Thy Kingdom Come – a Lenten Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer

I taught the second of our four part Lenten series on the Lord’s prayer last week.  Here’s the text.

Good evening.  Welcome to the second week of our four part Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer.  Last week, we looked at the opening acclamation of the prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”  Father Keith helped us think about how we approach God both as Abba, our Father, on YHWH, the Great I am, a name so holy that a proper Jew would never speak it.  We looked especially at the story of  Moses at the Burning Bush, where God was both accessible to Moses and yet appeared in the form of fire, a force that must be treated with great reverence.

Tonight we will turn our attention to the second portion of the prayer.  If you’ll recall, Keith noted that the Lord’s Prayer follows a somewhat modified A.C.T.S format: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Tonight’s section, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” falls under confession.  Simply in saying these words, we know that they are not yet true.  The kingdom of God is not yet fully realized here on earth.  We are not living out the will of God every moment of every day.  That’s why we have to pray for it, and we do, we pray earnestly that God’s kingdom would come, but ultimately, the responsibility for the building the kingdom of God falls on us.  When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then we will see fully what the kingdom is like.

Saint Theresa of Avila, a 16th century nun and mystic is credited with writing a poem called, “Christ has no body.”  In that poem, she reminds us that since the Ascension, the disciples of Jesus carry the responsibility of the kingdom.

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thy kingdom come Lord.  Thy will be done.  Help me to do it.  Of course, we know all too well that discerning God’s will is much easier said than done.  Even when we turn to the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t give us much help.  More often than not, when Jesus talks about the kingdom, he does it in veiled stories called parables.  When he was asked why he taught in parables, Jesus said, “Because the kingdom of God is so hard to understand.”  For thousands of years, the seeds of the Kingdom have been planted.  Through a bow in the clouds, God established a covenant with Noah and planted a seed.  Through the promise of a son, God established a covenant with Abraham and planted a seed.  Through the promise of an Exodus from Egypt, God establishes a covenant with Moses and planted a seed.  Prophets came and reminded the people that for the kingdom to grow into full blossom, the people of God had to water and care for it.  Holy people throughout the ages fertilized the kingdom through their prayers and compassion.  Faithful people have tilled the ground, studied the scriptures, and longed for the kingdom to come.  And then Jesus came along, the kingdom of God personified, and told people stories about the seeds that had been planted.[1]

“[The Kingdom of God] is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds come and find shelter among its branches.”  Most of us have absolutely no concept of a mustard tree.  You might know mustard seeds, if you’re sort of foodies and like to make Indian food or maybe you’ve probably seen them ground up in a Grey Poupon jar, but most people have no concept of what happens between mustard seed and the French’s yellow mustard that ends up on their hotdog.  Of course, Jesus’ crowd knew about mustard seeds.  Mustard plants grew wild in Palestine; they were the kudzu of their time.  When Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, he tells the people that after thousands of years of seed planting, the kingdom of God is getting ready to run amuck.  As we hear that parable two thousand years later, there is evidence all around that the kingdom is growing, spreading, and in some cases even flourishing, even while in some places it is being choked out by fear, anger, and just plain ignorance.

The kingdom of God is here.  Growth has begun and continues every time a disciple of Jesus chooses to follow the will of God.  The kingdom is fertilized by acts of care and compassion.  The kingdom of God grows with love.  The kingdom of God comes when God’s will is done.  So what does that look like?  Like I said, it can be confusing.  Seminary was really hard for me.  My eyes were opened to all sorts of new and scary things.  By the time my first year was coming to an end, I was seriously considering dropping out.  I had a great safety net.   I could always go back and work for my father-in-law.  Doug is a good Christian man who runs his company on good Christian principles.  Surely I could fulfill the will of God by working for him.  Yet, God had so clearly called me to be a priest.  As a preacher and teacher I could share God’s will with others so easily.  Surely staying in seminary was God’s will for me.  They couldn’t both be God’s will, but they both sure felt like it. I finally realized that God’s will for me wasn’t about what job I had or what food I ate or what socks I wore.  God’s will for me is the same as God’s will for the whole world, to be restored to right relationship.  God’s will for me was to love him and love my neighbor as myself.  I could fulfill God’s will while working for Thomas Construction or as an ordained minister, the details didn’t matter, the way in which I lived did.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we confess that the world is not yet the way God intended it to be.  Each time, we invite God to open our eyes to the ways we can fulfill his will in our lives: to help us find ways to be his hands and his feet.  Each time, we repeat the hope of generations of disciples who have come before us that the kingdom of God might come in fullness.  Each time, we affirm our faith in the God who can set all things right, make all things new, and restore all things to the fullness of his good and perfect will.

[1] N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part 1, p. 161.

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