July 2, 2023

A Prayer for God’s Reign on Earth

Isaiah 11:6-9, Matthew 4:12-17

Rev. Patrick Johnson

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

12 Now when Jesus* heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 4:12-17)

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

This summer, we are studying the Lord’s Prayer, almost line by line, so that it will become, not just words we say, but a guide for our prayers. Jesus gave his disciples these words when they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and each phrase teaches us a biblical way of relating to God and opens up a new dimension of conversation with God.

The prayer, of course, begins “Our Father,” and, as Shannon explored last week, Jesus invites us to come before God as a child comes before a parent. Very quickly, though, we have to contend with archaic language. For some of us, “Our Father,” is archaic by itself, and in the next phrase say, we say “Hallowed be thy name.” Who among us has ever used the word “hallowed” before, apart from this prayer?

This is the language of Shakespeare and is the only Elizabethan language that we Presbyterians retain in our speaking and reading. No where else in our spoken liturgy do we say thy and thine and hallowed. So, we shouldn’t go too far in studying this prayer without acknowledging that this old language may even be a stumbling block for some of us. If it’s a stumbling block for you, I invite you to change it. Pray the words differently. The purpose of our study of this prayer is for you to take this language and make it your own, allowing it to guide your conversation with God.

Jesus taught his disciples in Aramaic, and the gospels pass his teaching on to us in Greek, and the Catholic church for centuries passed down these scriptures in Latin. That’s why this prayer is often called the pater noster, Latin for “our father.” The Christians of the various Reformations in the sixteenth century translated the Hebrew and Greek scriptures into the vernacular of the people wherever they went, and that pattern of translation continues today. The ideas are what matter, not the words themselves.

If the patriarchal overtones of “Our Father” is a stumbling block for you, as it is for many, try praying “Our Mother.” The biblical God is at least as much a mother as a father. You could follow the example of the Anglican prayer book used by the New Zealand and Maori Christians. They begin the prayer by saying, “Father and Mother of us all, Loving God who is in heaven….” That way of phrasing it – father and mother – retains the personal dimension of God’s being, which is very important to the biblical witness. Yet their language also bridges the gender gap that so often makes us stumble, and more faithfully presents the fullness of God’s character.

Likewise, if you trip over the ancient word hallowed you can substitute holy; and if you stumble over thy and thine, you can say you and yours. Hallowed be thy name simply means holy is your name. In fact, if the word holy seems too religious, you can say “unique,” “singular,” “set apart,” there is no other in all the universe like you. The ideas are what matter here, not the words themselves. The ideas guide us into right prayer with the God of Israel and Jesus.

Now, you may wonder, if all this is so, why is it that we hold on to this archaic language in worship? Why not say a more contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer? There are several, and many congregations do. Occasionally we too have used the ecumenical version of this prayer. But I will confess – and this my personal belief – I believe the archaic language of the Lord’s Prayer holds enduring value for us as English-speaking Christians.

I believe when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in the language we know by heart, we connect our lives with the people and places who have gone before us. For over four hundred years, these same words have been taught from one generation to another, and over twenty generations. These same words have been prayed by ancestors we never met and whose names we do not know. These words were said by this congregation at the very first service held on this ground almost two hundred years ago, and every Sunday since. In this time of religious fragmentation, of many denominations and flavors of being Christian, these words are some of the few that we can say together.

The poet Jane Kenyon captures this well in her poem “The Thimble.”

I found a silver thimble

on the humusy floor of the woodshed,

neither large nor small, the open end

bent oval by the wood’s weight,

or because the woman who wore it

shaped it to fit her finger.


Its decorative border of leaves, graceful

and regular, like the edge of acanthus

on the tin ceiling at church . . .

repeating itself over our heads

while we speak in unison

words the wearer must have spoken.

“While we speak in unison” words of the ones who have gone before us. So it is with the prayer Jesus taught.

Moving forward now, I want to consider with you today what is known as the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come. What are we praying for when we pray for God’s kingdom to come? As Americans, the very idea of a kingdom is a little blurry to us. As we will celebrate this Tuesday, we declared independence from earthly kings and kingdoms two hundred and forty-seven years ago. We live in a representative democracy, where the people are sovereign, and authority is entrusted to citizens and to their elected representatives. That is all we know, so what does it mean for us to pray “thy kingdom come.”

