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And When You Pray: The Threefold Benediction

27 Aug

(a sermon for August 27, 2017, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost; last in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Matthew 6:9-13)

And so now, after all these weeks, finally we come to the final petition of our Lord’s Prayer, and what a word it is:  “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever… Amen.”

Amen, indeed! I mean, from a literary standpoint alone, this is the grand finale of a remarkable work, is it not; it’s the pinnacle of everything that’s been said and prayed up until this point, each phrase and petition having built upon the one before so that now there’s nothing left for us to offer up except this ultimate expression of our praise and thanksgiving unto God: to proclaim with whole hearts and loud voices that thine is the kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever and ever, Amen!

You know what I’m saying; it’s there in just about every musical setting you’ve ever heard of this prayer, most especially in the beautiful version by Albert Mallotte that we’ve heard sung and played here on a couple of occasions this summer; and I don’t know about you, but even on those numerous occasions that we speak this Lord’s Prayer together in worship, there’s nonetheless this same crescendo that peaks the moment we come to the final verse!  It’s a true benediction and powerful way to end this prayer of our Savior, and not only am I grateful, as we’ve said so often through this sermon series, that this is the prayer that Jesus himself gave to his disciples and to us, but also that Jesus – Jesus himself (!) – also chose to conclude this prayer he gave us in just this way!

Except…

…that maybe he didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve probably noticed by now that this particular part of the Lord’s Prayer is not included in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching of it.  Luke doesn’t refer to it at all, and Matthew’s gospel relegates it to a mere footnote, claiming that “other ancient authorities, in some form” included these words about the kingdom, the power and the glory; but frankly, most biblical scholars argue that that’s not even the case!  The likely truth is that this final petition to the Lord’s Prayer was something added on by the early Christian Church (probably sometime around the fourth or fifth century) as a way of making it more liturgical in form; that is, to “complete” the Lord’s Prayer as an all-encompassing affirmation of faith by adding what is referred to in “church language” as a doxology, which in the Greek literally means to give a “word of glory and honor.”  Obviously, the addition caught on because we’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer that way ever since; although if you’ve ever repeated this prayer with a group of Roman Catholic worshippers, you’ll know that they end their unison prayer at “deliver us from evil,” owing to the fact that addition or no addition, as far as we know from the gospels Jesus most likely did not say those particular words in teaching his disciples how to pray!

Now, does this mean that the Lord’s Prayer, or at least the way we’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, has somehow become nullified by our mistaken translation?  Absolutely not!   To begin with, adding those words about “the kingdom, power and glory” at the end of Jesus’ prayer does bring an appropriate (and dare I say, triumphant) conclusion to these series of petitions that, one after the other,  speak not only of the presence and power of the divine but also to our relationship, yours and mine, with the divine.  Moreover, there’s a symmetry to how that last verse relates to everything before:  we start out the Lord’s Prayer by praying that God’s, our Father’s, name be hallowed and requesting that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and we finish with the unequivocal affirmation that “thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.”  It’s a true doxology, a threefold benediction that serves to remind us, even as we pray, that everything we are and have and can ever hope to be is solely by virtue of the power and glory of God!

So it does seem a fitting addition to our prayer; and besides… though Jesus might not have spoken the words in that specific context, he most certainly knew them to be true; in fact, as a teacher himself, Jesus likely spoke of that moment we read about in our Old Testament reading this morning, in which King David, toward the end of his life and about to pass on the task of building the temple to his son Solomon, gathers the people and prays unto God, “Yours, 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 over all… and now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.”  That those words are familiar to our ears is by no accident at all; to quote one commentator, “It is fitting… that a portion of David’s kingdom prayer should be attached to the Son of David’s kingdom prayer.”

