Thy Kingdom Come
July 30, 2017
Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa MN
I’m going to be asking us to consider what it means when we say in the Lord’s Prayer the phrase “Thy kingdom come.” What are we asking for?
The gospel for the day had five little parables —all of which Jesus said embodied the Kingdom of Heaven. So it is in that prayer the Lord taught his disciples is the petition that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Those parables are deeply perplexing. One even has some kind of scoundrel who discovers a treasure in a field, hides it and then goes and buys the entire field. There are people doing trades like that on the stock market, and as far as I can tell, the Securities and Exchange Commission investigates those kinds of trades.
Rather than try to explain the parables, my choice is go back to Paul and what he was saying at the end of the 8th chapter of Romans.
So one of the things you quickly learn in seminary, even before you’re ordained, is that within your family and among those who know you, have marked you as the the “go-to-guy (or gal) for prayer.” Whatever the occasion—a meal, a wedding, or something sad— people expect that you know how to pray. And the assumption is that I will offer a better prayer because I’ve somehow been trained to pray.
Let’s get something clear. I never took a seminary class on prayer. And it was Paul himself who said, as we heard, “we do not know how to pray.”
When I was a young 24 year-old deacon working as a Curate at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cuyahoga Falls in 1967 I worked with Ben Topalian—an Armenian who had been a Baptist who became an Episcopal priest. He had been carried as a baby from Armenia during that terrible holocaust that still affects world politics. He’d been a paster in American Baptist churches, but chose to be an Episcopalian for our polity. There can never be a congregational vote following a sermon that people may not have liked. In that parish he taught the same course every year titled “How to Know God” and inside that course was a session called “How to pray.”
So I took that class and I can’t say I learned how to pray. But I did learn how not to pray. You see most of us pray as if we’re ordering pizza, only for someone else or maybe for ourselves. . Or as Ben Topalian said, most of the time we’re prescribing for God in our prayers, offering our diagnosis of what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, and how God ought to get going on this right away. He said we sometimes offer prayer as “Hey God, I need to have you pay attention to my friend who has a broken leg, and is in the hospital.”
Maybe we think we need to give the good Lord that address to that hospital.
What have we forgotten? It’s that God’s spirit was there alongside our friend at the moment of that accident? Or at that moment when my daughter Kate, years ago, turned off the main trail while cross-country skiing near Grand Rapids. She was lost in the woods when it was 10 degrees and the sun would soon set. That’s when I back tracked down the trail and my voice found her. I heard her far-away voice yelling, but in a whisper, “Dad, Dad. I’m coming.”
Ben Topalian also pointed out how often we are wrong in our diagnosis of what we are praying for. Ben said, “So your friend has an ulcer, and you pray for his stomach. Maybe it’s his marriage? Or real money issues? Who knows? God knows.”
Ben said, see your friend not as one who is sick and hurting, but see them alive to God, well, and whole, and smiling, and living. Pray that they know God’s spirit and love.
Anne Lamott, the Christian essayist, in her small book called Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair writes about the advice she gave to a mother who’s son had just been moved from the ICU unit. He was still in trouble, though. Anne Lamott told her friend,“See him in his wholeness.”
Ann Lamott’s advice was also to see a damaged person as one of God’s regular old customers, instead of being a lost cause.
Aren’t we all? God’s regular old customers? And even the Pastors who don’t know how to pray. Even St. Paul who didn’t know how to pray.
So what it is that we are to pray? Well inside this lesson from Paul we find one of the hardest things we’re ever asked in all of scripture to confront. It’s in that line that says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God….” Do they?
There are some terrible things that always happen in the world, and sadly often to the most innocent or the least prepared. Not too many of us had someone warn us in our childhood about what was ahead of us in life
But then stuff happens. And there are some big losses that come into all of our lives. At the time of each loss please do not utter platitudes that this will all work out, or the worst of all “God has a plan in this.”
I’ve had some huge disappointments in my life, and I know, that God never wanted me to know such disappointment and loss. You’ve had same. All of us.
And there are these losses, as Annie Lamont reminded me, which we never forget. We each have an emotional GPS and we know where we were, what we were wearing, and whatever happened.
I once preached a sermon with the title “A Room Called Grief.” I said it’s always with us. Sometimes it’s a dark room. Sometimes we raise the curtains. And there are different people, different events inthat room called Grief. We don’t have to visit it all the time, but it’s always there. It is a strange gift. Memory. Some laughter. And the realization of some kind of mysterious healing. We got through it. But we didn’t forget it or those we lost, but we kept on living. Limping to be sure. Broken. Fragile.
And, maybe not right at the time, but later we may realize that there were those by our side who called to us from our hopelessness. That’s another Annie Lamott observation.
We’re still left with this conundrum: how can we understand this line from Paul’s letter:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God….”
There is nothing good in being persecuted or on the unfair side of slander.
There was nothing good when Father Jacques Hamel died on July 26, 2016 when he was attacked by two terrorists as he was at the altar celebrating morning mass.
Day in and out we hear in the news so many tragic stories involving violence and negligence. None of these things are good. They are evil. We must never connect the love of God to these events, except as this love of God is marked by this story and parable and what was also in Paul’s letter.
“Who is to condem? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us.” And intercedes for us in what Paul called “our weakness.”
I wish Paul had said more about this idea of God presence known in all things. What he did say was that God was there with us in our weakness. When we didn’t know or realize God’s presence, God was there.
Paul added that God’s presence comes with those who love God. But not because of what those who love God have figured out for themselves, but because the Spirit of God is what is at work in those who love God. Strange way of putting it, but it has truth. God first loved us. And all of us, no matter how we may see each other, we are all created in the image of God. There is a reality of love and mercy that all of us are to know. Even those we would condemn to hell, in some deep recesses of their being is that image of God.
That’s why there’s more to the story of Father Jacques Hamel. The French president on that fateful day called up Archbishop Lebrun wondering what he planned say in a public way to respond to this tragedy. The Archbishop said, “I am going to pray and ask God to help me love my enemies.”
The French President was stunned. The Archbishop actually seemed to believe what he was saying. That tone of forgiveness and reconciliation made all the difference as Muslims and Islamic leaders attended the mass for Father Jacque Hamel, showing solidarity with their Catholic neighbors. (Wall Street Journal, Saturday, July 21, 2017, p. A15)
For that one moment the Kingdom of God was present.
It was a Kingdom of God moment when Ben Topalian taught me to pray for wholeness for someone, and not to see their illness or whatever trouble they were in as defining them.
It was a kingdom of God moment when the faint voice of Kate was crying “Dad, Dad” through the fast falling shadows of that January evening in the forest near Grand Rapids years ago. And we embraced minutes later.
So it is that we shall continue to read the 8th chapter of Romans at a funeral. Or when we are most afraid. Or most lost. It is not that we can explain how it is that God’s rule and God’s kingdom is present in those dark and hard times we all know. But we would stand with one another and with the faith of Paul, to declare that nothing can separate from the love of God in Christ. And that is what I believe we are also praying when we say “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.