Thursday, September 28, 2006

an appeal for africa university and the haiti mission hiv/aids clinic

Note to friends in the blogosphere: please circulate this appeal/sermon....and please consider making a gift to africa university and the haiti hiv/aids clinic of providence umc on world communion sunday. You can send a check, payable to PUMC and marked "Miracle Offering: Africa U/Haiti". 100% of the funds will go directly to meeting human needs, through the teaching ministry of Africa University and the healing ministry of the Haiti HIV/Aids Clinic. The message, below, is an explanation of the offering and the need. And pray for our church---we are taking a step of faith here!

So Jesus is deep in conversation with his closest friends. He poses a question: Who do others say that I am? It is an interesting question, Jesus speaking with the disciples as they are traveling through the hill country of the northern Galilee. It continues to be an interesting question. Jesus remains the object of curiosity, debate, even division. And there would be varying answers to that question in our world.

q Who do secular people say Jesus is? And so you can count on Jesus being on the cover of Newsweek and Time at Christmas and Easter, with the usual articles questioning the virgin birth & the resurrection?

q Who does my Muslim friend say Jesus is?

q Who is Jesus for my Jewish friends?

q Who is Jesus for conservatives?

q Who is Jesus for liberals?

The answers are different. He is a wise teacher. He is a prophet. He is a rabbi. He is Lord and Savior. He is an advocate for the marginalized. He is the greatest salesman who ever lived; He is a storyteller, He is the most effective leader, He is a non-violent revolutionary.

Different answers. Jesus wants to know what the disciples are hearing. Who do others say that I am? Some say John The Baptist (they were often said to be rivals); Some say Elijah (this was a compliment); some say you’re one of the prophets.

At this point the question shifts, from a seminar in comparative religion to one that is more personal: who do you say that I am?

It is more than an interesting question. It is a crucial question. Who do you say that I am? There are many interesting questions that pop up in religious circles: When will the world end? Which Bible translation do you prefer? Which denomination is the best? Which style of worship should we use? How long should a sermon be? Maybe you’re asking that one now. Which mission project should we support? Which ministry meets my need or life stage or issue?

These are interesting questions, worthy of our curiousity, discussion, debate. But these are not the crucial questions. The crucial question Jesus asks of you and me, is: who do you say that I am?

Years ago I was in Cochabamba, Bolivia, preaching in a small Methodist Church. At the conclusion of the service Gustavo, the pastor, asked the leaders to come to the altar. About eight came, men and women, younger and older. He was going to commission them for leadership. I wondered what question he would ask them: Will you support the church? No, he asked another question, a more crucial question: Who do you say that Jesus is?

He asked them each individually. Who do you say that Jesus is?

A woman spoke: Jesus welcomes children.

An older man was next: He is savior and Lord.

Then a younger man: He loves the poor.

Then an older woman: He is the bread of life.

Then a young adult, she looked college age: He is the light of the world.

Who do you say that Jesus is? How would you answer the question?

Peter, always the first to speak, answers. You are the Christ, you are the Messiah. At this moment, the Rabbi Jesus might be thinking “they are grasping this, they are getting it, it is sinking in”. And then he says to them, “don’t tell anyone about this conversation”.

Then he decides, “okay, they are getting it, I am going to go a little deeper…maybe this is a teachable moment”. And so he tells them that the son of man will suffer, mainly at the hands of the religious people, that he will suffer, and be killed, that on the third day he will rise.

In Matthew 16 we have more of Peter’s response, which is only hinted at here. No, Peter says. This will never happen to you! This is not the outcome we wanted, hoped for, dreamed about. No, surely not, Peter says.

At this point, Jesus rebukes Peter. What stirs up this response in Jesus? It might be the idea that he could somehow avoid the cross and the suffering and the death. It could be that Peter has identified something that Jesus is himself struggling with. Later, when Jesus prays “let this cup pass from me” in the garden, this all makes sense.

Then Jesus shifts the conversation again. Follow me, take up cross.

Do you sense the shift, the transition? His cross becomes our cross, his suffering becomes our suffering, his story becomes our story. If I am a follower of Jesus, it turns out to be something more than having a fish sticker on the back of my car, or a cross around my neck, or a Bible that is underlined and highlighted in lots of different colors. These are all good things…but something more is at stake---the cross, the suffering, the death, all of this might very well have something to do with us. Jesus is saying this is who I am”. He is also saying, this is who you are”.

