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Monday, September 17, 2012

As it is in Heaven

          In the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father,” as some refer to it, we say the words Jesus said.  “Our Father who is in Heaven, Holy be Your name.  Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Obviously I took out the “thou’s” and “thy’s” and used contemporary pronouns.  When we say it as a prayer, we’ll return to the traditional language. 

          Do we consciously consider that we’re quoting scripture every time we recite this prayer?  We are saying words right out of the Bible, Matthew chapter 6.  Do we realize that it sure seems like this prayer is not being answered?  “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven?”  

          This week, the United States ambassador to Libya was violently killed in a mob attack on the U.S. consulate.  He and 4 other Americans along with several Libyans were slaughtered by an unruly mob that was armed with guns and rocket launchers.  The consulate was torched.  Libyan authorities condemned the attack which was thought to be a response to an anti-Muslim film.  Millions of Libyans did not attack the consulate.  It was an isolated incident, but a violent one; an example of chaos run rampant. 

          The news is full of evidence that God’s will is not being done worldwide, not on earth as it is in Heaven.  Isaiah 52 says, “The Lord has shown all nations his mighty strength; now everyone will see the saving power of God” (v.10, CEV).  We believe the prophet’s words were fulfilled in the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus died to save all people from sin, but does the world in fact see the salvation he brings as Isaiah said the world would see it?

          Violence breaks out and it makes the news.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes violence and chaos ravage your life, and no reporter is there to tell the story.  No one cares.  You have to deal with it alone and it breaks you.  “Thy will be done …” is God’s will being done in the world?  In our lives?

          Titus, whom we meet only in the letter Paul sent to him and in three other letters of Paul where he described him, had to preach the good news of Jesus in the midst of very real chaos that exists in the world.  Paul commissioned him to go to Crete to “put in order what needs to be done and … appoint elders in every town” (1:5).  However, Titus’ task of being a district administrator over the churches would especially hard in Crete because as Paul writes, quoting a Cretan poet, “Cretens are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12).  Furthermore, some among these wild Cretans are Jews or Jewish converts and they are assaulting the church directly.  They are openly opposing the way of Christ and the church of Christ. 

          “Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven” – Titus is commissioned to oversee the church as the church strives to make sure God’s will is done.  And this assignment is to be accomplished among a dishonest, violent, slothful people that include individuals who will work to stop him. 

          No one opposes our attempts to be church the way Titus was confronted.  No one in Chapel Hill really cares if we all come here to HillSong today and sing praise to God and tell the message that we are sinners and our only hope of life is to turn to Jesus, acknowledge our sin, and receive His forgiveness.  That’s our message and no one cares if we deliver it – here. 

          Try taking the Biblical word heard here and applying it in the places of your life. Friends begin gossiping, and you excuse yourself from the conversation.  Why?  You’re sure that to participate would be to go against Jesus.  His will would not be done.  Your friend tells an off color joke and you don’t laugh.  What’s wrong with you?  You don’t think Jesus would laugh.  If Jesus isn’t tickled by blue language or potty humor, you’ll discipline yourself to not be also. 

Your friend, who is also a Christian, speaks damningly about a mutual acquaintance whose brother had AIDS.  “Would not have happened if he hadn’t been, you know …” says your friend.  You both know the friend’s brother has been a habitual drug user, has been promiscuous, has had many partners.  Because you want God’s will to be done on earth as in Heaven, you don’t join in with the condemning behavior.  You go an sit with the man who’s dying of AIDS.  He doesn’t even know why you come.  You want to tell him it’s because of Jesus, but he doesn’t ask.  And he’s already sworn off the church because he’s been judged so hatefully.  So you pray for him and in Jesus’ name, you sit with him.

But, your efforts alone or my efforts alone are not enough.  We need to band together with others who not only believe as we believe – that Jesus is Lord and true life and joy can only come when we are in him – but also others who will join us and commit to live life based on what we believe.  Oh, and when we do that, when we join with others and come together in this thing called ‘church,’ we’ll find that some of our members have experienced the opposite of God’s will be done in far more dramatic ways than gossip, dirty jokes, or unChristlike judgmental thinking.  When we pool our faith together we also pool our experiences.  Some among us have been hurt in deep ways.  Some have come to Christ, coming out of dark, dark places. 

How will Titus bring us together so that we are a people, a community, who points to Jesus and thus when outsiders come to be with us, they will see Jesus?  Paul has an answer. 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (1-2).  He commends obedience which is not the same as conformity.  When Paul refused to stop preaching, he was jailed, on many occasions.  He would break the law for the sake of his witness and then accept the consequences.  But he had a spirit of obedience and humility so that when chaos broke out around him, he stayed calmed and focused. 

