The Greatest Prayer – Your Kingdom Come
February 20, 2013 – Lenten Sermon 2 of 6
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
Last Wednesday we began our series on The Lord’s Prayer. I talked about this prayer in several new ways … at least I think they were new to you. First, I talked about how in this prayer Jesus casts a vision for the world and how that vision might come to be.
A vision is the way something, might one day be, but is not yet. There is reality – the way things are right now – and a vision of how things might one day be.
I believe Jesus not only articulates a vision in this prayer, he has us work for that new reality as we live out the contents of this prayer. Part of that vision, and how that vision comes about, is articulated in this part of the prayer we are looking at tonight. Your Kingdom Come.
We are praying that God’s Kingdom come. This kingdom language is a little unusual for us because we don’t live in a kingdom with a king. In fact, our national ancestors struggled successfully to free themselves from a king-led empire. President George Washington didn’t want to be president for life, because it was too much like being a king – like the king and land they had just left.
So how are we to understand the language of kingdom? When and if this kingdom comes does it have geographical boundaries? When and if God’s kingdom comes, who will be king? How did Jesus understand this kingdom language?
Is there another word, other than kingdom, that might now be better to communicate what Jesus was having us pray for? Let’s begin to answer some of those questions and dig deeper into the kingdom language that Jesus uses.
When you hear “kingdom of God,” I invite and encourage you to think about how the world would be if God actually sat on an imperial throne. Imagine what the world would look like if God were ruling. Imagine what the world would be like if God were in charge.
What would God’s kingdom feel like and look like? How would God fashion the economy? How might God handle the sequester debate that is raging in Washington? Would there banks and how would one run commerce? Would there be rich and poor? How much land or possessions would one person be able to own? Would there be limits? Would God’s kingdom have a military? Would God use violence to protect God’s kingdom?
When you hear “kingdom of God” it might be best if you thought of it as the “ruling style of God.” How would God rule? How would the Holy One of justice and righteousness enact justice and righteousness. Would God rule, like the other kings ruled their kingdoms? That is the question that Jesus was pointing us to.
If we are praying for God’s kingdom, how is that the same or different from other kingdoms?
This may help. Historically speaking, Jesus lived in and under the Kingdom of Rome. When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, he says pray for God’s kingdom to come.
Do you think Jesus thought that God’s kingdom was the same or different than the kingdom of Rome? By praying this Jesus is setting one kingdom against another – the kingdom of God against the kingdom of Rome. Jesus didn’t pray for Caesar’s kingdom to continue, he prayed for God’s kingdom to come.
In Jesus’ historical context, there were four great kingdoms that came before his time – and everybody knew them.
Just like everybody today knows – and I’ll give an example of something we all know – that once a kid reaches 5 years old they enter kindergarten, move through elementary school, and then pass onto middle school, and then finally graduate through the stage of high school. Those are like four stages of schooling. Everybody knows them. They are understood.
Well everybody knew there were four kingdoms that came before the time in which Jesus lived. You can read about them in the book of Daniel written a century or two before the time of Jesus. One Roman historian wrote about the four kingdoms like this: “The Assyrians were the first of all races to hold world power, then the Medes, and after then the Persians, and then the Macedonians. Then the world power passed to the Roman people.” These are the great five empires, with Rome as their climax. According to the Roman historian, “The gods had exalted this great empire of Rome to the highest point yet reached on earth.”
Daniel, the author of the book of Daniel, proposed a very different fifth kingdom as the climax of the four empires before. Daniel said, it was not the kingdom of Rome, but rather the climactic kingdom of God. In Daniel chapter 7, [reproduced at the end of this sermon] the four preceding empires are those of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and the Macedonian Greeks and in his vision he sees three of them, symbolically portrayed as wild beasts that come up out of the chaos of the sea. The Babylonian empire “was like a lion and had eagles wings;” the Median empire “looked like a bear;” and the Persian empire “appeared like a leopard.” (7:4-6). The fourth Empire could not be described by an animal – it was too awful. Daniel says, “it was different from all the other kingdoms; it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces.” (7:23). This different, dreadful, and especially violent one was referring to Alexander the Great and the Greeks. Those four kingdoms were spoken of as animals and animalistic or less, and they came from the chaos and disorder of the sea.
By contrast, the fifth kingdom is personified “like a son of man” from the order of God’s heaven. The first four empires/kingdoms, all the previous ones, were inhuman; only the fifth and final kingdom is truly human.
The fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, is brought down from heaven to earth by a transcendental Human One who has been entrusted with it by God, the transcendent Ancient One (7:9-13).
Daniel 7 places the beastlike kingdoms versus a humanlike kingdom. Earthborn kingdoms versus heaven-born kingdoms and kingdoms that come and go versus an everlasting kingdom.
