The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 2/20/94
Text: Rev. 11:15-19 (Matt. 6:9-13)
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Have you been watching the Olympics? I have...some. I am a sports fan. And even though these winter events do not have the same appeal for me as some others, I still watch.

I am GLAD that Dan Jansen finally won a medal. After so many tries, on his last ever attempt, he came through. Strange, isn't it - here is a man who is recognized in speed skating as the best sprinter in the world, but just because he had never won an Olympic medal, people asked, "What's wrong with Dan?"

Just three weeks ago, the winningest team in professional football in the decade of the `90's, the Buffalo Bills, appeared AGAIN in the Super Bowl - fourth straight time - no other team has ever accomplished that. But we all know that those four straight Super Bowls have resulted in four straight losses, so the football fans ask, "What's wrong with the Bills?"

Of course, there was nothing particularly WRONG with Dan Jansen prior to Friday nor is anything particularly WRONG with the Bills, but when our heroes are not on top, if they are not displaying the kind of near perfection that we expect from professional athletes, the questions come - "What's wrong? What's wrong? What's wrong?" You see, we sports fans have some vision of speed skating's or football's or any sport's ideal in light of which our favorites regularly leave room for improvement.

To be sure, those same questions about what is wrong arise from us in matters much more serious. We see a young mother in the prime of life attacked and murdered by some drug-crazed maniac and ask, "What's wrong with our society today?" We see a little child run down and killed by a drunken driver who ends up getting just a judicial slap on the wrist and ask, "What's wrong with our legal system?" We see thousands of people in Sarajevo being bombed daily and ask not only "What's wrong with those Serbs?" but "What's wrong with OUR government for doing so little to stop it?" Who knows how many billions of dollars are spent each year with psychiatrists and psychologists by individuals trying to find out "What's wrong? What's wrong? What's WRONG?"

There is something constant within us which realizes that things are not as good as they could be, whether it regards our favorite sport stars or teams or anything else. We are haunted by a dream of a much better state of affairs than now exists. We continue to ask "What's wrong?" because we have an inner vision of what is RIGHT.

Of course, there is a Christian answer to the question of "What's wrong?"... with individuals, with our legal system, with government. What is wrong is SIN, in all its forms...separation from God. This world chooses to go its own way and the result is one WRONG after another. We know that ought not to be, so Christians pray for a change; we pray, "Thy kingdom come."

True, we rarely think much about those three words, and when we do, they are often misunderstood. To pray "Thy kingdom come" does not ask for an end to history or for heaven to suddenly replace this earth. The kingdom of God is anywhere God is king, anywhere God's will is done, anywhere God is truly in charge. This is not a prayer for pie-in-the-sky. In fact, it is a plea for pie in the here-and-now, pie not just for us but for everyone. That means that, properly understood, this is a prayer that many might rather avoid. As one commentator has noted,

`Hallowed be Thy name' is a bit abstract. `Thy kingdom come' is a bit concrete. In fact it may be entirely too concrete for some of us. If you feel that religion should have nothing to do with politics, I advise you to stay away from this petition. `Kingdom' is an incurably political word. When we pray `Thy kingdom come,' we are not praying to be taken out of the political order into some heavenly sphere where no decisions have to be made about how power and money and services ought to be distributed among people. We are praying that God's sovereignty may come to earth and become effective in the political realm and for the political questions that plague us and at times divide us.(1)
We are saying, "O God, be as involved as possible in human affairs so that the day will come when the whole universe will acknowledge you as Lord of all."

What will God's "kingdom" look like? Not like any of the kingdoms we see in our day. Jesus tried to paint us a picture. More than a hundred times in the Gospels we read of Him saying "the kingdom of God is like THIS" or "the kingdom of heaven is like THAT," and those descriptions show something vastly different from any government or nation or empire this world has ever seen.

Some differences come to mind immediately. For example, in an earthly kingdom, rank is determined by who happens to be the most powerful - the princes and nobles are the most wealthy and strong. But, according to Jesus, in God's kingdom rank is determined, not by how powerful you are, but by how much of a servant you are. Jesus said the kingdom belongs to the "poor in spirit" (those who are humble enough to understand how destitute they are in the sight of a righteous God). He said that the kingdom belongs to those who are "persecuted for righteousness' sake" (those who are willing to make any sacrifice required to make this a just world). He said that only those with a childlike attitude, one of faith and trust, are able to be a part of it. God's kingdom is different.

Earthly kingdoms have their boundaries carefully charted on a map, and the result has been one debacle after another - the tragedy in what used to be Yugoslavia, Iraq stealing a slice of Kuwait, Hitler wanting anything he could grab - wars and rumors of wars over territory that have turned the pages of history into a bloody mess. But Jesus described God's kingdom as a great banquet with folks coming from North and South, East and West. This kingdom is universal with no boundaries at all. God's kingdom is different.

