Sermon for August 30th, 2015
1He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
7When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
Teach Us To Pray: Thy Kingdom Come
There's a very old joke about a man who is praying to God and asks, "God...what is a million years like in your Kingdom?" God answers and says, "In my kingdom, a million years passes just like a single minute." The man thinks about this for awhile and then asks, "God...what is a million dollars like in your kingdom?" God replies, "In my kingdom, a million dollars has the worth of a single penny." The man thinks about this for awhile and then asks, "God...can I have a penny?" God replies, "Sure. Give me a minute..."
Often, there is a world of difference between our individual perspective and God's heavenly perspective. We're going to explore that a little bit today, as we look at the second phrase in the Lord's prayer: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the shorter version of the Lord's prayer in Luke, Jesus simply says "Your kingdom come," but I think the rest is still implied. The key Greek word in both versions is ἐλθέτω, from the verb ἔρχομαι, which means to come from one place into another. In 1st century cosmology (both Greek and Hebrew) the place where the perfect, divine world already exists is in the heavens, and so the natural place for it to arrive is on the earth.
Also in 1st century Greek and Hebrew thought, nothing happens outside of the divine will, so Luke's version "Your kingdom come" functions as a shorthand for the entire sentiment in Matthew, "Your kingdom come, and your will be done, as it is in heaven." If we're stereotyping based on writing style, Matthew is a lawyer, making sure every aspect of the concept is spelled out in explicit detail, while Luke is a detective--just the facts, ma'am--everything else is implication.
Last week, I talked about using the acronym "FRESH" to help us walk through the five aspects, five "movements" of the Lord's prayer, and to help us model our own prayers on Jesus' example. Last week we learned that the first movement of prayer is "F," which reminds us to put first things first--more specifically, to put God first: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
I used the analogy of a Ferris Wheel to represent prayer--when you get on a Ferris Wheel, the first thing that happens is that you are lifted up high into the heavens. The first thing that happens when we pray is that our focus is lifted up to the heavens, beyond ourselves and even our world, reaching for what is transcendent, waht is divine, all that which we call God.
The next thing that happens on a Ferris Wheel, while we are still up there at the top, is that we look down, and around us, and we see the world again--but we see it from a different perspective, a higher perspective, a more heavenly perspective. This is the second part of the Lord's Prayer, the part where heaven and earth meet, and where we try to align our perspective with God's perspective, where we try to see the world through God's eyes and not our own.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Ron Hefeitz and Marty Linksy, in their book Adaptive Leadership, talk about an interesting approach to problem solving, which they summarize this way: "Get off the dance floor, and get up on the balcony." Their point is that we all tend to focus most on the information and the details that are right in front of us, but sometimes we need a bird's eye view of the situation, a big picture view.
I think this is precisely what Jesus is doing in movement 2 of the Lord's prayer. So the "R" in FRESH stands for "Really Big Things." Cosmic things. Heaven and Earth kinds of things. Things that are bigger than our own individual needs and wants, or the needs and wants of the people in our circle of acquaintances.
In practical terms, this is what we do when we pray for our elected officials and leaders, or for peace in our world; when we lift up in prayer those in distant parts of the world who are afflicted by natural disasters, or simply those who are poor and hungry.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
But there's something else implied in those words, too. Because sometimes when we pray, it's easy to confuse God's will with...well...our own will. "Lord, I know you don't like all those Dallas Cowboys fans. Lord, I know you really just want to smite them sometimes...may your will be done!"
Inviting God's will to be done implies that we have to let go of our own will a little bit, that we open ourselves to the possibility that we might be wrong, that God might have a slightly different plan for the world than the one we envision. I think that's why the Lord's prayer starts with putting God First, then with the Really Big Things, and only after that do we come down to our own individual needs and wants. By pushing those things back a bit (the urgent things that we really want to be first, the things that drive us to pray in the first place) when we finally get to them, we already have a better perspective, a bigger, broader, more heavenly perspective.
Speaking of "broads" and bird's eye views...
A brunette, a blonde, and a redhead were all trapped in a burning building, several stories high. Firemen arrived at the scene, and held a blanket at the bottom of the building, stretched out between them, calling for the women to jump. The brunette decided to go first, and bravely jumped out the window toward the firemen waiting below. But they misjudged her trajectory, and at the last minute moved too far to the left, causing the brunette to hit the ground and break both of her legs.
This gave the remaining two women some pause, but the building was getting hotter, so finally the redhead jumped out of the window toward the blanket stretched out below. This time, the firemen moved the blanket too far to the right, and the redhead hit the ground and broke both legs and both arms.
Seeing this, the Blonde said to herself, I'm not stupid--I won't make that mistake! So she gathered up her courage, and yelled down to the firemen, "Put blanket down and step away from it, then I'll jump."
When we think about those Really Big Things, especially the scary ones--violence in the Middle East, or racial tensions in America, or Ebola, AIDS, Alzheimer's, Cancer--I think there are two tendencies we face, neither very helpful. One is to try to figure it all out on our own: That's about as good as saying, "put the blanket down God, then I'll jump."
The other (perhaps more common?) tendency is to become overwhelmed, and then detached, and then to finally just ignore the Really Big Things altogether, coming down from the balcony and back on to the dance floor where we can surround ourselves with all the details and pretend the Really Big Things don't exist, or don't matter...or worse, sometimes we hide our detachment in religious terms and say "I'm just trusting God to take care of those things. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Nothing I can do about it."
I said last week that every line of the Lord's prayer can be read as a radical call to action. When Jesus says "Your kingdom come" in both Matthew and Luke, these words come in the midst of several chapters where Jesus is teaching his followers what exactly that Kingdom--God's Kingdom--looks like. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed... the kingdom of God is like precious pearls... the Kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil... the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast... in each one of these parables, people do things--actions that embody the kingdom values of faith, hope and love.
Praying "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means facing those Really Big Things head on, naming them, even the scary ones. We do this not so much to call God's attention to them--God already knows--but to orient ourselves to them; to place our own needs and desires within a larger context; to remind ourselves that faith, hope, and love are desperately needed in our world. When we pray these words, we give ourselves the opportunity to live these words, these kingdom values. When we pray and live these words, we play our small but significant part in bringing Heaven and Earth just a little bit closer together.