If you go up to London, you can see this world’s kingdom, power, and glory all set out before you in stone and glass: the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Shard, and so on. As in the capital of any nation, the principalities and the powers are given sculptural and architectural embodiment. Everything is bigger than it needs to be, made to appear eternal. The Lord’s Prayer has a problem with all that. We were warned, right at the first, that Jesus was the one who set up a new kingdom. We were warned by Mary in her ”Magnificat” that things were going to get rough.
When you read the Magnificat, you can’t avoid the fact that it’s deeply political, economic, and social. When the poor are lifted up and the rich are sent away empty, God’s kingdom is breaking out. When the hungry get food, God’s kingdom is erupting among us. When a poor, unmarried, pregnant, peasant woman clenches her fist and sings about the victory of God, it says something to Washington, Moscow, and Westminster. When a baby cries out in the ghetto, and the stars start acting strangely, Herod beware. When a congregation prays “yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” the local Council ought to get nervous. The church exists to sign, to signal, to sing about that tension whereby those who are at the bottom are being lifted up and those who are on top are being sent down.
The kingdom, the power, and the glory, three large words are piled upon one another here, as the Lord’s Prayer ends, in one final shout of praise to God. Kingdom, power, and glory are risky, dangerous, words, but they’re words that so much of the world loves. Kings build their kingdoms and defend them with murderous intensity. Politics is the exercise of power. And glory is what emanates from those who have power. Nowadays, of course, the people are “King”; we live in a democracy. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that because democracy has made us kings over ourselves everything is alright. Modern history has demonstrated that democracies are every bit as murderous as dictatorships in defending themselves. So we need to take care when we speak of kingdom, power, and glory, that we unpack these words, that we know what they mean in a Christian account of what is going on in the world, remembering that in the Lord’s Prayer we speak of kingdom, power, and glory right after we have spoken of temptation and evil.
‘Kingdom’ is not a ruling autocrat upon the throne, scattering orders like cheap confetti and destined to lie discarded on the ground. A kingdom is a relationship of love, and joyful obedience; responsibility shared, each subject truly valued. The kingdom belongs to the eternal Christ.
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At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was led into the wilderness, and the devil offered him all that this world can give. It’s worth paying attention to what the devil offered, and what Jesus rejected. Jesus was offered only good things: economic power, spiritual power, and political power. Isn’t feeding the poor a good thing? Don’t we come to church to refresh our spiritual batteries? Don’t we believe that Christians ought responsibly to exercise political action for good in our democracy?
Jesus rejects them all, even though the devil backs up everything he says with quotations from the Bible. These powers, economic, religious, and political, are the devil’s to entrust to others as he pleases, and Jesus clearly rejects this. Accepting any of these powers apart from God is what makes them wrong, because outside God they aren’t being used for good. Just consider how many of us have too much bread, and how religion is a major cause of war.
Jesus fed the hungry crowds because they were hungry, not to enslave them to him. Jesus performed miracles not to harnessing divine powers for himself, but as sign of God’s power breaking into the world. Jesus exercised power for good, but not with the means and methods of the world’s kingdoms. Unlike our politics, Jesus refused to use violence even for certain good ends. How Jesus engaged with power in his life, shows us what God means by kingdom, power, and glory.
‘Power’ is not oppression; with victims meekly bowing, or ﬂeeing for their lives. Power is foot-washing, love enabling love, talents released and new life reaching upwards. The power belongs to the eternal Christ.
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Let’s be honest, most of us would be only too pleased to get a little glory, some of those moments when we shine, when we rise above the crowd and radiate success and achievement, yet the Lord’s Prayer reminds that’s for God, not us. In praying this prayer we have to rearrange our notions of glory.
In John’s Gospel Jesus speak about the hour of glory quite often, but plenty of people misunderstand that, because Jesus was talking about the cross. One way of thinking about the cross, is think that God was showing us how much loved us. Some people manage to show quite a lot of that love in their lives. One example of what I mean would be Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who shone with glory in her work with the poorest people of that city. We might not be the inspiration to millions that she was, but the challenge to us is to reflect just a little of God’s glory in what we do.
‘Glory’ is not ﬂamboyant show, jewels sparkling, processions of majesty and pomp, marble halls and kneeling multitudes. Glory is a child laid low in manger, a listening teacher and a shy healer, a criminal’s cross and borrowed grave and an unproved resurrection built alone on questing faith. The glory belongs to the eternal Christ.
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Sometimes in church, you may hear someone shout, or more often mutter, “Amen.” It’s a Hebrew word meaning “so be it.” It’s a biblical way of saying, “This is true.” When we end the prayer with “Amen,” it’s not only a great moment when we signal our assent to the Lord’s Prayer, but it’s also a final affirmation that this is true. Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, is truth, but it’s not just a set of propositions to which we assent, but a spoken embodiment of the truth that we see in Jesus of Nazareth.
In a prison camp in World War Il, on a cold, dark evening after a series of beatings, after the hundreds of prisoners of war had been marched before the camp commander and harangued for an hour, when the prisoners were returned to their dark barracks and told to be quiet for the rest of the night, someone, somewhere in one of the barracks began saying the Lord’s Prayer. Some of his fellow prisoners lying next to him began to pray with him. Their prayer was overheard by prisoners in the next building who joined them. One by one, each set of barracks joined in the prayer until, as the prayer was ending with, ”Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” hundreds of prisoners had joined their voices in a strong, growing, defiant prayer, reaching a thunderous, “Amen!” And then the camp was silent, but not before a new world had been sighted, signalled, and stated.
Wherever, since the day that Jesus taught us, this prayer has been prayed, even in the darkest of days, the worst of situations, prisoners have been set free, the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news proclaimed to them, and a new world, not otherwise available to us, has been constituted.
In teaching us to pray, Jesus is making us more truthful, more faithful. Jesus is making us his disciples. In praying, our lives are being bent away from their natural inclinations, and towards God. The Lord’s Prayer becomes the summary, the crescendo of the church’s worship.
The daughter of Karl Marx said to a friend, “I was brought up without any religion. I do not believe in God.” Then she added wistfully, “but the other day, in an old German book, I came across a prayer; and if the God of that prayer exits, I think I could believe in him.”
“What was the prayer?” asked her friend. The daughter of Karl Marx repeated slowly in German, Our Father in heaven…