May 2, 2021
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”
The Word of our Lord.
Dear Citizens of the Kingdom, Missionaries of our Lord Jesus Christ,
“You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?” Yes, I used this expression in a sermon not long ago, but I want to use it again today. We Christians are frequently accused of hypocrisy, and we must occasionally plead "guilty" to such an accusation. The honest Christian will confess that he is frequently guilty of many sins. So let us be honest again, and ask ourselves “do we walk the walk” in light of the “talk we talk,” that is, the mission statement we make in the words of our lesson, the 1st three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. What is the Church’s mission statement – and is it mine?
In the Sermon on the Mount, of which our lesson is a part, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray properly. First how not to pray. They are not to pray on a crowded street-corner as others who want the praise of men, but in private, where only God may see. After he has taught them how to pray humbly to their God, he then teaches them how, and what to pray.
Since Christ himself, elsewhere in Scripture, uses other prayers, it is a little silly to consider the Lord’s Prayer to be the only prayer we are to say, or that its form is set in stone. Rather, this is a model for the conduct and content of our prayers. This model prayer includes everything for which we need to pray: spiritual and physical needs for ourselves, our fellow believers, and for unbelievers.
These words are prayed by millions worldwide, every day, by Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, and Lutherans. Despite our doctrinal differences, despite our language differences, we members of the universal, invisible Church of all believers, address this same prayer to our heavenly Father.
I’ve already said that there is a mission statement here. But before we concentrate on that, let’s briefly look at the whole prayer. First, we pray to our Father. Now, while it is, in a sense, true that anyone can call God Father, as he is the author and creator of all things, it is also true that only those who are righteous in his sight, who bear the righteousness won for them by Christ, that is, who are believers, have the full rights of sons and daughters of God, and may expect that their prayers are heard. Thus we and all other believers may say this prayer with the same hope and assurance that our prayer is heard and will be answered by our Father.
Next, we pray the first three petitions. We pray that God’s name may be kept holy, that is, that God’s name may be honored and revered above all others, not only among us Christians, but among all human beings. We pray that God’s kingdom will come; another prayer for all humans—not only that God will rule in the hearts of all believers, but that he will come and rule in the hearts of unbelievers, creating faith and hope in their hearts, too. And we pray that his will may be done here on earth, as we know it is done in Heaven.
The next four petitions are often grouped together by commentators, because the first three petitions are about God, while these four are about man. First, we ask that our Father would continue to see to our daily sustenance, just as he has in the past, and has promised to go on doing. Next we ask for forgiveness, adding that we, too, forgive others. Now, please do not think that forgiving others somehow earns us the forgiveness of our Father. Rather, our forgiveness of others is a product of God’s love in our lives – as God by his love and grace forgives us our sins, so also we out of love forgive others. And finally we ask, in the last two petitions, that God will continue to protect us, from temptations into sin, and from the actions of evil men, demons, and Satan.
Now let’s return to the mission statement, those first three petitions about God. Many congregations adopt mission statements, to make plain the direction and goals of the congregation—how that group of believers describes its service to the Lord. Here we have the mission statement of a much larger congregation, the invisible church of all believers:
Here is our Mission Statement: That all human beings will do the will of the Father, showing that his kingdom rules in their hearts, as they honor his holy name by their confession and actions. Nothing original there—it’s the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in reverse order…
…but that’s quite a tall order, isn’t it? And how well would you say the Christian church fills that order? Well, even from the 1st century, we can see they weren’t doing a great job of it – Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians shows they were divided over which teacher to follow, weren’t properly disciplining their members, and were abusing the Lord’s Supper, among other things. The Galatians needed to be reminded that Christ’s sacrifice freed them from the Law, and that they didn’t need to keep Jewish civil and ceremonial laws in order to be saved.
And it didn't stop there—throughout its history church leaders have reinterpreted or ignored the doctrines of Scripture in order to further their own aims and increase their personal power. Today there are hundreds of denominations, sects, cults, and so on. Would there be so many, if all humans did the will of God, if he ruled in their hearts – if they really wanted to keep God’s name holy, would they be so divisive? Obviously not. The simplest solution to divisiveness in the Church is to take God at his word, that is, to follow what the Scriptures tell us, rather than obscuring the message of Scripture by what we add, subtract or change. If no one did that, there would be no divisions. How well are those who ignore or alter the doctrines of Scripture fulfilling their mission statement?
