It’s Easter, which is a day of joyous celebration. We’ve come to share in the Easter story with song and with word. We’ve come to offer to God words of praise, declaring our allegiance to the one who is risen from the dead. We’ve come in the hope of the resurrection, seeking to find strength and peace in the presence of God. It is in this context that we hear the call of God: Lift up your hearts, lift up your eyes, and behold what great things God is doing in your midst!
On this Easter morning, as we join in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, we also bring to a close a series of sermons that focus on the Lord’s Prayer. You won’t find the closing statement of this prayer – “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever” – in either of the two gospel accounts of the Lord’s Prayer, at least not in our modern translations. As you may know, this is because this phrase isn’t found in out the oldest of our manuscripts. But, this closing statement fits this prayer quite well. It is as if it belongs from the very beginning.
That may be due in part to the fact that this doxology, this brief statement of praise and thanksgiving, has its roots in a very ancient passage of scripture. Hear then this word from 1 Chronicles 29, hearing in it the foundation for our confession of faith in God the Almighty and Everlasting Father.
10 Then David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly; David said: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, for ever and ever. 11Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:10-13 NRSV)
We sing this song of thanksgiving and praise, entrusting our lives into the hands of the one who reigns over all, ever mindful that there are clouds hanging over our lives. The Lord’s Prayer, which closes with a song of praise and thanksgiving, includes as its penultimate word, a request of God, that God would keep us from the day of testing and from the clutches of the evil one. Yes, we come today, to celebrate resurrection, knowing that Good Friday is always part of the conversation.
Mindful that clouds hang over our lives and recognizing that many struggle to make sense of life and its challenges, we nonetheless come to celebrate the truth that by virtue of the cross and the resurrection, Christ now reigns over God’s kingdom. Having experienced our darkness, Christ opens the way for us to share in God’s glory. Let us, therefore, remember the choir’s invitation, which was offered in the opening moments of worship:
“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.”
May we, in response to that call to worship, offer joyous songs, singing from the heart, Alleluia, for Christ the Lord is risen indeed! This is the good news that will sustain us as we walk in the ways of God’s kingdom.
With the message of Easter ringing in our hearts and minds, let us return again to the prayer that Jesus taught us and attend to the doxology that the church in its wisdom has added to this prayer. It may not be original to Jesus, but it is an appropriate close to a prayer that calls for the name of God to be hallowed, for the reign of God to be extended across the earth, for our willingness to do the will of God on earth as in heaven; it is a prayer that requests of God basic provisions for life and for forgiveness of our debts, sins, and trespasses. Finally, this is a prayer that asks God to carry us through the time of testing. With these petitions in mind, this final doxology invites us to affirm four things about God – God’s reign, God’s power, God’s glory, and the eternity of God’s reign.
As we pray this prayer, knowing that it addresses God as our Father, which we’ve discovered means that God is our patron and ruler, we also know that this prayer is subversive. That is, when we pray this prayer, we’re swearing our allegiance to God’s kingdom. When we do this, we place limits on our allegiance to Caesar – or to whatever government or culture we happen to inhabit. Yes, Jesus said, give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s – your taxes and where appropriate your obedience – but remember that ultimately you belong to God, for God is your provider, not Caesar (Matthew 22:19-22).
As we consider what it means to give our allegiance to God, we ask that God would reveal to us a sense of what this kingdom looks like. If we examine the scriptures, we discover that God is calling us to create a parallel culture, a different way of living in the world, that is gracious and just, peaceable and purposeful. It is a new creation that is marked by love of God and love of neighbor.
In recent days, in light of all the angry rhetoric that is tearing apart the fabric of our society, Jim Wallis drew up a “covenant of civility.” In this covenant, which you can find posted on our web site, Christian leaders from across the ideological divide, have committed themselves to abide by this promise:
We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.
By participating in God’s kingdom, we can help create a different culture, one that isn’t just civil, which for some might simply mean being nice, but also one that is committed to the transformation of the way we live together in the presence of God. And, this experiment must start with the church. If the church can’t model civility, then there’s little hope for the future of our society.
Having affirmed God’s reign, we also confess that God has the power to transform the world. In making this confession, I need to add a caveat. Although Scripture speaks of “almighty God,” it doesn’t speak of God omnipotent. That is, while God has the power, there are some things that God cannot do. God cannot, for instance, be, by our confession, be good and do that which is evil.
As we contemplate the nature of God’s power, it might be useful to think about how we envision power. For instance, the United States is considered a superpower, while China is an emerging superpower, and Russia is a declining one. When we think in these terms, power is defined by a nation’s military or economic prowess. This isn’t the kind of power, however, that is affirmed by this prayer.
As we think about this acclamation of God’s power, perhaps we should turn to Walter Wink for some help. Wink is a bible scholar of some note, and in reflecting on the power of God that’s addressed by this prayer, he suggests that in praying this, we’re actually commanding God to act by reminding God that God has the power and ability to bring into existence a new future and a new reality. Wink writes:
Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes. [Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, (New York: Galilee, 1998), p. 186]
This morning as we celebrate the resurrection, we see the first signs that the bonds we’ve placed on God’s hands and feet have been broken. The Temple and the Empire, which tried to tie the hands of God, have failed to finish the job. Because Christ the Lord is risen, death has lost its sting. Therefore, we no longer need to serve and fear death and its allies.
In the first sermon of this series we turned to Isaiah’s depiction of the heavenly realm. There, and again in Revelation, we see God sitting upon the throne of heaven in glory. We see the heavenly host gathering around the throne, declaring that the Lord of hosts is holy and the “whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:1-3). Yes, the whole earth shares in the glory of God our creator, our redeemer, our sustainer, which means that we share in that glory ourselves. To help us join in this song of praise, we might want to share in the prayer enshrined in an old Harry Emerson Fosdick hymn:
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour they power; crown thine ancient church’s story; bring its bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour. (Chalice Hymnal, 464)
This glory of God, of which we sing, envelops and empowers us, not just so we can face this particular hour, but so that we might live fully in God’s presence every day, no matter what the situation might be. In the course of sharing in this glory, we also share in the establishment of God’s reign.
The prayer’s final assertion affirms the eternity of this reign of God: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” In making this affirmation we declare that God is not a human being writ large. Although we’ve been created in the image of God to bear witness to God’s power and glory, love and mercy, we’re not God, and whatever share in eternity that may come our way is a gift of God’s grace. Therefore, this final word stands before us as an offering of hope. It is a word that reflects the message of resurrection. Because God is eternal, we live in the hope of sharing God’s presence for eternity. With this word of hope, we can take confidence in the knowledge that God will be there at every moment in time. Yes, it is a promise that offers hope that we needn’t traverse this life alone.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 4, 2010
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 4, 2010