Tuesday, October 06, 2015

October 4, 2015 The Lord's Prayer - Building God's Kingdom

When I was in seminary I was required to take a class called Church and Community.  The class was designed to get us thinking about how we connect the church and community to one another, and to get us to think very seriously about that connection we were required to participate in three projects.  One was called The Plunge, of which I’ve spoken before.  The Plunge required us to live on the streets of downtown Louisville for a weekend, with only a dollar in our pocket.  We had to survive on our own from Friday evening until Sunday evening.  All of us were required to do The Plunge.  We got to choose the other projects, and one of the others I chose was to ride throughout the night shift, on a Saturday, with a Louisville police officer.  I rode with an officer assigned to a neighborhood that provided for quite an interesting night.  One of the calls we received was to go to a home where a burglary was in progress.  When we arrived at the location the officer asked me if I wanted to stay in the car or go with him.  I said I would stay behind and watch the car.  Somebody needed to protect it.  He said that was fine, but reminded me that if he startled the intruders they might run straight towards me.  So I decided he should have some backup and I told him I would go with him.  One of the other calls that came in was for a domestic disturbance, which he said was perhaps the most difficult call because you never knew what situation would confront you.  We arrived at the home and found there were several officers already at the home, and inside was a man holding a knife to his wife’s neck and threatening her life.  Again, the officer asked me if I wanted to stay in the car or go with him.  I said I would watch the car again.  For some reason – probably a lack of judgment – I left the car and walked up to the porch to stand near the officers.  It was a very tense situation, was finally resolved, and once the man had been subdued the officer asked me to come into the house with him.  In retrospect, I believe he thought it might be good for a young, preacher-in-training, to deal with some of the harsh realities of life.  It was a difficult scene to take in.  The man, still in the house, was in handcuffs and I’ll just say he was being less than cooperative.  He was yelling about what he was going to do to everyone there, including me.  His wife was still in the room, and she was terribly upset, as you can imagine.  It was a very unpleasant situation.  But there was another person in the room as well, an infant, in a crib.  I walked over to the crib when I heard the baby whimpering, and because I don’t want to be too graphic about the conditions of that crib and what was in the crib with that baby, I’ll just say that I almost lost my stomach.  It was a very harsh jolt of reality.

Unfortunately, it was not an isolated picture of reality.  I think it’s safe to say that we deal with some very harsh realities in our world, so much so that some people will question the very possibility of maintaining faith in the face of such realities and to question how God could allow such things to happen.

I think it’s safe to say that humanity has despoiled and pushed God’s creation to the edge of both chaos and ruin.  As we continue our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we come to a phrase that tells us our world does not at all reflect what God desires for his beautiful creation. 

The phrase we’ll consider today is Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
We’ll read the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew’s gospel as well as a passage from Psalm 146, that compares the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of the world – 

Matthew 6:5-15
“Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Psalm 146:3-10
Do not trust in princes,
in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
but He thwarts the way of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

I kept going back and forth on the title of this message.  I couldn’t decide between Building God’s Kingdom, and The Most Difficult Prayer, because the phrase which we study this morning contains what I think are the hardest words to say in a prayer – thy will be done.  But I decided on Building God’s Kingdom, because that is what it means to do the will of God – we build his kingdom.

The ancient Hebrews had an interesting way of writing, and we find it all through the Old Testament and also in the Lord’s Prayer.  They used a style of writing called parallelism.  Parallelism means to express the same idea twice, but in two different ways.  The first phrase presents a value and the second phrase helps to define it, which is exactly what Jesus does in the phrase we study this morning. Thy kingdom come is the first phrase and it presents the value that God desires to become reality, that his kingdom would be present in our world, and the second phrase, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, defines how that value is to come about, which is by doing God’s will. 

What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come, to reflect heaven, where his will is done?  Any time God’s will is done, by anyone, anywhere, his kingdom is present.  So the kingdom is here, because God’s will is being done in different places, but obviously, his will is not always being done, so it’s not quite here yet either.

To be in the kingdom, to build the kingdom, is to obey the will of God.  It is not something that has to do with a nation or a political kingdom or a people, but comes about when the will of God is accepted in a person’s heart and that person seeks to do God’s will.