Earthly kingdoms are very careful about who is acceptable as a member of society. But Jesus described God's kingdom as a large tree in a garden with branches so extensive that all sorts of birds will be able to nest in it. THIS kingdom is open to all who, by faith, would become a part of it. First-class citizenship is graciously offered to anyone who wants it. God's kingdom is different.

The writer of our lesson in Revelation understood that. John lived in a time of vicious persecution. To make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ put one in danger of, at the least, becoming a social and commercial leper or, at worst, being legally murdered as an enemy of the Roman empire. John himself was on the prison island of Patmos as he wrote. In the poetic language of Revelation that we call "apocalyptic" he pictured the awful conditions as they existed in his day and was convinced they were God's judgment upon a world gone wrong.

John described the devastation of the forces of nature run amok; he noted the moral rot and decay that turn humans into monsters and destroy a society from within; he saw the disastrous results of violent conflict. But with eyes of faith, John gazed into the future and saw a better day. With ears attuned to the music of heaven he heard the song, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah [the Christ]." In his own way, John prayed, "Thy kingdom come" at the very end of Revelation. Just before the benediction, he prayed simply, "Come, Lord Jesus."

There is no question that it would be easy to repeat, "Thy kingdom come" when we pray and understand the phrase simply as a heart-felt hope for the future with no implications for our lives in the here and now. But that would be wrong. As we have noted in our previous studies of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, these words address US as well as our heavenly Father.

"Thy kingdom come." There is an element of confession here. We are admitting that God's rule is not complete in this world yet. We are asking for a major change on this end to war, an end to poverty, an end to oppression, an end to evil of every sort and the beginning of a new social order that would see this world made good again as God intended. But that means that our prayer is a personal challenge. By praying, "Thy kingdom come" we make our own promise that, as God gives us the vision, we are willing to cooperate and do our own part in making God's rule a reality. With this prayer we are committing ourselves to stop shaking our heads or shrugging our shoulders saying the task is too great. We make a commitment to work to make this a world in which all God's creation will be treated with dignity, with fairness and with justice.

That is not always easy. It is not unusual to be at risk when bringing attention to things that are not as they ought to be and calling out for change. But to fail to take the risk and to keep quiet is to make our prayer simply words that are devoid of real meaning.

Are you familiar with the name Martin Niemöller? Martin Niemöller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the rise of the Nazis. He was an intensely patriotic man. He had served as a U-boat captain during World War I. In the early days of Hitler's accession to power, he organized the Academic Defense Corps, an armed student organization. But eventually Martin came to see Hitler's true colors, spoke out in opposition and was seized by the Gestapo in 1937. The next seven years he spent in Concentration Camps. After the war, he reflected on the tragic events and repented of not raising his voice sooner. Speaking for all those who could and should have done more, he said,

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Trade Union- ist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.(2)
Yes, there are risks in speaking up, but there are also risks in keeping quiet. I believe in a day of judgment; the Bible is clear that it will come. And I believe that we will answer, not only for what we have done, but what we have failed to do. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin."(3)

The kingdom of God, that vision of perfection we have in our hearts, IS coming. Actually, it has already Jesus, the first one in history to walk this earth with both thought and action in total harmony with the will of God. And to make sure that no one could miss the arrival of the kingdom in Jesus, God validated Jesus' life and work by fulfilling for the first time the ultimate hope of people of faith, the hope of victory over death. Yes, the kingdom of God arrived with Jesus, and God showed it for any who wanted to see on Easter morning.

But in another sense, the kingdom has not yet arrived. We know that all too well when we turn on a newscast or pick up a paper or even look in a mirror. The coming of Jesus did NOT mark the end of disobedience; it did not mark the end of sin; it did not mark the end of physical death; it did not mark the day when justice would roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. There is still so much WRONG in this world. Yes, Jesus brought in the kingdom, but He told us to pray for the eventual consummation. He told us to pray, "THY KINGDOM COME."

Someone has written that this prayer is not for the well-meaning, but for the desperate...those who over and over ask "What's WRONG?" - not just with the Buffalo Bills, but "What's wrong with this world?" - and are urgently anxious to see things made right. This is the prayer of people who are not content with things as they are, folks who do not want things to stay the same. Is it YOUR prayer? "Lord, bring in YOUR KINGDOM, YOUR RULE, YOUR REIGN, and bring it in through ME." COME, LORD JESUS!


1. Albert Curry Winn, A Christian Primer, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), pp. 41-42

2. Quoted by Jack Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), p. 196

3. James 4:17

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