Thine Is the Glory – Learning the Lord’s Prayer 6


A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

Palm Sunday • March 20, 2016

Copyright 2016 • All Rights Reserved

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, amen.

We are drawing near the end of the Lord’s Prayer and the beginning of Holy Week, a time we remember the story of the final days of Jesus’ earthly presence, the days when he was first acclaimed, then reviled, then arrested, tortured, and crucified, executed as a criminal. Sometimes church tradition divides, like the Hudson flowing around an island. One stream of worship tradition celebrates today as Passion Sunday, reading and reflecting on this whole store of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Another, and the one we follow today, focuses on his entry to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Going Up to Jerusalem

So let us imagine that scene for a moment. The dusty trails have converged into a winding road, the road is filled with pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. The city shines before them quite literally: Herod Antipas rebuilt the temple with a golden dome that so brightly reflected the sun, it was said to be hard to look directly at it. The city is surrounded by imposing walls with towers at the gates and streams of people crowd together on their way to the city. Among them, Jesus’ followers are simply one group among many.

While the gospel accounts united in telling us Jesus comes in a kind of procession, there are various accounts. Matthew and Mark speak of branches being cut and laid down along with garments, which is the the reason we decorate with palms; Luke doesn’t mention these at all. I was brought up with a picture of Jesus parading, like the soldiers and bands on Memorial Day, with crowds standing aside and perhaps that’s how you imagine this scene. More likely, his followers are simply part of a larger crowd, noisy, happy, like spring breakers on the way to a holiday.

Jesus is not the only leader on his way to Jerusalem. Potius Pilate is also making a processional at the same time. Perhaps he comes in a sedan chair, carried by slaves; perhaps he rides a war horse, we’re not sure. Certainly he is followed by ranks and ranks of Roman legionnaires, their swords sheathed for now but a visible reminder that Rome’s rule, like all empires, is founded on violence.

Surely in the crowd there are other rabbis, like Jesus, and their followers as well and of course, more than leaders, military or religious there are simple people, people like you and I, going to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, going to a festival, going to a party. Have you been to Lark Street festival, have you been to Fourth of July in a busy place, perhaps the streets of Lake George on a prime summer afternoon? Then you know what this crowd is like, it’s like all crowds. Yet within the crowd, something unique is about to happen. The glory of the Lord is about to shine and no one has any idea.

The Story of the Donkey

Did you listen to the part about the donkey? It’s an odd little parenthesis in the story. We’re marching to the Jerusalem, you know, I know, we’re on the way and it’s frustrating to stop for this little detail. “Go get me a donkey,” Jesus tells his disciples, explaining where to go, and just to say this one simple phrase if asked: “The Lord has need of it.” So they go, they get asked, they say what they were told and they come back with the donkey.

That must have been quite a little trip: have you ever tried to lead an unbroken donkey? I wonder how many times they got kicked, cursed, had to stop and quiet the animal. Yet they do as they’re told: the Lord has need of it. Now Luke is anxious to connect this story to a prophecy from Zechariah that says,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
   triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
[Zechariah 9:9]

Yet in the story is an amazing challenge for us as well. Imagine being asked for something with this simple explanation: “The Lord has need of it”. Suppose it is something you value, something you planned to use, hoped to have for some time. Now the request comes: now you have to decide. The Lord has need of it. What would you give?
We don’t think much of donkeys but the donkey is a symbol: throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, riding a donkey is a symbol of royal entrance. One writer, in fact, suggests that if Jesus had indeed come as Luke portrays, he would immediately have been arrested. Surely the people present understand the symbolism: it is the reason he is acclaimed, it is the reason he is cheered, it is the reason for the acclamation. For Jesus comes as a king to announce his kingdom, as he has from his beginning. Just like his beginning, according to Luke, it starts in the stable, with the owner of the donkey, giving it up, handing it over because, “The Lord has need of it.”