We ask particular questions related to prayer, most of which are how or why questions – how does God answer our prayers?  Why does he answer some of our prayers and why doesn’t he seem to answer some of our other prayers?  But perhaps the most important question related to prayer is one we don’t often ask, and it’s a what question – what are the things for which God wants me to pray so that I can be in his will and be a part of the coming of his kingdom? 

We often consider God’s will for our lives, but it’s generally in related to the basic questions of life – where to go to college, what vocation to enter, what job to take, and where to live.  All of those things relate to God’s will, certainly, but to really ask the question of what is God’s will for the world goes far deeper and asks more fundamental questions about life and about the world, because God’s will, and praying for God’s will, encompasses far more than just what is happening in our own lives.

So this morning, I’ll ask several of those questions.

Where is our trust?
Psalm 146:3 says, Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
I’m not sure any of us have a great deal of trust in our political system these days and of those who inhabit it, unfortunately.

I think we all have trust issues, honestly.  When I was on the streets of Louisville that weekend I was sure praying for a jolt of trust.  At that point, I was already living a hand-to-mouth existence trying to make my way through school, and my fear that I was not going to be able to meet my own needs was a very present fear.

Follow your particular candidate, vote for you particular candidate, but God reminds us that his kingdom is founded upon trust, because he is trustworthy.

Where do we place our trust?  God offers us a promise for the present and future based upon the past.  We remember what he has done for us so we will have trust in what he will do.  The ancient Hebrews were often reminded to remember the past so that they might have hope for the future.  The same is certainly true of us as well. 

How will we care for others?
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
but He thwarts the way of the wicked.

The greatest testimony to our church, or any church, is not based in how many people show up here on a given Sunday.  The greatest testimony lies in how much we care for others, and this is a constant theme of Scripture.  In Matthew 25:40 contains one of the greatest pronouncements of Jesus – Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

The power in any church is not its drawing power, but its sending power – sending forth the people to be the hands and the feet of Christ, especially in caring for others.

There is a common misperception that many people are doing really well living off of government benefits, but I will tell you that isn’t true.  That’s a perception that, in my experience of ministry, is false.  There are scores of people who awaken every day and wonder how they will adequately feed their families, how they will adequately clothe their families, how they will provide them medical care, and how they will find the money needed to live in these expensive times.

A new book titled $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing In America reminds us that millions of Americans have no income, and about 3 million of them are children.  These are not individuals who are struggling; these are individual souls with almost no income whatsoever.

Perhaps we believe some of the misconceptions about the poor because those misconceptions provide a buffer to us.  If we believe they are really not living in difficult circumstances, if we believe they are doing very well living on government assistance, then we can sleep easier at night and we don’t have to worry so much about our responsibility to help.

It is, of course, difficult to know where to begin when the problems seem so insurmountable, but we can begin somewhere.  I don’t know all the answers to how we tackle these problems, but I can at least help hand out food at the Serenity Center.  I can help to pack backpacks for the schools.  I can fix a meal for the men’s shelter.

Is love our ultimate value?
Love is always the underlying value, the foundational principle to our lives as followers of Jesus.  You can find it the underlying principle all throughout Scripture.  You can’t care for others if you don’t love them.  You can’t trust God if you don’t love him.  And it’s love that is the greatest distinction between God’s kingdom and so many earthly kingdoms over the course of history, because many kingdoms never offer the choice of whether or not others will be under their rule.  But God never forces his kingdom on anyone; it is freely offered and can only be freely received.

Years ago I was changing a church sign, and though I can’t remember the exact message I put on the sign it was something to do with love.  You can’t go wrong with the topic of love.  As I was finishing a passerby noted that’s all we need.  If we could just love one another the world would be a better place.  That’s all we need to remember.  Though it seemed a bit simplistic to me, I realized the message on the sign seemed a bit simplistic as well. 

But there is nothing at all simplistic about love.  Love, real love, results in bruises from running headlong into life’s realities.  Love, real love, has frayed and scratched knees from spending time in prayer for others.  Love, real love, is messy, complicated, and difficult, and it’s also beautiful, but not in a false way.  Real love isn’t an image of perfection; real love is a love that tells people you don’t need to be perfect for me to love you, or for God to love you.  God is not looking for perfect people; he’s looking for people to do his will.

May God’s kingdom come, as we do his will.

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