I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9. Matthew is in the New Testament – about two-thirds of the way through the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9.
To set the stage, Matthew 6 is part of a long section of teaching from Jesus that took place as he sat on the side of a mountain with his disciples and the crowds who gathered to hear him. This sermon of Jesus, known as the Sermon on the Mount, contains some of the most recognizable teachings of Jesus: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; Turn the other cheek; Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear; Do not judge, so that you may not be judged; Do to others as you would have them do to you. And also, the prayer known as the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
This fall, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus as he teaches us to pray. The Lord’s Prayer, or any prayer, is not a magic formula or a secret technique to master. In prayer, we enter into one of the central practices of the Christian faith, where Christians come before the Lord with their joys, their pains, their hopes, and their needs and know they are heard by the God who is willing and able to do all that is good for them.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is teaching us to pray in a way that draws us into the Christian faith. By praying this prayer, the Spirit bends us toward God in a way that we would not have found on our own. This is why we are inviting you, maybe for the first time, to take this prayer and learn it by heart. Pray with us this fall as we take in the Lord’s Prayer and let it nourish us in following Jesus. Over the past couple weeks, we have been chewing on this prayer like a dog with its favorite bone, letting it roll around in our mouth, examining its flavors, and taking it in so it might feed our souls.
This morning we find ourselves gnawing on the second petition, the second of six requests we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. It is Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9, but before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s Word. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven,
give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
and we also have forgiven our debtors,
and do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The second thing Jesus teaches us to pray for is the coming of God’s kingdom: Your kingdom come. To pray Your Kingdom Come is a prayer of allegiance to the God who is the only true king, whose service is perfect freedom. And to pray Your Kingdom Come is prayer of hope that allows us to live and worship in a broken world. Your Kingdom Come is a prayer of allegiance and a prayer of hope.
I found Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God to be difficult to grasp on an emotional level in the States. For there to be a kingdom, there has to be a king. That’s how it works. The way God rules the world is through a monarchy. But in the States, we proudly have no king. An early slogan of the revolutionary period was “We serve no sovereigns here.” In fact, the last time there was a king there, we threw tea into a harbor then wrote a declaration saying we no longer had a king. We, the people, would be the king. The master of our own destiny, the captain of our souls. You can imagine then that hearing how often Jesus talks about kingdom and kings sits a little funny.
I am still learning about how confederation works and the fact that, in Canada, you still have a queen, but I still imagine that the language of kingdom and kingship can feel off-putting. We want to be king. We want to be in charge of our lives, to choose our own destiny, to choose our own identity. However, the truth is that everyone serves something. Everyone serves something. Every one has some sort of king they give their allegiance to, something at the center of their lives that defines everything else.
The question we must face is not whether we will serve something else, but who. Don’t believe me? Maybe you think, well he’s a pastor, he has to tell us to worship, of course he is going to say we should give our trust and allegiance to God. Listen to this from the unbelieving novelist David Foster Wallace. Remember, he doesn’t claim to follow Jesus, but here is what he says:
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings.
Did you hear that? Everybody worships something, everyone gives their allegiance, their trust, to something. Give it to the wrong thing, it will eat you alive. David Foster Wallace misses some things, he doesn’t understand that it makes all the difference in the world whether you worship Allah or Jesus Christ, but he does get this: There is no such thing as someone who doesn’t worship, as someone who doesn’t pledge allegiance to something. Everyone puts something at the center of their lives, everyone places their trust somewhere and finds their meaning and purpose in it. Everyone. If you think differently, you are just fooling yourself or you have made yourself and your desires into the center of your universe.
Wallace rightly points to something the Bible says over and over again: If you worship anything but God, if you place your trust in any other king but the true king, it will eat you alive. If you have ever seen someone valued being seen as successful more than anything, you will see what happens. Everything else can be sacrificed on that altar – family, time, integrity. If anything threatens their reputation, the reaction is extreme. It destroys. Replace success with power, with intelligence, with your own choice, with money, with our country, with your political party, with alcohol, with you-name-it and results are the same. It will eat you alive. It consumes everything else in its path in order to achieve what it desires.