Now they bring the donkey to Jesus; someone no doubt is worried. What will happen when he mounts it? Will he get thrown? Somehow the one who stilled the seas quiets the donkey and suddenly, like a king, he’s riding at their head. Suddenly for a moment they can see: the kingdom is literally coming in the person of the king. The glory of the Lord is in that moment, when someone simply gives what they have because the Lord has need of it.

Thine Is the Glory

We’ve been following the Lord’s prayer line by line for weeks now, all through Lent. Today we reach the last line: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever.” The first question we might ask about this line of the prayer is why we say it at all. If you look, you’ll quickly find that neither Matthew nor Luke who give us versions of the Lord’s Prayer have this line. Our Bibles are translations of translations, documents handed down over generations, and the gospels come in two different flavors. One flavor had the line but the one from which the King James Bible and all subsequent English Bibles did not. Yet, we know from other documents that the early church added this line to the prayer early in its life. “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”

What does it mean to speak of the glory of the Lord? What does it mean to take seriously God’s power and acknowledge God’s reign? It begins from the first thing God told us to do in the garden, at our creation: to appreciate. The poet Mary Oliver says somewhere”Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Palm 29 says,

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, “Glory!” 10The LORD sat as King at the flood; Yes, the LORD sits as King forever.…[Psalm 29:8-10]

It is a poor life that has no moment which is not touched by some appreciation for larger forces, something bigger, something we know is spiritual even if we don’t have the words to say what we have felt. The truth is, there are no words: there is only the experience, the act itself, the moment in which the glory of the Lord shines in your life. Theologians write whole books and preachers craft sermons but the true glory of God is glimpsed in the moment when God chooses, God acts, God comes to play.

God’s Glory Shines

This was such a moment and it’s the reason the story is told and retold and acted out and remembered all these years later. And the donkey? He’s not a parenthesis, he’s not an incidental detail. For the glory of the Lord comes enabled by some nameless person who owned a donkey and when told, “The Lord has need of it”, gladly gave.

We are together here the Body of Christ: we are the concrete expression of his life in this community, this place, this world. Our challenge isn’t to fill up these pews, it isn’t to make our budget balance, it isn’t to make the wheels go round in our organization. Our challenge is to help people see the glory of the Lord, feel the power of God’s love, see what it looks like when God reigns.

So when we pray, surely it’s right for us to ask this, say this, hope this: “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” How will we open the door to this prayer? Just like this story. For each of has talents, each of us has gifts. When we hear, as we each shall, “The Lord has need of it,” and we share those talents and gifts, then indeed, the prayer is fulfilled. Then indeed the reign of God is acclaimed. The need the power of God is obvious. Then indeed, the glory of the Lord shines forth. Then indeed, as the hymn says, “Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Lord.”


De Nada: Learning the Lord’s Prayer 4

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Fourth Sunday in Lent • March 6, 2016

The summer I turned 14, I had an operation to remove most of my thyroid. When I woke up, I hurt every time I lifted my chin; it took all summer to heal. I was left with a bright red raised scar of which I was painfully conscious. I made up stories about it: that I’d been in a knife fight, and I wore a lot of turtle neck shirts. The scar faded but I still saw it every morning, first thing, in the mirror. I still explained about it, increasingly as I got olde,r to people who hadn’t noticed it. It’s still there. Do you have scars? Don’t we all? What would it take to heal them?

“Forgive us as we forgive,”Jesus says. Let’s start with the problem. I’m sure you noticed when I quoted Jesus, I left something out. In both versions of the Lord’s prayer, he doesn’t say “Forgive us…” He says, “Forgive us…” and then there’s a word. If you grew up Methodist or Catholic it’s trespass; if you grew up Congregational, it’s debts. If you have been around Lutherans, chances are you say ‘sins’, which is also popular in a lot of newer churches. Forgive us our debts. Forgive us our trespasses. Forgive us our sins. What does he have in mind?