Follow me. Take up the cross. I know people who follow Jesus, who take up the cross, and you do too. People who love the poor, even when it is difficult to love the poor. People who welcome children even when it is exhausting to welcome children. People who shine with God’s light in some pretty dark places. People who share their bread with the hungry even when they do not have enough.

I have preached on the cross before, and I commented in one sermon that we don’t have to go looking for the cross, the cross will find us. If our eyes are open, the cross will find us, if our hands are extended, the cross will find us.

We are sometimes tempted to put the cross down, or to say “I can’t carry it”. But there is Jesus, saying follow me, carry the cross. Christianity is not primarily a system of beliefs (philosophy) or a collection of laws (ethics). Christianity is deciding to follow Jesus.

You see, Jesus is not leading a seminar in comparative religion. He is like a physician doing surgery on us, removing all of the stuff that gets in the way of the flow of his grace in us and through us. He is trying to clear away the distractions, about what other people think, what other people are doing---the spiritual masters called these attachments--and he is forcing us to think about our lives, where they are headed, why they matter, what they mean.

If you save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life, for the sake of the gospel, you will find it. Sometimes God gives us an opportunity to test all of this. I want to share an opportunity with you. I heard an African American pastor this summer and one of the words of advice he gave was the “preach the announcement”! That is what I am about to do.

In two weeks, we will be observing World Communion Sunday, on October 1. On this day we celebrate the fact that we come to the Lord’s Table with brothers and sisters from all over the world. A number of the choirs will sing and Jim Salley from Africa University will preach. It will be one of the more memorable sermons that you will hear in your lifetime. If you have Panthers tickets, come at 8:30!

On that day, we will receive a Miracle Offering for Africa University and for the Haiti Mission. Let me say a word about each of these missions. Christianity is exploding on the continent of Africa. According the director of World Vision, The AIDS pandemic is the humanitarian disaster of all time. Africa University, founded in 1992, is a United Methodist institution in Zimbabwe that trains students in healthcare, theology, agriculture, and conflict resolution. Our missions leaders in consultation with the Africa University staff have determined a need for two faculty houses. We would like to build these homes in the near future, and a team of Providence members, led by Marcia Conston, will journey to Zimbabwe to meet our brothers and sisters there.

Providence has been involved in the Haiti Mission for twenty-seven years. A couple of years ago Alice White told me of an emerging need for an AIDS clinic alongside the work in Tovar. As a part of the last capital campaign, three sons gave the funds in memory of their father to establish the AIDS clinic. A physician has stepped forward who is willing to work on a very part time basis there, and we need to cover a portion of his salary, which is subsistence by our standards.

Africa University and the Haiti AIDS clinic are explicitly Christian missions. They are also missions with people who can never repay us. What is true for people is also institutions. If we lose our lives, we find them. When the church was putting together the latest capital campaign, some of our leaders had the vision to include in the campaign 10% for outreach beyond us. If we want our members to give 10% of their income beyond themselves to God’s work, why can’t the church do that? And so 10% of the capital campaign, almost $500,000, will go toward people who can never repay us: a young person coming out of foster care; a mother or a child with Aids in Haiti; a professor or a student at Africa University.

Let me say it in another way. Perhaps you have benefited from the opportunity to receive an education, or perhaps your children have been educated. Or perhaps they are in school now. As you think about the opportunity that has come to you, imagine parents in Africa who pray for the same opportunity for their children.

Perhaps you have benefited from excellent medical care. Maybe you are here this morning because of the knowledge, skills and intervention of a physician or a nurse. As you think about the care you have received, imagine someone in northern Haiti whose life will be saved as they receive the same medical care.

Let me say it in yet another way. In his life Jesus spent his time doing two things. He was a teacher, and he was a healer. What better way to carry on his work than in a university and a health clinic, staffed by his followers, who are there to represent him. What better way to discover that the story of our lives is actually his story. I am with you always”, he says, “even unto the end of the world”.

