Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sermon for February 11, 2007

I finally posted the last three sermons in the series on The Lord's Prayer. Sorry for the delay.

The Lord’s Prayer: Thine is the Kingdom
Luke 17:20-24

“We’ll be out until 10:30,” said Chad’s parents as their friends came by to pick them up for banquet. “While we’re gone, stay home and finish your history paper.”

“Can’t I use the car for just a little while?” asked Chad. He had gotten his driver’s license just last month. “Um, I need to borrow a book from Todd. I’ll only be gone a while.”

Absolutely not,” warned Chad’s father. “You have all the books you need for tonight. You stay home and work on that paper.” Chad really wanted to get together with his friends while his parents were gone. After all, his parents weren’t using the car, so why shouldn’t he be able to? It didn’t seem fair. He only wanted to be out for an hour or so. There would still be time to work on his history paper, he reasoned.

The phone rang. It was Todd. “Hey, come on over,” he said. “All the guys are here.” Chad decided that he could go to Todd’s and get back early enough so that his parents would never know. He just had to be sure to put some gas in the car so nothing would look suspicious. He could work fast on his history paper when he returned. On the way to Todd’s, however, he got a flat tire and he had never changed a tire before.
He got out the jack and the wrench and went to work. He went to the tire, and began to loosen the lug nuts. But all of the lug nuts on the wheel were stuck. He couldn’t get the tire off. He turned the wrench as hard as he could, but nothing moved. Chad finally gave up and walked to the nearest gas station. It was after ten o’clock when the gas station attendant finally put the hydraulic wrench on the lug nuts and removed the tire. Chad couldn’t believe it. Why couldn’t he get those lug nuts off? Why were they on there so tight? Life wasn’t fair! Now he was going to be put on restriction for the rest of his life! “Which way were you turning them?” asked the gas station attendant. Chad thought it was a stupid question. He knew how to unscrew a nut. You turn it counterclockwise. “Well,” said the attendant, “the threads on this side of the car are reversed. To get them off, you turn them clockwise.” Suddenly Chad felt like a fool.

Today’s world can be a frustrating place to live in. Many people have a hard time finding happiness and fulfillment. They are like Chad, working in the wrong direction. Life doesn’t seem to get better. It only gets worse. As we’ve worked our way through the Lord’s Prayer this winter, we discovered that Jesus teaches Christians to live like a reverse thread – to believe and act the opposite of what the world teaches. The world says, “Take care of yourself,” but Jesus invites us to ask God for our daily bread. The powers of the world hold grudges and take revenge on enemies. Jesus teaches us to forgive others as God forgives us. The world entices to indulge ourselves and make ourselves happy, even at the expense of another’s happiness. Jesus tells us to pray for resistance to temptation. Today we examine the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. Listen to how Jesus goes against the common wisdom of his age and teaches followers to live like a reverse thread.

Luke 17:20-24
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or, ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes.

The Pharisees have a bad reputation. We always read about how they try to blame Jesus, or trip him up, or catch him preaching heresy so that they can kill him. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on the Pharisees, though – at least not without first examining ourselves. Like the Pharisees, we who live in these frustrating times also yearn to see a sign from God. Our troubled hearts want God to fill them with meaning. We need to see or hear or feel some evidence that God has not abandoned the world. We yearn to meet somebody – anybody – in whom we may find some trace of the presence of God. I picture the Pharisees with this same yearning as they ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God is coming. They must have ached for the Messiah to announce himself with a powerful and stunning miracle. The Pharisees are religious leaders who see their people defenseless and exposed to the brutal empires of the world. From their perspective, it seems as if God forgot them. The Messiah has not shown up as expected. They anticipate a mighty political warrior or general like King David of old who will come and wipe away all oppression. They wait for their Messiah to bring freedom and establish a new kingdom – a new order. So they ask Jesus, “Where is this Messiah? When will the kingdom of God come? Give us some facts. Tell us the details so we will know what to expect. We’re not going to stake our lives on something that’s not real. Jesus, our people are waiting and willing to follow if you will just give us something tangible to hold on to. Tell us, Jesus of Nazareth, where is your kingdom?”

Jesus responds with one of his unsatisfying and vague answers. “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting days on a calendar. You can’t say, ‘Look, there it is!’ The Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Like the Pharisees of old, we need to see God’s kingdom at work in this world. Especially in the church. There are people who go to church faithfully who only see Jesus as an historical figure – a moral decent person, even a role model. But they do not see signs of his presence among us. There are some in the church who see Jesus as person who know all about Jesus, but they know nothing about his desire to establish God’s Kingdom in our hearts. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is already among you.” The question is, how do we recognize his presence in our lives?

