Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13
I admit it was hard to get my mind back on the Lord’s Prayer as we quickly sped through Plans A, B and C for our Coronavirus response and worship this week. I’m glad to be getting back to it, because I do think it’s important to have words we know to come back to in times of high stress and anxiety – but also because I don’t think the words of the Lord’s Prayer are only relevant when we’re sitting in church, but also when the world gets really real around us.
If you’ve ever been in a more traditional church on a communion Sunday, you may have heard the Lord’s Prayer is introduced this: “And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say: Our Father, who art in heaven…” Have you ever thought of the Lord’s Prayer as bold? It probably doesn’t seem very bold as we recite it each week. It may even seem the opposite of bold. It feels familiar.
But if we think about the things we’re praying for, it’s actually pretty bold. I think that’s especially true this week, as we come to the line “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus was a lot of things: he was a teacher, he was a healer; but maybe even more fundamentally, Jesus was a preacher of the Kingdom of God. He told stories about what the Kingdom of God was like. He told people to look around them and see: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. And he invited people to repent, for the Kingdom of God was at hand.
And so it makes sense that when he taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God.
What does that look like to you? When you think of the Kingdom of God, what word or image comes to mind? (Invite them to unmute – a place where there is no war, disease, death, grief, or pain – and maybe, positively, a place where everyone is cared for, everyone has what they need, everyone is valued as a child of God. In the Hebrew Bible it’s sometimes depicted as a banquet; Jesus talks about it like that too.)
That’s not exactly what our world looks like now, right? Yes, we get glimpses, here and there, for sure; but that world we described isn’t our world, right? And so when we think about the Kingdom of God we think of a place that’s far away. It’s a place we hope to get to one day. But Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray that we might get to the Kingdom of God one day; he doesn’t tell us to pray that we might escape this world and land ourselves in a better one; he tells us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”
I talked last week about why Jesus calls God Father (and it’s not because God is a man!) and similarly, I know people who don’t like the language of kingdom – after all, not only does it depict God as male, it also makes this perfect place sound potentially tyrranical, or at least fairly undemocratic. There are those who would call it the Reign of God – I do this sometimes – or even the kin-dom of God, which stresses the idea of all of God’s children as one family.
I’ve never really given up on the term Kingdom, though, because I like how it describes a place, and I think that helps us picture our world as this place that it could be. And just like there’s a reason Jesus calls God Father, there’s a reason he uses this language of Kingdom, and that is he wants to contrast God’s Kingdom to all the other kingdoms of this world.
When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” it’s a direct threat to all the other kingdoms that ask for our allegiance. Country, economy – if we pray this prayer, they don’t have our ultimate allegiance.
Then we come to this next part: “Thy will be done.” God’s will is a term we tend to throw around a lot: we use it, for example, to describe whatever happens in our lives. Sometimes we say it specifically about bad things that happen, like someone’s death. That can become pretty harmful theology at times. There are those right now who say that this Coronavirus outbreak is God’s will. Some of them have pretty clear ideas on why that is; others don’t; it’s just God’s will because it happened. Sometimes we pray to know God’s will so that we can know what our exact next step should be, and that’s probably better.
These days I’m not so sure that God’s will is so set with specifics. I think God’s will is for us to love one another, to value and care for one another, to share what we have with one another, to forgive one another, to stand up for peace and work for justice and protect the vulnerable, and honestly, the rest is details.
That certainly doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work in the world, but that I believe God is at work on behalf of those things. And that doesn’t mean that God never has a preferred alternative in a given situation, but that God’s preferred alternative will always be the one that best encompasses those things.
I want to tell you a fun fact here about Hebrew poetry, and I promise it’s going to be relevant. Hebrew poetry likes to utilize this poetic device called synonymous parallelism. There are different kinds of parallelism but synonymous parallelism is when you have two lines that say the same thing, just a little differently. For example, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” That’s from Psalm 19.
I’m telling you this because when I learned about synonymous parallelism, I understood this line of the Lord’s Prayer differently. Now I hear, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and I realize those two parts are saying the same thing. When God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven, that is God’s kingdom come.
And that means of course that we have a part to play in that.
Not that we can ever be responsible for building God’s Kingdom or bringing it to earth ourselves. That’s not our job. Jesus even said it’s already here: the kingdom of God is among you, or the kingdom of God is within you. What’s our job is to live like we believe that’s true, like we believe that love already reigns. And when we do that, those glimpses we have of heaven on earth will be more and more.
Is that something we’re ready to pray for? (I hope so, we already did.) In this scared and hurting world, may we be bold to live like God’s Kingdom is already here. Amen.