Sermon of the Week
The Lord’s Prayer:
Bring About Your Kingdom.
What are we doing when we pray?
Well, there are lots of ways to break down what prayer is trying to accomplish.
Some people do this with big words.
Seminary, by the way, is great for this. If you want to learn big words, go to Seminary.
Like intercessory prayer—which is when you are praying for God
to intercede on behalf of someone else:
-help my mom who is suffering from cancer;
-help my friend, who just got fired;
-help my son, who is learning how to be a good man
at a time when demagogues are trying to make him afraid
that somehow listening to the claims of victims
means that no one can trust him any longer
help him see through all of this and know that good men
don’t fear trusting and hearing the women in their lives;
-help heal my neighbor’s ugliness and cruelty,
who has been laughing at the grief others seem to be bearing
those are intercessory prayers.
There are prayers of supplication, where you lift up your own needs to God,
and Imprecatory prayers, when you seek to vanquish your foes, or,
if you’re trying to be more holy about it,
just those people you are absolutely sure are God’s foes.
We don’t talk about those kind of prayers very much.
There are benedictory prayers, where we ask for God’s blessing on something,
and there are confessorial prayers, where we speak truth about our faults.
Seminary isn’t the only place we learn about the varied and complex ways
that we go about praying.
When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I once had a Sunday School project
where we traced our hand on construction paper
and used each finger, including the thumb
to highlight a different type of prayer:
Petition—asking for something
Intercession and Confession—we covered those
Thanksgiving and Praise.
I’ve seen some versions put “listening” on the palm
a reminder that sometimes the best prayers are the ones where we don’t say anything
but instead seek to dwell in the presence of God
and listen to what God might be trying to say to us.
I think Anne Lamott did us a great service
when she simplified all of this for us in a little book she wrote a few years ago.
The three essential prayers, she said are these: Help. Thanks. Wow.
Help: something’s not right, come give us a hand.
Thanks: God, you’re amazing and we know it.
Wow: There are not enough words to express our awe and our reverence.
Help. Thanks. Wow.[i]
That’s pretty good.
It will get you through most of the stuff you need, day in and day out.
even if the Seminary words are helpful when you’re playing trivia.
I like that listening piece of the sketch-out-your-hand prayer
from my childhood, though.
We should explore that a little bit more,
because sometimes we get so caught up in what we are saying
that we mistake our talking to God for the only way that legitimate prayer happens.
That’s far too limiting.
When you break it down,
prayer is how we dwell in the presence of God.
The Apostle Paul, in one of his letters (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
suggested that we should pray without ceasing
by which he didn’t mean that you should go about muttering words all the time
What he means is that
you should live your life in the very presence of God.
Every minute: God is right there with you.
This is kind of like the Internet meme that floats around every now and then
that falsely credits these words to St Francis of Assisi
“Preach the Gospel at all times. When Necessary, use words.”
It’s a beautiful idea, just not Francis’ idea.
The point of all of these, I think,
is that prayer is a somewhat different concept
if God isn’t a being locked up in heaven beyond the clouds,
that you have to give special effort in order to reach.
Prayer isn’t like picking up a telephone.
You’re not tapping God on the shoulder when you bow your heads to pray.
God is the living power that undergirds all that is
the one in and through we have our very being, our very existence.
the one who opens up new possibilities
when everything seems hopeless…
the one who saves us and redeems us from living in guilt and fear
so we can live fearlessly, selflessly for others…
When THAT God is closer to us than our own breathing
the still small voice that prays for us, even when we do not know how to pray,
then, in one way, we are ALWAYS at prayer, sometimes when we don’t even know it.
because we are always already dwelling in the presence of God.
That means that I am, sometimes, a lousy pray-er.
All those moments where
my thoughts and my actions are full of rage, or greed, or jealousy, or indifference.
Indifference is a big one.
Skepticism about the future,
doubt about my own abilities and self worth,
And sometimes my prayers are better
when I’m thinking about something bigger than myself
or I do something kind without any thought of reward
generally those times when I’m trying to do good and to seek after the right.
or allow myself to hear Jesus tell me “do not fear, for I am with you,
till the end of the age.”
