Though the final phrase of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t in the oldest manuscripts, and when it is the words only show up in Matthew’s version, it has been part of the prayer that gets repeated so often for centuries, even millennia, which makes it worth considering. Here’s the sermon from this week.
We have been together long enough that we have begun to form patterns, ways of being. One of those is that Aren and I try to work at least a week ahead on shaping the order of service so that he doesn’t feel rushed with his limited time in the office. One of the implications of that is I choose scripture well ahead of preparing my sermon. Whey we are following the lectionary, it is not as big a deal, but with our series this summer I have tried to pick companion passages and sometimes they don’t match up quite the way I had imagined when I get to my sermon.
That is the long way of saying the scripture printed for this morning is not the one I am going to read, though the verses from Jude are good words. Instead, I want to read from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The verses—chapter 2:5-11—were not original to Paul. He was quoting a hymn that everyone knew; he might have even sung it had he been there in person—and assuming he could sing. As we contemplate the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer (For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever), listen first to these words:
Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and by becoming human. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.
May God grant us wisdom and understanding of this passage.
Ginger and I had occasion to drive to Rhode Island last week and as we returned, we passed the sign that welcomed us back to Connecticut. Across the bottom of the sign was written “Ned Lamont, Governor.” Governor Lamont is following a long-standing tradition that happens in most every state, I suppose, of putting your name on every sign you can so that people don’t forget who holds the highest office in the state.
I have often wondered how much money it takes to change the names on all the signs when a new governor is elected. I also imagine that on some back road somewhere is a sign that still has Lowell Weiker or John Rowland’s name across the bottom even though they are long gone from office.
It feels like a lot of work just to make sure we don’t forget who holds the highest office in the state. It’s a small example of the reality that most people in power generally do what they need to do to stay in power. That reality makes it difficult for us to get to the heart of the closing line of the prayer because it contains the words kingdom, power, and glory and most of the images that come to mind when we hear those words aren’t necessarily what we are praying for, or they skew our image of who God is.
Jesus was born on the edge of the Roman Empire. Palestine was an occupied land with layers of power an oppression. The God of the Jews was a threat to the emperor, who saw himself as a deity. Jesus’ gospel took it even further. The gospel writers underline his ability to disquiet those around him by saying “he spoke with authority” in contrast to the brazen political power that was doing so much damage. The emperor and his henchmen put their name on everything, even stuff that didn’t belong to them.
To say, “Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” was doing more than ending the prayer with compliments for God. It was turning the world upside down. If you look in your worship guide at the version of the prayer we are praying this morning that is written by Manny Santiago, you will see a different phrasing that offers a different image of God’s realm. Look with me.
For ours are the eternal blessings that you pour upon the earth.
How can kingdoms and power be about blessings?
I’m glad I asked. Let’s tske a look at each of the words.
Thanks to everything from Game of Thrones to the Chronicles of Narnia to several centuries of European history, we tend to think, of kingdoms in terms of military power and conquest, but the oldest roots of the word are connected to kin, which carries a sense of family, of connectedness.
The Aramaic roots of the word carry a planting image: a field fertile and abundant, one sufficient to produce everything. A kingdom was about more than conquest; it was about providing a place to nurture those who lived in community.
The Greek word for power is the root of our word dynamic, which implies movement, energy, and change. The Aramaic word refers to the life force or energy that produces and sustains. It is relational power—the energy, the Spirit that holds everything together—rather than unilateral domination. Though we may not always name it as power, we know it in our lives.
When I try to picture this kind of power, the first person who comes to mind is Rosa Parks, who demonstrated relational power when she sat down on the bus, not just because of her courage but because she did not act on her own. She held her seat empowered by those who had planned with her and who were ready to implement the Montgomery Bus Boycott that changed not just that city but our country.
It’s also the kind of power we demonstrate when we show up for each other in times of difficulty and tragedy. It doesn’t mean everything always turns out the way we want, but it means we stick together. We hold each other up.
In the passage we read from Philippians, Paul said that Jesus sense of power was such that “he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.” Instead, he poured himself into others, into relationships. He lived the power of love.
As we talk about glory, I wish I had a big screen that could show pictures from the James Webb Telescope, because it is a cosmic word and, according to theologian Neil Douglas-Klotz, a musical one. The Aramaic word, he says, “may be translated as ‘glory’ but calls for more exactly the image of a “song”—a glorious harmony returning divine light and sound to matter in equilibrium. The roots of the word also present the picture of a ‘generative fire that leads to astonishment.’”
I love that phrase: the generative fire that leads to astonishment. God is the Source that feeds our sense of wonder, amazement, and imagination.
I read earlier in the summer that scientists have found that the universe as an “ambient hum.” The universe is humming. The writer of “This Is My Father’s World” had it right:
all nature sings
and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
We are invited to join in with the whole universe in a cosmic song of praise that sums up the whole prayer we have been talking about.
We have prayed that we would be reminded that God is the Center, the Source, the Priority of the Universe; that God’s dream for all of creation would be our dream; that in the economy of God all would be fed and nurtured; that forgiveness would flow freely among us; that we would be defined by our togetherness rather than by tragedy or temptation; and then these closing words sum it all up: God is the source of our growth, the heart of our relationships, and the melody of our imaginations.
Jesus’ instructions about prayer fell in the middle of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. In his words that follow, he talked about how to live in a way that demonstrated trust in God’s power and love. As we noted, he was speaking to people living under an occupation of power and oppression. They had mostly experienced power as a closed fist; Jesus described God’s power as an outgrowth of God’s love.
“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet God feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of small faith?”
Perhaps that last question might be read as, “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it is alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown in the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of limited imagination?”
The grass withers and the flower fades, but God’s love endures forever. How long is that? When those in Palestine heard the word we translate as “forever,” they heard it as “from age to age,” or as one commentator put it, “from gathering to gathering.” Forever is kind of an abstraction, whereas “from age to age” says God’s presence and power travel with us from one place to the next, from one time to the next, putting God’s Spirit right smack in the middle of our daily existence.
This is not theoretical; this is real: God imagined all of creation into existence and has lit in our hearts the generative fire that ignites astonishment, if we are willing to let the wind of the Spirit bring us to life so that our words and actions can embody our trust that nothing can separate us from the love of God because God’s realm, God’s melody, and God’s imaginative Spirit are with us from age to age, from gathering to gathering, from day to day. Amen.