Rocherty UMC January 29th, 2023
Kingdom Culture: The Sermon on the Mount: “The Cry of the Kingdom”
1 Thess 5:16-18; Heb 4:12-16; Phil 4:5-7; Matt 6:7-15

 

            You may have wondered about the title of the series that I’ve been preaching on the Sermon on the Mount. You may have wondered why I’ve entitled it “Kingdom Culture.” And you may be wondering why it’s taken me four weeks to getting around to naming it and describing it. After all, aren’t titles of things like sermon series supposed to tell you something about the series? Isn’t it supposed to serve as something of an organizing principle around which every individual part of the series revolves?
            Well, yes, it is. But who taught you that. How did you figure out that a title was supposed to tell you something about the content of the thing thus named? You might answer that you learned it in school, maybe in English class as you had to title your essay or theme papers. You might have learned it from reading the newspapers when the story had something to do with the paper.
            But then, let’s keep going to a slightly absurd level. Where did they learn it from? Where did the newspapers learn to title their work? Where did the authors learn to title their books so people would want to read them? Where did preachers learn that a good sermon series always has a catchy title?
            One answer to that question would be a simple “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This has been the tradition of the industry in which we work. Preachers have preached with catchy titles. Novelists have come up with interesting titles like Great Expectations and War of the Worlds.
            But a more technical answer would be that it comes from the culture. Culture, that’s our key word for this sermon series. We often use the word culture our daily speech. We use it, but do we really know what it means?
            I think the answer to the question of whether or not most people understand what culture is, or at least their own particular culture, is a resounding no. There is an old proverb that goes something like this: It is hardly the fish who will discover water.
            Think about it. A fish. Where does it live? In great bodies of water of course. So, you think a fish would be the first to discover water! But no! The fish is surrounded by water every day and is oblivious to its presence. It is something that is merely taken for granted in this little aquatic creature’s life. It is only when the fish is taken out of water that he or she realizes how important and life-giving that aqueous substance is. And it might be the first time in which they discover what it really is.
            The same obtains with culture. Culture is all around us. We live and move and have our being in it. But it is not until we are taken out of it that we realize what a pervasive influence it is on our lives. For culture is a network of things. It is everything in our common life together that shapes how we think, what we do, and what we believe.
            For instance, in the West, culture has been shaped by the twin influences of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. From the Renaissance we got an appreciation for the arts and culture and from the Enlightenment we got a heightened sense of individual rights and freedoms. We bathe in this cultural landscape every day without even knowing it’s there.
            In this series, I’m asking us to question our cultural assumptions. Fellow fish, I’m asking you to look around at the stuff we’ve been swimming in and I’m inviting you to realize that it is water. And it is water of a certain kind. But unlike a fish, you and I have the choice to affect the kind of water in which we swim. We can adjust the temperature, the mineral and chemical levels. We can even filter our water. And ultimately, if we are brave, we can replace our water with a more life-giving substance.
            And that life-giving substance in which we can surround ourselves is the culture of the Kingdom of God. And who better to teach us about this revolutionary counter-culture than the King himself, Jesus the Christ.
            The main reason I’m calling this sermon series Kingdom Culture is because what Jesus is preaching in the Sermon on the Mount is something of a manifesto of what it should look like in the Kingdom of God. How do subjects live in this Kingdom? What laws and customs do they obey? Or to pick up my metaphor once again, what does the water look like in which Kingdom fish swim?
            We’ve learned a great deal about that so far. We’ve learned that it are the unexpected fish who flourish in the Kingdom. It are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and the humble. We’ve learned that kingdom citizens don’t seek the approval of others but seek to please God who will richly reward them.
            And now, at the very center of the sermon is something unusual. The rest of the sermon is something of an exhortation—a set of instructions and maxims to be received. But at the very center of the Sermon itself is the Lord’s Prayer.
            We’ve seen what citizens of the Kingdom look like. We’ve seen some of the things they do, but now we’re going to see how they pray.
            Because how we pray tells us something about the kind of world that we want to live in. We pray, at least in part, to receive things that we don’t yet have, to see things in the world that we don’t yet see. We hunger and thirst for righteousness and we go before the throne of God in continuous prayer seeking out the things that make for a more just and holy world.
            And Jesus applauds our efforts. Jesus approves of a prayer for things that look like this. And Jesus gives us a model prayer that is divided into two key movements that help us focus our thoughts and cry out for the Kingdom of God to be made manifest in our midst.
            These two movements of the Lord’s Prayer should be very familiar to you if you pay attention to some of the key themes that I preach. For instance, I always preach that love has a dual focus. We are to love God on the one hand and love neighbor on the other. When God gave the Ten Commandments, we saw that these could also be divided similarly. The first few commandments related to how we lived and loved God while the remainder showed us how to live peaceably in our community.
            In like manner, the Lord’s Prayer has this twin focus as well. The first part, the Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name part, that’s all about God. And the rest, from Give us this day our daily bread, that part is about us and our community. Are you picking up a pattern in the Bible, in God, at all? Love God, Love neighbor. On this hang all of the Law and the Prophets.
