August 18, 2016 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, August 21, 2016. Week two of a four-week series on the Lord’s Prayer in Luke (Luke 11.2-4), “Learning to pray with Jesus.”
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d rather listen.
There’s no “I” in the Lord’s Prayer
When Jesus’ disciples approached him about praying lessons, you know what he didn’t tell them?
He didn’t say, Just pray whatever you want, as long as your heart’s in the right place. And he certainly didn’t tell his disciples to just, Name it and claim it!
He gave them a prayer to pray. He told them the very words they should speak.
Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.
Now, our attitude and posture—how we pray—certainly do matter. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also teaches his disciples to pray. The Sermon on the Mount has a fuller version of this same prayer, but there are some added instructions. Like don’t pray to make your neighbors think you’re so religious. Prayer is an intimate affair, so go get a room and lock the door. And don’t think you have to go on and on and on to make sure your prayers are heard. As we learned last week, prayer is a conversation with our Father. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that your Father knows what you need before you ask (Matt. 6.8). So our attitude does matter. Our faithfulness, our sincerity, our discipline, our openness to God’s response—all of those matter. But Jesus wants us to know that the very words we use matter, too.
In his commentary on Luke, Justo González explains why the very words we pray are so essential. He says:
We tend to think that … an attitude leads to an action … But the converse is also true. Action shapes attitude … [W]e know that the simple act of smiling often leads us to want to smile. In the life of faith, faith leads us to worship; but worship also leads us to faith. 
In other words, the words we pray have the power to transform us. To renew our minds. To direct our hearts. To reform our character. To bind us more tightly to our Father’s loving will for us, and for all of his creation.
The Lord’s Prayer does all this for us. It directs our attention to Father God’s character and will. We pray that his name be made holy, and his kingdom arrive. And it directs our attention away from ourselves and towards our neighbors. We pray for our daily bread—not just my daily bread. We pray that we will forgive those who wrong us. There is no I in the Lord’s Prayer. There is only Thou and we.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer with faithfulness, sincerity, and openness, we begin to be transformed. We begin to learn what it means to love God with everything; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Last week, we learned that loving Father God with all your heart, being, mind, and strength means living for his glory, not ours. That’s what it means to pray, Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Today, we move along to the next petition of the prayer Jesus gave us: Bring in your kingdom.
What is the kingdom?
If we’re going to pray, Bring in your kingdom, we should probably know what it is, exactly, we’re praying for. When I was growing up, some of our preachers scooted us away from praying the Lord’s Prayer. Supposedly, the prayer is now obsolete. And that had everything to do with praying for the kingdom to arrive. The kingdom is what Luke called the kingdom of God; and Matthew called the kingdom of heaven. And I was taught growing up that the kingdom of God or heaven and the church were the same thing. So we shouldn’t pray for God to bring in the kingdom; the kingdom is already here, and has been since Acts 2!
Here’s the problem, though. If you try to go to scripture and substitute church where it says kingdom, it doesn’t always make sense. For instance, in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; and, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5.3, 10). Obviously the church should be a haven for the poor. And some in the church will be persecuted. But that hardly means that the church and the kingdom are the same thing!
Then there’s Luke 17.20-21. Jesus tells some Pharisees who are dismissing his ministry that: God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.
If the kingdom of God is really just another way of saying church, we have a problem, because Jesus just said the church could already be found among some crusty Pharisees.
I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that the kingdom of heaven was among them because Jesus was among them. Jesus is the Messiah—God’s anointed king. Since Jesus was living and moving and working among them, then the kingdom was living and moving and working among them.
I’m going to go even farther out on that limb—because it’s sturdy and it’ll hold—and say that when Jesus told the poor and the persecuted that the kingdom of heaven was theirs, he meant that God is on their side.
Here’s why. In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says it like this: Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven (Matt. 6.10). The point is, here on earth God’s will is not always done. Sometimes the satan’s will is done. Sometimes your will is done. Sometimes my will is done. Sometimes the wills of Wall Street bankers; drug dealers; murderers; pedophiles; terrorists; and genocidal maniacs is done. It’s not always God’s will being done down here. In fact, more often than not, God’s will isn’t being done on earth. But in heaven, God’s will is done. God rules in heaven. So the kingdom of heaven is whenever and wherever God’s will is being done. So whenever the poor and persecuted are cared for, God’s kingdom is there.
