There is a refrain today in both the Old Testament lectionary reading as well as the responsorial Psalm … literally. It is the response in the reading of Psalm 79 “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”
The refrain starts off in the reading from Jeremiah. The author is distraught at the destruction in the land of Judah and says in 14:21: “Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us” (NRSV).
As I said before, a similar sentiment forms the response for Psalm 79. Yet it is important to point out that this response is taken from a line within the Psalm itself. Verse 9 reads “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake” (NRSV).
Not only do we see this in these two readings, but “for your/his name’s sake” is a common phraseology throughout all of scripture. We might be most familiar with it from Psalm 23:3b “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake” (NRSV).
What do we make of all of this? It doesn’t hurt sometimes to ask God to do something for the sake of his own name (perhaps even remind him that his name is at stake – Jeremiah 14:21 above). Perhaps we are not in a state where we are very “deserving” of having our prayers answered. It’s as if the prophet in this case is saying “God we don’t deserve to have our prayers answered but breaking the covenant wouldn’t look very good on you either.”
Of course, it is hard in modern times for those of us who have been trained (whether formally or informally) in classical theology (i.e. God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.) to think of God in these terms. A God who would do something (sometimes relent or change his mind) in order to protect his name? But nonetheless, the ancient writers saw themselves as living in genuine relationship with God and thought that these types of requests would “work.”
Think about the reading from Sunday where Abraham haggles with God telling God that he would look unjust if he destroyed the righteous along with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. And, God listens to the pleas of Abraham.
Thus, in a day and time when the church is much maligned in the media and in the world, perhaps we should let the examples in today’s readings inform our prayer. “Lord, for the sake your name, forgive our sins and deliver us.”