Jesus has been praying and the disciples ask him—can you teach us to do that? Can you teach us to pray? They had heard that John the Baptizer had taught his disciples how to pray and they wanted Jesus to teach them his way of praying.
How many times do we all feel terribly inadequate at prayer? Somehow prayer can become a huge obstacle for us and make us feel deficient and distant from God. My mother has said how difficult it is for her to pray out loud because she is always self-editing and revising as she goes along. “I just can’t pray out loud! I would end up saying something and then going back and saying, Ok, now wait, um what I meant there was such and such. Or, I should say this or that… How on earth can I pray?”
It is comforting to know that even the disciples had to ask for help!
And so, Jesus teaches them, and us, a simple prayer. A simple prayer that has become a foundational piece of the Christian life. Throughout the season of Lent, we will look at this prayer. Last week, our youth led us in worship focusing on the first portion of this prayer: Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. In some ways, this is the most surprising part of the prayer because, although Jesus addressed God as father, it is not likely that people thought of God as their father in this kind of familiar way. The people of God were not even allowed to speak God’s name out loud and here, Jesus was telling the disciples to address prayer to God in this intimate name of Father! It was and is revolutionary. Just think, we’re calling the creator of the UNIVERSE our father!
Tonight we look at the second portion: your kingdom come. In the full version of the prayer we use today, we say Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. The additional two parts, found in the Gospel of Matthew, are really expansions on or further ways of defining the first.
When we pray this, for what are we really praying?
How often are we really trying to say—My will be done? Oh please God, give me what I really, really want! Make things like I want them to be. Oh please, please let me be in charge! I know what is best for me—for those I love—so just give me control here and it will be all ok, I promise.
I am definitely guilty of this! My prayer is usually something like: Ok, God, help me to do only what I can and trust you with the rest…..and….um….can I get that in writing? With regular progress reports? I’ll be happy to give you a task list if you need!
When we pray this—your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—are we praying for a geographical place? A country? Well, the word for kingdom— basileia—doesn’t actually refer to a geographical place, like England, Scotland, Wales and the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Rather it refers to a state of being. The Kingdom of God is not a piece of land but it is the Reign of God. It is the state of being under the rule of God, under God’s authority when God is ruler of everything and everyone. God’s will and purpose for all of creation directs everything. It is a way of living not just BY God’s ways but IN God himself.
Praying Your Kingdom Come is actually an act of surrender. That’s a kind of scary thought; especially for someone like me who wants to give God a check list of what she KNOWS is best for herself and everyone! What if this surrender meant we had to give up some extras in life, or even stretch our finances tighter, so that someone could feed their children? What if it meant that we had to spend our vacation time working on a habitat house or traveling to a third world country where there is no running water to work on a mission trip? What if the coming of the reign of God meant that we had to forgive someone who hurt us—hurt us terribly? What if it meant that someone we have hurt—hurt terribly—forgave us? What if it meant that we had to reprioritize our lives so that we spent the best parts of our day with those we love the most—those we call our family? What if it meant that everything we know as it is right now would be different so that we could do what God wanted for us and for the world?
I mean, for heaven’s sake, surrendering to God’s reign, God’s will, might include me selling everything and go to seminary!
In some ways, this is the complete opposite of what we think of as wise and responsible. We usually think that as adults, we are to make decisions for ourselves, be responsible, and take care of ourselves and our families. And this surrender part? When has THAT ever been a good word? Surrender means you’ve lost! You’ve been beaten! You’re cowardly.
But this is the prayer that Jesus teaches the disciples–and us–to pray because he knows that no matter how wise we think we are, no matter how brave and strong, God’s reign is the best for us—for the whole world. Jesus himself practiced this same surrender. The night that he is arrested—the arrest that will lead to his death—he prays Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me. Yet, not my will but yours be done. He does not fail to ask for what his heart desires, and neither should we because God wants us to share our wants and needs with him, but in the end he surrenders his will to his Father in heaven, just as he taught us to pray Your Kingdom Come.
So what does this reign of God look like? Jesus gives us several illustrations. The Reign of God is like yeast. Tiny little grains that, when mixed in with dough, make the bread light and many times bigger. The Reign of God is like a mustard seed. A tiny little seed that grows into an enormous plant, so big that birds can nest in it. Jesus seems to be saying that the Reign of God is one of those things that doesn’t look like much but is actually huge! It’s something that appears insignificant, even tiny, but affects everything else.
But most of all, the Reign of God is good news! Over and over, Jesus goes through towns and villages proclaiming the Good News of the Reign of God.
I think the best way to see the Reign of God is in Jesus himself. The prophets who came before Jesus proclaimed the message: Repent now! Turn your life around! So that when the Reign of God comes, you’ll get to be a part of it. But Jesus’ message was a little different. God’s Reign is near to you, it is among you and upon you and now, because of this, you can turn around. Now, because of God’s power, because God’s Reign comes, you can be and are part of this! Everything is different. With Jesus, we do not have to do something in order to become eligible for the kingdom. Rather, it is Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, who brings about the Reign of God—who brings that to us and we are changed forever by it.
In our baptismal service we hear that Jesus “made water a sign of the Kingdom” and it is in those baptismal waters that we are united to the surrender that Jesus made in his prayer for the Father’s will to be done—the Father’s Reign to come. It is that surrender that took Jesus to the cross and to death—and us along with him. It is also that surrender that brought him out of the grave and resurrected to new life—and us along with him!
What looked like cowardice not to fight back when they came to take him to prison and looked like certain defeat in being put to death by the enemy became the greatest victory over the enemy of sin and death itself.
Father in heaven, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.