A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on March 4, 2012.
O God, we openly acknowledge as we pray this morning that we believe in your Son’s miracles. We believe that the lame walked, that the blind were granted sight, and that hardened hearts were softened by his touch. We pray that you would work a miracle in our lives, too. Work a miracle and change our will to desire nothing but your will. Change these cold hearts of ours into flaming torches of desire for you. If there is complacency within us, remove it as far as east is from west. Destroy the apathy that slows our hands from doing what our hearts know is just. May we be moved to participate in the work of your kingdom so that the lonely might be visited, that the fallen might be raised, that those who seek might find, and that the world might know that you are a good and great God. We pray these things for we know that if you will empower our living to do them, then our prayers would be answered and that your kingdom might come. All we ask is to labor in the kingdom, our Father, that and to know the blessing of your pleasure as we work. Remind us that you are indeed king and that we are your servants. May our obedience be perfect in this day. In the name of Christ we ask it. Amen.
Too often, we are conditioned to think of prayer as asking God for what we want—dear God, give me this, give me that. But now, in praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are attempting to school ourselves to want what God wants. We receive, not what our hearts desire, but rather we become so enthralled with a vision of what God is doing on earth and in heaven, that we forget the story that the world has told us—that we have nothing better to do than to satisfy our desires.
—William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas in Lord, Teach Us
The seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel probably seems like an odd place to begin a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. If you go to the beginning of the chapter and read, it becomes even stranger and would give you a hint why, in verses 13-18, he would say he was terrified. We start to see these images of four frightening, terrifying wild animals. They are striking in their horror, and I would tell you that they are worthy of a movie made from a Stephen King novel. One of the creatures is described as having iron teeth with which it devours its victims. It has unstoppable power.
People think, This is why I don’t read the Bible because this is just so strange to me. The mystery in this begins to become unraveled when we understand that Daniel’s vision is actually something of a political code in his day. We would think nothing if we saw a cartoon that had three animals in it. One of the animals is a donkey, one is an elephant, and in the middle there is an eagle being pulled back and forth. We would all probably get that—Republicans and Democrats struggling over who is going to control the nation. We understand those images. The people who received the Book of Daniel after it was written would have understood the same kind of political images in their own day. Daniel was writing about Medes, Persians, and Romans—nations that rose up and oppressed God’s people, nations that rose up and opposed God’s will, and nations that seemed absolutely unstoppable.
In the midst of it, he mentions another figure, this time it was a figure “like the Son of Man.” Some of the newer translations say “like a human being.” We know this figure is a preview of the Messiah. He is coming by God’s power to establish a new kingdom, a better kingdom, an enduring kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness and justice, and one that knows no end. It is the promise of the Messiah, and the vision that Daniel has is the vision of God’s plan to overcome everything that would oppose his will.
If we lived in certain countries around the world, we could make a more direct application of this and we would perhaps see it more clearly. There was a cover story in Newsweek not too long ago. I saw the cover, but I did not read the article. The article was about killing Christians around the world. There are nations in the world where Christians are being killed because of their faith. This should come as no surprise to us. Unfortunately, Christians have been killed in other countries since the time of Christ. Some are rather strict Islamic countries, some are countries that still have Communist, totalitarian regimes that still would like to blot out Christians because the principles of Christ would oppose their regime. If we lived in one of those countries, we could see readily the promise of Daniel and how good it would be to think that there is a coming kingdom, a kingdom that no matter how powerful the kingdom I live in now appears to be, will blot it out. But the truth is we don’t have to live in one of those countries to understand this. All we have to do is look at the world around us to recognize that the world has boycotted the will of God. There is an embargo on the things that God would want and the things God believes are best, good, and just for everyone.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a music channel on XM. The announcer was telling a story that I assume he had pulled off a news wire somewhere. It was about a 24-year-old woman who was a former model for Victoria’s Secret. In the story, she said she had come to faith in Jesus Christ and believed, and the words she used were “I have become convicted that this is not the way I am supposed to make my living and, therefore, I am going to retire as a Victoria’s Secret model and make my living another way.” What was interesting was the brutal treatment her story received from this announcer.
The first thing he did was to criticize her vocabulary. He said, “It is not convicted. It is convinced.” You could just hear the sarcasm in his voice. I thought, He has never been in church because Christians use the word ‘convicted’ all the time when God leads us to something. He had no frame of reference to what she was talking about. Then he did everything but call her a hypocrite because she had once made money that way. I thought, Here is a young woman who just simply wants to do what she thinks God is leading her to do and she is roundly criticized for it.
