Monday, March 9, 2015

"Pray in This Way" - A Lenten Exploration of the Lord's Prayer

For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer.

Today: Your Kingdom Come.  And the question that comes to me right away is this: Do we know what we are actually praying for?”  I’m not sure that any of us really completely understand the implications of this phrase – because if we did would we really mean it when we pray “Your Kingdom Come?” 

What exactly are we praying for when we pray this petition – Thy Kingdom Come?  First of all We are praying that our own kingdoms may perish… That is, the kingdoms of businessmen bending over their filing cabinets, of housewives lovingly looking after their crockery, of workers going to their lathes, of hospital patients opening their side-table drawers.  For we all have our own kingdoms, large and small.  We all have our spheres of life in which we reign.  There are many such kingdoms.  Hence many of us pray the words “Thy kingdom come” with our lips, but with our hearts we are actually praying, “No, no, MY kingdom come.”1.

For, if we are to pray the prayer sincerely then we need to consider the implications of what it is we are praying for and this will require us to reconsider our priorities, the way we live our lives and the way we are in relationship with God and with others.

So then – what exactly is this Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it – The Kingdom of Heaven)?  Is it a future only place, a “heaven” where we go when we die?  Or is the kingdom here on earth?  Something we experience now through Christ?  The answer, according to Scripture – is BOTH – The Kingdom of God is both NOT YET and the Kingdom of God is NOW. It is not one or the other alone – it is BOTH together, held in balance with each other.

The Bible talks about the Kingdom coming into its fullness at the end of times with the final coming of the Messiah.  The prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of these final days when the lion shall lie down the lamb, when men shall beat their swords into farming implements and a little child shall lead.  And in the book of Revelation,  St. John of Patmos adds to this image of the future kingdom of God as a place of complete wholeness and joy – reading from Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 

The Kingdom of God is NOT YET!

But at the same time, Jesus proclaims the Good News that the Kingdom of God is come into our midst – NOW – It is come in Jesus and we experience it NOW.  In Luke, chapter 4, Jesus enters into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And in Matthew, Jesus receives a question from the imprisoned John the Baptist – “Are you the one we are waiting for” are you the Messiah or should we wait for someone else?  Jesus responds:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
The Kingdom of God is NOW – It has come into our midst NOW, in Jesus. 

So in this Lord’s Prayer, what is this Kingdom we pray will come to us?  It is an experience of the Shalom, the wholeness of God, that we pray God will allow us to experience in our lives now; and which we look forward to experiencing even more intensely in the future.  The kingdom is NOW and the kingdom is NOT YET.

For most of us the NOT YET part of this is obvious, right?  We are surrounded with signs of the NOT YET – sickness, hunger, violence, abuse, addiction, war, racism, death!  All of these are signs that the kingdom has not yet come in its fullness and that we continue to live in a world that is fallen and broken.  I am sure you can easily think of all kinds of examples.  The call of this prayer though is to see that God balances the NOT YET with the NOW and we can begin to look for and to see examples of the kingdom come NOW into our midst.

But sometimes it is hard to see.  In the one of the parables from Matthew 13, Jesus begins by saying – the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. What could this possibly mean?  Well, considering the size of the seed itself, one point that Jesus is making I think is that the kingdom of God is sometimes tiny and hard to see.  But that is not the only point, in the 1st century mustard plants were very invasive and were considered to be weeds!  And I am sure we all know what it is like to deal with weeds.  So Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is like a weed.  In other words, like a mustard plant you can count on the Kingdom of God to spring up where you least expect it and where we might not even want to see it.  And it will not be easy to ignore or get rid of and it will ultimately take over our own personal kingdoms. 

In the midst of our struggles, in the midst of our losses and in the darkness that we encounter in life, we experience the kingdom come to us.  We can find the Kingdom of God springing up all over the place offering care and comfort, love and grace and healing and presence; and also calling for justice, working to provide food to the hungry, visiting the lonely and so on. 
For ultimately this petition is about us – you and me - we that are called to be messengers and instruments of God’s kingdom come into the world.  Each time we pray those words – “your kingdom come” – we are asking God to take over our personal kingdoms and replace them with God’s Kingdom and to use us so that others would experience the Kingdom come NOW, where they might least expect it.  And we look forward to the day when the Kingdom of God will come to us in all its glorious fullness.  Amen.

1. Quotation from “The Lord’s Prayer” by Jan Milic Lockman, Eerdmans 1990, page 57.

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