March 14, 2004

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done
Matthew 6:10

I have had the privilege of living in various cultures during my lifetime. When I find myself living away from home for extended periods of time—and I deeply appreciate the opportunities that I have had to do so—I inevitably experience certain predictable longings. I long for home. I long for various customs and procedures that are familiar to me. And I long to share some of my own culture with the new people around me.

Take my year in Kenya, for example. I remember how eagerly I waited for my mom, dad and sister to arrive at the airport in Nairobi. When their plane was delayed until the next day, I seriously doubted that I could wait that long to see them. I wanted so badly for them to come. Or the time I was infested with amoebas and bumped a young man off of his bike while I was driving out of the parking lot at Daystar University. As eager as I was to get home to bed, I asked the man if he was O.K. and offered to fix his bike. “I am fine,” he responded, and neither of us detected any damage to the bike. When a week or so later I was summoned to court and ordered to pay a tidy sum—the man and the police were clearly working together—I longed for at least the somewhat predictable legal system back home. I wanted things to be done in Kenya the way they are done here. And I can think of any number of occasions when I shared with people about life here in the states, and Deb and I often prepared American foods for people to try. I loved living in Kenya, but it wasn’t my home.

As we continue reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, we come to what I believe is the central petition here in verse 10. This petition, in fact, lies at the very heart of the Christian Faith itself. In these few words, we encounter perhaps the deepest longings of Jesus’ heart, and we realize that those same longings should be our own. Jesus, living here in this foreign world, longs for home. He longs for the customs of his homeland in heaven to be practiced here on earth. And he clearly longs for all of us who follow him to live out the values of our new homeland for all to see. Pray in this way, he says: “Our Father…. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus longs, first of all, for home. What is striking in this petition—“Your kingdom come”—is of course the fact that the Kingdom of God is not synonymous with the kingdom or kingdoms of this world. The very fact that Jesus asks for God’s Kingdom to come presupposes, doesn’t it, that no earthly kingdom of which we are aware is the kingdom of God. Such an idea would no doubt seem obvious to 1st century Jews who never equated the Kingdom of God with the Roman Empire under which they were living. Such a distinction would be no less obvious to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under oppressive regimes in our modern world. Just recently, Parade Magazine ran an article analyzing the world’s most evil dictators. Surely, no one would ever equate such nations with the kingdom of God.
The distinction, however, is often far less obvious for those of us who have been privileged to live in “kingdoms” that are far more friendly to us. We here in America, for example, can worship freely and participate in the ongoing affairs of our government. We can vote and even hold office if we have the support base to be elected. Many of us own property, work at jobs of our choosing, and move about from place to place without restraints. I’ve been in many countries in the world, and those of us who live here in America are fortunate in countless ways.

But the moment we begin to equate America or any other country with the kingdom of God, as though America’s agenda is synonymous with God’s agenda, we abandon the Lord’s Prayer. Simply stated, there is no such thing as a Christian State. The Bible, in fact, views all of the world as temporarily under the influence of Satan, “the god of this world,” to use Paul words (2 Cor. 4:4).

Think with me for just a moment about Jesus himself. At the very inception of his earthly ministry, Jesus announced that people should repent, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matt. 4:17).” In his life and ministry, Jesus taught that a new kingdom was breaking into time and space, a kingdom distinct from all earthly kingdoms. This kingdom that he inaugurated was not defined by geographical boundaries, nor was it characterized by any particular language or culture. In the final hours of his life, Jesus repeats much the same thing. His years of experience moving about the Palestinian landscape hardly dampened his convictions. During his final interrogation just prior to his crucifixion, Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, commented to him that “…your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me (John 18:35).” “My kingdom,” Jesus answered,
is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers
would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
When Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come,” he clearly reinforced the important idea that the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world must never be equated. Whether during the 4th century under the emperor Constantine or the 21st century under President Bush, the church of Jesus Christ moves frighteningly away from its true identity when it snuggles too closely to the kingdoms of this world. If we are true followers of Jesus, we are first and foremost Christians, then stewards of the whole earth, and only thirdly citizens of a particular country. “Our kingdom,” Jesus reminds us, “is not of this world.”

But these striking phrases in the Lord’s Prayer not only reveal Jesus’ longing for home, but also for the quality of life that goes on there. These words also inform us that the will of God, which is lived out so beautifully in heaven, is not practiced so faithfully here on earth. When Jesus prays that God’s will would be performed here on earth as it is in heaven, he clearly assures us that that is not now the case. Life here on earth is not like it is in heaven. Not now anyway, but Jesus clearly longs for it to be.

