Sunday, June 5, 2005

Sermon for May 29

Thy Kingdom Come
Matthew 7:15 25

Have you ever wanted something badly? Maybe you’ve pondered how much happier your life would be if you could have a certain item, or maybe be in a relationship with a certain person. Maybe you’ve stayed awake at night thinking how fulfilled you’d feel if you had the object of your heart’s desire. Now picture a time when you actually got what you wanted. Have you ever been sorry that you got what you asked for? I remember when I was a little boy. All my friends seemed to have exotic animals like snakes and iguanas. I decided that I needed a turtle. For days, I asked my parents if I could have a pet turtle. Well, one day my dad came home with a cardboard box, and inside was a little painted turtle. Now you’d think I would have picked it up and taken it for a walk, or played with it, or fed it, or something. But, the second I laid eyes on that creepy-looking, hard shelled menace, I started screaming in fear. The day before I begged and pleaded for that turtle, and the moment I finally got it I was terrified. My father let the turtle go near the brook in our back yard, and I cried all night long.

Often when we pray, we don’t realize what we are committing ourselves to. We don’t stop and think about the consequences of our requests. Some of us desire to be more like Jesus, but we are aren’t so sure it’s worth it when it means taking up our cross and following him. Some of us want to be more loving, but we forget that it means reaching out to the unlovable and loving our enemies. Another example is when we pray the words, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” We rattle those words off every week in church, but do we think about the crucial impact that these words can have on our lives. What does it really mean to ask God for his kingdom to come to earth? What does it mean to do God’s will?

If we are going to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to earth, we might as well be clear on what God’s Kingdom is. Jesus talked about God’s Kingdom a lot. In fact, Jesus began his public ministry by saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). A dawning kingdom was about to be established. It was not a kingdom of this world, but a kingdom in the hearts of God's people (John 18:36). God’s kingdom could only be entered by making a 180-degree turn from the old life -- believing in Jesus’ words and following his example. “The Kingdom of God is not a stagnant concept. It was established by Christ, and continues to grow until Christ returns. The Kingdom of God is here at this moment in the Church, in the hearts and lives of those who are true followers of Christ. The true kingdom has always been made up of those in whose heart Christ dwells through faith (1).

Nothing can compare with being part of God’s rule on earth. The problem is that when something is desirable, we often want all the benefits without having to put in any effort. It’s that genie in the lamp syndrome. We fantasize about how great life would be if God would simply answer our wishes without us having to do any of the work to achieve our goal. Jesus recognized this problem in his own day. There were teachers who wanted all the benefits of God’s kingdom. They wanted to be able to claim God’s love and salvation. They wanted to be part of the Christian community, but they didn’t want to make any sacrifices. Jesus says that these people are going to stand before him one day and cry out, “Lord, Lord,” as if it’s some sort of secret password into the Kingdom. They’ll say, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God sponsored projects had everyone talking.” You’d expect that Jesus would say, “Great work. You’re in.” But Jesus surprises these folks. He says, “Yeah, that’s all fine. You did a bunch of great things, but you never took the time to know me. You missed the boat. All you did was use my name to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here” (2). Their words are impressive but their words don’t match their actions. On the outside, they look and sounded like respectable Christians. On the inside, there is something missing.

We can’t pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” without also praying, “Thy will be done.” We are actually asking God to form the kingdom through our obedience to God’s will. The Kingdom of heaven is entered on Jesus Christ’s terms, not our own. I realize that statements like this go against the world’s wisdom. We want to go through life on our terms. I heard a story about a farmer who noticed a sign by the local airport that said: Experience the thrill of flying. The farmer thought to himself, “Tomorrow is my wife's birthday. I’d love for her to experience the thrill of flying.” The pilot went into the airport and found a pilot who would take the couple on a plane ride. He owned a small open cockpit plane that would certainly give the farmer’s wife a thrill, but the price was too high. The farmer bartered with the pilot for a long time. Finally, the pilot agreed to lower the price on one condition: the farmer and his wife had to promise not to say a single word during the entire flight. One word spoken aloud, however small, would increase the price to the pilot’s original fee. The farmer’s determination to give his wife the thrill of flying was only surpassed by his determination to spend as little money as possible, so he agreed. The next morning the three of them took off. The pilot knew if he did a few dips and turns the couple would soon speak. With that in mind he dropped, turned, climbed, dived, and even did a few loops. Not a sound was uttered from the couple. Not a scream. Not even a whimper. Just silence. As they were landing the pilot was amazed at his passengers’ determination. He said, “I can't believe you didn’t say something up there. I guess you win.” The old farmer shouted back, “Well, you almost won. I sure felt like hollerin’ when my wife fell out.”