Everyone serves something. Everyone has a king and it makes all the difference who that king is, but anyone else but the true king will eat your alive, will leave destruction and misery in its wake.
In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our hearts, Jesus teaches us to pray, your kingdom come. Christians pray for God’s Kingdom. Christians long for every square inch of creation to know the truth that God alone is king.
Jesus teaches us to pray, your kingdom come, and this kingdom is different than the kingdoms we see in this world. Serving God is different than serving money, power, sex, or success. The kingdom of God brings true freedom and true peace.
In a world where the kings of power, wealth, and success chew up their subjects and spit out their bones, there is a different kingdom with a different king. In a world where war devours generations of children in the name of blood, soil, and country, where sex is king and promises everything we could ever hope for, but only leaves us hollow, where making ourselves king has only left us more lonely, there is a different kingdom with a different king.
your kingdom come.
In this kingdom, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, there is true freedom, true peace. Because this king does not consume the lives of his subjects, but pours out his own life for them. In the kingdom of God there is joy that does not fade, like the best wine that appears at the end of the banquet. In the kingdom of God, there is true peace between God and humanity and between the peoples, so that even creation – the wolf and the lamb, the young child and the asp, can play together. In the kingdom of God, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the thirsty are sated, and the poor are lifted up from the dust. A different kind of kingdom and a different kind of king.
This kingdom is not built upon the lives of those who give themselves for the king, but upon the life of the king who gave his life for them. In this kingdom, there is a good shepherd, not a tyrant, on the throne. Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A different kingdom with a different kind of king. A king who brings life by giving his life, who brings joy by enduring sorrow, who brings peace by the blood of his cross.
Your kingdom come is a prayer that calls for a response. Do you want to be part of this kingdom? Do you want to know Christ, to be counted as a citizen of his kingdom? Do you want to serve this king, who gives life instead of taking it? There can be no neutrality when it comes to the kingdom of God – some are citizens of this kingdom and some of another kingdom. We cannot serve two masters. To be drafted into the kingdom of Christ means renouncing all those other kings and receiving the gifts of belonging to King Jesus. The word the Bible uses for this is ‘repentance’ – a turning around of your life, a bending your knee before Jesus.
To pray your kingdom come is to renounce every other kingdom and every other king – everything else we might put at the center of our lives – and place our hope in the one true king, whose kingdom is grace, Jesus Christ.
Praying your kingdom come means the kingdom of Jesus Christ and no other. Which also means it is a prayer of hope. No matter where we live, what is going on, how the winds blow in culture or in our lives, Jesus Christ is King. His kingdom is coming and will finally come in all its fullness when he returns. Christians live and work in their neighborhoods, cities, and countries, belonging in some way there. We pray for our leaders and rulers, because Scripture calls us to do so. We work for the good of the places we live, that God’s will would be done in them. But ultimately, we do not belong to that kingdom. We use money, but do not place it at the center of our lives, do not look for hope and security in money. When the money flows in, we don’t walk chest out and shoulders back. When it is gone, we are not slumped over it defeat or frantic in fear. We belong to a different kingdom with a different king. Christians have sex in marriage and receive it as the Lord’s gift, but don’t look for our worth or fulfillment in it. Christians even serve in public office, participate in politics, but all while belonging to a different kingdom with a different king. Christians accept power, but know how easily it can be abused and so hold it gently, humbly, and not alone.
Christians enter the messiness of the world with eyes wide open, knowing that every kingdom of this world cannot save us. There is no true peace, true freedom apart from Christ’s kingdom. The kingdoms of this world can do some forms of good (promote justice, peace, flourishing of others), but they cannot save. All other kingdoms fall short or twist good things to serve selfish ends. Christians should not be surprised when this happens.
But there is a king and his name is Jesus. This allows us to pray and live in hope, hope that the kingdom which seems small as a mustard seed now will one day grow into a great tree where the nations will come and rest. Hope that one day the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as waters cover the sea. That one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. To pray Your kingdom come is to pray longing for that day to come soon.
But while we wait, we pray your kingdom come and, by the Spirit’s power, bend our knees to Jesus. And hope and pray that as we bend the knee, so too the Spirit will lead others to do the same.
May it be so, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.