The kingdom of God or heaven is a concept about God’s rule or reign. The kingdom is here now—living, moving, working, and growing—but it hasn’t come in its fullness. Not yet. Brother Paul described what that will look like in one of his letters. The kingdom will brought in fully when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end. Did you hear that? Paul can’t possibly mean when Jesus hands the church over to the Father, because it also involves an end to human government, like empires and nations. And it means that all the power of the fallen heavenly forces—like the devil and his demons—has been broken, as well. And that will only happen when their ultimate weapon—Death—has been finally defeated once and for all. Paul says that will happen, too. And then, according to Paul, when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15.24-28). The kingdom of God will only arrive fully once every rebellious force that opposes him—including Death—has been put down for good.
The book of Revelation puts it like this: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will rule forever and always (Rev. 11.15). When that prophecy is fulfilled, the kingdom of God will have come in its fullness. Until then, not only do we have permission to pray, Bring in your kingdom; I suspect we need to be praying it!
Living in the kingdom
Here’s the tricky thing about the kingdom of God. It’s obviously here—Jesus brought it with him. But it hasn’t arrived fully, and won’t until Christ returns. We’re living in an in-between time where we experience some benefits of God’s kingdom; but not all of them. Theologians call this tension of living between the kingdom come and the kingdom coming already, but not yet. God’s kingdom has already broken through, but still encounters resistance from the devil’s kingdom.
Here’s how scripture seems to envision it. The satan had actually been able to grab power for himself and his fallen powers. When he tempted Jesus, he said: I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours (Luke 4.6-7). Jesus didn’t deny that the satan had control over the earth and its kingdoms. He just refused to accept his authority as legitimate. In his letters, Paul actually referred to the satan as the ruler of the kingdom of the air and the god of this age (Eph. 2.2; 2 Cor. 4.4).
God’s kingdom came into the world with Jesus. Jesus was leading a rebellion, an uprising, an insurgency against the satan’s rule. Some of his neighbors were suspicious, and accused him of controlling demons on the devil’s orders. But Jesus asked them: If Satan is at war with himself, how will his kingdom endure? Jesus—God’s anointed king—has come to wage war against the satan’s kingdom. Pushing back the demonic armies who are oppressing people is one front of the war between God’s kingdom and the devil’s. Jesus tells his accusers: if I throw out demons by the power of God, then God’s kingdom has already overtaken you. Just as Palestine in Jesus’ day was occupied by the enemy Romans; Jesus was saying that the earth was occupied by the satan and his evil forces. But Jesus had come to establish a foothold for God’s kingdom
King Jesus waged war against the kingdom of Satan on many fronts. Casting out demons was one of them. So was healing illnesses. But his battle plan also included exposing the corrupt religious establishment. Outreach to tax collectors and sinners, to bring them back into God’s household. And—most controversial of all—reaching across enemy lines to heal the children of a Canaanite woman and a Roman military officer. Jesus attacked the satan’s kingdom on that front to show that God’s kingdom was for everyone—not just his own people. After all, Psalm 24 calls God the glorious king; and says that: The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too. Even the hated Romans and Canaanites rightfully belong to God.
But Jesus’ greatest victory on behalf of God’s kingdom was his death and resurrection. Paul says that by his cross, Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade (Col. 2.15). When Jesus died and rose, he broke all the teeth of the devil’s kingdom. The weapons of the kingdom of Satan are fear and shame and Death. When God raised Jesus from the shameful death of the cross, all the satan’s weapons lost their ultimate power. The kingdom of Satan was exposed and defeated by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. And the kingdom of heaven gained ground on earth.
But the satan and his forces are still resisting the kingdom. And we—as God’s kingdom people—are called to fight for God’s kingdom, just like Jesus did. That’s what Paul said in Eph. 6.12: We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.
So when we pray, Bring in your kingdom, we are praying for God to establish his rule. Over our lives and hearts, but also over all creation. That means that we’re praying for the grace to do God’s will. To bring some heaven to earth. To live for and work for and fight for God’s kingdom.
One day God’s kingdom will come in its fullness. There will be a new heavens and a new earth. Our bodies will be raised imperishable. Death and sorrow will be no more. God will wipe every tear from every eye. We will dwell with God and God with us forever in a greened city—the new Jerusalem. Ultimately, this is what we’re praying for when we ask God to, Bring in your kingdom. In the meantime, because we pray these words, we are called to live in their light. That can mean doing things like planting gardens. Cleaning up litter. Wiping away each others’ tears, even as we cry together. Bringing healing to sick and wounded bodies. We are totally only limited by our imaginations! The point is, we bring heaven’s touch to this earth, this life, right here and now. That’s our work as disciples. That’s our work as the church. That’s God’s kingdom, working.
 Justo L. González, Luke. Belief Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 142-43.