This is evident in many countries around the world, isn’t it? Explosions in Spain, walls going up in Israel, and on and on. But think also of our own country. America, with all that it has going for it, remains and always will be a country made up of human beings, some of whom love God and many of whom don’t. America, for all that it has going for it, has no shortage of crime, poverty, and racism. America, for all that it has going for it, remains largely self-serving in terms of its international policy, as most nations do. America, for all that it has going for it, does not measure up to heaven.

Scripture, of course, never gives us a detailed description of what life in heaven is like. By simply working backwards from various passages, including Old Testament glimpses of the messianic kingdom as well as the songs of Revelation, it is easy to conclude that what will be wonderful about heaven is not the streets of gold, but the quality of life! All who are there will sing around the Lord’s throne, and there will be no hatred, no violence, no war, no thievery, no malice, no poverty, no sickness, no pain. If the prophet Micah could encourage his audience long ago to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly before God, we can only imagine that such will totally prevail in heaven. Is it any wonder that Jesus, who knows better than any of us what heaven is actually like, longs for God’s will to be done here? Just remember what you felt like on that occasion when you had been away from home for an extended period of time and so much wanted some of home to be with you wherever it was that you were at the time.

And finally, as with the other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, the very nature of Jesus’ request serves as an invitation for those of us who follow Jesus to be committed to living out the ethos of heaven right here on earth. Here we find ourselves in the land of in-between. We know, don’t we, that the Kingdom of God will not finally exercise complete control over the earth until Jesus returns again. We are anxiously waiting, as have Christians throughout the centuries, for God to bring this age to a close. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” we pray with the Apostle Paul.

But at the same time, we are called to live in the here and now as though this has already occurred. We are called, in other words, to model the lifestyle of heaven while yet on earth. Jesus himself describes this lifestyle so vividly right here in the Sermon on the Mount. By simply scanning through Matthew 5-7, we catch a glimpse of how we are to live. We are to be salt and light in the world. For one thing, the entire way that we relate to other people is to be drastically transformed. The law from long ago instructed us not to murder. Jesus goes one step further and tells us not to even call a brother or sister a fool. The law from long ago warned us about committing adultery. Jesus internalizes it still further and tells us not to even undress another person in our minds. Those of us who follow Jesus are likewise called to remain committed to our marriage partners, be people of our word, love those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus keeps on going, instructing us to forgive those who do us wrong, refrain from hording our money for ourselves, stop worrying about tomorrow, and to avoid judging other people. Jesus, once again, wants—expects—his people to live on earth as though they were already in heaven. We are to march to a different drummer and to model a different lifestyle.

Unfortunately, Christians often don’t put their lifestyles where their prayers are. We ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, but we all too often live as though our wills are what really count. “One of the great scandals today,” Ron Sider writes, “is that vast numbers of evangelicals do not practice what they preach.” Various recent polls suggest that Sider is right. Here are just a few statistics derived from polls taken by Barna, Gallup, Green, Ronsvalles, and Smith:
Only 8% of those who identified themselves as “born-again” Christians tithe (give 10% of their earnings to the church/charity).
The more money Christians make, the less likely they are to tithe: 89% of those making less than $20,000 a year tithe, while only 4% of those making $40,000-$59,000 tithe. And you guessed it. Of those who earn $75,000-$99,999 per year, 1% tithes.
In the 1990s when the average church member gave $20 a year for global outreach, the average American church member spent $164 on soft drinks and over $1,000 on recreation. At the same time, over one billion people in the world tried to survive on $1 a day.
The percentage of “born-again” Christians who have experienced divorce is higher than that of non-Christians.
25% of “born-again” Christians have lived with a member of the opposite sex without getting married.
Born-again adults spend 70% more time per week watching television than participating in such activities as prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
Evangelicals are more likely than Catholics or mainline Christians to object to having an African-American neighbor.
26% of “high-commitment” evangelicals and 46% of “lower-commitment” evangelicals think pre-marital sex is acceptable.
13% of “high-commitment” evangelicals think it is acceptable for married persons to have extra-marital sex.
Something is wrong. Something is drastically wrong. We long for heaven, but we live as though this world is all there is.

When I lived in Kenya several years ago, I very much enjoyed much of my surroundings. At the same time, I also realized on many occasions that I wasn’t at home. In these moving lines from the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reveals that neither he nor his followers are at home here on earth. Instead, we long for home. We long for the perfect way of life that is lived in heaven. And we clearly long for everyone who claims to follow Jesus to live that way right now.