I hope you will consider giving the largest offering you have ever given to a mission cause on October 1. It will be a great day. It will be a miracle.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

haiti, justice and mercy

A portion of our Haiti Mission Team has returned (including my wife), even as another church member begins her work there today. My thinking about Haiti has been shaped by personal relationships, with our own people but also with some remarkable Haitian staff members, and also by the writings and work of Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, subject of Tracy Kidder's remarkable Mountains Beyond Mountains, recipient of the MacArthur (genius) Grant, and advocate for the world's poor and their access to health care. I have lately been reading some of Farmer's own work, which is admittedly not as accessible as Kidder, but still worth the exploration. The following are samples from his Pathologies of Power (U of California, 2005): In sub-Saharan Africa the median age at death is five years old. A rising tide of inequality breeds violence. Haiti's government has an annual budget of $300 million, less than the annual budget of Cambridge, Mass, a city of 100,000 people; Haiti's population is in excess of 8 million. The book begins with a quote from another of my heroes, the Kentucky poet/farmer Wendell Berry: "Rats and roaches live by competition under the law of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under justice and mercy." Having turned 49 this year, I contemplate the implications of the average lifespan of a Haitian (52 years), and also that country's nearness to the most affluent nation on the planet (90 minutes by plane from Miami or Fort Lauderdale). I am both grateful that God has led and leads our family and congregation to Haiti, and yet overwhelmed by the magnitude of the human suffering that is present there.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


album cover

You have to listen to this. Visit here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

repairing the world

Maybe in your travels this summer, you got lost somewhere along the way. Coming back from the mountains or the beach. With interstate highways, it doesn’t happen so often, but Pam and I explored an extensive portion of South Carolina coming the “back way” from Myrtle Beach last year! We didn’t take the most direct route!

The gospels often give us the details of Jesus’ travels, around the Galilee, back and forth between the Jewish and the Gentile (pagan) areas. In our gospel for this morning, Jesus has returned from the region of Tyre, by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

Most scholars puzzle over this---it was definitely not the most direct route, and it took him into a mostly gentile area, unusual, maybe, for a rabbi who kept the law. The Decapolis was the region of the ten greek cities; this was foreign territory, these were not the home folks. Unusual, in a way, but in another not so unusual. When Jesus called men and women to follow him, it seemed clear from the start that people were not always going to take the most direct route. When Jesus called us to follow him---and this is really the most basic invitation---he says “follow me”---we are going to find ourselves in unlikely places.

Imagine an Irish kid who grows up in a partly religious, partly atheistic family. He loves music. And people the world over love his music. He becomes famous across the planet, in Shanghai and Los Angeles, in Paris and Rio De Janeiro, in Sydney and Rome, known by a single name, “Bono”. In his spare time he reads the Bible, of all books. I never had a problem with Christ”, he would say. I had a problem with Christians, but I never had a problem with Christ”. He does a benefit for the hungry people of the world, then a series of benefits, then he decides to spend the summer with his wife in Ethiopia, in the midst of a famine, working in a feeding camp. This is a man who has a villa in the south of France.

Followers of Jesus find themselves in unlikely places. But you don’t have to be a rock star. People in this community, people here this morning, find themselves in unlikely places. I think of a man in our church who spends a great deal of time with kids in a part of town that his work and social life would never take him to. I think of a couple who visit a church member with cancer. I think of two people in our church who rearranged their entire lives to develop a lifelong mission in Haiti. I think of people who spend the night in our basement, the catacombs, with the homeless. I think of people in our church who have spent a great deal of time encouraging others to give financially to God’s mission and vision for this church.

When we begin to follow Jesus, we sometimes find ourselves in unlikely places, places that are outside of our comfort zone. Well, back to Jesus. They bring him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

When you go to unlikely places, you are going to meet interesting, sometimes troubled and afflicted people. This man could neither speak nor hear. He could only see. Jesus is constantly meeting troubled, afflicted people in the gospels: blind people, deaf and dumb, lepers, a woman with an issue of blood, a crippled woman bound for eighteen years, a deranged person wandering around in the graveyard. He met another set of folks---the religious people, the ones he seemed to have the most trouble with, but they are not really our focus just now.

The troubled people, afflicted in some visible way, surrounded Jesus. “We are legion”, one of them had said to Jesus, “there are so many of us”. This reality had multiple meanings. First, there was the human suffering, which was evident. If you have come upon a highway accident or a sporting injury or an unexpected grief, the human suffering is palpable. But there was a deeper religious meaning. In the ancient middle east, troubled people, imperfect and impure people, afflicted people could not fully participate in the life of God’s people.

Something was wrong with them. They were excluded. They were untouchable.

And so Jesus is being asked to do two things. One, “lay your hands on this person, make them well, make them one of us”. Fix it. But second, “if Jesus did that, surely, his own hands would become unclean”. Do you sense the conflict?

I remember when our children were small, we would be walking along in some public place, one of them would reach down to pick up a piece of paper, or a discarded cup, or a wad of chewed gum, and one of us would quickly say “don’t touch that!”. That is a good thing for a parent to do.

