Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re gradually working our way through this prayer Jesus taught, the Lord’s Prayer, throughout this season of Lent. Last week we looked at the phrase “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name.”
Today our focus will be the next brief section: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So it’s all about kingdom of God talk today. But this in turn raises some interesting questions.
For instance, when Jesus says in this prayer, “your (in other words, God’s) kingdom come,” does he mean something that is to happen here and now, or then and there, later on, in the final days?
And it is something only God can bring (this coming kingdom) or is it something you and I are supposed to be working toward?
If you do any reading around in biblical commentaries you will find advocates for all kinds of options here.
I find myself weighing with a pretty clear ‘yes’ to all of the above.
In other words, is God’s kingdom something that happens here and now or then and there? Yes, absolutely.
And is God’s kingdom something only God can bring, or something you and I are supposed to be working toward? Yes, definitely.
It seems to me these are questions with ‘both-and’ kinds of answers, rather than ‘either-or’s.’
Only God can save the world. But God doesn’t invite us to sit back, twiddle our thumbs, and wait it out, while God’s children are suffering all over the globe. After all, as I heard one of my presbytery colleagues say recently, we can only call ourselves followers of Jesus if we actually follow Jesus, and do the things he commands us to do. (Paul Smith)
In other words, God alone is truly able to bring about the kingdom of God, but we can bring forth the kingdom too. Both.
And as for the question whether the kingdom of God is with us now, or something that will only come later on – well, we only need to look around our world to know that God’s kingdom isn’t here yet, not completely. As we noted back in our sermon series on Revelation a couple of weeks ago, evil too often still seems to have the upper hand. Certainly God rules the world, and God will win in the end, but the battle isn’t over yet.
So the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom may have to wait, but we can catch little glimpses of it now and then, can’t we?
In last week’s sermon and again at children’s time today, we’ve talked about metaphorical language for God. No single image can tell us everything about God, but each one can hint at something of what God is like.
So, too, with talk of God’s kingdom. In the gospels Jesus uses dozens of images, metaphors, parables to help us understand what God's kingdom is all about. For instance:
It’s like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge tree, with birds sitting in its branches.
It’s like a net full of fish, of all kinds and descriptions.
It’s like the yeast that leavens a loaf of bread.
It’s like a father who rushes out to meet a prodigal son, dispensing with the rules of propriety in an extravagant act of love.
It’s like a great wedding banquet to which are invited those who would never have a place on most of our guest lists.
And much, much more…
Some of these parables of the kingdom of heaven are more confusing than others, of course. I’ve yet to meet anyone who feels they’ve quite mastered all of the nuances of Jesus’ kingdom talk.
But surely we can act on what we do understand. And this is what I mean by noticing, or even offering to others, little glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth.
After all, our best model for what the kingdom of God is like, is Jesus himself.
As we read stories in the gospels of Jesus healing the sick, forgiving sinners, eating dinner with those not often welcome in polite society, we are watching the kingdom of God in action. If there was anyone who practiced what he preached, it was Jesus.
As kingdom people, we can demonstrate in our own lives that this King to whom we have pledged our allegiance teaches us a new set of rules, an alternate script, a different way to live.
One in which we are to pour our energy into caring for those whom the world considers last and least. One in which the good life isn’t about fame or money, status or power. It’s about remembering God is at the center of the universe and is worthy of our worship. It’s about serving others in God’s name.
As World Vision president Rich Stearns reminds us, churches are meant to be outposts of God’s kingdom, deepening and strengthening God’s people to do God’s work in God’s way, to turn the world’s values on their heads.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we really lived like this? If we could show ourselves to be an extraordinary group of people actually practicing what we preach? What kind of a response might that bring from our neighbors?
As God’s kingdom people, we won’t always get it right. But what if we got it right just enough of the time to provoke curiosity, just enough to make people wonder what those church folk on the top of the hill there, at 28th and Dravus, are all about?
Have you ever encountered someone who made you sit up and take notice like this? A person or a group of people who are living proof that the kingdom of God is breaking out in small but remarkable ways here and now, even as we await its final fulfillment later on?
People of God putting others’ needs ahead of their own? Devoting their lives to service and sacrifice? Living as Jesus calls us to live?
So the kingdom of God is something that will happen then and there, later on, in the last days, of course. But we also know that the kingdom of God is among us even now, for we see it in these hints and glimpses. It’s both-and again. And thanks be to God for that.
Finally, going back to today’s lines from the Lord’s Prayer, it was pointed out to me recently that we shouldn’t just skip over the possessive pronouns, on our way to important nouns like “kingdom” and “will.”
After all, it is God’s kingdom, God’s will that we are asking for. Let’s not get ourselves so bogged down in the details of what that kingdom looks like, or how we might figure out that divine will, that we forget who it is we’re talking about – talking to, actually, in this prayer.
We pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon note:
“Too often, we are conditioned to think of prayer as asking God for what we want – dear God, give me this, give me that. But now, in praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are attempting to school ourselves to want what God wants… to pray ‘your will be done’ is [not to beg for] what we want, but rather to beg to have our lives caught up in some project greater than our lives… the adventure of what God is doing in the world.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 66)
“Prayer in Jesus’ name is lifelong training in taking God’s will a little more seriously and our own will a little less so.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, p. 69)
For again, we can only call ourselves followers of Jesus if we actually follow Jesus, and do what he asks us to do.
Or as we said last week, prayer is “bending our lives toward God.”
Let’s continue that vitally important task of bending our lives toward God this morning as we pray in conclusion the words you’ll see printed next in your bulletin. I invite you to pray them in silence first, and then aloud when I invite you to do so, both times emphasizing in each line the words in bold print. Let’s do it silently first:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven. Amen.