2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, 11-12; Matthew 6:5-15
3rd Sunday of Lent
St Barbara’s 20.03.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Last week, we began our series looking at the Lord’s Prayer, and at its first eight words: “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name”. We thought about the extraordinary encouragement of Jesus to call God, the maker of heaven and earth, the God of all holiness and wonder, “father”. And we thought about how this prayer is a communal prayer – we say it not as individuals but as a worldwide family.
Today, we are exploring the next part of the prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Luke’s version, which we heard last week, gives us a shorter version – simply “Your kingdom come”. Matthew’s slightly longer version simply helps to give emphasis to that prayer, to show that God’s kingdom comes where God’s will is done.
Two thousand years ago, kingdoms and empires were defined by where the will of the king or emperor held sway, where they had the power to collect taxes, to order censuses, to impose their economic and political demands.
God’s kingdom is where God’s will holds sway, but not through power, legislation and the point of the sword. It is through attitudes of heart and mind, through changes in values and priorities.
The coming of God’s kingdom does not come all at once. We are seeing it gradually permeating through our world. The analogy Jesus gave was of yeast working its way through the dough, gradually, almost imperceptibly at times. We see the kingdom of God coming in the life of Jesus – the way he lived a life of love and compassion, confronting evil and injustice, healing the sick, bringing hope to the despairing, valuing the poor. We see the kingdom of God even more fully in Jesus’ death and resurrection – those pivotal events in the history of our universe – where Christ overcomes and defeats evil and death, where he makes possible eternal life for all. And we look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom, when God’s kingdom will be established in all its fulness with the return of Christ, when God’s will will be perfectly done on earth as in heaven.
Within that grand sweep of history we are placed at that point where God’s kingdom is here, but not yet fully, that in-between stage where God in Christ has shown us what his kingdom is like and guaranteed us that it will come in all its fulness one day, but where we are still waiting for that day to arrive.
And in that in-between time, Jesus teaches us to pray “your kingdom come”, to be part of that movement of God’s spirit that sees God’s love, compassion, justice, hope lived out here on earth.
The writer Brian Maclaren describes the church as “the community that lives to see God’s dream come true for the world”. I would put it stronger, if less elegantly, than that. The church is the community that knows that God’s plan for his world will happen and responds to his invitation to get involved, to be part of the outworking of that plan.
We pray for the kingdom of God to be fully present. Wherever the bounds of beauty, truth and goodness are advanced, there the kingdom comes; wherever the forces of darkness, disease and hate are driven back, there the kingdom comes.
Its about praying that in a world where millions starve and yet where there is more than enough food to feed everyone, that God’s kingdom of justice and generosity will come.
Its about praying that in a world where leaders and dictators can cause unimaginable suffering, fear and loss of life, as we are seeing in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar at the moment, God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness will come, a world where swords will be beaten into ploughshares, where peace will prevail.
Its about praying that in a world where we seem intent on destroying our environmental future by living beyond our means and creating climate catastrophe, a catastrophe all too real already for the poor and vulnerable of the world, such as the 100,000 made homeless in Mozambique by the latest cyclone, that God’s kingdom of selflessness and humility will come.
Its about praying that in a world where many people live isolated and desperately lonely lives, God’s kingdom of love and community will come.
Its about praying that in a world where so many suffer from poor physical or mental health, God kingdom of healing and restoration will come.
Its about praying that where there is beauty, grace, truth, creativity, compassion, love, those acts and qualities will flourish all the more abundantly.
Its about praying that we as a church will become ever more committed to doing God’s will, and following his leading for our lives.
In other words, its about praying that our world will come to resemble more closely life in heaven.
If words don’t come easily to you in prayer, and lets be honest, there are many situations, personal as well as global, where we may feel bereft of knowing how to pray, the beauty of the prayer Jesus gives us, is that just three words suffice: hold before God those personal situations, those situations in our world, and simply pray: “Your kingdom come”.
But all of this needs to come with a warning. Many of the saints of the past counselled: “be slow to pray” and for good reason. Prayer is not an activity to be entered into lightly. For prayer fundamentally changes us. As we pray we find ourselves being changed, becoming more compassionate for those who are suffering, more angry about injustice, less bothered about our own concerns and more concerned about others. Prayer is not a way to alleviate guilt whilst avoiding action; it is an act that puts us in a place where we feel compelled, by God’s Spirit, to act.
As we weep with those mourning the loss of loved ones who have died through war, as we cry out in desperation alongside those parents unable to feed their children because of famine, as we call out in anger at the domestic violence that blights so many of our homes, we find ourselves no longer content to sit idly by. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we find that his kingdom values, of love, compassion and sacrifice, come to the fore in our lives too.
If we care about our world, if we care about those whom we love, we will pray “your kingdom come”. But such a prayer comes at a cost, the cost that we ourselves will want to change to be ever more part of the answer to that prayer.
I am going to finish this morning by showing a video recently produced by Tearfund to encourage supporters to pray with them for an end to poverty, for God’s kingdom to come. I hope you find it an inspiration to pray and to act.