But most of us, if we are honest, go through life with that motto still at work in our minds. Those are unclean people----don’t touch that. Those are impure people—don’t touch that. As if we are the clean, and they are the unclean, as if we are the pure and they are the impure.

The crowd is watching, hoping for some kind of public spectacle: What are you going to do with this one, Jesus?

Well, he takes the man aside, in private, away from the crowd.

Why does he do this? To give the man dignity? Most people who are sick, who are suffering, want some boundary that gives them some privacy. In our modern world of constant communication, we are tempted to watch the sufferings, the imperfections of people. The twenty four hour television news cycle is really like watching a train wreck about to happen.

Years ago I was pastor of a church in which a funeral for a young person was being held. A television anchor called me. Could the station film the service? No, I said. Could the station place cameras outside the sanctuary as people were going in? No, I said. Could they come in and take pictures of the sanctuary just prior to the service? No, I said. This is a public event, the anchor told me. This is not just about your church. I responded, “the family’s right to grieve is more important than the public’s desire to look in to their private suffering”.

He takes the man aside, away from the crowd.

Then he puts his fingers into his ears, and he spits and touches his tongue.

This was a ritual of healing: he touches the man, he crosses a division between clean and unclean, pure and impure, and, of course, this is what Jesus always does. He eats with sinners, he welcomes children, he touches lepers, he always shows up in the most unlikely places. He actually touches the man, which was a violation of the Book of Leviticus. He touches the man in the place of his pain and disability: his ears, his mouth.

If you visualize the scene, you can imagine that Jesus is directly in front of the man. He is taking the man’s head into his hands, and in that moment, they see each other, face to face. What is it like to see Jesus, face to face? In the Old Testament, one could not see God face to face, well, only Moses could see God face to face.

But Jesus is in a face-to-face encounter with the man, the man who can neither speak nor hear, but he can see. Those who are deaf or speechless, I am told, often compensate for that in other ways. Ray Charles was blind, but he could hear, and he could sing. A disability in one area often becomes an ability in another. The man with Jesus must have taken in that moment with a heightened sense of perception.

And so his eyes were wide open. Is it possible that the healing began in that moment? When he saw Jesus clearly, and Jesus saw him?

In this moment Jesus looks up to heaven, He acknowledges that God is the source of healing. Then he sighs, or groans, a sign, perhaps of the intercession of which Paul speaks in Romans 8. 26, sighs too deep for words.

And then he says, to the man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Mark records the Aramaic language of Jesus, the language in which he spoke. We find it in another place: “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Be opened”, Jesus speaks the word and immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. In the spoken word, recalling the pattern of Genesis 1, there is a new creation. The man is healed. If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the old has passed away, the new has come. When Jesus encounters imperfection, his response is not to destroy. His response is to heal, to create, to re-create. And of course the healing miracles were not only an experience of compassion. They were signs that pointed to something bigger. Those present understood that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God…He will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one. Not the best marketing plan in the world, right? What was this all about? He does something amazing, restorative, even beautiful and then he says, “don’t tell anybody”. Was it reverse psychology? Probably not. More than likely other factors are at work. Jesus was not in this for the applause or admiration of the crowds. Jesus wanted the act to speak for itself. And perhaps Jesus did not want his work on this earth to be overwhelmed by demands of a traveling healer. He had other priorities that were within his Father’s purpose for him. “Don’t tell anybody”. And yet, the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

Good news travels fast. Do you know what gossip is? You might have in mind a sense of what gossip is, but let me tell you about the origin of the word. Gossip is an old English word that comes from two words, God and sibling. Gossip happened, in old England when a family member or God parent spoke on your behalf or said something good about you. This changed over time to two people talking to each other, and then to the idle, mostly negative talk itself. And yet, in its origin, gossip was that feeling you get when something wonderful happens to someone or for someone in your family and you just have to share it! Don’t tell anyone”, Jesus says. Of course, they are disobedient. They are compelled to tell the story, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Brothers and sisters, we are the followers of Jesus. If we follow him, we are going to be led into unlikely places. The world in which we live is in need of healing. It is easy to judge the imperfections of the world, and even to become preoccupied with our own failures. What does the gospel of Jesus Christ mean on this weekend preceding the 9/11 Anniversary and following the Katrina anniversary? Could it be a call to follow Jesus, the healer, to receive the gift of sight, that we might see more clearly and the gift of speech, that we might speak more truthfully? And what if, after all of the destruction that has been visited upon us, there was a possibility of a new creation? Wouldn’t that be a miracle? But don’t we follow someone who is able to perform miracles?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

generous orthodoxy

I have been reading a number of recently published books in the "emergent" vein, and while there is much there that is not particularly my cup of coffee, I like the concept of a "generous orthodoxy". I know generous orthodoxy predates the emergent movement, but of late this gang seems to be developing it in a substantial way.