This is the point where there is a temptation to wander off and show you what I know about Greek, the language the New Testament is written in. I could talk about this for a long time, long enough for you to snatch a nap. But I’m not going to. For one thing, it’s too early for a nap and for another, Jesus didn’t say the Greek word either. Jesus almost certainly spoke Aramaic, not Greek. And he used an Aramaic word here. What does it mean? That’s hard to say. Say trespass and you think, or at least I do, of going to a construction site and taking lumber to build a tree house. But I’m not sure Jesus was worried about lumber or boys or tree houses. Say debt and I think of my credit card bills; did Jesus care about credit scores? Probably not.

So we’re left with sins. That’s a tough one. Congregational ministers don’t talk about sins much anymore; we leave that to Baptists. When we do, we tend to like to talk about sins we don’t do. I remember once sitting with a bunch of ministers at a meeting. This was quite a while ago, when “a bunch of ministers” meant middle aged men who are a little too jolly and can tell you to a decimal point the average attendance at their church and who tend to be a bit fluffy. It’s not their fault. Every church has someone like Arvilla or Joanne who makes cakes and things and it would be rude not to eat them. We grow out of concern for their feelings.

So we are sitting there, munching on pieces of cake some woman in the church had prepared. It was long enough ago that the big issue was gay folks in church. I always thought this was a weird issue; I mean we’ve always had gay folks in church, the real issue wasn’t about having them it was about letting them be honest about who they were without fear. So they were discussing this and gay marriage and most of them were against it. They could really talk about the sin of homosexuality, Bible verses and all. It was impressive. I didn’t have much to say. So I just sat there eating cake and I looked around and realized every one of us was married to a woman. And every one of us was overweight.

So when it was my turn to talk, I said that I thought the cake was really good and since we were all straight there, and all overweight, maybe we should talk about the sin of gluttony, of eating too much. Then I shut up and tried to think how I could get another slice of cake and the table erupted. They did not think this was appropriate; they thought I was making fun of them. We’d all rather talk about someone else’s sins than our own. But we all have them, just like we all have scars.

What does Jesus mean? The word he uses certainly means doing wrong. In our culture, we tend to associate sin with sexual stuff but Jesus actually talks more about economic sins, that is, the sin of letting money get in our way. The word he uses also means “foolishness”. Now that’s something because throughout the Hebrew scriptures there’s a constant play between the notion of being wise—doing what God wants—and being foolish—doing whatever we want, regardless of what God says.

In fact, the original sin had nothing to do with sex, it rose out of the desire to be God like. The serpent says to Eve that she can be like God and she goes for it, inviting Adam along with her. It’s the choice of self over God that makes her stumble.

In fact, The same word also means stumble. That’s something I can understand: I stumble frequently. I mean, I’m walking along and not paying attention and POOF! ouch. Something brings me to a halt. So foolishness, stumbling. Those are part of what he’s talking about, along with scars from injuries and things that make us cover up what we’ve done because we’re ashamed. So from here on out I’m going to use the word ‘sins’ but I trust you to remember it means all these things: scars, selfishness, stumbling.

What he says then is this: Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others. Look what he does here: he connects these two. That is to say, the experience of forgiveness—being forgiven—is linked to the expression of forgiving: forgiving someone else. You get both or you get neither one. Think of the story of the prodigal we read this morning. You know, I have to admit right here that there is such a temptation for me to preach on this text instead of going along with the Lord’s Prayer. I’m trying to resist but if this sermon goes over 45 minutes, you’ll know I failed. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m going to try to resist; come back in three years, when the text comes up again, and hear a sermon on it then.

I just want you to notice one thing in the story. When the son returns, his father embraces him. Wow: would you do that? Think how angry the father must have been when the son left. That dad knew just what would happen, parents always do. And it did. So the son comes back; there must have been a temptation to say, “Ok, fine you’re home, I’ll give you one more chance.” There must have been a temptation to set a condition on that love but he never once does: he just embraces him. That’s forgiveness. We usually talk about it as the father forgiving the son but there must have been something between them, some ugliness for the son to want to leave and what his bad experience helped him do was forgive his father. The father embraces his son; but the son also embraces his father. It’s the mutuality of the moment that inspires. We can’t experience forgiveness without expressing forgiveness; we can’t express forgiveness without experiencing it.

