“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done ON EARTH!”
Based on Matthew 6:6-15 & Romans 12:1-2
A Message Offered by Toby Jones to the People of FCUCC on July 11, 2021
As we continue to explore the true meaning of discipleship as followers of Jesus – NOT fans but followers – it’s time we consider one of the most misunderstood lines in the entire New Testament. It’s a line in the prayer Jesus taught us, which is pretty ironic, given that we’ve all probably said this one line more times than any other line in the Bible, and yet, somehow, we’ve managed to miss its very point. The line is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Let me hear you say it…Ready? Go…
Now, you got the words right – 100% right – but the problem is with the cadence. For hundreds of years, we church-going Christians have inserted a pause in the worst possible place in this line. Listen as we all say it again…Did you hear it? We’ve inserted a pause right after the phrase “thy will be done,” and right before the words “on earth.” That pause, I would argue, has changed and distorted what Jesus intended here. And that very same pause has seriously distorted our understanding and approach to discipleship. Let me explain what I mean.
Remember that our working definition of discipleship is “following Jesus in order to be like him…Following Jesus in order to be like him.” That’s discipleship. That is the point of our following Jesus – to be like him – SO THAT, as we live like him, his kingdom will come and his will will be done here on earth. In other words, the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so much about will come NOT because of what he did, but because of what we do in response to what he did. And remember, we’re not talking about the kingdom of heaven here; we’re talking about the kingdom of God, which Jesus said, over and over again, was here, was now, was among us and within us. The entire point of following Jesus is to be like him – individually and collectively – SO THAT we can help bring about his kingdom here…now…while we are alive.
Disciples of Jesus, in other words, are builders. We’re building something. We’re building on the foundation that Jesus himself laid. He gave us the example; he gave us the blueprint and the principles; he told us what the signs and marks of his kingdom would be – things like food for the hungry, housing for the homeless, friends and visitors for the prisoners, companionship for the lonely. You know – all that stuff from Matthew 25 when he talked about the kingdom of God… “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was naked and you clothed me; I was a prisoner and you visited me…” His disciples asked, “when did we see YOU hungry and feed you or see You thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see YOU naked and clothe thee or a prisoner and visit YOU?” Remember how Jesus responded…? “When you did it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me.”
So the kingdom that we’re building as disciples of Jesus is not some distant physical place but a set of conditions right here that we help create. The kingdom Jesus talked about can happen anywhere, when all those things Jesus did and instructed us to do are happening on a regular basis. They’re happening because we’re doing them! That’s why our work at the food pantry is so important. That’s why our work at the Personal Products pantry and Diaper pantry are so important. That’s why our work with the Charlevoix Ministerial Association’s Emergency Fund is so important, and why all our other outreach projects with school kids and Heifer international are so important. Every time we do those things, a little more of God’s kingdom comes, a little more of God’s will is done ON EARTH (No pause!) His will is done on earth!
That’s what disciples do: we follow Jesus and his example; we become a little more like him every day, doing the things he did, and in so doing, we build his kingdom on earth and we bring about his will on earth (No pause!) “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH.” Say it with me… “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH.” Got it?
For far too long, people who call themselves Christians and attend church on Sundays have been acting more like fans of Jesus than like followers. Christians have been learning a bunch of stories and facts about Jesus. Christians have been admiring Jesus for all the ways he impresses us. Christians have applauded Jesus’s wisdom and uniqueness and been amazed by his miracles. Many of us even sing great songs about Jesus. That’s all well and good; but none of that is discipleship; for discipleship is all about building God’s kingdom on earth and bringing about God’s will on earth.
There’s a great moment in Luke 7, verses 20-28, where John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask him this question: “Are you the One we’ve been expecting or are we still waiting?” Luke then says that “for the next 2 or 3 hours, Jesus healed many from diseases, distress, and evil spirits. To many of the blind he gave the gift of sight.” Then Jesus gives his verbal answer to John’s messengers. He said, “Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the wretched of the earth have God’s salvation and hospitality extended to them.” Then here’s my favorite part. Jesus concludes by saying, “No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer. But in the kingdom of God, the lowliest person is greater than he.”
You see, these disciples and messengers from John are trying to find out if Jesus is the messiah, the anointed one. But did you notice what Jesus did? He didn’t focus on himself and whether he was the Messiah or not. He simply showed those messengers the marks and signs of the kingdom of God that he and his disciples were helping to build, all that Matthew 25 stuff, right? It’s as if Jesus said, “Don’t look at me. Look around and see what I’m building here? The least and lowliest person in the kingdom of God will be doing all this stuff too.” Why? Because the least and lowliest person in the kingdom will be a disciple, and a disciple is someone who follows Jesus in order to be like him, so he or she can help build the kingdom of love and justice here on earth. “Thy will be done on earth.”
It’s what we DO in the kingdom-building process here on earth that manifests our discipleship. It’s not what we do with our mouths and our songs here on a Sunday morning that proves we’re disciples of Jesus. It’s what we do with our hands, with our bodies, and with our work in the real world that shows that we are followers of Jesus. Paul picks up on this critical point in our second passage for the morning in Romans 12:1-2. He writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to present your BODIES as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable God; this is your spiritual worship.” What a strange combination of words Paul strung together there. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice… this is your spiritual worship.” Wait a minute; I thought body and spirit were separate things. I thought our spirit was our good part – the part God was interested in – and our bodies were our dirty, sinful parts. The reason Paul says to present our bodies as a living sacrifice is that it’s with our bodies – our hands, our feet – that we do the kingdom-building stuff, the Matthew 25 work of feeding of others, caring for others, visiting others. It’s when we do that stuff with our bodies, Paul says, that we are presenting the most pleasing kind of worship to God. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual worship.” He goes onto say, “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds. Then you’ll be able to prove and demonstrate what God’s will is…” And where is it that God’s will is to be done…? On earth…On earth, with NO pause before it. “Thy will be done on earth…” Are you getting this?
Sometimes, when I’m up here preaching, I look up at all of you, just sitting there, watching what happens up here on this stage, and I get unsettled inside. I feel like this is some sort of spiritual football game, where Shelley and Nicholas and Michael and Don and I are “playing” and all of you are in the bleachers watching. Occasionally, you may cheer or even stand up to sing. But in this set up, we’re the players and you are the fans. That makes me sad. It makes me said, because I know that this isn’t how the kingdom of God works. (And, again, I’m not talking about heaven here or what happens after we die; I’m talking about the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about and got his disciples to help him start building.) In the kingdom of God, there are no bleachers. There are no passive observers, who sit, watch, and politely applaud from time to time. In the kingdom of God, everyone – EVERYONE – is on the field playing.
If your entire involvement in this church consists of coming here on Sunday to sit and watch the game or the performance that’s happening up here, you need to get in the game. Every week in our newsletter, every week in our bulletin, every week in the video we produce and send to each and every one of you, we list kingdom building opportunities for you to volunteer for. Do you know why we keep listing some of those same volunteer opportunities over and over again? Because too many people are just sitting there watching the game instead of standing up and running onto the field to get in the game.
We’ve got a kingdom to build folks, right here in Charlevoix – a kingdom of love, a kingdom of justice, a kingdom where hungry people are fed, lonely people are visited, prisoners are supported, racism is called out and stamped out, and where the least of these matter and are lifted up. Jesus built the foundation for this kingdom of love and justice. But his plan all along was to turn the kingdom building project over to disciples – to people who followed him and tried to be more like him, so they – WE – could finish building his kingdom. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH. Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower…? Get in the game…Get in the game. Amen.