Praying for the Kingdom
A Homily for Trinity XIV
September 13, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I want to take some time to talk and think about prayer – specifically that we would be attentive to our call that our prayers are not merely self-serving but whole hearted cries for the coming of the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness and glory.
Perhaps you have wondered – why does praying it matter? Is it effective? Is it necessary? Or maybe even what is prayer?
Some of these questions are an indication of our Modern – Rationalistic condition that says if you cannot empirically prove something exists, then perhaps it is better just to avoid it all together and perhaps prayer seems irrational, even if you’ve been in church your whole life.
Perhaps, you have simply never paused to take some time to think about prayer, to think about why it is good and necessary for the Christian life – even if we know that it seems that Jesus wanted us to – and St. Paul went so far as to tell us that we should pray always – a seemingly impossible command.
So before I dive into the rest of the sermon – I want to pause here and give you a moment to consider your relationship with prayer – to allow the Holy Spirit to impress upon you what your attitude towards it might be – and ask the Lord if there are there ways He is calling you to improve? Are there attitudes he is calling you to repent of?
At the heart of prayer – and in fact, our entire Christian life is the cry that the Kingdom of heaven would come – would be made complete. Think of the whole witness of Christ’s ministry – if you do not pay attention – if you do not take a step back, it is easy to get lost looking at a single tree, or a leaf – and not see the witness of the forest of His ministry, it is easy to miss this throughout the entire gospel message – but again and again – Christ points to something more than healing, something more than good advice – but points to the coming of the kingdom of God, he points to the fact that the kingdom of heaven would be made manifest amongst the people.
Again and again – we see the voice crying in the wilderness – crying repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Christ says and we confess: Repent – the kingdom is coming and is amongst us even now.
Think for a moment of the Lord’s prayer – the prayer our Lord gave his disciples to teach them to pray – a helpful exercise when we grow in prayer – is to take the Lord’s prayer and think about each clause and really unpack it. I hope that we can do this at some point in the next year, but for now, let’s take a look at the first little section because it makes clear this call to pray that the kingdom would come, we know the Lord’s prayer by heart – as it starts:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. We start with adoration of God our father – we recall to our mind that he is Holy and worthy of our praise. It is a simple acclimation – it is a simple statement – but we start by recognizing this. In the same way our lepers this morning recognize this, they may not have realized they were doing it – but they too cry out Jesus, master – they recognize that Jesus bears the authority to cleanse them – to make them whole. Jesus is the master of the universe.
But then the Lord’s prayer turns praise to a cry for the kingdom as we say: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps as you’ve read the gospels – you’ve wondered – why is Christ so secretive about his healing ministry?
Christ’s ministry wasn’t simply a ministry of physical healing – it was a ministry of ushering in the kingdom of heaven. When we look at the end of scripture – when we look at the Book of Revelation the very final vision we have is that of the re-created world and we see that heaven and earth will meet perfectly – we see that the dwelling place of man, the dwelling place of redeemed humanity is with God.
For now – we are invited into this in imperfection – invited into this by living life in the Church, by following Christ, by reading His word, by prayer, by participating in the life of the church, by partaking in his sacraments. In these simple acts of obedience we experience the kingdom of heaven and in the goodness we experience we learn to long more for the fulness of the kingdom, we learn to desire that the kingdom would come soon, we start to cry out and to ache – and with all the saints say “come, Lord Jesus, comes.
Our cry is that His kingdom would come in completeness, that his kingdom would come in its fulness, that the world would be made right. And that’s the beauty of his kingdom – Christ repeatedly made clear that he was sent to the chosen people, not to all people – but to the Jewish people – but then this morning we see him passing between the region of Galilee and Samaria and during this time he ends up ministering to Jews and Samaritans alike and we are reminded that the kingdom has no bounds – in fact we learn in revelation that every nation and ever tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord – this means that in the final days – we will hear every language singing the praises of God – people from every tribe, every type of person will acknowledge His Lordship.
Can you imagine anything better? Can you desire anything more amazing? Are your prayers – kingdom-soaked longings?
We learn from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that one of the universal bonds of humanity is not necessarily our shared image of God, though this is a bond as well – but it is our shared need of healing, our shared guilt, our shared sinfulness. One of the things that binds us is the universal need for Christ to give us new life.
In the dark shadow of the last six months, something has been exposed – a desire from many people, a desire that that which was broken would be made right – that that which is wounded would be healed – a desire for the fixing of a broken world – a broken humanity.
And we see this with the lepers – a communality in brokenness, a sickness, as well as a desire that all would be made right. It is implied, and then confirmed that some of the lepers would have been Israelites and others would have been Samaritans. Amidst their exile, amidst their shared loss of community they created their own community.
When we are suffering – we will often forget about the walls that keep us apart and look for community and comfort wherever we may find it. And for all these people – it is clear that for the sake of their community and in obedience to the Law they had been put out from their communities and now they sat by the road and looking for help wherever they could find it.
