“Lord, teach us to pray,” asks the disciples as they sit at the Rabbi’s feet. And to this Jesus responds with what are probably the most repeated words throughout history. Our Father, who art in Heaven, hollowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. With these few, simple lines, we are intimately connected with the community of saints who have recited these words since the days of Jesus, as well as those who will come after us and with each other. In his book, The Greatest Prayer, John Dominic Crosson demonstrates as easily and as simply these words roll off most of our lips, the prayer is anything but simple in its message. In fact he says, these words are as much a creedal statement as they are prayer.
This morning, I invite us to take the time to look at the words, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
“Thy kingdom come,” in church speak, are words of eschatological significance . . . words that focus our attention on the end time, or better yet, “the second coming.” In the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers that the Kingdom has come near.
What is this kingdom that Jesus speaks of and we pray for each week? Also known as the Reign of God, it is the time we are all in wait for. The time when God will truly be the King of Kings, and Lord of all. It will be the time when all of creation is restored to what God intended at the time of Genesis. It is the time we are told in the Book of Revelation when evil will be destroyed and there will be no more weeping or wailing or gnashing of teeth. It will be the time, John of Patmos tells us, when the Heavenly City of Jerusalem will descend upon the earth and there will be no darkness as the light of God will permeate every nook and cranny; where all who have washed in the River of Life will pray in one accord. . .wholly focused on the Lamb.
The Kingdom is what we, as the children of God yearn for, hope for and wait for. The Kingdom is what we are called by Isaiah to prepare the way for. . both in our hearts and in our lives. In fact, we are told to live as if the Kingdom is already here.
In the parable that follows the Lord’s prayer, we are told to approach God in the same way the neighbor is approached by one who is in need of providing hospitality to unexpected, late night guests. Reminding us, if we are rebuffed by God, don’t give up and be persistent in prayer for eventually God will answer our request. This is not the only time Jesus instructs his followers to be persistent with God. Later in this same Gospel, Jesus reinforces the need for persistence in prayer with the parable of the widow who nagged the dispassionate judge until he finally granted the justice that she sought.
In many ways these images tell me to be like my younger brother Kevin. As a youth, Kevin was not overly fond of being told “no”. And unlike my older brother and me, Kevin had a way of nagging my parents until he got what he wanted. I suspect my parents caved in more often than not because they knew there would be no peace until they gave in. God, Jesus tells us, will do the same.
Until recently, I was under the impression when Jesus taught about persistence in prayer, he was talking about asking for the specific. In essence, if I pray for a miraculous healing enough times it will be granted, or if I prayed to win the lotto, it would happen too. Sadly, this understanding has led to disappointment over the past fifty years as so few of the specifics have been granted and I, like many others have been left to feel inadequate in terms of faith and prayer. As I reflect on this passage as a whole, I realize the assumption of what we are to be persistent in prayer about is wrong. It is not about asking for the specific and the mundane, but the greater. In Matthew’s Gospel we are told to seek first the kingdom of God. In the Lord ’s Prayer, the first request is for the kingdom to come. The message is clear . . . . . all we truly desire of God will be granted with the arrival of the Kingdom itself. Until then, we wait and pray and hope the kingdom will come sooner than later.
The second petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “thy will be done.” In last week’s sermon, I mentioned how my spiritual director has often reminded me of how prayer should lead us to action. I believe prayer should do much more for us. Prayer should lead us to accept that we are limited in what we can control in this life and to trust that God has a dream for each and every one of us. True prayer helps us identify what parts of our lives are in sync with God and identify those parts of our lives that are not.
In his prayer at Gethsemane, Jesus prays for God to remove the cup of crucifixion from his lips and then ends this petition with “thy will be done.” Like St. Paul and all the other Christian martyrs that followed, Jesus had to trust that obeying the will of God, even into death, would somehow lead to a better and greater life.
On some level, each and every one of us struggles with the will of God for our lives over and above our own understanding of what would is best for us. Each and every day, we struggle to accept that God’s ways are not our ways and the need to trust that God’s ways are better than our ways. This is why at the end of this morning’s Gospel, Jesus compares the love of God with the love of a parent. In this, he tells us, that if an earthly parent is able to look out for and provide for the needs of their children, then our heavenly parent can do infinitely more for us. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks us to, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
The answer to the question is, “yes we are” with the moral of the story being, “if God is willing to provide so wonderfully for them, just think of how God will provide for us. . .but only if only are willing to trust in God.
This morning the Disciples asked Jesus teach them to pray. He not only taught them how to pray, but what to pray for. First and foremost, Jesus taught them to pray for the Kingdom, the reign of God that Isaiah calls us to prepare the way for. Second he taught us to pray that the will of God will take hold in our lives. For it is only by accepting the will, or dream of God for our lives that we are able to have the peace of God. So when we pray, pray with persistence, pray for the Kingdom and most of all pray that the will of God may be made known in our hearts and in our lives, as it is in Heaven.