Sermon for 01-17-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 2: Thy Kingdom Come”

January 20, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:10

You can listen to this sermon by clicking the play button below, or click here (Sermon 01-17-10) to download an .mp3.

The following is my original manuscript with citations.

We have an adorable three-year-old brown-and-tan tabby cat named Peanut. But last week, my daughter, Elisa, brought home a new stray kitten. The kitten’s name is Fuzz. O.K., it’s an imaginary kitten. But periodically over the past week she made a point of stroking its imaginary fur and scratching its imaginary chin, telling me how much she loved Fuzz and talking to it in this tone of voice. You see, Elisa wants to convince me that having a new kitten is a wonderful idea, and she thought this scheme would overcome my resistance to the idea. I was unmoved. One cat is enough. I said, “Oh, well, maybe you’ll learn to scoop Fuzz’s imaginary litter box while you’re at it!”

This won’t be the last I’ll hear about a new kitten. She’ll turn on the charm offensive, look at me with those beautiful blue eyes, and say, “Daddy, I love you so much, and I will love you even more if you’ll get me a new kitten.” Do you think I’ll cave in and give her what she wants? Maybe? Never!

In the first part of our sermon series, I covered two words of the prayer, “Our Father,” which means at this pace, we’ll finish the sermon series a year from March! But we talked about how this word Father implies that we should enjoy the same close, intimate, loving relationship with God that Jesus had with his Father. When Jesus prayed to his Father, he was also praying to his Papa, Daddy, or Dad. But notice that the words immediately following Our Father present a challenge to us: Our Father, Papa, or Daddy, with whom we are to enjoy this very close, intimate relationship, is also One who is in heaven, which, as we know from painful experience, often seems far from this earth. God is also the one whose name we are to hallow—which means we are to revere, honor, and worship God with everything within us. “Hallowed be your name” reminds us that whoever and whatever we are, God is something else entirely. God is holy and perfect—and, as we know too well sometimes, we are not. God is literally awesome—God inspires awe.

Corin Tucker, on left, of Sleater-Kinney

Back in the ’90s my favorite rock band was a female punk rock trio named Sleater-Kinney, from Olympia, Washington. Once, when I saw the band at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, I was at the show early. I went to the concession stand. And the person standing right in front of me was the lead singer of my favorite band, Corin Tucker. She was in street clothes, and no one else in the lobby recognized her. And I was right behind her in line, and I couldn’t believe that she was right here in front of me. I was left speechless and star-struck. I didn’t know what to say. Then this goofy kid walked up to her and said, “Are you Corin?” And they talked, and I missed my chance to have a meaningful conversation. The point is my experience of being in the presence of my idol captures a sense of what hallowing God’s name means. We are to have a sense of wonder about God!

And how could we not? God is more than we can know or imagine or figure out. God is beyond our intellect; beyond our reason; beyond our grasp. Yet this God, the Creator and sustainer of this universe and our lives within it, has graciously taken the initiative to bring us into a saving relationship with him through his Son. Among other things, when we hallow God’s name, we recognize that we human beings are made in God’s image; God is not made in our image. Jesus teaches us to call God “Father” or “Daddy,” but don’t think for a moment that we can presume upon this God; that we can tame God, manipulate God, bend God to our will. God is not going to do our bidding.

Hallowing God’s name means, among other things, that the Creflo Dollars of the world, these prosperity gospel preachers, are badly mistaken if they think we can do something, pray something, believe something in order to get God to bless us with health and wealth. It means that the Pat Robertsons of the world are badly mistaken if they think they can get inside the mind of God and tell us why a devastating earthquake struck Haiti and killed a 100,000 people. Pat Robertson probably couldn’t tell you what he had for lunch yesterday, but he can say, infallibly, why this terrible thing happened—why God permitted it and what it means? Give me a break! Sometimes when Christians talk about God, they end up saying a lot more about themselves than God! And we’re all in danger of cutting God down to our size, at least in our minds. If we properly pray this first part of the prayer, however, we won’t do that; it humbles us; it knocks us down to size. It enlarges God and diminishes us.

And that’s the way it should be. When we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” we are really reminding ourselves who we truly are, and who God truly is. This is the starting point of prayer.

Now that we know who God is and who we are, what are supposed to do about it? That’s what this next clause is all about: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” Your kingdom come. When we pray this prayer, we are not simply praying that God would bring human history as we know it to a close and establish God’s kingdom in all of its fullness. If that were the case, then the passage of time itself would seem to frustrate this prayer and make us wonder if Jesus is ever coming back again. Praying “thy kingdom come” can begin to seem like wishful thinking: “Pfft! That’s never going to happen—and I’ve got 2,000 years of history to prove it! The world’s just going to continue on its not-so-merry way until we end up destroying the world ourselves or the sun goes supernova.”

But consider this: Jesus’ apostles—indeed, the early Church—weren’t waiting around for God’s kingdom to come. They understood that in an important sense God’s kingdom had already come through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His closest followers had seen God’s kingdom come when they saw the resurrected Lord: in the resurrection, God showed us the future, the world’s future, our future, and it’s good. What does that mean for us? One writer gives us this analogy: “Jesus is the musical genius who wrote the greatest oratorio of all time; we are the musicians, captivated by his composition ourselves, who now perform it before a world of full of muzak and cacophony. The kingdom did indeed come with Jesus; but it will fully come when the world is healed, and the whole creation finally joins in the song.”[1]

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” therefore, we’re not waiting for God to do something so much as we are called to do something ourselves. “Thy kingdom come” is God’s calling us to action, empowered by the Spirit, to change the world. Jesus has given us the cure; as we ourselves are being cured by this gift of eternal life, we’re sharing this cure with others. This is why a group from our church is going to Honduras next week. This is why United Methodists are mobilized and at work in Haiti right now, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR, seeking to do everything they can to bring healing. This is why each of us has been empowered by the Spirit as ministers, whether laypeople or clergy, to do good work for God’s kingdom now.

When we pray the first part of this prayer, we’re not looking for God to give us what we want; rather, we’re learning to want what God wants for us and for the world. I’m saying that again: we’re not looking for God to give us what we want; rather, we’re learning to want what God wants for us and for the world. Prayer isn’t about persuading God or changing God’s mind; it’s about God’s changing us. Answered prayer, therefore, as one theologian puts it, is the “happy alignment of our will and God’s will.”[2] As we grow as Christians, and learn to want what God wants for us, then we’ll find that our prayers get answered more and more.

I’m going to say something that can be easily misunderstood so listen very carefully. I think we should improve the way we usually pray in church—whether it’s worship, staff meetings, committee meetings, clergy meetings, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, etc. I think we’re often overly focused on prayer requests and asking God to do stuff for us: give us this; help this person; fix this problem. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to give us and our loved ones what we think they need. That’s intercessory prayer, and it’s a biblical way to pray. But if the Lord’s Prayer reflects the way Jesus prayed—and it does—why don’t we pray like that? Why don’t we first spend time in prayer recognizing who God is and who we are and trying to discern what God wants from us? One reason we don’t is because talking is easier than listening. Maybe Jesus is teaching us in this model prayer that we need to do more seeking and listening and less talking and asking.

When you set aside time to pray this week, I want to challenge you to spend more time doing what Jesus teaches us to do in prayer: listening and discerning God’s will for you and for the Church, that God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven.

Footnotes:

1. N.T. Wright, The Lord & His Prayer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 30.
2. This comes from a sermon on prayer by Schleiermacher.

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