Forgiveness is a key part of Jesus’ mission. One of the things that angers his opponents is forgiving sins. When his own disciples ask for a rule on just how much forgiveness they have to do, when they want a church policy on forgiveness, he tells them 70 times 7, meaning—unlimited, unlimited forgiveness. The reason is something we talked a bit about last week: Jesus wants us here and now, in the present, in the presence of God. We can’t get there without forgiveness, which means we can’t get there without forgiving, since the two are so tightly linked together.

We can’t get there because of what I call “the ghosts”. The ghosts are all those things in our past that influence our behavior in the present. Maybe someone hurt you in the past; you’re not going to talk to them again. Maybe someone made you angry in the past; you’re not going to have lunch with them again. Maybe someone betrayed your trust; you’re not going to trust them again. We could go on and on but here’s what Jesus knows: all these ghosts in our past are whispering in our ear who not to talk to, who not have lunch with, who not to trust. Look at the story of the prodigal again: all the elder brother at the end talks about is the past, the past where he worked, while his brother went off to play. All our stumbles, all our scars, all our sins are still there, all our past is still there, all our hurts are still there, until they are forgiven. All our guilt about the times we made someone stumble, the time we injured someone, the times we sinned against someone are still there, until they are forgiven. It’s all about the past but as William Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” As long as all that past is still influencing us, it’s here and we’re living in the past.

How do we do this? I think many of us just assume somehow it will happen, like grass growing, like geese returning in the spring. Jesus calls us to choose forgiveness and t these are some of the choices we can make. One is simply to focus ourselves on the present and future. I mentioned last week how hard it can be to choose the present sometimes. Nevertheless, hard choices train us spiritually. When we live in the present, we choose what’s here, not what was here. A second thing we can do is to control our own internal conversation. A woman I know who was terribly hurt through the betrayal of some people she trusted said, “I wanted to stop reading the obituaries with hopeful anticipation. That turned out to be too much. So I started with just not reading the obituaries.” One person I know said about forgiveness, “Every time I got angry, I would just pray. Sometimes the prayers were angry but they were still prayers.”Prayer turns us toward God and God is love. When we let that love in, we heal.

If you are serious about praying, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”, as we talked about a couple weeks ago, there’s no option, there’s no choice: you have to learn to forgive; you have to learn to accept forgiveness. Forgiveness, forgiving: they mean to put the past in the past. They mean to embrace the present; they mean to let us feel God’s embrace. Neither is easy.

Forgiveness comes in many flavors, from dealing with little bumps and scratches to a full on, long term process. Either one begins with a choice: I’m not going to live in the past, I’m going to choose to walk forward with Jesus, and shoo away those ghosts. Like my friend said, stop reading the obituaries, if that’s the one step you can take. Refuse to remember the hurt. Of course you will remember it—at first. But what we refuse to bring back, subsides. Like the scar on my neck, things fade and if we let them fade, we are free to move forward. We’re still going to stumble and that’s where the dailiness of this prayer comes in: every day, we need to forgive to move forward, every day we need to be forgiven, to move forward along the way of Jesus.

We can do it because we’re following Jesus; we can do it because it’s where he’s going. Remember what he said on the cross? “Forgive them.” He hopes we will do the same, when we stumble, when we sin, when we believe our scars are so obvious no one could love us. He wants to heal those scars; he wants us to feel forgiveness for our sins. He means to make us over into the people God intended. So we can choose to keep stumbling along on our own, keeping track of every hurt, every failure of hope, every time someone wronged us. We can live in that past—or we can get up, get going with Jesus, asking forgiveness and accepting it as well.

I don’t really speak Spanish but there’s a Spanish expression I love. You say it when someone says “thank you” or “I’m sorry”: de nada. It means something like “It’s nothing”. When we come to God, with all our scars, all our stumbles, all our sins, Jesus wants us to know God says, “De nada”—and embraces us. He wants us to practice that by doing it for each other. “Forgive us our debts, our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive our debtors, trespassers, those who sin against us.” If we pray it, if we do it, if we learn it, one day we discover: we know that God is hears the prayer, and we can go home to our true home.