Jesus was born into the historical and cultural reality of these former kingdoms with his Jewish tradition wondering about what the fifth kingdom would be. Would the Romans really be the fifth and final kingdom? Or would it be like Daniel 7 spoke of … with the transcendental human like One finally enacting the fifth kingdom?
When Jesus prays, “Your Kingdom Come.” Just what kingdom is he talking about?
It all begins to get really complicated and in some ways convoluted and I only have a just a few more minutes for tonight’s teaching. Let me just say that, for the several hundred years between Daniel 7 and Jesus, there was must discussion about how this fifth kingdom would come to be, and what it might look like, and who this Human One might be.
To get a better idea what Jesus was praying for when he prayed, “Your Kingdom Come,” Let move a century or so from Daniel 7 to the time of John the Baptist. Let’s look at what John the Baptist was preaching about and what he thought God’s kingdom would be. Remember John is out in the dessert and the Romans are large and in charge. The Jewish people are living under Roman control and occupation.
Here is John’s vision of the world. John has a hope and expectation for an imminent intervention of God, and when God intervened he would transform the world and God’s kingdom would finally be established. He was preparing people for this imminent intervention. He preached about the imminent coming of God and this God would be very much an avenging presence using force and violence.
Listen to how John speaks about God coming. His winnowing fork in in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matt. 3:12) Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Lk 3:9) John knew the world was a mess and in need of transformation.
Remember that line that I said we would come back to each week: Heaven is in great shape, earth is where the problems are?
John was preparing people for God to solve the problem by God’s imminent and wrathful return. This was the typical Jewish thought of the day, and it was very strong and pervasive from Daniel to John the Baptist. But Jesus had a paradigm shift from what John preached and represented.
A paradigm shift is a fancy idea that is pretty simple. What one day we accept as reality and the way things are one day shifts to a new way to understand reality, because of new evidence.
Someplace along the line, maybe when John was beheaded, Jesus changed, from the way John thought about God, and how God would transform the world and establish his kingdom, to a new understanding of God and how God would accomplish this transformation.
John was preaching and teaching that God would very soon dramatically intervene. We just needed to prepare ourselves and wait.
Jesus changed his thinking from John’s in some dramatic ways – dramatic enough that we call it a paradigm shift. Jesus agreed with John that the world was a mess. Jesus agreed that there was a lot to fix in the world. But while John preached that God would very soon intervene and do the cleaning up himself, in establishing God’s kingdom, Jesus says, that’s not how God works. God is collaborative.
God is not going to have a dramatic intervention; God is looking to work with us in collaboration, and God will not use force or violence. God will not have a winnowing fork or an axe in his hand. Jesus says, God’s kingdom is not coming like John preached. The kingdom of God already present.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or “There it is!’ for, in fact, the kingdom is among you.” (Lk. 17:20-21). This must of sounded crazy to Jesus’ first followers, because they would have asked, “Where is God’s transfigured world to be seen? Is not Tiberius still the emperor of Rome?” “How has anything changed in this world of peasant poverty, local injustice, and imperial oppression?”
In his ministry and his teaching Jesus answered like this: You have been waiting for God, while God has been waiting for you. New Testament scholar, John Crossan, put it this way, “No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.” “Your kingdom come” is not about the intervention of God, but about participation with God.
Jesus did not stay in the dessert, as John did, waiting for God to intervene. Jesus got busy going from town to town bringing good news to the poor – those suffering from injustice. The way Jesus described his ministry, according to Luke, was like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to he blind, To let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.” (Lk 4:18-19).
Jesus is not waiting for God’s kingdom to be established through divine intervention, but through him going to where the hurting people are and bringing them relief. The last 2000 years of history would say that Jesus was correct in his paradigm shift from John and what is known as Jewish apocalyptic eschatology. [Revelation of what will happen in the end times.]
If you’re waiting for God to come and transform the world thorough divine intervention then spend some time listening to Jesus and following Jesus from village to village.
“Your Kingdom Come” we pray. Like I said last week, we too often just pray these words and phrases by rote. But what do we mean by them? Because how we understand them is vitally important. Think on this tonight and in this season of Lent. What are you praying for when you pray, “Your kingdom come”? Let’s hope it’s close to the same thing Jesus was praying for.
Each Wednesday night we will continue to discover how God would reign differently than the kings of the world and what God expects and desires from each of us.
“Hallowed be Your name” – Our current actions honor and hallow God’s name.
“Your Kingdom Come” – That kingdom is here; and again, how we live our lives in collaboration with God is vital.
“Your will be done” – The will of God for that kingdom, is where we will take up next Wednesday.
Select Passages from Daniel 7
In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, ‘Arise, devour many bodies!’ After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.
As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’
The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’