i'm not big on putting my sermons on the internet, but since i don't know when i'll ever get the chance to actually deliver it, here it is. just click the "keep reading" link below to read the sermon.
I want to start off by thanking Pastor Rich and the people of this beautiful church for inviting me to be a part of this Lenten tradition this year. I am the pastor of Catawissa Avenue United Methodist Church, and I am sort of the new kid on the block, so it is a special honor for me to be a part of a community gathering such as this. When Pastor Rich told me that the theme of these meditations was going to be dealing with the Lord’s prayer, my spirit leapt, and I was hoping to be able to get this phrase that we’ll be taking a brief look at this morning. I know you’ve heard it and said it a hundred thousand times before, but just listen again to this passage of scripture from Matthew 6: “this, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Today we are focusing on just one part of that prayer Jesus gave us as a model. It’s right at the beginning when Jesus says, “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, please get us out of here as soon as possible.” Oh wait, that’s not what he says is it?
But haven’t we prayed that before? I know I have. As I was reflecting on that sentiment I was reminded of an experience my family had at Knoebel’s amusement park this last summer. My wife and I have two young boys, Jackson and Caedmon, who are 6 and 3. Last summer at Knoebels they told us that they wanted to go on the haunted mansion ride. I’ve been on those kinds of rides before, and I know that they are usually so ridiculous that they aren’t even that scary, and so I agreed. Have any of you been on that ride? It's a great deal more intense than i had anticipated. In preparing for this devotion, I checked out knoebel’s website to see what they say about it, and here’s what I read:
Named their favorite for 10 consecutive years by the members of Dark Ride and Funhouse Enthusiasts (www.DAFE.org), Knoebels’ Haunted Mansion is known far and wide as one of the best traditional haunted rides anywhere.I'll say! It was pretty intense. There were bats flying around and a ghostly breeze on my face and an evil cackling ringing in my eares. Even I was a bit frightened, as I wrapped my arms as tightly as I could around my son so that he knew I was with him, and all I could hear above the din of the ghosts and goblin sounds of the ride was the shrill cry of my terrified son saying, “Daddy, get me out of here.”
Poor kid. It was traumatizing. But we can identify, can’t we? We’ve been in any number of circumstances and situations in which the prayer of our hearts has been, “Lord, get me out of here.” Whether it be an illness or facing the consequences of some poor choices, or just a terrible tragedy, we’ve prayed that prayer. And, to be honest, that type of prayer has become emblematic of the way Christians have prayed for the last couple of hundred years. We do a lot of looking ahead and thinking about how God will rescue us from this broken world. There has been so much emphasis on the rapture and on going to a place where the streets are made of gold, that Christians have sometimes been rightly accused of being “so spiritual minded that we’re no earthly good.” The Left Behind book series alone, which deals with the idea of the rapture, has sales over 50 million dollars, not including the spin-off children’s series, the three feature full length movies, and the video game. The bottom line is that American Christians in particular have long been thinking, if not outright saying, “lord, get us out of here.”
But that’s not what Jesus prays, is it? Friends, I hope you’re tuned-in to this message this morning because I believe it is one we desperately need to hear: when Jesus taught us how to pray, he didn’t tell us to pray that we might leave, but instead told us to pray that God’s Kingdom – God’s reign – would come into fullness right here where we are. That’s a horse of a different color, as they would say in Oz. The prayer Jesus teaches us says, “Lord, please reign here on earth as you do in heaven.” Do we pray that? I mean, when you and I say the Lord’s prayer each day or each week, is that what we really think we’re asking for? I believe it should be, because it’s what Jesus taught us!
In the time we have left I want to look at three aspects to this little one sentence prayer, “Lord, let your kingdom come,” that it is a prayer of redemption, a prayer of optimism, and finally a prayer of conviction. First, it is a prayer of redemption. Like I said, Jesus isn't teaching us a theology of evacuation, where we all just can’t wait to get off the ride, like my sons. Instead, even though the world is a broken and scary place, full of earthquakes and tyrants, war and terrorists, we don’t believe that God wants to get us out, but that God wants to redeem what is already here. That process already started in the crucifixion and the resurrection. Which is why we already talk about God as King. In fact, we are not strangers to this kind of thinking. The Psalms continually say that the Lord, YHWH, reigns over the earth. According to the poets of Hebrew people, this world is God’s realm, God’s dominion. Of course, sin has twisted and broken the world, but in Christ the redemption of the kingdom began. Jesus told his disciples in Luke 17:21 that the Kingdom of God was among them. Jesus is the cornerstone of that Kingdom, even though the builders rejected it. What we learn about God’s character in the passion story is that God isn’t one to just throw everything out and start over. Instead, God takes what is twisted and broken and even dead, and gives it new life. This has always been God’s way. Remember who God used to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt? Moses, the one with the broken speech. God chose the small and insignificant stone from David’s slingshot to slay the giant. God chose the brokenness of Jesus to be the redemption for all of humanity. So, instead of getting rid of the broken world and starting over, God redeems. I want you to take some time today and meditate on this incredible reality: when we pray the Lord’s prayer, it isn’t a prayer of evacuation – it is a prayer of redemption. In effect we are saying, Lord, come and fix what we’ve broken; come and breath new life into what is dead.
Second, “Let your Kingdom come” is a prayer of optimism, in that when we pray it, we aren’t sort of crossing our fingers and hoping against hope that maybe, somehow, someday, something will happen. Absolutely not. Instead, this is a prayer of confidence that what has already occurred will continue into fullness. So, what Jesus began in the crucifixion and resurrection is still being completed among us. So this isn’t a prayer of desperation, but of great optimism. We pray this prayer in the belief that God’s kingdom really is coming among us! It may take some faith to believe this, when we look at the world around us and all the evil we see in it, but we must sometimes be as honest as the man who asked Jesus to heal his daughter. When Jesus asked him if he believed, the man replied, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! In other words, it may be hard for us to see sometimes, but that is the nature of faith, isn’t it? Praying this prayer Jesus taught us is to look at the brokenness of the world and to defiantly stand up to it and say, “I believe that there is more than this. I believe that God’s kingdom can come, that’s God’s will can be done here as it is in heaven.” That is a powerfully faithful prayer of optimism and hope.
Finally, when we ask God to establish God’s kingdom and will on earth as it is in heaven, it is a prayer of action, not apathy. You see, when we pray this prayer we have to remember that the Church is body of Christ. Paul wrote clearly that we are the ones who God has chosen to share the love of Christ with this world. Christ has no hands, no feet, but our hands and feet. We are the ones through whom God will drench this dry world with love. So when we pray, Lord, let your Kingdom come, we aren’t just throwing our hands up and saying, “yay, God will take care of everything, now let’s go watch tv.” Yes, God WILL take care of everything, and amazingly, almost unbelievably, God will use those who follow Jesus to do it. So it is a prayer of action, a prayer that convicts us that we need to be busy doing the work of God. And what is the work of God? It is love, quite simply. It is to love God with our entire being as fully and richly and wildly as we can, and to love our neighbor with the same kind of reckless love we’ve been given by God. When we get busy doing that, God will use even us to build that Kingdom, not in some far off corner of the time/space continuum, but right here in our midst, where we so desperately need it. As you continue to make this prayer a regular part of your faith journey, I pray that you’ll find in it new meaning, new hope, and new conviction to continue living your faith in love, not waiting for some distant hereafter, but choosing to be Kingdom builders right here and now, even during these days of Lent. Amen.