Those are better prayers. Godly prayers.
Pray without ceasing.
Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.
God is always with you.
You are always, in some way, at prayer.
Ok. But prayer is also an ACTIVITY where we focus ourselves on God.
This is what we usually mean by prayer.
Stop what you’re doing, and focus on God. Prayer.
This kind of Prayer, to be clear, is for our sake, not for God’s sake.
God doesn’t need our prayers.
God knows our needs before we ask them, says the Bible.
Prayers are for us.
They help us FEEL connected to God;
they prime our ears and our hearts to LISTEN to what God might be saying to us;
they help us ORIENT our lives to what God is doing;
and they HABITUATE us into a mode of living
a way of living
that is always, everywhere in God’s very presence.
This sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer
is exploring the most beloved prayer in the Christian Tradition.
But both of them start the same way.
Jesus, when talking to his disciples,
suggests these specific words
as a way to orient ourselves more clearly
to the God who is all around us.
“When you pray, say” these words,
Jesus starts the prayer according to Luke.
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then this way…” says Jesus according to Matthew.
In each case, Jesus is offering a guide for our praying,
a way for us to more authentically understand who God is
and what God is doing
and, in so doing, to dwell in God’s love and God’s presence.
Who Art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Last week we looked at God as the focus of all of our Prayers
and, most certainly, this prayer, the greatest prayer.
Then, after those words, Jesus suggests we pray this:
Thy Kingdom Come.
Thy Will be Done
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas,
a couple of theologians who used to teach together at Duke University,
wrote a little book on this prayer.
“Unexpectedly” they observe
“quite surprisingly, politics has crept into our Christian praying at this point.
Here we are, talking about God, heaven, holiness
and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a political argument
about a kingdom…
we have not prayed
‘Lord, bless our nation’
or ‘Lord protect my family.’
We pray your kingdom come.”[ii]
Sometimes people squirm at the thought of politics at church.
But really, its all over the place in the bible.
Politics is the stuff of kingdoms, and empires
and democratic republics, if you want to bring it into the 21st century.
We’ve noted before how the root of that word “politics”
is from the Greek word for the city
and when God tells us to love the city in which God sets us
when Jesus teaches about the poor
and the one without sin casting the first stone
when he tells his disciples to go feed the hungry
and to give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, but to God what is God’s
these are all politics.
They are all about Kingdom.
Earthly, human Kingdoms,
and God’s Kingdom.
We squirm at the thought of politics at church.
Why is that?
I think that’s because we confuse politics with partisanship
the way that human beings try,
in this day and age
to group up with others to get things done in a particular civil apparatus.
We’re not very good at making a distinction between those two things.
But God’s Politics are all about the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Thy Kingdom Come, o God.
Thy Will be done.
May it be here, in our neck of the woods, like it is in Heaven
that place we call your neck of the woods.
Jesus, according to Mark
after he was baptized by John at the Jordan river
and experienced temptation
Jesus started his ministry
proclaiming the Kingdom of God come to earth[iii]
an unstoppable reality of justice coming
and peace being possible
and righteousness becoming the thing that people do,
just because its right
the hungry filled with good things.
We get nervous about that,
because we know we’re not always good pray-ers
and we know that good people of good faith
differ on how we think God’s Kingdom
ought to be manifest in the world
and we sometimes doubt that most of THOSE people
are actually acting in good faith
and we’re not good at letting there be some DIFFERENCE there
difference at the practical ways we might go about
seeking God’s kingdom together.
We also have a hard time telling the difference
between good people acting in good faith
but different from us
on the one hand
and people acting in bad faith:
seeking to subvert the Kingdom of God
because they seek their own wealth, their own advantage
their own success instead, at the expense of others.
To me, this is one of the most powerful things
about having these words about God’s kingdom here
in the most central prayer of the Christian faith.
Week in, and week out
we ask for God to come and make her Kingdom real.
That’s not a partisan prayer.