By generous orthodoxy, I am thinking of a model of faith that holds to a solid core of doctrine, and yet at the same time allows God to judge the merits or deficiencies of our intellectual or moral response to that doctrine. The more I wrestle with the concept, the more I realize that I really don't want to give up on either one. I want to be orthodox, and I want to be generous. Maybe I am seeking a non-judgmental evangelicalism ( I have blogged on this before). I am not embracing syncretism, the mixing together of doctrine with other substances. I do want to believe in and trust the One God whom I know as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the same time, my adoration of God, and trust in God should lead me to allow Him to be the judge of others---their behaviors in this life, their ultimate status in the life to come.

Could it be that there is something within the concept of generous orthodoxy that relates to the grace and holiness of God, and seeks to hold these two facets of the divine nature together? Might it be true that when we lose either one, the faith is impoverished; Grace without holiness is libertinism, holiness without grace is legalism? Could it be that Paul wrestled with this same set of ideas in his letters?

I wonder.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Two writings, coming from very different places in the publishing world: the first, a devastating article in the current New Yorker about the Duke Lacrosse scandal and its illumination of hidden cultural realities at that institution; and the second, a piece by Rusty Reno in First Things ranking Duke as the number one institution in which to study theology in the United States. I have little doubt that both articles speak the truth. The sad result of reading them both together, however, is how little connection one seems to have with the other. Read it all here and here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the kingdom, the power and the glory: a reflection on the lord's prayer

We conclude a series of messages over the summer Sundays on The Lord’s Prayer. We have thought about these words that Jesus himself taught us to use when we pray. We have reflected on

the holiness and nearness of God [hallowed be thy name]
the coming of God’s kingdom [they kingdom come….]
the providence of God in daily bread [give us this day…]
the call to forgive as a experience of grace; [forgive us our sin]
and the necessity of self-examination in the face of evil [deliver us…]

Now the conclusion, the doxology: thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. What does it mean to pray these words, as we do, every Sunday?

The kingdom of God was the central focus of the teachings of Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry he announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near— repent, and believe the good news” (Mark 1. 15).

The very presence of Jesus on this earth was a sign that something revolutionary was happening.

His healings were a sign of the kingdom.
His teachings, especially in the sermon on the mount, were descriptions of what living in the kingdom looked like.
His parables were descriptions of the kingdom, usually surprising and unpredictable portrayals.
His death was a kind of reversal of expectations about how a King would come into prominence.
And his resurrection was an announcement of the victory, that

“the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11.15).

The kingdom of God has come near in Jesus. And so he taught his disciples to pray Thy kingdom come…and we conclude the prayer with a reminder that the kingdom is God’s.

Now we don’t often use “kingdom” language in our world today, but it is easy to grasp what he was saying. We do have rulers, dictators, emperors, presidents, prime ministers. We erect statues to them, I think of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, or Mao’s tomb in Beijing. There are kingdoms scattered across this earth, and the emperors who rule them are treated like gods. In this life they are not questioned, and in the afterlife they are embalmed or preserved or chiseled in stone for the ages to come.

God’s people have always had trouble with these kingdoms.

Deep in the Old Testament, in 1 Samuel 8, there is a conversation between Samuel and the Israelite leaders. The leaders want a king. “All of the other nations have a king”, they say, “why can’t we have one”. That sounds like a child, doesn’t it? Samuel implied, “but you’re not like the other nations”. That sounds like a parent, doesn’t it? “Give us a king”, they demand, and so Samuel brings the request to God. And God says, “I am their King”. But the people persist. “Give us a king”. And then God says, “The king will send you out to make implements of war, and to run before his chariots…and the king will take one-tenth of your grain and vineyards and cattle”.

Long before Jesus taught the disciples to say these words, people were reflecting on what it meant to have a king. The Lord’s Prayer is a weekly reminder that this might not be such a good idea. “THINE is the kingdom…”, we pray. Jesus intentionally used the language of politics, in the midst of the Roman Empire, to make the point that the ruler of everything was the One God whom he called Abba, Father.

Now the faithful who lived in Israel were waiting for a king, they were hoping for a new kingdom. And they had heard amazing things about Jesus.