Got Anything Good? – Learning the Lord’s Prayer 3

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Third Sunday in Lent • February 28, 2016

What do you need every day? I suppose most of us have a daily routine: clean up, something to drink, something to eat, something to do. Most of this is a matter of choice: what do you really need? We can go about three minutes without air; more if you are a trained diver. The average person can go three days without water, although some have survived longer. We can go about three weeks without food; Mahatma Gandhi survived a 21 day fast. We can go a long time without light but it disorients us and distorts our time sense. Solo sailors on long voyages often report hallucinations; Joshua Slocum, the first person we know to have survived a solo circumnavigation, reported a period when he believed someone else was on board, helping him navigate. Simon and Garfunkel famously sang, “I am a rock, I am an island” but in fact we can’t survive in isolation: we need things, we need each other.

The first human experience is a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer. An infant must be fed, must be cleaned, must be held or the child will not survive. An infant can’t provide these things. Instead, as we all know, babies develop a complex way of signaling their needs and making life unpleasant for unresponsive parents. “Give me” is in that sense our very first prayer, and if it isn’t for bread, it is the same prayer. Give me what I need. The need is supplied: the supply is gift and in the gift a bond of love is formed. “Give us our daily bread.” Last Sunday we talked about the first request of the Lord’s Prayer: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Just as that prayer turns to the heavenly father, this prayer asks the heavenly father toward us, toward our needs. Like an infant asking for milk, like a child hungry for dinner, we come to God: “Give us our daily bread.”

Bread was both symbol and fact of daily life in Jesus’ time. Surely he means to remind us of Israel’s time in the wilderness, when the cry for bread was answered by manna, a bread like substance on which the people fed and which came as the gift of God. Surely he means to remind us of the great feast Isaiah imagined. Bread there is what sustains, and the feast itself is the gift of God, a gift to be given to everyone: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” Surely he means as well to remind them of the great time when they believed a crowd would go away hungry and miraculously all were fed.

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 1When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. 12The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.

There they are, in a deserted place, a place that must have felt to them like a wilderness. No McDonalds, no Stewarts, no Dunkin Donuts, not even a gas station in sight. Yet even there, bread is provided. They bring what they have to Jesus, intending obviously for him to get the message: five loaves, a couple of fish, not enough, not nearly enough. Yet when he blesses what they have, somehow everyone is fed and there are 12 baskets of leftovers. “Give us this day our daily bread” reminds us that our source is not ourselves but the gift of God.

The importance of the gift is part of the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Do you remember the story? Jesus is baptized; immediately, he is called into the wilderness. Some versions say he was led there; some that he literally “thrown into the wilderness”. The wilderness is more than geography or climate, it is the place where Israel met God, where God formed the people and gave the covenant. Jesus is in the wilderness, according to the story 40 days, a Biblical number that really means “complete”.

