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.


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