We begin to recognize God’s kingdom when we see the inside view. Have you ever walked around the outside of the church and tried to look inside through the stained glass windows? From the outside, you only see dull, muted colors. From the outside, you can’t tell if stained glass windows are pieces of junk or works of art. The moment you enter the sanctuary, the windows shine and the symbols are seen clearly. It’s the same way with knowing Christ. You can see him from the outside. You can know all about him. But you can’t see him clearly until you get a new perspective – an insider’s perspective. The true nature of Christ’s kingdom does come through research and analysis. We see it when we ask Jesus to let his kingdom form in our lives. The true nature of the kingdom can only be seen when we are in it.
We can’t get inside the kingdom until we obliterate the self-made boundaries that keep us out. You would think that everyone would want a life-transforming relationship with Jesus, but we’ve all heard excuses. Have you heard any of these before?
« The church is full of hypocrites and I don’t want to be with those people.
« Religion is a crutch for the weak – for those who afraid to face reality.
« I get serious about my faith later.
« I’ll have to think about it.
« It costs too much. I’ll have to give too much up.
« You can’t expect me to believe that stuff in the Bible actually happened.
« I’m not going to stake my life on something that’s not real
« Jesus, if you are real, prove yourself to me.

The Pharisees struggled with these same problems. They needed Jesus to speak to their struggles in pre-determined ways. They thought Jesus had it backwards. They waited for a Messiah to enter their world and act according to their rules. And then Jesus the Messiah, God Made Flesh, entered their world and said, “I’m not going to follow your rules and expectations. That’s not how God works. Come, be part of God’s kingdom, and I’ll teach you how to do it God’s way instead of your own.” Most of them could not handle it. They decided to turn against the One who came to bring them a new and transformed life in God’s kingdom.
I’m afraid the same is true for many of us. We say, “Jesus, prove yourself. Follow our rules and expectations. Do it my way or don’t do it at all.” Jesus says, “If you want to see God’s kingdom, you have to go against common sense, against your will and desires, and follow me.”
Friends, let’s not be so filled with ourselves that we think we can dictate the terms to God in a war of wills. Let’s not be the ones who expect God to only show up at the times and places that are convenient for us. Let’s open ourselves to the possibility that God wants to do something very different in our lives than what we expect. Let’s eliminate the word ‘should’ from our religious vocabulary. The Kingdom of God is in the hearts of those who can give up their expectations of what God should do or who God should be. The kingdom of God belongs to those who believe, and follow, and experience Christ for who he really is.

Who is Jesus to you? In the context of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is the one who demonstrates the kingdom, the power, and the glory of God forever and ever. His is the power of love – demonstrated on the cross. His is a love that calls us to leave our failed expectations and disappointments behind as we come to Jesus Christ in faith. He is the one who holds us in love and promises to change our lives. That’s the real power of the Kingdom – that Jesus can take faithless, doubt-filled, sinful people, clean them up, and make their lives that is more Christ-like.

Christian author Brennan Manning tells the story of an old man who was dying of cancer. The man’s daughter asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old man was waiting for his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” The priest said.

“No, who are you?” the old man replied.

“I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest answered. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

"Oh yeah, the chair," said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the priest shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head… I abandoned any attempt at prayer until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’ So, Father, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory. Two nights later, the daughter called to tell the priest that her dad died that afternoon. The priest asked, “Did he seem to die in peace?”

“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact, beyond strange—kind of weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”

Are you and Jesus so close that you can talk with him as you would with a friend? Do you know that he loves you passionately, and that he’s interested in you, and he wants to listen to everything you have to say? Can you lay your head on him, hear his heartbeat, and know that everything will be all right? That’s the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with you. That’s the power and the glory of God’s kingdom at work – God’s transforming, intimate love made known to us in Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know the power and glory of God’s love in your life, it’s not too late. It involves forsaking your expectations of Jesus, turning away from the old ways of doing things, repenting of sin and asking God to forgive. If involves following Christ where he goes instead of commanding God to follow your lead. Believe, repent, and follow. When that happens in your life, these words will mean more than they ever did: Thine, O Lord, is the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever. Amen.”

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