While he’s there, he’s hungry, and the tempter comes. Jesus has just been embraced and heard the Spirit call him the son of God; now the tempter takes this great blessing, this wonderful moment, and turns it around: “If you are the song of God, command this stone to become bread.” You know this temptation, don’t you? You’re at home; there’s food in the fridge you could make, but you’re hungry and there are potato chips so… What would it mean to be hungry and told you could easy as waving turn stones to bread? Stop relying on God and God’s way: just do it yourself. Most of us know this temptation because so often we’ve given into it. We substitute things we make for bread that satisfies: the list is endless, from career success to how we look, how much we make, how many likes we have on Facebook. Jesus replies to the temptation by turning to God’s Word, saying that we do not live by bread alone.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is easy for us to get today. We stop into a store, pick some up off a rack, the only difficulty all the choices: white, whole wheat, rye, whole grain, cinnamon, so many types. But in Jesus’ day, bread had to be made, then as now, from basic ingredients: flour, oil, yeast, baked in an oven. Most people didn’t have these things on their own. You might raise the grain; but it had to be milled, and for that you traded grain. You might have olives to make oil, but you needed a press, and you might trade for that. Ovens weren’t individual, they were a community resource, a place where people gathered together to bake together. They were a focus of community life, like the village well, a place to go and talk and laugh and share and gossip and finally take the hot loaf of bread from the oven. So when Jesus speaks of being given our daily bread, surely he has in mind this sort of community. You can raise lentils and make lentil stew on your own but it takes a whole community to make bread. This is the effect of bread. So it is with us. We sing, “One bread, one body, one Lord of all”, at communion, reminding ourselves that sharing the bread of communion binds us into the body of Jesus Christ. For as the Apostle Paul said, “The bread which we break, does it not mean [that in eating it] we participate in and share a fellowship (a communion) in the body of Christ?”

So: packed into this one prayer we remember and acknowledge we live not alone as a result of our own efforts but within a community, where so much of what we need comes not as reward but as gift. There is one more thing this prayer has to teach: it says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus teaches here as he does elsewhere a focus on the dailyness of life, the nowness of our lives. I’ve been going to the yoga class here on Tuesday nights for a little over a year, off and on. I’m not very good at yoga; I have trouble keeping up with the poses. I struggle along, better some weeks than others. But the hardest thing for me at yoga isn’t the poses or the effort or the stretching it is the constant encouragement to be present, to focus on that moment and not let my mind wander off to other places. I live with a constant future tug; there’s always next Sunday’s sermon, next month’s worship, next year’s strategy. So given the chance, my mind will happily go off there, thinking about what’s going to happen Sunday, what’s going to happen Easter. Jesus means to bring me back, I think, as he does with each of us. The manna in the desert was a daily thing; in fact, only on the day before sabbath could more than today’s need be gathered, anything over would go bad. “Give us this day our daily bread” means to bring us back to today: what do we need today to live as God’s people?

We have seen already how Jesus’ prayer means to turn us to a relationship of loving intimacy with God when he begins, “Our father”, or as I suggested, “Hiya Dad”. Then he moves to inviting God’s rule in our lives: “Thy kingdom come”. Now in the prayer he asks us each day to focus on today, to remember thankfully how we are sustained by God’s gifts; to remember that live from God’s gifts. So this week, each day, every day: let us indeed pray with Jesus, seeking to live as the body of christ, sustained by the bread of life.


Who’s In Charge Here? – Learning to Pray the Lord’s Prayer, Lent 2


by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Second Sunday in Lent • February 21, 2016

A fisherman and his wife lived in an old dirty hut alongside a lake in Bavaria. Every day the fisherman went out to the lake and every day he returned with his catch. One day, the fisherman’s net caught a golden fish. The fish spoke to him and said, “If you throw me back, I will grant you any wish you desire.”
The fisherman thought about it, and being of simple means he could think of no want, so he let the fish go. Upon returning to the dirty old hut that night, he told the tale to his wife.

“You should have asked him for a nice cottage,” she said. “I would love to move out of this filthy hovel.”
So the next morning, the fisherman approached the lake and called out for the fish. The water bubbled and the fish surfaced. It asked, “What do you want?”
“It’s not for me, but my wife. She would like a nice cottage to live in.”
“Your wish is granted. Go home and see.”

The fisherman returned home, and sure enough their filthy hut was replaced with a nice cottage.
The next morning his wife said, “Go back and ask that fish for another wish. I want to be the Princess of Bavaria and live in a fine castle!”
The fisherman said, “Oh no, wife. That is too much. Do not make me ask the golden fish for such a thing. Let us be happy in our nice cottage by the lake.”
But his wife insisted and persisted, and eventually he agreed to ask the golden fish for this wish.
He went down to the lake, and the water was choppy. He called for the fish and its head appeared above water. It said, “What do you want?”
“It’s not for me, but my wife. She wishes to become Princess of Bavaria and live in a fine castle.”
“Your wish is granted. Go home and see.”

