April 11, 2004

“For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever.
Matthew 6:7-13

Recall, for a moment, a situation in which you felt constrained to respond. It might have been a defensive response, as when someone said something unfair about another person you knew. Almost without a thought, you interrupted and asked the person to stop. You just had to respond. Or perhaps your response was one of affirmation. You sat in your seat at the high school musical, watching your son or daughter and the rest of the cast perform beautifully. When the curtain fell, you sprang to your feet and applauded. Or you heard an unusually amusing story—Garrison Keilor describing Ernie and Erma Lundeen and their performing Gospel Birds—and you found yourself lost in almost uncontrollable laughter. Perhaps your response was one of sheer empathy. Just a few days ago I received an e-mail from a young man who had been profoundly abused as a child. After describing his past, he concluded: “Looking at all I have been through, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer. I have also known,” he continued, “the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in these very relationships. To God be the glory.” As I read those words, I could not help but cry and say, “Thanks be to God.” I just had to respond. I had to express what was swelling up deep within me.

So it is with this closing line of the Lord’s Prayer, or at least the closing line with which most of us are familiar: “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.” This line is, so it seems, an unsolicited response of sorts. You sense that almost immediately when you look at the text and realize that, unless you are reading from an older translation like the King James Version, it is not even there. This struck me as I was thinking about the sermon. I’ve never preached before from a biblical text that isn’t even in the Bible! But it is not there. The phrase, “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.” does not appear in any of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of either Matthew’s or Luke’s gospels, and it therefore probably was not part of the prayer that Jesus himself shared with his disciples.

Then where did it come from? From the deepest recesses of the hearts of those early believers who increasingly immersed themselves in this model prayer that Jesus left with them. As they prayed it and prayed it and prayed it again, they simply had to respond. Already in the Old Testament, we find countless examples of what we often call “doxologies” in which the people of God respond to something that he has said or done. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the Israelites shout as Psalm 41 comes to a close: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” Or think of the scene in 1 Chronicles 29 in which the people contribute their offerings to the building of the Temple. David, so overwhelmed at the extent to which God moved in the hearts of his people, responds:
Yours, O God, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
This response of David, in fact, might very well be behind this “doxology” that we now find at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer.

In the time of Jesus, similar responses also appeared at the close of Jewish prayers. Why, we at the Grantham Church even recognize the absolute importance of responding to God as we worship. Karen regularly allows for a time of response—do you notice it in your bulletin each week?—so that we can express the impulses of our own hearts after hearing from God. Such responses might take the form of silent prayers, moving songs, or collective readings. What is clear, however, regardless of the form, is this: when we pray, when we encounter God, when we witness his transforming presence in our lives and in the lives of the people around us, we must respond. To genuinely meet with God involves a response.

As this prayer that Jesus taught all of us to pray becomes our own, and as it stirs our souls and captivates our hearts, it demands a response. It simply cannot end with the phrase, “…but rescue us from the evil one.” It simply cannot end with another request. It must end where it began—with God. So already in the early years of the 2nd century, this phrase finds its way into the text and becomes a part of this formative prayer. Listen. You can almost see the early Christians, just a few decades after the resurrection of Jesus, praying this prayer as they gather in their homes and sit around the table. Listen. They call out to God, their father. They ask him to meet their physical needs—“Give us our daily bread.” They pray that he would both forgive them and make them forgiving people—“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And they commit their future welfare into his care—“And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” And as they pray, they sense this swelling need to respond. Can you hear them? “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever,” they cry. “Amen!”

And what is it that this doxology adds to the Lord’s Prayer? If I stand at the high school musical to voice my affirmation, or weep over an e-mail to express my sympathy, what are Jesus’ followers saying here as we respond? We voice, first of all, our deepening conviction that our heavenly Father rules and reigns over the world—“Yours is the kingdom,” we announce.

