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Profanity And The Poor

This past week, we talked about what it means for God to be "Our Father in heaven" and focused in on hallowing the name of God. The main point of our teaching was that by inviting us into his own "special relation" (Bruner) to his Father, in that we too can call him Father, Jesus was granting us access into the holy of holies, to see the glory and heart of God. One element we did not have time to dwell on was, what does it look like when God's name is not hallowed?

In biblical language, the word "hallow" has two corollary words. The first is "common"—i.e. that which is not sacred, not special, not devoted to God in holiness. These "common" things are not negative in and of themselves; rather, they are neutral. They don't bear the mystery or special attention that things that are hallowed demand. It must be noted, that every person is "made in the image of God" (Genesis 1vv26-27) and therefore, devoted to the service and worship of God. There are no common people.

Regarding that which is not holy there is another word which stands in a far starker contrast to that which is hallowed. The Old Testament prophets, especially Ezekiel, talk of "profaning" the name of God. In our own culture where not much is hallowed, even less is profane. But the scriptural picture of profaning the name of God means living out of a disordered relationship to God. This results in an unraveling, not simply of a vague moral fabric, as if different truths are competing against one another, but in the very thread that holds society.

In Amos 2, the prophet paints a deeply disturbing picture of catastrophic effects of profaning the name of the Lord. Amos declares:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;[c]

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals—

7 they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,

and push the afflicted out of the way;

father and son go in to the same girl,

so that my holy name is profaned;

8 they lay themselves down beside every altar

on garments taken in pledge;

and in the house of their God they drink

wine bought with fines they imposed.

Notice the results of profaning the name of God, of not carrying it as something hallowed: the poor are trampled and exploited, family structures are completely eroded, and the house of God—the place where the divine meets with humanity— is itself desacralized.

The Ten Commandments feature the prohibition against taking the Lord's name in vain. As with most ancient laws, this commandment has been twisted in all sorts of nonsensical ways usually focusing on not using God's name as the wrong sort of adjective or curse word. But the Hebrew word used in Exodus 20, תִשָּׂ֛א (tissa), is not so much concerned with how one says a particular word but how that word is carried. When we call ourselves Christians, we carry the name of Jesus, we are—again in the words of Exodus—priests telling the world what God looks like. It's important to remember: the only people that can profane the name of God are those who claim to be his people.

When you say yes to following Jesus, you pick up his name and carry it. We hallow his name by devoting our whole lives to thing that he cares about. We profane his name by ignoring his heart which results in disaster not just for us, but for the most vulnerable in our communities.

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