You see, at the end of the day (or the end of the prayer, as it were), what we pray in this amazing series of petitions that Jesus gave to us is that it’s God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God’s glory that prevails over everything… everything in our lives, now and eternally.  Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth, who has breathed the very breath of life into each one of us; whose presence and power is felt in every passing moment of our lives, whose very strength is felt in each and every joy and sorrow and challenge that we face.  Our God is the one who nourishes us with daily bread, who offers us forgiveness of sin along with the grace that we might forgive others in kind, who leads us along the surest of pathways that deliver us from evil. Our God is the one who decries all kinds of evil in the world by proclaiming a gospel of love and justice and peace, sending forth his own Son as the example and expiation, and then calling you and I to proclaim that same Word by our very lives.  Our God is the one who intends for his truth to be made real in and through every one of us here; so that truth – God’s truth, the truth of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ – might finally begin to penetrate the walls of division and hatred that are the ongoing construct of a sad and misguided culture.  Our God is the God who wishes that in all things – whether that applies to the ways we approach one another around the breakfast table or how we stand on the streets of Charlottesville or Boston –  that in all things we might live as true reflections of God’s kingdom, his power, his glory and yes, most especially, his love.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”

Perhaps Jesus didn’t speak those words in exactly the context we like to think he did; but we do know that it’s exactly what he meant, and what he means for you and for me as we are sent out into this world to walk the walk of discipleship in these days of sad, confused and conflicting situations.

As you might imagine, and perhaps like a lot of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks reflecting on the faith implications of everything that’s been happening in the world and in our own country; specifically, how we as the church ought to be responding to the kind of destructive hate that’s been so much on display as of late.  I mean, I think it’s obvious that we in the church need to be loud and clear in naming “the evils we deplore,” denouncing all manner of racism, violence and bigotry as being not only un-Christian, but un-American as well.  Moreover, though I must confess that I was more than a little skeptical as to what good it could do, I stand in great admiration of my brothers and sisters of faith (especially my clergy colleagues) who linked arms in Charlottesville and Boston and stared down the Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists, witnessing to love and justice quite literally there on the front lines of conflict.

But that said, what I’ve been wondering about is the rest of us?  How do we respond?  How about those of us who sit in these pews every Sunday morning and who need to spend the week ahead at our jobs, or running errands, going to doctor’s appointments, running kids (or grandkids!) to school on time and all the rest of the “stuff” of life: what are we to do about those who would so easily and deliberately dismiss the law of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.  Honestly, friends, these days, all it’s taken is ten minutes watching the news to make one feel helpless about the state of the world!

But then in my reading over vacation I came across a piece from the Christian Century, actually written a couple of years ago by Samuel Wells, regarding the great 20th century theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as you may recall, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis; the result of speaking out against the Third Reich and having been implicated in a plot to kill Hitler.  Ultimately though, writes Wells, it was not Bonhoeffer’s politics that got him put in jail; it was Jesus!  It was Bonhoeffer’s confession that Jesus was over and above any and all of the powers and principalities of this world; that it was and is God’s incarnation in Christ that makes us the Church and what moves us surely and steadily toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Wells writes that “Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say.”  It’s truly the difference between death and resurrection; and it’s what not only renews the Church in every generation, it’s what empowers us to stare down the face of every new evil that arises in this world… for thine is the Kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever!

You’ve heard me say it before from this pulpit: that the first and best thing you and I can do in these times is for us to truly be the Church of Jesus Christ; and that begins, I believe, with making God in Christ the centerpiece of everything in life.  And no, it’s not always, if ever, an easy thing to have one’s faith take priority over that which is safer, or more expedient, or more profitable in a worldly sense.  In fact, it’s almost certainly going to involve some risk; but it is, truly, the way, the truth and the life that Jesus spoke about, and not only will it change us for the better, it will change the world as well.

So, friends… “and when you pray,” how will you pray?  Will you let the words of Jesus simply roll off your tongue in the same manner as you have countless times before?  Or will you let the phrases and petitions that we’ve been given be the means by which let our Lord have leadership of your life?

What’s interesting is that beyond the King James Version of the Bible, this final part of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t included in most modern translations of scripture for the reasons we mentioned earlier.  It does, however, appear in The Message (which, given that it’s technically a paraphrase of scripture rather than a translation, gives it a little leeway in interpretation).  But this is one “rendition” of the Lord’s Prayer that, while decidedly untraditional, kind of says it all from beginning to end, and seems as good a way to conclude this sermon series as any I can think of:

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so, beloved, may it truly be, “Yes, Yes, Yes,” forever and ever…

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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