The old farmer was determined to get what he wanted on his own terms. We can be a lot like that. We let pride and stubbornness get in the way of doing what is right. We say, “Jesus, we hear you calling, but we’re determined to do it our own way. Just tell us where we need to end up, and we’ll draw our own map. We'll consider your advice, though, and if we think it’s any good, we might just follow your suggestions.” It sounds so silly, doesn’t it? Is this how you’re supposed to approach the God of the universe? We think we can dictate the terms of our obedience to God. God has already drawn up the terms, and his expectation is always obedience. Jesus says, “You follow me! I'll do the leading” (3). The Gospels repeatedly insist that the members of Christ’s Kingdom are those who obey him. It does no good to hail Jesus saying, “Lord, Lord,” to honor God’s name in doctrine, hymn, and prayer, if you don’t obey him. You can only enter the Kingdom if you answer the call of Jesus to come to him, and then show your willingness to obey (4).

If we are going to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” then we need to be willing to be led where Christ leads us. Let me tell you a story about a person who modeled the values of Christ’s Kingdom. This story has actually been through many generations of e mail, so I can’t vouch for its historical value. But the point is still relevant. A mother of three was trying to complete her college degree. Her final class was Sociology, and her final project of the term was called, “Smile.” The class was asked to go out, smile at three people, and document their reactions. This woman was typically a friendly person anyway, so she thought the assignment would be a piece of cake. The mother and her family went out to McDonalds. They were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of the sudden everyone around them started to back away. The lady said, “I did not move an inch ... an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had all moved. As I turned around I smelled a horrible ‘dirty body’ smell ... and there standing before me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman close to me, he was smiling, His beautiful, sky blue eyes were full of God’s light as he searched for acceptance. He said, ‘Good day,’ as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally deficient, and the blue eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. ‘Coffee is all Miss,’ because that’s all they could afford. Then I really felt it. The compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That’s when I noticed all eyes on the restaurant were fixed on me ... judging my reaction. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to where the men were sitting. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue eyed gentleman’s cold hand. He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Thank you.’ I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, I did not do this for you ... God is working through me to give you hope.” I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son ... That day showed me the pure light of God's sweet love.”

The Kingdom of God is where Jesus Christ is. And Jesus Christ lingers in the darkest places in the world. Jesus sits with the lonely and dejected. He holds the isolated and depressed. He grieves with those who suffer loss. He understands the plight of the homeless and the refugees. The Kingdom of God appears precisely at the place where there is blindness, leprosy, lameness, and death (5). This is what makes obedience so difficult. We are called to follow Christ, but Jesus stands with those whom we typically don’t associate. He is loving them with unconditional acceptance, and calling us to demonstrate his kingdom by doing the same.

We can have great programs and smooth words. We can stand before Jesus and say, “Lord, Lord, wasn’t I a deacon, or a trustee, or a Sunday School teacher. Didn’t I give my money, and get involved in the community? Didn’t I try to be a good-natured Christian? Didn’t I put a Christian fish, a yellow ribbon and an American flag on the back bumper of my car?” There’s nothing wrong with any of these positions in themselves, but the Kingdom of God is more than having titles on a resume. It’s following Christ to the places where no one else wants to go, and loving others with clear words and meaningful actions. We don’t do it or to win a popularity contest. We don’t do it to gain the admiration of others. Like the women at McDonald’s we need to be obedient so that God may work through us to give another person hope.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What challenging words. I’m not going to pretend that the values of Christ’s kingdom are easy to uphold. Obedience is hard. I struggle with it every day of my life. Each new day presents itself with new opportunities, new choices. I will have contact with a dozen people, and every word that comes out of my mouth is coupled with a choice to be there for me or to be there for someone else. I need to decide, will I do what I want, or what Jesus wants? Will I serve God or myself today? And to be honest, many times I choose myself. Sometimes I’m more comfortable following my own way and feeding my own desires. Maybe it’s the same with you. May God save us from just talking about all the impressive Christian things we do if it is at the expense of actually meeting Christ and the people he chooses to associate with.

(1) Jim Davis, “The Nature of Christ's Kingdom,”
(2) Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993),21. 2
(3) John Bright, The Kingdom of God (New York: Abingdon, 1953), 218, 219, 220, 223.
(4) Russell Metcalf "Entering the Kingdom,"
(5) Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father (New York: Harper& Brothers, 1960),60,61. 5

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