A.J. Gordon was a Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1800’s. One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, “Where did you get those birds, son?” The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.” “What are you going to do with them?” “I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.” When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well.” Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.” “Okay, it’s a deal but you’re making a bad bargain.” The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around the back of the church property, opened the door of the small cage, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue. The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and save the lost, those who by the standards of many would be worth very little, but for whom Jesus paid with His precious blood. “That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, “Redeemed, redeemed!”
Now I don't want to alarm anyone but there are only 118 days left till Christmas. I know what you're thinking: we're still enjoying the last gasp of summer and I'm talking about Christmas. But Christmas and the Advent that proceeds it, are the times we prepare to receive the God incarnate through the Christ child. A time when every carol sung in the season says “Redeemed!” It’s the meaning behind every gift under the tree, “Redeemed!” It’s the assurance Mary received and the joy she expressed at finding herself the mother of God incarnate. It’s the star the wisemen followed. It’s the message sung by angels to shepherds. “Redeemed!” Jesus’ coming into the world 2,000 years ago was the initiation of the kingdom of God on earth. We can say we are redeemed because we pray “For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.”
This is the last Sunday in our journey through the Lord's Prayer this summer. We have looked at all the parts of the prayer and now come to the last line that we recite every week. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever.
The pivotal experience in the Christian church, the very reason for the faith's existence, was the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead – that He was who He claimed to be through His teachings, healings and miracles. As such, Jesus changed the world forever. Going back to the Christmas theme, Mary sang songs of joy to God when she learned she was pregnant with the Lord. Angels open the doors of heaven and proclaimed the news of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds left their livelihood, flocks unprotected in the fields, to see the miracle. Wisemen traveled for years to follow a star on faith alone. Herod had all males under the age of two years destroyed to protect a kingdom. People flocked to Jesus to hear His teachings, feel His healings, sense His power. Political leaders had Him arrested, beaten and crucified out of fear of losing power.
Why did the leaders hate and fear Jesus so much? Was it His healings? No. Was it His teachings on love and forgiveness? Not likely. His miracles? Probably not. His kindness to, and acceptance of sinners? What’s not to like about that? His teaching on the kingdom of God? Bingo! Jesus did not incur the murderous wrath of His fellow Jews in spite of His teaching about God’s kingdom, but rather precisely because of it. Why? Because Jesus’ conception of the nature of God’s kingdom and how it would come to earth directly contradicted the views of the reigning parties of Jesus’ day.
The last line of the Lord’s Prayer “For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever,” does not appear in most bibles. This has something to do with the translation of original text documents, but regardless of that, we are trained to repeat the Lord’s Prayer with that statement. The words, “for Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever” are a declaration of faith, of theology, of praise, of adoration and thanksgiving. In the past few weeks I have spoken of the seven petitions that make up the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts/trespasses. Deliver us from evil. And so on. The finishing line is a plea for answers to those petitions offered up in prayer. The words are a declaration of confidence that the prayer will be heard and answered. The words focus on God as Alpha and Omega, beginning and end of all true prayer. We begin the Lord’s Prayer with the address “Our Father” and we end by praising God as the Ruler of all the Universe. In between, we make petitions for ourselves.
Having studied the prayer for some weeks, we find that we are back to the beginning. We started by standing before God, our Father, hallowing His name, and end by declaring God's right to reign over us. It’s not hard to see why the prayer circles back. It’s because it does us twice as much good to think about God as it does to think about anyone or anything else. God wants us to begin and end our prayers thinking of the Holy Divine.
Some years ago a sociologist accompanied a group of mountain climbers on an expedition. Among other things, he observed a distinct correlation between cloud cover and contentment. When there is no cloud cover and the peak of the mountain was in view, the climbers were energetic and cooperative. When the gray clouds eclipsed the view of the mountaintop, though, the climbers were sullen and selfish. The same thing can happen to us. As long as our eyes are on God’s majesty there is a bounce in our step. But let our eyes focus on the dirt beneath us and many will grumble about every rock and crevice they have to cross. Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer beginning and ending with God to remind us to look at the peak more than we look at the trail. The more we focus up there, the more inspired we are down here. In Colossians 3:1-2 (according the Message translation) Paul says it this way, “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to the things going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from His perspective.”
What does Jesus’ perspective look like? From a human standpoint, we see it mostly in what God has done and continues to do in the world. We see it in the blessings we have. We see it in the love God has for every person, so much so that God will go to extraordinary lengths to keep any one of us from perishing. We see it in the words of Psalm 103.
When you hear all these blessings how can you help but ask yourself, “How did I, come to get all this?” The only answer is that it is dependant on who our Father/Mother/Creator is. We enjoy the physical and spiritual blessings we do because our God sits on a throne and is the sovereign ruler over all. Our God is a King! For Thine is the kingdom.
There are and have always been human kings who sit on thrones and rule over a kingdom, but they don’t have the power to do with that kingdom what they wish to do. Theirs' is the kingdom, but not the power. God has both kingdom and power.
What is the glory that is God’s? It is not something that human beings add to God. God is and always has been glorious beyond measure. When Christians are told to glorify God it does not mean that we add to God's glory but rather that we reveal something of God’s inherent glory to others by the way we live, play, work and speak. Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” The world that God created was designed to mirror or reflect God’s glory. This is why the universe was brought into existence. This is why Jesus came. Our purpose for existence is to reveal something of the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Peter 2:12 “Keep your behaviour excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God.”
For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. There are things in this world we were never meant to do or be. We were not created to be God. And so we can recognize the protection this final phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as we know it offers. If we acknowledge that God is in charge, we admit that we are not. And as we give God all the applause, there is none left to dizzy our brain. Our focus is taken off of the trail under our feet and riveted to the peak of the mountain.