            And we could spend hours delving into the Lord’s Prayer. I could spend a sermon each on the petitions. But that will be for another time. For now, I just want to give us a brief rundown of the main themes of this prayer—this cry of the Kingdom.
            Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
            The first thing to notice about the prayer is a two-fold emphasis on the identity of the object of our prayer. Our prayer isn’t made to just some generic deity out there. No! Our prayer is made to the Lord and Father of Jesus Christ whom he has revealed to us. Our prayer is to the maker of heaven and earth, to the God the Israelites learned was named Yahweh, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
            And the next part asks God to sanctify or make holy God’s name. What does this mean? Well, first we need to understand something about ancient cultures and names. The name of something, particularly deity would say something about the character of the individual. Asking God to make God’s name holy is to ask God to glorify God throughout the world, to draw people to the honor, praise, and worship of the true God.
            Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
            In this request we have the central part of the Godward portion of the prayer. We know first that heaven is God’s realm. It is the realm of a two part system of heaven and earth in which God rules perfectly. In which what God decrees is law and occurs without fail. This petition asks for earth--the material realm--to look ever more like heaven. A uniting of heaven and earth in which the will of the Creator is done not as a suggestions, not as an occasional holy surprise, but as the way things normally go. In short, a place in which peace, or what the Bible calls Shalom rules, and the glory of God is spread as far as the waters cover the see.
            So, the Godward portion of the prayer invites us to thank God for God’s goodness. It invites us to name God as the Creator of all. To name God as the Father of not only Jesus, but as the Father of our redeemed humanity—a restored New Creation, a new humanity that flourishes by following the culture of heaven. That swims in heavenly water revering the name and character of God.
            And now, the prayer turns toward petitions that affect us and our own culture.
            Give us this day our daily bread.
            You and I live in a culture of hoarders. This was abundantly seen in the pandemic with the proliferation of toilet paper hoarders. At the height of the COVID nightmare I saw people scooping up toilet paper and trying to sell it on Facebook for something like three to four times what they paid for it. This is nothing short of piracy—these toilet paper pilferers were the Blackbeards of the papergoods aisle.
            But that’s not the way we’re supposed to live. We’re not to live as people who hoard resources. We’re not even people who are, as we’ll learn shortly, supposed to even worry about what happens tomorrow. We are supposed to only worry about today.
            And in this simple petition of asking for daily bread, we’re invited to stop the madness of wanting more and learn to live in a culture of enough. Just enough for now. Just enough to satisfy the present need. This is a wonderful antidote to the consumer culture in which we live where advertisers play on our desires—literally manufacturing a desire for things we previously did not want and certainly don’t need.
            And then the prayer turns beyond just our needs and toward the needs of others when it asks God to forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.
            God knows that part of living in a fallen world will be the mistakes you and I make that not only affect us, but other people as well. God knows that you and I will overstep the boundary lines of community and he has made a way for us to restore broken community, shattered relationships, and breaches of the peace.
            And that comes through forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus even calls us to go beyond that to—love our enemies. I can not emphasize how revolutionary and countercultural this was for Jesus’ day, even among the Jews. And it remains countercultural today. In a culture that goes to court over silly things and rules by case law, God tells us to forgive and seek reconciliation. Because, if we are not people of forgiveness, then we ourselves can not be forgiven. For forgiveness is but love by another name. It is the side of love tempered with mercy and grace without which no one will see the Kingdom of God.
            But there is a force out there that desires to keep us from living in the culture of the Kingdom. It is the force at work in the world we call evil. And it often manifests itself in temptation to sin.
            And so the final petition of the prayer proper is that we not be led into temptation but be delivered from evil. One could even translate this last clause as deliver us from the Evil One—the Enemy, the accuser, or what the Hebrew Bible calls HaSatan, the Satan.
            Brothers and Sisters, this is what live in the Kingdom is like. It is living in a culture that is wildly different from the water in which you and I swim. It is a culture in which self is not the first thing we serve. God is the first person we serve and then those made in the image of God—that being everyone else.
            The Lord’s prayer then, is the cry of the Kingdom. It is part prayer and part revolutionary document. It tells us on the one hand what things we should be seeking as citizens of the Kingdom but it is part a building list of those things that you and I should be making come to life in the world.
            In the ancient world, as I mentioned last week, the Lord’s Prayer quickly became a replacement for the Jewish prayers that were recited morning, afternoon, and night. And now in our churches it is a prayer that is recited at least once a week every Sunday.
            But it needs to be more than that. Friends, the Lord’s Prayer must become the cry of your heart. It must become the water in which you swim. It must become that which you strive after and the call of the Kingdom that leads you to want what God wants.
            It must be continually before you. For some of you that might mean memorizing the prayer and making it a routine part of your day until it colors everything you do. For others of you it might be something you meditate upon deeply, savoring each petition like rich chocolate.
            However, you imbibe this prayer, it must become part of you. How you think. How you live, move, and have your being. For the prayer describes the culture of the Kingdom. It is the water of life. And fellow fish, you and I are called to swim in that water and invite others to join us. Amen.