Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sermon for January 14, 2007

Thy Kingdom Come
Matthew 7:12-27

Have you ever prayed to get something that you thought you wanted more than anything else? 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. The moment 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.

I got thinking about prayer and the lives of lottery winners. Have you ever bought a lottery ticket and prayed to God that this be your moment to win a life-changing amount of money. Did you ever think that your life might change for the worse of you win? Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery twice, to the sum of $5.4 million. Today the money is all gone and Adams lives in a trailer. Adams says, "I won the American dream but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It's called rock bottom. Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out . . . . I wish I had the chance to do it all over again. I'd be much smarter about it now," Adams lost her money at the slot machines in Atlantic City. You think, “That wouldn’t happen to me. But, for many people, sudden money can cause disaster. Winners worry about robberies after spotting strangers gawking at their homes. Calls get screened to weed out lawyers, financial advisers and car dealers with sales pitches. And family, friends and strangers beg for cash to fix their problems. One Southeastern family won $4.2 million in the early '90s. They bought a huge house and succumbed to repeated family requests for help in paying off debts. The house, cars and relatives ate the whole pot. Eleven years later, the couple is divorcing, the house is sold and they have to split what is left of the lottery proceeds. The wife got a very small house. The husband has moved in with the kids. Even the life insurance they bought was cashed in. The lottery was not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

When we pray, we don’t think about the consequences of our requests. Some of us desire to be more like Jesus, but we aren’t so sure 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 mumble those words every week in church, but do we think about the crucial impact tat these words can have on our lives? What does it really mean to ask God for the kingdom of heaven to come to earth?

We might as well start with some clarity about just 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). Jesus wasn’t talking about forming an earthly empire. Jesus proclaimed his sovereignty 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.

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 call themselves Christians, but they didn’t want to do what it took to align their lives with Jesus’ teachings. Jesus says that these people are going to stand before him one day and cry out, “Lord, Lord,” as if it’s a 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.” However, Jesus surprises these fakers. He says, “Yeah, that’s all fine. You did a bunch of great things, but you never took the time to know me. All you did was use my name to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit.” 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, something is missing.

We can’t pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” without also praying, “Thy will be done.” We are actually asking God to increase the kingdom through our obedience to God’s will. 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.” 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 match your life up to your words.

If we are going to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” then we need to be willing to be led where Christ leads us.

Growing number of people who are sensing some inconsistency between what we proclaim and how we live. Let’s call them conflicted idealists. They have a vision of making he world a better place, but they can only see the destination without any idea of a route. I talk to people who are looking for another way to live life—those who want to shout the gospel with their lives, but aren’t sure what to do. How do you live as a responsible Christian in the world? How do we bring the values of God’s Kingdom to bear in our personal lives, our families, and our culture? They ask, “What is the cost of obedience?” They want to see their prayers in action, but realize that the work is hard and the cost is great. They also realize that doing nothing is more costly.

I want to begin astudy group of people who struggle with these issues as I do. I'm thinking of a group that will meet once a month to reflect on issues like simplicity, social justice, humane living, and spiritual activism. We will study, share, experiment with living out our values and ideals, and then share what did and didn't work with the group. If you are interested in being part of this Simplicity Study Group, please let me know.

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. 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 God’s 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, a minister? 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.

"8 lottery winners who lost their millions at http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/8lotteryWinnersWhoLostTheirMillions.aspx

Jim Davis, “The Nature of Christ's Kingdom,” www.sermoncentral.com

Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993),21. 2

John Bright, The Kingdom of God (New York: Abingdon, 1953), 218, 219, 220, 223.

Russell Metcalf, "Entering the Kingdom," www.sermoncentral.com

Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father (New York: Harper& Brothers, 1960),60,61. 5

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