He drew crowds.
He performed miracles.
He could shape public opinion.
There was a buzz!
He was the next new thing.

John the Baptist had been put in prison by Herod. Kings could do things like that. He sent word to Jesus, “are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11). Are you the King? Are you going to establish the kingdom?

Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another? Jesus responds, “go and tell John what you see and hear”:

The blind see.
The lame walk.
The deaf hear.
The dead are raised
And the poor receive the good news. (Matthew 11).

This was a clue that the kingdom was not quite what we had been expecting. We need to know that when we pray. God’s kingdom is not of this world.

It comes as a surprise, like a thief in the night.
It is present in small things, like a mustard seed.
It doesn’t turn out like we had planned, like when the A-list guests decline the invitation and so you have to go out and find warm bodies to enjoy the gourmet food.

When we pray “thine is the kingdom”, we are getting in touch with one of the biggest ideas of all. God’s ways are not our ways, and so we sometimes miss what God is doing, but make no mistake, God is present in this world, God is alive, God is real, and God’s kingdom is the most important force on this planet. To grasp this we have to repent, change our minds.

Thine is the kingdom, and the power. Many have noted that we are praying about power immediately after saying the words “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, and this is no accident. Power is related to temptation---Jesus was tempted with all of the power that the Evil One could give him. Power is related to evil---we can look at our world, we can open the morning newspaper, we can look within our own hearts.

It is good for those of us who have some power in this world to think about power.

Power is important. I took part in a program years ago at the Center For Creative Leadership in Greensboro, one of those weeks where you are diagnosed and filmed in every way possible, where you play games and take tests and climb in trees and put together puzzles…Anyway, I recall a comment from one of the leaders that has stayed with me. He said,

“If you don’t think you can change the system you are in, you will use your power for personal gain. If you think you can change the system you are in, you will use your power for the common good”.

Power is important. This prayer reminds us that God is all-powerful. And mercifully, God’s power is present in this world for the good of people. Kings have power, but Jesus did not come into this world to use this power for his own personal gain-he came not to be served, but to serve. He gave his power away---

he touched lepers,
he fed the hungry,
he ate with sinners,
he embraced children,
he gave his life, for you and me.

I will share another personal experience related to power. A few years ago I had breakfast with a friend who has been a leader in our denomination, and is now retired. At that time it appeared that I was going to assume a position in the church, and he knew something about all of this. He said to me, at some point in the conversation, “Ken, I want to tell you something about power: when you have power, the less you use, the more you have

That is a paradox, but it sound very much like what power is in the kingdom of God. When we pray Thine is the kingdom, and the power…we are grateful that God is not an earthly king, and that’s God’s power is not exercised in worldly ways. Indeed the ultimate sign of God’s kingdom and power is in the crucified Jesus, king of the Jews, his body broken for us, his blood shed for us. His is the kingdom, the power…

And the glory…the Greek word for glory is doxa, from which we get our word doxology. We stand in praise to God, and we acknowledge that the glory belongs to him, and not to us. Paul writes, about Jesus,

Though he was in the form of God he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and has given him the name which is above every name, So that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)

He was equal with the ruler of the universe---kingdom.
He emptied himself and took the form of a servant---power.
His name is above every name---glory.

These words given to us by Jesus teach us to pray, but they also teach us much more. They teach us to see the world in a new way, and we have to close our eyes to do that. They remind us that it is finally not about you, or me. It is about God. And once we have that perspective, we want to live in this world, we want to be a part of the transformation that Jesus promises: “on earth as it is in heaven”.

It is a revolution against the kingdoms of this world to pray for God’s kingdom. It is absurd to give up power when the world has been teaching us to grasp as much of it as possible for as long as we can remember. It is against our nature to push ourselves to the margins and to place Jesus at the center. But that is what we mean when we pray: Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.

Forever. We occasionally glimpse the kingdom now, but we do not fully grasp it. Here and now there is a foretaste. He shall reign for ever and ever, alleluia, goes the refrain from Revelation, that we know and love from Handel’s Messiah. And then, Amen. A little word that communicates faith and confidence.

We are bold to pray these words, bold to ask for the big things, bold to believe that God really does know us and love us,
bold to believe that God will provide all that we need,
bold to believe that people can forgive each other,
bold to believe that good can overcome evil,
bold to believe that all of it, all of it, the kingdom, the power, the glory, belongs to God, as we sang once as children, “he’s got the whole world in his hands”.
Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever! Amen.