This escalating conviction of God’s kingship strikes me as being particularly profound given that we here in the U.S. are currently in an election year. You see bumper stickers and posters extolling the virtues of various candidates, and some people voice their enthusiasm for the candidate of their choice. Yet there is also far more confusion than I at least can remember during earlier years. Some of this confusion still stems from the uncertainty of the previous election and what took place in Florida—we didn’t even know who the next president would be for quite some time. Today, people in our country remain profoundly divided—even a glance at the letters to the editor in the Patriot reveals considerable hostility, and a growing frustration with the current campaign itself is emerging. The advertisements that we see are often overly negative and even misleading, and the average person does not know who to believe anymore. There is more confusion in our country today about the presidency than there is common conviction.

No such confusion appears here in this closing line to the Lord’s Prayer. As we join in with the early followers of Jesus in reciting this doxology, we declare a common conviction: God is king forever and ever. Earthly rulers come and go. Presidents are elected and their terms expire. Prime Ministers grow old and die. World leaders are thrown out of office or even killed. But not our God. “Yours is the kingdom forever,” we affirm.

But far more than conviction finds expression in this closing line. You simply cannot help but notice the unbridled confidence that bursts forth here. And again, it is the type of confidence that our worldly leaders rarely if ever foster. And it doesn’t seem to matter where in the world you travel—confidence is hard to find. People wonder if their leaders even care about them, and so many policies seem misdirected and self-serving. Just scan the various regions of the world and what is currently going on there. This lack of confidence was even present when I lived in Kenya, in spite of the fact that government policy required that a picture of President Moi hang on the wall of every public facility. There was even a picture of Moi hanging over my desk in my office at Daystar University. He was president, and every one knew it. But there was no confidence.

There is a great deal of confidence in this doxology. “Yours is the kingdom,” we declare. But we don’t stop there. “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” And it is easy to note that the opening petitions of the Lord’s Prayer itself are now repeated, not as petitions, but as statements of fact! “May your kingdom come,” we prayed in 6:10. “The kingdom is yours forever,” we now declare. “May your will be done,” we prayed earlier. “The power is yours forever,” we now declare. “May your name be hallowed,” we previously prayed. “Yours is the glory,” we boldly announce. And if these are all true, as they certainly are, then our heavenly Father can and will attend to such matters as daily bread, debts, and trials as well. You can just sense the confidence rising, can’t you?

When we pray to our Father in heaven. When we long for his name to be exalted and for his will to be exalted throughout the world. When we genuinely commit ourselves to him—mind body, and soul—as we do when the Lord’s Prayer becomes our own, then we will join with Christians of all time in announcing our convictions and expressing our confidence. “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen.”

So the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer that has shaped believers throughout the centuries, ends with a doxology—a response. In this way, the Prayer is very much like the closing week of our Lord’s earthly life. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t end with a reference to trials and the evil one, but with a response: “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” In the same way, Jesus’ life doesn’t end with his passion, an unfathomable trial and the apparent victory of the evil one as his body hangs limp on that cross. It begs for a response.
Just this past Friday, a letter appeared in the “Living” section of the Patriot-News. The letter was addressed to Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, the so-called “God’s Squad.” This is what the woman wrote:
I’m a Catholic and I saw The Passion of the Christ. I thought it was a great movie, and I cried during and after the film. Now all I can think about is the bloody torture and suffering of Jesus. This has helped me prepare for Good Friday, but I can’t figure out how to face Easter with joy.
Here is how. That seemingly unending scene in which Jesus was beaten and whipped—you thought it would never stop. It did, and it will never be repeated again. That horrifying journey with Jesus stumbling under the enormous weight of his cross. You thought he would never make it all the way to Calvary. He did, and he is never going there again. The hours with him hanging on the cross—would he ever get down? He did, and he will never hang there again.

Oh, the Passion of the Christ demanded a response, and it got one. God responded, and he raised the bruised and beaten body of his son to new life. And you know the resurrection scene in the movie that you thought was too short? It will never end!

All that remains following God the Father’s response is for us to respond. We can applaud the resurrection of Christ, as though it were an eloquent performance. We can laugh, as though it were an outrageous joke. We can express admiration, as though it were a noble deed. Or we can respond with the choir in Revelation 5, who now chant a doxology of their own:
Worthy is the Lamb that was
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might.
To the one seated on the throne and
to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory
and might
forever and ever!