The fisherman returned home, and sure enough the cottage was replaced with a castle. There were battlements and guard towers and soldiers all around. His wife greeted him splendidly dressed as a princess.
The next morning his wife said, “Go back and ask that fish for another wish. I want to be Empress of Prussia and live in a grand palace!”
The fisherman said, “Oh no, wife. That is too much. Do not make me ask the golden fish for such a thing. Let us be happy in our Bavarian castle.”
But his wife insisted and persisted, and eventually he agreed to ask the golden fish for this wish.
He went down to the lake, and the water was boiling and turbulent. He called for the fish and its head appeared above water. It said, “What do you want?”
“It’s not for me, but my wife. She wishes to become Empress of Prussia and live in a grand palace.”
“Your wish is granted. Go home and see.”

The fisherman returned home, and sure enough the castle was replaced with a grand palace. It was larger, with more soldiers, more battlements, and more guard towers.
He went in to see his wife and said, “Surely you are happy now. There is nothing greater than being the Empress of Prussia, and no palace greater for you to live in.”
She said, “We shall see. I want to sleep on it and discuss it on the morrow.”
In the morning, she roused the fisherman and said, “Go back and ask that fish for another wish. I want to be the Pope, and live in the grandest palace of all.”
The fisherman said, “Oh no, wife. That is too much. Do not make me ask the golden fish for such a thing.”
She said, “Why not?”
“Well, for one thing, they only let men become popes.”
But his wife insisted and persisted. He said, “Let us be happy in our Prussian palace!”

But she said, “I want to become like God, and order Nature to do my bidding, and tell the sun and moon when to rise and command the stars in the sky above!”
She extolled and cajoled, and eventually he agreed to ask the golden fish for this wish.
He went down to the lake, and the water was dark and roiling. He called for the fish and its head appeared above water. It said, “What do you want?”
“It’s not for me, but my wife. She wants to become like God.”
“Go home. She is sitting in your filthy old hut.”

So the fisherman returned home, and all was as before. He and his wife cleaned the old hut, and lived out their days in peace.
There are many versions of this story, the one here was taken from
The Story of the Golden Fish

What did you think while you heard this story? Did you sympathize with the fisherman or the wife? Can you imagine just wanting more, like she did, more space, finer things, more power? Did you know from the beginning how it would end? I went searching for stories of people who wanted to be in charge this week and there were so many I was overwhelmed. I knew from the beginning in each how it would end. So did you, I expect. Here’s my question: if we know how it will end, why do we keep doing it?

The Bible has stories of people like this. One is right near the beginning, but we often remember it wrong. Adam and Eve are newly created, without anything covered. They live in a beautiful garden doing a little weeding here and there, taking care of it and in the middle of the garden there’s a tree they’ve been told not to touch. One day a serpent points out the tree to Eve and Eve, who is the first theologian, expounds God’s Word regarding the tree. But at the end, Eve takes the fruit from the tree and shares it with Adam. Why? It’s not clear from the story exactly. But we all know don’t we? I told this story to a group of children once. One of them said, “Why did God tell them not to take that fruit, it just makes you want it more when someone says don’t eat it.” Yeah: she had it right—we just want more, until like the woman in the story we have so much that we have nothing. We fall. We live in the midst of the storms of life, and we think if we just had more, more power, more money, more something we could still the storm and sail safe.