Well, thank God for the Lutheran church, which is never divisive, which holds fast to this mission statement, and which always faithfully carries out the Great Commission of Our Lord. Or does it? Perhaps it would be better to say that, in its principles, the Lutheran Church is all of these things…and the same might be said of other churches. But I don't want to accuse any particular church body, because it would appear that the entire invisible church doesn’t even come close to holding to its mission statement. The mission statement we make when we say the Lord’s Prayer calls for all men to do the Father’s will, for the kingdom of God to enter into all men’s hearts, and God’s name to be kept holy by all men. One look at the nightly news will tell you that has never happened! No earthly church has been completely faithful to its Mission Statement.
And what about you, dear Christian? What is your Mission Statement, and have you kept it? You pray that God’s name will be kept holy – and do you keep it holy? With every sin, you place yourself and your desires ahead of your God, blaspheming and profaning the name of the God you claim to worship. You pray that he will rule in the hearts of all men – and does he rule in your heart? With every sin, you rebel against your king and lord. You pray that his will be done here on earth - do you keep his will, or do you prefer your own? In one scene of the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carey stands atop a building in Buffalo, New York, and shouts “I am Bruce Almighty, my will be done!” How often are you or I standing and shouting “my will be done” – every time we carry out our own will, and not God’s.
However, it hasn’t been left up to us. Our loving God knows we are unable, on our own, to carry out the mission statement we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Thankfully, he is more than capable of seeing that his holy will is done. So how does the Lord ensure that our mission work is done here on earth?
First, He makes his name holy – through Ezekiel the Lord tells Israel “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am holy, says the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” – The Lord shows that he is holy (he and not someone else – he doesn’t need our help) through his actions among his people, such as his fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecy when rescued the people of Israel from exile. In more recent times, God makes his name holy through his actions among his New Testament people, all who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and who proclaim that forgiveness, and the holy name of the God who gives that forgiveness, to the whole world.
Second, He makes his kingdom come - God’s kingdom comes when the Spirit works in our hearts through the Word, first to convict us of our sin, so we may repent of that sin, and then to remind us that we are forgiven children of God, subjects in His kingdom. The Spirit works in the same way wherever the Word is preached. That is, wherever God’s Word is preached and unbelievers come to faith, missions are in action, and God’s kingdom comes.
And third, His will is done. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” What is the will of his Father? His will is that we be perfect, but knowing that we are not perfect, and thus are completely unable to save ourselves, God’s merciful will was to send us his only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life we could not live, who taught us how to pray, and taught us how to live, and who willingly gave us new life through his sacrifice on the Cross. Because it was his will to die for us, we have been made holy subjects of his kingdom, and we have forgiveness for all of our sins – for putting our own will ahead of his, for rebelling against his will for our lives, and for every sin against the holy name of our God – he has forgiven all.
Despite our failures, the mission statement we pray in the Lord’s Prayer is accomplished – not by our feeble attempts, but by our powerful and loving God. And not through some miraculous otherworldly method – no, our God uses us, feeble and sinful human beings, fragile jars of clay, as his instruments to accomplish his ends. We who can do nothing right, nothing pure, nothing perfect, are given the privilege of participating in God’s mission. First through our prayer, by which we are able to ask God for those good things he wants to give us, and would give us whether we prayed for them or not…
…but also through our participation in evangelism work. Now, is God asking you to go out and preach the Gospel to unbelievers in Zambia or Bolivia? If you have the gifts for it, as well as the desire, then maybe he is. But whether you work in Africa or South America among unbelievers, or among the skeptics at your workplace, you are all missionaries. Your witness of Christ, in your lifestyle, and in your words, is the tool God uses to plant and grow his gospel in the hearts of unbelievers.
God’s will is that his kingdom will come into the hearts of all mankind, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and your mission work, all may be saved, and have forgiveness of sins, and call upon God’s holy name. Whether your mission work is done in another land, on the streets of your community, or through your support of others, by the will of God this mission work does get done.
At the beginning of this sermon, I asked you to ask yourselves a question. And the answer to that question is: yes, my friends, you walk the walk. And I ask you to continue walking: continue your mission work, which is also the Church's mission work, and God's mission work. You have forgiveness of sins, and now you have the opportunity to be God’s instrument to spread his Word to unbelievers, that they too may have forgiveness of sins, through faith in Jesus Christ. Keep on fighting the good fight, and when the last day comes, may we stand with all mankind and proclaim our Lord’s name as holy, as we are ushered into the holy and eternal kingdom of Heaven, where his holy and gracious will, that we live at peace with him, will be done for all eternity.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage VersionTM (EHVTM) copyright © 2016 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved.
Lectionary listings from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal © 1993 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.