of science, medicine, internet, and politicians more than we do, before we do, the true God in Christ? If we trust in them more than in the Name of our God and Savior than we're not keeping His name holy among us but profaning it, and therefore His holiness burns, melts, and torments us. Thanks be then that "God's name is certainly holy in itself." No, not in the sense of the tetragrammaton, the 4-letter name of God YHWH, so holy to Jews they wouldn't pronounce it and thought by some to have magical powers. Neither is His name holy in the sense the Masonic Lodges say secret or incommunicable.

Go to Is. 6 and see the 6-winged seraphim flying about the throne room of God calling to each other: "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Armies." Then go again to heaven's throne room in Rev. 4, and see the 4-living creatures also with 6 wings but covered with eyes. "Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.'" This is where we go when we sing the Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus. This is where we lift our hearts to in the Preface. This is where we go in the Te Deum. And we profane His holy name when worries in our name, about our name, or any other name on earth, trumps God's holy Name and so stifle our prayers. Why pray to such a powerless, careless, absent God?

Profanity undid Isaiah and Samson's parents too. Isaiah says, "'Woe to me!... 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, ... and my eyes have seen...the Lord Almighty'" (6:5). Samson's dad says: "'We are doomed to die!...We have seen God'" (Jd.13:22)! Breathing in the Holy God is far more intimate, immediate, and intense than seeing or hearing Him. It's snorting Him; it's mainlining Him; it's absolutely deadly to sinners such as us, particularly we who think God should do what we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want or He is no God to us. How blasphemous! How can I inhale the holiness of God's name so necessary for prayer when I have so often and deeply profaned it? I can't. Unless...

Unless our dear heavenly Father helps and protects us! Did you notice the exclamation marks in the Explanation after: "Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!" And, "Protect us from this, heavenly Father!"? They are there in the original German and Latin but not in the 1921 English translation. They should be for they betray the intensity with which we're praying that we can't benefit from a breath of holiness without God's help and protection. I'm thinking of the 2018 movie "Titan". Earth has become uninhabitable. One of Saturn's moons, Titan, is except for the nitrogen and methane air which can't be breathed by humans. Scientists genetically modify volunteers, and by having them gradually breath that air, they are transformed. In the movie there's a downside, but it illustrates that God helps and protects us from profaning His holy name by transforming us.

Start with the versicle and response from the Orthodox Communion liturgy. The priest invites communicants saying, "The Holy Gifts for the holy people of God" The response of the people is not: that would be us. But, "One is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen." Our response to the holiness of God's person and name; our response to His command, "Ye shall be holy...for I the Lord am holy" (Lv. 20:26) is, "It ain't me but Jesus." Didn't you hear that in the last reading: "So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." He is the holy one; we're unholy ones. Don't you sing this or don't you mean it when you do: "Just and holy is Thy name. I am all unrighteousness, false and full of sin I am" (TLH 345:4) I must become different then I am if I'm going to breath in holiness to my benefit and in turn exhale prayer. We say how this happens in our Explanation: "God's name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it." So, how's that working out for you so far?

The Word of God is key, but if it's His Word is in our hands, my mouth, your ears, our lives, we're toast. If, as Is. 64:6 says, "All our righteous acts, all our good deeds, all our truth and purity in word and life are nothing but filthy rags", then breathing God's holiness can't start with us repenting and being more determined to teach His Word in truth and purity and lead holy lives according to it. No, it's starts with the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The Holy God in the Person of God the Son took on our flesh and blood to live a holy life in our place and sacrifice Himself to protect us from God's wrath that even now is revealed against all unholiness.

You can't take a breath of heaven, of God, of holiness directly, but it's safe for sinner's consumption in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. That's why it is such a big deal to profane these apparently earthly things. That's why we say, "Baptism is not simple water only." And "We receive absolution...from the pastor as from God Himself." And that bodily eating of Communion does such great things because God's Word says it's Jesus' Body and Blood given and shed for you. In the 3 holy's is where God is helping you teach and live His Word correctly; is where He is protecting you from profaning His name; where He's transforming you to breath the holy air of heaven. In fact, in these 3 are the answers to all the prayers you have ever prayed or will pray. You deny not only His help and protection but the answer to your prayers when you stay away from these, not use them, not trust them. And all I can do to help you is to be here preaching, teaching, and administering the holiness of God.

Think this a downer of a place to end? I'm not saying what you think. "In the Lord's Prayer there is not a single petition that asks God to make me a sanctified, devout, believing man, not a single petition that asks Him to help me progress in 'sanctification'" (Thielicke, Our Father, 48). The Lord's Prayer is about getting His gifts. Holy gifts from the Holy One are the breath of fresh air that enable us to pray. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Advent Vespers 3 (20211215); Lord's Prayer - First Petition