Here, to Titus, he goes so far as to confess the brokenness of his own life before he came to Christ.  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another” (v.3).  Left to our own devices, human beings will not live in order and will not live on Earth as in Heaven.  The Kingdom of God is the in-breaking of God’s order and is only seen in us together as we commit to live obediently, in an orderly way.  A group of us doing this, living together in a community of humility and love, provides a sign for the world of the Kingdom Jesus brings. 

Paul knows we cannot do this by trying hard.  It begins with Jesus at work in us.  He writes,

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (v.4-7).


Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and in us in the Holy Spirit, we can be the orderly group Paul is commending to Titus on the island of Crete.  Amidst the liars, brutes, and gluttons, among our gossips, our consumerism, and our self-righteousness, in this church of people from so many places, so many backgrounds, the Holy Spirit will bring calm, order, and the ordered community speaks in a disordered world. 

You’re hurt, but you’ll be loved here.

You’re rejected, but you have a place among us. 

You’re afraid, but God is with you and we will help you see that.

Stepping from the world, from a godless life, into Christ and into His church, should be a move from madness to sanity and from craziness to calm.  We who are already in the church play our part in God’s order by being humble, submitting to one another as it says in Ephesians (5:21), and being committed to the wellbeing of each other. 

Because of the work of Jesus, which Paul summarizes, we can devote ourselves to good works, as he instructs in verse 8.  We can avoid useless controversies and legalistic quarrels as Paul writes in verse 9.  We must remember what Jesus laid down as the standard rules – love God with everything in you, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

The rubber meets the road with Paul’s teaching in verse 10.  As it is rendered in the Message, “Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off.”  This is not a declaration of permanent excommunication.  But it is an insistence that order is so important in God’s kingdom that we cannot permit disorder to ruin our effort to show the world what God’s kingdom is like.  If someone has problems that are tearing the whole church and we go to every effort to help, and he won’t receive help, and he won’t repent and turn to Christ, and he continues to raise his problem and try to make his problem the dominant voice in fellowship, then he has to go.  This requires, faith, strength, and love – obedient love for God and God’s church.  We can only go to this extreme measure because Jesus has poured out his Spirit on us richly and has commanded us to be his church announcing his forgiveness and the establishing of His Kingdom.


In Titus chapter 3, the Apostle Paul has set for us order, lived out in love and obedience, as a standard in God’s church.  I said earlier that your nonparticipation in the evil around you is not enough to draw the people to God so that His will is done.  My repentance of sins and my turning to Christ is not enough, by itself, to announce the Kingdom.  I said we have to band together and only as the church will our combined effort be sufficient.  But truthfully, even that is not quite enough because there are 150 of us here, less than 1% of the population of Chapel Hill, not including students, and Chapel Hill is a small town.  We can try really, really hard to live as an ordered, love-filled body of believers, but it won’t change the world, not on our efforts.

And that truly is good news.  Anglican N.T. Wright writes “God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of Heaven mean the same thing, the sovereign rule of God, which according to Jesus was and is breaking into the present world. … The resurrection and ascension of Jesus … are meant to make us agents of transformation of this earth” (Surprised by Hope, p.201).  I think Wright is right in what he writes.  We are called to be agents of transformation, and even more so when we are together as the church, showing what a kingdom-of-God community is than when we act as individuals though individual action is also important and often needed. 

I know I just said alone and even in our combined efforts we can’t accomplish much in announcing the kingdom or changing the world.  We faithfully worship and we give our tithes and we participate in missions, but ambassadors still killed in Libya.  Wars are still fought in Afghanistan.  People still shoot up movie theaters and Sikh temples.  Pastor-types still say stupid, harmful things on their TV ministries.  We do and do as the Spirit has empowered us to do and bad stuff keeps happening. 

We are agents of transformation, not the source.  “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  It is not a mission statement I came up with after a brainstorming session with the pastoral staff.  It is something Jesus taught.  He was teaching the disciples to pray.  In prayer, we’re talking to God.  The in-breaking of the Kingdom is something God accomplishes working through our church, and the Cherokee Christians our youth met this summer, and the believers Starlyn met in South Africa and Laura met in Ukraine.  God accomplishes God’s purposes working through the churches started in penitentiaries led by pastors who came to faith after being convicted and sentenced to life terms.  Yes, in that cesspool of moral decay and death, God is at work in God’s church announcing the Kingdom.  And He’s doing it here.

If the apostle Titus were transported through space and time from 1st century Crete to 21st century Chapel Hill, he would stand before us and tell us that we are called to announce the Kingdom of God and draw lost hurting sinners to Jesus.  We can only do that when we have an ordered, safe community that is humble, full of love, and extremely welcoming.  Titus would rejoice in the words of the great German pastor and theologian who died in a Nazi concentration camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

He writes, “Life together under the word will remain strong and healthy where … it understands itself” – where we understand ourselves as being part of the one, holy, Christian church which shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole church” (Life Together, 37).  Our part is faith and action, born of faith.  Working through us and churches all over the world, churches like and unlike ours God will raise up the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.


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