It’s a Christian prayer,
built on the promises of God in scripture
and evoking the time when every knee shall bow
and every tongue shall confess
that a life of selfless devotion to one another
having the same love and finding a way to living in concord
is God’s design for the world.
And we pray it:
Democrats and Republicans and Greens and Libertarians alike.
It is a prayer that criticizes all of our parties,
whenever they fail to live up to God’s high standards,
and calls each of us to seek God’s Kingdom the best way we can.
That’s not easy.
It involves engagement and sacrifice.
Deference at times
and shouting truth to one another at other times.
But Christians cannot avoid politics.
It’s right there, in our central prayer.
We read this morning the Dream of God’s peaceable kingdom
in the book of the prophet Isaiah.
It is a scene of justice and peace that so captivated the imagination
of the nineteenth-century American artist Edward Hicks
that he painted the scene—the Peaceable Kingdom
—at least sixty-two times.[iv]
I love that painting.
My father had a copy of one.
It hung in his office and it will forever remind me of him.
Hicks, as he was painting, grew increasingly discouraged
by the conflicts of his own day and age,
particularly those within his religious community.
So each time he painted it anew,
the wild animals and predators
became more vicious,
But still, in the end, Hicks drew them at peace
under God’s peaceful spirit…
It is a vision of God’s creation, RESTORED:
a wolf resting beside a lamb,
a leopard lying down with a kid,
a calf and a lion together,
an INFANT plays over the den of a poisonous snake.
In Hicks’s paintings, the eyes of the animals,
perpetual enemies, predators and prey,
are large, wide open, innocent, vulnerable, in amazement—
as they should be—at this unlikely arrangement.
It is one of the most persistent themes of the Bible.
God means for people to live in peace
with one another and with the whole creation,
God means for the foundations of peace—
righteousness and justice—
to fill the earth.
God has given creation the means to establish justice.
God will not rest until the cause of righteousness CAPTIVATES
the hearts and minds of everyone—all nations.
God will never cease working for peace in the world.
God’s own son will be called the Prince of Peace.
And in the meantime, in OUR meantime,
-there is Syria, and ISIS,
and Israel, and Palestine, and Iran, and North Korea, and Cameroon
-there are random shootings at schools or shopping malls
-there’s a US president
mocking the brave testimony of a sexual assault victim
and divided partisanship on capital hill
-and hundreds of kids relocated to remote camps
away from schools and lawyers and journalists
while they are somehow processed
by our overburdened immigration system
In the meantime, in OUR meantime, Woody Allen once observed,
“The lion and the lamb may lie down together,
but the lamb isn’t going to get much sleep…”[v]
The struggle for us, for people of faith, has always been:
what do WE do with that contrast?
Are we going to look at this and throw up our hands
And say “eh, there really no chance for THAT kind of peace
That kind of Kingdom ain’t comin, that’s for sure”
“Its too idealistic, its too IMPLAUSIBLE.”
Here’s what I know:
This dream, and this vision has inspired countless believers
to grasp a hold of God’s desire for this world and to
work tirelessly to make it a reality.
It leads us to pray,
week after week, that God’s Kingdom may come.
And if we believe that the arc of history may be long
but that it bends towards justice
then we devote ourselves to God’s Kingdom.
And we get to work
with people of good faith of every sort
so that God’s justice and peace may prevail.
Today we celebrate communion
with Christians all over the world.
World Communion Sunday lifts up our unity in spite of our differences.
How God’s people speak every language under heaven,
do things in such different ways,
but, amazingly, by God’s grace
are all one.
May we Give God thanks for God’s wonderful gifts
and dedicate ourselves to God’s kingdom
not shying away from God’s politics
but wrestling with them, making them our very own
so that we can do our part
to help fill the hungry with good food
and make sure that our neighbors are loved
just as God surely loves each and every one of them.
May it be so.
[i] Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York, New York: Riverhead Books, 2012)
[ii] Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & The Christian Life (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1996) p. 50
[iv] As noted by Paul Simson Duke in “Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Year A. Volume 1 Advent Through Transfiguration (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press) p 31. 2010.