The theologian Justo Gonzalez writes that what we are asking for is not so much a different place, as a different order. When we pray for the kingdom of God to come, we are not praying that we will be transported into dream land like Oz with a magical Emerald City. We are praying that God’s rule and reign will come to this land, to our world. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the future of our world and for an order in which God reigns and rules.

So, what does the reign of God look like? It looks like nothing we’ve ever seen before. When the prophet describes the government of God, the very laws of nature are turned on their head; the wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the baby goats, the lion plays in the field with calves and cows, and all are at peace. They are so much at peace that a little child can lead them. There is simply nothing to fear. Why? Because God is in charge, and God rules with wisdom and truth. The poor receive justice, and the powerless are treated fairly, and wickedness is driven away.

When Christians pray “thy kingdom come,” we are not praying for Democrats to win elections, or for Republicans to win elections – but we are praying for the political order. We are praying for God to reign and rule in the world in a way that no one else can.

When Christians pray “thy kingdom come,” we are not shutting our eyes to the world and hoping to be transported to different place. Instead, we are looking at the world as it is and choosing to hope in God. Instead, we look clearly at a war being waged between earthly kingdoms, at increasing military expenditures, with no clear plan for peace, yet we choose to not lose heart. “Thy kingdom come” – our hope is in God. We look clearly at practices of discrimination toward racial minorities, and toward our LGBTQ and transgender individuals, and at discrimination that is sanctioned even by the government, yet we choose to not lose heart. We hope in God – “thy kingdom come.”

When Christians pray that prayer, we look clearly at refugees who cram themselves into fragile boats to seek a better life, and at the governments who see them there and do nothing, yet we do not lose heart. We choose to hope in God and pray for God’s coming kingdom. Likewise, we look with compassion at our neighbors who suffer from homelessness, trauma, mental illness, and addiction, and at governments who struggle to find good solutions, yet we do not lose heart. We choose to hope in God – “thy kingdom come.”

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying for our world in the future where God reigns and rules. But that’s not all. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are also praying for the church. Why? Because the church today in the world is a parable of the kingdom of God. The church today in the world is a sign of God’s kingdom. The Reformed tradition lays out the six great purposes of the church, and one is that the church will be an exhibition of the kingdom of God to the world.

This means that when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying that we will follow Jesus, who brings the kingdom to us, and who teaches us what life in the kingdom of God is like. Tending the sick, feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, clothing the naked, visiting the ones who are imprisoned – this is life in the kingdom of God. Lifting the fallen, supporting the weak, healing the broken, honoring the dignity of all people – this is life in the kingdom of God. Forgiving the guilty, doing justice for the oppressed, telling the truth, honoring promises, reconciling with those from whom we are estranged, loving your enemies – this is life under God’s reign and rule.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the church to be a sign in the world of God’s coming kingdom, and that God’s rule and reign will become visible through us. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying for missionaries like Dan and Elizabeth Turk in Madagascar who are teaching people to grow sustainable food in a changing climate. We are praying for siblings in Christ like the congregation of Eben Ezer, La Blanca, Guatemala, who are educating children toward a better life. We are praying for fragile congregations in rural places of our area who are feeding their neighbors and checking on the homebound. We are praying for small congregations in big cities, who have decaying and expensive buildings, but are trying to stay in place so they can provide a safe place for the youth of their neighborhood. We are praying for a small church north of Phoenix, whose pastor told me recently that her congregation is on an FBI vandalism watchlist because more than fifty times the small rainbow flag they place on their church sign has been destroyed – and they keep putting it back up.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the church, in every place, and we’re praying for the church in this place. We are praying that we will be more than a gathering of the blessed and forgiven, but that we will be a place where the boundary-breaking love of Christ is felt and known. We are praying that we will be more than a place to see friends and make connections, we are praying that our life together will be a sign of God’s reign and rule. We are praying that we will be light in the darkness, that somehow we will exhibit to the world the astounding goodness and grace of Jesus Christ.

“Thy kingdom come” we are praying for the church and for the world. “Thy kingdom,” is a prayer that more and more people will see the light of Christ through the church, and a prayer that the world will more and more look like the kingdom of God.

Until Christ comes again, when he shall reign, forever and ever – and of the increase of his government there shall be no end.

We pray thy kingdom come.



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