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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

October 30, 2014

I was recently at a church service at which the Lord’s Prayer was projected on slides, and included the petition, “Hollowed be thy name.” The typo unwittingly invited us to say the very opposite of the original hallowed, a term indicating fullness of honor rather than vacuity. This week’s marking of “All Hallows” is a good time to remind ourselves of what “hallowing” really entails.

To “hallow” is to set someone or something apart for special honor. We speak of the “hallowed halls” of venerated institutions. We hold in “hallowed memory” our great heroes. We consider places where people gave their lives for the sake of others, such as the Gettysburg fields, “hallowed ground.”

"All Hallows Eve,” which we shorten to “Halloween,” is the night before “All Hallows” (more commonly known as “All Saints Day”) on which Christians honor our ancestors in the faith. Some traditions give particular saints their own special day of honor; while Presbyterians tend not to follow that practice, most of us mark at least the days assigned to St. Valentine and St. Patrick. All Saints Day is set aside to honor all the saints, great and anonymous alike, on whose shoulders we gratefully stand.

While the Reformers sought to rid the church of superstitions that had accrued around veneration of the saints, Reformed churches still acknowledge the importance of honoring our forebears in faith. Some consider honoring the saints an act of obedience to the commandment to “honor your father and your mother.”

Hallowing the saints is meaningless for Christians if we do not hallow first of all the One for whom they lived and in whom they placed their trust. Jesus instructed his disciples to hallow God’s name whenever they pray – such hallowing is the gateway to all Christian prayer. Of course, hallowing the Lord’s Name involves more than mere words. We hallow the Lord’s name rightly by honoring the law Jesus deemed greatest of all, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind…. [and] love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) We cannot rightly say “hallowed be your name” apart from actively seeking to love God and neighbor.

Our “neighbor” includes more than merely our close kin (though certainly they are included); it numbers even those who seem to be our adversaries, like the Good Samaritan. The law of love directs how we are to relate to people of faiths, cultures, and convictions other than our own. In a world in which the globe has become a village, the person far away may be as much our neighbor as the person living next door.

The Great Commandment strips from us the luxury of loving some but not others. Alas, sometimes we despise most fiercely those who are nearest to us; ever since Cain and Abel, more murders have been committed by family members rather than by strangers. The command to love our neighbor begins at home, but doesn’t end there.

Jesus says that the command to love neighbor is homoia – “the same as” – the command to love God. Conversely, dishonoring God’s name and besmirching our neighbors go hand in hand. In the same way, hallowing the saints is of one piece with hallowing God’s name.

The great Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress” takes us back to All Hallows Eve 1517, the date on which its composer, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to the wall of Wittenberg Castle Church. It reminds us that “though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we need not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.” The devil-filled world of All Hallows Eve always yields to the triumph of All Saints Day, signaling the sure victory of all who keep faith in God.

Alas, our world pays far more attention to Halloween and its dark devils than to the saints, and the light in which they blessedly dwell. We are more captivated by fear of the evils said to be threatening us – from Ebola to ISIS to famine to hurricanes – than by the sure promises of the One from whose love nothing can separate us.

As we approach next week’s governmental elections, some campaigns boldly traffic in our fears of this “devil-filled world,” and the media clamor for our attention by doing the same. Amid their cacophony we are all too prone to forget that we are called to live by a love that casts out all fear.

For those who pray always, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” nothing is more ill-fitting than obsessing over evil. We do not deny its presence in the world, but we know that the victory that overcomes all evil has already been revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  Thanks be to God – and Happy All Saints Day!

And I invite you to join me in planning next Tuesday to vote – and to do so from hope, rather than from fear.

Yours in sure hope,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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