Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The first word and the key word in each of these two clauses is “thy” – so praying the Lord’s Prayer is a humbling exercise for us from the get-go. We ask for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done –
not our kingdom or democracy or republic or dictatorship – and not our wills.
That alone distinguishes the Lord’s Prayer from our typical prayers in which we ask God to do what we want God to do. William Carl, the president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writes in his book The Lord’s Prayer for Today that Jesus is “reorienting our lives away from ourselves and our petty little worries …”
Not that all of our worries are insignificant, but they are not – as Paul wrote to the Corinthians – “not worth comparing to the glory that will be ours.” Jesus wants His followers to become preoccupied with God’s will and work in the world – and to offer to do their part at the same time.
If we think back a few weeks to Evangelism Sunday and the sermon on Good News – we defined the Kingdom of God as God’s activity in the world: His redeeming, restoring, and re-creating His creation – of which His people are the crowning glory. It is an eternal kingdom – without beginning and without end – so it is whenever and wherever God is at work. And God’s Kingdom activity flows directly from God’s will.
Since the mid-19th century, many Christians have believed they could usher in the Kingdom – even speed up its coming – by making society better. They believed that human beings can evolve in only one direction, and that is up. They had some historic successes – like the abolition of slavery. But their progressive ideas hit some nasty speed bumps – like Two World Wars, the nuclear arms race, and the drug epidemic. And their grand plans to force society to improve – like Prohibition – failed miserably.
That happened because we are – as a former pastor of mine often said – “on a welcoming committee and not a planning committee” for the Kingdom.
That is not to say that the Kingdom is not progressing. It is, every time the Holy Spirit regenerates another heart, giving another person the gift of saving faith, bringing another subject into the Kingdom.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, the Kingdom is already here. We know that because God is actively involved in His creation.
In many ways, we can see the Kingdom all around us. This past week as floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew rose in a public housing complex in Lumberton, North Carolina, a group of young adults – many of them teenagers – waded through chest-deep water to bang on doors and tell their 200 neighbors to get to temporary shelter in a nearby school. Three of the neighbors were paralyzed and had to be carried – as did about 50 younger children. Everyone made it out safely.
And yet, in many ways, we wonder where the Kingdom is. Yesterday, a pickup truck crashed through the guardrail on a bridge in San Diego and fell into a park – killing four people who were there for a picnic. The driver has been charged with DUI.
How do we fit that all together? By understanding that the Kingdom is here, but not fully here. Or perhaps it is better to say that we cannot fully experience it here on earth as it is in heaven.
Karl Barth suggested that it is like a wood table covered with a cloth. You can see the shape of the table, and rapping on it tells you it is real and most likely made of wood, but you cannot see the table itself. Praying for God’s Kingdom to come is like praying for God to take the cloth off the table.
The Dunlap & Boone Familys have very recently gone through that kind of experience. Medical technology allows us to see a baby months before he or she is born – in greater detail now than ever before. You can tell from the ultrasound that the child is already here – but you cannot not fully experience the joy of having the child here. Looking at the baby’s facial features on an ultrasound is cool, and feeling the baby kick is amazing – except when you’re carrying a future soccer player – but it’s nothing like holding that same baby in your arms, interacting with that child, and watching him or her grow. When we’re talking about the Kingdom, preachers often refer to this as “already, but not yet.”
Jesus taught His followers just a few verses later in Matthew 6 to “seek first the kingdom of God” – and that is why we pray first for God’s kingdom to come. Then were are to seek His righteousness – which is our desire for God’s perfect will to be done.
And He set the perfect example for that when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus knew that His assigned task in the Kingdom was to die for the sins of His people, and that was the will of God.
God’s will – ultimately – is to make all things work for good. Paul wrote that in Chapter 8 of his letter to the Christians in Rome. His will is to take the awful events that come our way and use them to refine us, to make us better, to make us more faithful, more obedient.
At the end of the service we will sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” In it, we acknowledge that God is the potter, the One who made us, and so we accept how He made us and the purpose for which He made us. We submit to the will of the King – and in doing so, get the privilege of participating in the building of His kingdom.
The last part of the prayer we are tackling today is “on earth as it is in heaven.”
My mother’s Aunt Edith – “Auntie” to us – was a prim and proper New England lady. She never went anywhere without a dress and matching shoes and handbag, spoke softly but distinctly in an almost British accent, made a memorable corn chowder, and insisted that most of us were saying the Lord’s Prayer wrong.
“In earth, as it is in heaven,” she told us, “Not ‘on earth’.” The King James Bible she carried to worship every Sunday backed up her argument. Sadly, she died long before I could show her that the Greek New Testament says “on earth.”
But what is more sad is that someone, somewhere, made such a big deal out of a trivial difference in translations – instead of focusing on a more serious misreading or misunderstanding of this phrase. It is a prepositional phrase that refers to the will of God, so it cannot be separated from the phrase before it.
Most of us break up the Lord’s Prayer into our own phrases, creating a rhythm that makes it easier to remember and to recite the prayer, but we often diminish the power of some of the words by the way we split it up:
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done;
On earth as it is in heaven.
Almost as though they were independent sentences.
It should be:
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth – comma – as it is in heaven.
That’s important, because we are asking that God’s will be done here on earth in the same way, with the same power and authority, the same speed and effectiveness, and with no resistance, just as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom will be completely here – “fully realized,” as some people call it – when Jesus returns to raise the dead and restore creation. Only then will what is “down here” be fully like what is “up there.” In the meantime, we are praying for a blurring of the line between heaven and earth.
Especially since Jesus told the Pharisees in Luke 17 that the “kingdom of God is within you.” We want to be faithful, obedient citizens of the Kingdom. And in our obedience, the Kingdom is coming about on earth. Not by wishful thinking that human beings will evolve and society with them, not by imposing utopian ideas through legislation and treaties, but by individual acts of obedience by Christians.
In that sense, you can be the answer to your own prayers – when by your obedience to the will of God, you participate in the making God’s kingdom as real and as visible down here as it is out there.
When we are quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive, when we give rather than try to get, when we love our enemies, when we pray for those of another faith, when we stifle gossip and spread encouragement, when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, heal the sick, visit the lonely, fight injustice, and share the Good News – we are the answer to our own prayers.