It is similar to Tim Tebow. Think of him what you will in playing football, but have you ever seen the stories of the children and the unfortunate people who come to his games as his guests? Many of his opponents get very agitated and criticize him for using religion as a platform, but if you are a football player and you want to have a dog fight or discharge a gun in a public setting, those things are all OK. But for goodness sake, don’t pray in public. Don’t tell anybody about Jesus. We see time and time again how the world will champion values that are the opposite of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. I think a good way to understand it is to say that an embargo has been placed on the will of God. It is as if a wall has gone up and we are saying, “No trade here. Keep it back on your side. Will not have the kingdom or God’s will here.”
Daniel’s vision is a preview in the Old Testament. He foreshadows and sees the coming of the Messiah who will bring this kingdom. Jesus comes and brings the kingdom and teaches us to pray for it. We, who are disciples, who learn the prayer and continue to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” are all part of the same fabric. We are all moving in the same way. We are all concerned about closing the gap between the way things are now and the way things would be if God’s will were perfect. We are closing the gap between the way earth is and the way we envision heaven. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Daniel foresees it, Jesus comes physically in his presence to bring the work, we pray that it will continue, and this is what we are doing. We are trying to close the gap between the way things are on this earth and the way we know God wants them to be.
I must confess that in trying to prepare this sermon, I agonized a good bit. The kingdom language is not something that is familiar to us. It is not the way we talk. If we lived in the United Kingdom or someplace like that, we might think more in terms of kingdom, but kingdom seems so out of date. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and then have discussions about it, I have had comments such as, “I understand praying for daily bread because I have been hungry. I understand praying to be delivered from temptation because I have been tempted. But to pray for the coming of the kingdom seems a little theological and beyond me. Why on earth should I think that praying for the kingdom in some way touches upon my life?”
If you have children, grandchildren, a niece, a nephew, or you teach children, do you ever worry about the world in which they are being raised? Have you or someone near you ever said, “I don’t know if I would bring a child into this world”? Have you heard someone whose children are older say, “I am glad I don’t have to bring my children up in this world.” Would we not want to pray for the kingdom to come so that it would be the kind of world that children would be safe in and that would reflect more of God’s will? Maybe it does touch upon our lives.
Have you ever seen suffering up close and in person? Have you ever seen it on TV or on the internet? Have you ever seen someone starve to death? Have you ever seen someone who was wounded from the atrocities of war or someone who is bandaged and has been released from a prison where they have been tortured? Have we not grieved over the state of the world? Would we not pray that the kingdom would come?
Do you ever fear terrorism? Have you gone through the Atlanta airport and heard, “The terror alert is yellow”? Don’t think you can go on a trip and not be concerned. If you see somebody drop a package, call security. We live in this constant fear of dirty bombs and other things. Our daughter in the Navy was telling me just last week that they were doing decontamination training. I asked her, “From what?”
She said, “From anything.”
If there was any kind of event, they were learning how to bring patients into the hospital so that the contamination would not come with them. Would we not think that the kingdom of God is something that would directly affect our lives if we could pray for the kingdom to come?
Using the words of Hans Kung, a great Catholic theologian, “Would you rather live in this world, or would you rather live in a world where, in accordance with Jesus’ prayer, God’s name is truly hallowed, where God’s will is done on earth, and people have everything in abundance, and all sin is forgiven and evil overcome.”
Would you rather live in this world or in a world where, in accordance with Jesus’ promises the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are downtrodden, will finally come into their own—where pain, suffering, and death will have an end? Would you rather live in this world or would you rather live in a world where, as Daniel foretold, has absolute righteousness, unsurpassing freedom, dauntless love, universal reconciliation, and everlasting peace? Would you rather live in a world like this that seems so lost or a world where salvation is possible and come to fruition for everybody? You see that is what we are praying for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
If you go back and read the entire 7th chapter of Daniel and read about these horrible creatures that represent Medes, Persians, Romans, etc., you will notice that they are all terrible animal-based figures until the figure comes representing the Son of Man, the Messiah. He is the only human figure and it is the only humane kingdom. It is the only kingdom for God’s children and the people of earth to truly desire and be a part of.
Whether we would pray it because we would love the world and we would like to see the world come to a better place or whether we would pray it selfishly because we recognize just how much the embargo against God’s will has an affect on us, on our families, on the people we love, on the people around us. Would we not pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?
When we pray this prayer, we are allowing God in that moment to shape us so that our hearts, our lives, our homes, and the relationships that we touch most regularly would become a part of that great kingdom. When we pray, we allow God to work his will in us. Our desire is for nothing more, nothing greater, but to do God’s will and to be a part of this everlasting reign of God. We don’t have to wait until some far off day when Jesus comes for the kingdom to come. When we pray for it, it can happen right now, where we are, in our midst, and in our relationships with others. We can be part of answering the very prayer that we have offered to our Father. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth,” and in my life and to all the people that I touch. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.