Theologians have names for this: “original sin” is one, “total depravity” is another. Those are deep dark concepts, caves that take some time to explore, you need to put on a head light and have some equipment to go spelunking there. But you don’t need all that to know what we’re talking about; you really just have to look in your own heart. You just have to think about why we buy powerball tickets when the prize gets over a hundred million dollars. You just have to look at how we run things when we’re given the chance. Look at our own history. The Puritans are kicked around England until they finally leave and come to Massachusetts. “They came for freedom!”, our happy history teaches us. Truth is, once they got settled in, they turned around and started kicking other people out, sent them to Rhode Island. Yes, we want to be king and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

Jesus lived in a highly structured society, a hierarchy where wealth and gender and where you came from mattered. It mattered that you were male; it mattered that you had money. It mattered whether you were Roman or Jewish or Samaritan. All these things and many more were set against the human desire for more and the competition was often bloody and violent. It was a time of peasant revolts, it was a moment when Roman soldiers crucified thousands up and down the roads around Jerusalem. So we read these words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come”, calmly, quietly. But to Jesus and to the ones who first heard them, these were fiery words, fighting words, scary words. For kingdom is a political term and kings that will tolerate wandering preachers take action when the preaching turns to kingdom.

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be raising a political movement. Instead, as he does so often, Jesus is speaking beyond politics to the deeper reality of human souls. Living in a moment when the Roman empire was worshipped as a God, he calls his people back to this one fundamental reality: we are here to serve God, praise God, worship God. All the human agencies, all the human divisions, everything human is nothing compared to the majesty of God’s rule. That’s part of the lesson in the story of the fisherman. A poor couple are given an unbelievable chance to better themselves. Imagine them waking up in the nice cottage described at the beginning: running water, a beautiful setting. But it doesn’t satisfy. So the places get bigger and better: a castle, a palace. The drive focuses on power, as it always does. What is more? Be a queen, be an empress, until finally it ends with the desire to be God. We are back to the garden at that point: seeking the thing that will make us not just more but most.

Jesus calls us back from this journey to destruction. “Who’s in charge here?”, he implicitly asks. Is it the relentless drive for more?—or can we choose to understand ourselves in a different way? “Thy kingdom come” says first and foremost that we are not living on our own; we are living in the realm of a greater power, subject to a greater command than our own desires. To honestly pray “Thy will be done” is to say my own will, my own desire is not the most important. And in that moment, all those human things matter less than that one fact, that one will, God’s will. What is God’s will? That’s easy, it’s written all over the scriptures, all over the religious traditions of thousand years. “Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.” All the human categories of Jesus’ time and ours fall apart before this great command. Gender, money, celebrity, race and where you came from—they mean nothing compared to this one great command and the desire to live not from our own wills but from the will of God. It’s hard to live this way. Yet this is the choice Jesus puts before us: live from yourself, in the world where differences matter and the great drive is more, or live in the realm of God’, the kingdom of God, asking every day, “Thy will be done.”

This week I saw a movie that expressed this thought fully. It’s called The Finest Hours and it tells the story of a group of four young Coast Guardsmen in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, who were charged in a great storm to go out into the North Atlantic and rescue men on a ship that was sinking. I’m a sailor; I stay home when the waves mound up, when the wind blows beyond a certain point. “Small craft warning” means stay in port. But I’m just sailing for myself; these men had a higher calling. So knowing they are risking their lives, they go out into the terror of the sea to redeem the lives of strangers they’ve never met. “They say you have to go out, you don’t have to come back”, is an old Coast Guard mantra. These are people living from a greater ethic than more; they know what it is to give your life to a greater cause. In the event, they were successful; 32 men were saved that day. They were saved because four men lived not from what they wanted but from what they were called to do.

“Thy kingdom come,” Jesus prays and invites us to pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The transition is clear and critical. For it is when we live from God’s will, when this prayer condenses into lives that bits of heaven become evident on earth. When we lives out this prayer, we are making heaven on earth. For the true heaven comes not from miracle fishes or bigger and better palaces, not from more, not from us at all. Heaven comes when the kingdom of God appears. This is the mission of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Mark says it all:

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ [Mark 1.14bf]

Jesus comes to bring heaven to earth by proclaiming God’s rule, living from God’s rule. And his words and his life confront us with this choice: will we make his prayer our lives? This morning we read the story of a storm he stills. We all face storms; they blow into our lives and challenge us and ask, “Who’s in charge here?” When we pray, when we live, saying indeed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”, the storms are stilled; heaven is brought to earth.