If you can think of the angst that you experience when you’ve sinned or when you’ve been hurt and the comfort you’ve found in Jesus, the comfort you’ve found in the words of absolution and the comfortable words – the comfort you’ve found in knowing that Jesus has forgiven you, has made you well, that Jesus is healing you.
What comfort could that be to your neighbor? To your friend who is struggling and suffering? What comfort could that be to the person who is hurting?
But Christ comes – not simply to heal but to make sinners members of the kingdom of heaven – to make us well so that we can be witnesses to his goodness – to make all things well with our souls so that we can glorify our heavenly father. This spiritual cleansing knows no bound. Nothing that divides us on earth will divide us in his kingdom and this is worth crying out for, worth longing for.
And the lepers’ prayer is an unwitting cry for the kingdom – in crying out “Jesus, master, have mercy on us” thy cry for something more – they acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship, his sovereignty, his power over all things. It is a good prayer for is recognizes that Christ is our master and our king, it recognizes that if he is willing, he is able, it recognizes his power, his sovereignty, and His goodness.
Our cry can be this simple too – our payers do not have to be elaborate; our prayers do not have to be refined; our prayers do not have to be perfect – But they should be earnest – they should be wholehearted – they should honestly reflect the condition of our hearts.
Imagine If you became ill and lost your whole community – if the law of the time stated that until you became clean, you could not be with your family or your friends – what more would you add to the prayer of the lepers? Nothing more is needed but “Jesus, master, have mercy.”
We often think our prayers need to be perfect and refined – but Christ delights when our prayers are wholehearted. In fact, we learn in the book of revelation that our prayers are like incense to the Father – like a bowl of burning incense placed before His throne and these delight him. But these prayers are done from our heart – not as a show – but that he might hear what we have to say – that we open our hearts to Him – that he might know us intimately.
And Jesus calls the lepers to act in faith – and obedience to the law.
Think about this for a moment – if you came to me and said “I think the church should really consider buying this piece of property, it’ll cost the church way more money than we have right now – but maybe we could get a loan or something.” And I responded, “okay, go write a check, the money will be there, don’t worry about it.” You would probably think I was crazy, terrible with money, friends with the mob, or even negligent (not to mention completely incapable of following bylaws.) But this is what Jesus does with the lepers – and does with us – he tells them to act as though they had already been made clean, he tells them to go – and present themselves to the priest.
One of the odd tasks that the priests of the Old Testament were required to do was to inspect those who had had skin diseases after they had been healed and declare them clean. Jesus tells them, I know you have not been made clean – but go to the priests, and have them inspect you – they were called to act in faith – to act in obedience to Christ and to the law. And so they go – they are obedience, and they are made well.
Sometimes in our prayers, we are called to act in obedience – called to believe no matter how crazy it may seem to act in faith – to act as though what God is calling us to do, he has already done. I have seen this time and again in prayers – and sometimes it can seem impossible, improbable, and even unlikely. Yet we cry – cry out for the kingdom – cry out that the Lord’s will would be done – cry out that we would be obedient and act in faith that the word of the Lord would not return void – and it will not.
And in this – we are called to live as though the kingdom is already here – even if it is not yet totally revealed – called to live as people of the kingdom, that our crying for it has already been fulfilled.
The lepers go, and on their way – they are made well, but only one returns.
The instructions Christ give seem very clear – the lepers were told to be obedient – told to go to the priest so they could be restored to their community – but one seems to rebel – one seems to do the opposite of what Jesus has told him to do – and so why is this one the only one that Jesus says well done to?
This one leper recognizes something that we only see dimly here – that is merely a foretaste here – but that becomes apparent at the crucifixion and then the author of the epistle to the Hebrews unpacks for us. Wittingly or unwittingly the leper recognizes that Christ it the great high priest – it is Christ now who makes intercessions for us. He is now the bridge between a fallen humanity and a perfect God – he bridges that gap.
It is through Christ that our cries for the kingdom do not return void, that all our prayers are not in vain but are heard – and that the Father delights in them, no matter how simple or elaborate they may be.
And the one healed leper praises God.
Often we can forget how important it is to give thanks to God in all things – how important it is to give praise to God for all that he has done, all that he is doing, and all that he will do. But the lone leper does this – and in this he glorifies God both audibly and in action. A part of prayer is giving thanks – is recalling all that God has done for us – in the last 20 minutes, in the last hour, the last day, the last month, the last year. Depending on how far back we want to look the list can become staggering – we can find ourselves simply amazed by all that God has done.
And so – as we cry out for the kingdom, cry out that the Lord would come – we remember to all that he has already done in establishing the kingdom: He has redeemed us. He has set us free from our sins. He is making us whole. He has given us a community, a community in which we can join in praying “come Lord Jesus come.”
Let us, therefore be a kingdom-minded people – a people that cry out – that pray in earnestness – that offer every single thing to the Lord, not with perfect words, but we pure hearts, with the good desire that the kingdom would come – that God’s will would be done – that He would be glorified by all. Let us be a people that desire and truly pray to “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” that his “kingdom come,” that his “will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Heavenly Father – may your kingdom come, may your will be done both here and now and for all of eternity.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.