“Is the Lord among us or not?” 09/28/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Sermon, September 28th

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

Exodus 17:1-7, and Matthew 21:23-32


When I decided to start the fall off with a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, I did so because I thought that walking through the Lord’s Prayer would be a gentle, a rather straight forward way to begin the church year. I wanted to start with something rather light, because September is one of the hardest months, overwhelming and exhausting as we manage so many demands at the beginning of another year. “Let’s stick with something we know as we get our feet on the ground again,” I thought.

Turns out I was mistaken. If I had wanted easy, I could not have made a worst choice the topic of a sermon series. For the deeper that we get into the Lord’s Prayer, the more I am reminded that it is not gentle or straight forward at all. These words that we know so well, that we can practically recite in our sleep even, are not to be taken lightly. For when we pray them with intention, they lead us into what I would say are the most challenging and pressing questions that are at the center of faith.

Last week’s opening words, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” brought us face to face with the question, “to whom do we pray?” “Who is the great “I Am” that we call “Our Father?”

And today, as we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we collide with the question “what is the will of God?”


But before we go any further, let us pray: Holy God, lead us this morning through the words that you have given us to pray. Let our questions, wonderings and doubts lead us to new understandings and deeper convictions. And May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.


In the reading from the book of Exodus this morning, the ancient Israelites had just experienced the will of God. They had just been delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They knew that God was with them when plague after plague rained down on Pharaoh and his people but not upon the Israelites. And they knew that God was with them when Miriam beat her tambourine and they all danced on the far shore of the sea, on the far shore of deliverance.

But now? Now they are wandering in the scorching sands of the wilderness. They fear they will die so great is their thirst. A thirst that is not just physical, though that would bring suffering enough, but a thirst that is also spiritual. In the midst of their suffering they are thirsty for meaning. They long for the promised land flowing with milk and honey, but find themselves wandering year after year in the wilderness and they want to know why.

Where is God now? Is our suffering God’s will? “Is the Lord among us or not?” they ask.

And are not these questions our questions too? Are we too not wandering in the scoring sands of our times, in the parched places in our lives? Are we too not thirsty, thirsty for relief from our suffering, thirsty for a sense of meaning amidst it all? We look around at the ruin of the world and the scope of suffering and we ask “Is the Lord among us or not! What is God’s will in all this?

There are two ways that we tend to answer that question. The first is I think the most prevalent. And that is that the presence of suffering is evidence of the absence of God. If you need proof that God does not exist, just pick up the morning paper. We who cling to faith, can even begin to feel the need to apologize for God, that the reality of so much brokenness and want in the world reflects poorly on God. We can end up trying to justify God, as if God were some overworked manager with simply too much on his plate to tend well to every need.

The second way we tend to answer that question “Is this the will of God?” is that we cling to a theology that says that God has a plan for everything and that everything must then be a part of God’s plan so that the suffering is understood as part of some larger purpose; it is all being worked out in some higher plan.

But there is a third Way to answer the question “What is God’s will?” and it’s corollary “Is the Lord among us” in the wilderness of these days? And that is the Way that Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is the prayer that both speaks to certainty that there is a kingdom to come. That God does have a will for us and the present state of suffering is not it. When we say kingdom, it is to mean a time when the reign of God will be realized, when peace and blessing will be the birthright of all,

When : they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid; (Micah 4:3)

But this prayer is also a prayer of insistence that this kingdom not just be our future hope but our lived reality now, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

It is a prayer not of resignation or apology. Instead it is a prayer of calling forth a promised future while insisting on the transformation of current reality, now!

What I find incredibly compelling about Jesus and what makes me most excited about trying to live in his Way, is that Jesus was very clear that the kingdom is an emerging reality, now! In encountering Jesus, people’s lives were being transformed. Empty bellies were being filled. Broken bodies were experiencing wholeness. Fears were being calmed and hope kindled. Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian theologian, writes, that the “kingdom must be understood as a process, it is becoming present in the person of Jesus, in his words, in his liberating practices. It is leavening all reality in the direction of its fullness.[1] We pray that thy kingdom come while also living into the kingdom that is at hand. The kingdom is something we hope for and yet already are called to participate in.

As we learn to let Jesus live through us, as we learn to let our actions be the outpouring of the indwelling of God within us, we begin to do our part in the coming of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Carter Heyward, theologian and Episcopal priest, puts it this way “To love passionately, to touch and be touched, transformed and transforming, is to live on earth “as it is in heaven.” [2]

So though, we may tend to look at the suffering around ask ourselves “Is the Lord with us?” I wonder if the question we ought to ask is are “we with God.” For I am convinced God is already at work in the rubble, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, reconciling one to another, and I wonder if in the midst of it all God is not looking over God’s shoulder wondering “Are the people with me?” We tend to think that the will of God is something that God is going to do, but what if the will of God is something that we are called to do with God and with each other. In this desert time of so many parched places and so much suffering, could it be that God needs us as much as we need God? Could it be that the realization of God’s will necessitates our participation in it?

In Exodus, Moses said yes. Moses committed his life to partnering with God in the liberation of God’s people. My favorite line in the Exodus passage this morning and perhaps the one I should have chosen for a sermon title now that I think about it is: “Moses did so.” Moses took the needs of the people to God and then listened to what God had in mind and then “Moses did so.” And what happened? Water gushed out of a rock! If that is not kingdom come work I don’t know what is!

In the Gospel of Matthew this morning, what Jesus is asking of the chief priests and elders of the people is that they see and participate in the unfolding of the kingdom that is emerging through him now. What is important is not the question “by what authority Jesus is doing what he is doing?” but the question, “what are they going to do about what Jesus is doing?” Are they going say yes? No not just say yes, but do yes! Will they grab their gardening gloves and pruning sheers and head out into the vineyard, to do their Father’s will?

Signs of the reign of love are around us. The kingdom is emerging. In the streets of New York last weekend, hundreds of thousands lifted their voices crying out on behalf of our wounded planet and calling us all to action.

In the orchard this afternoon, hands will pick fresh fruit to give to the Newton food pantry.

And this evening, 16 adults and 16 confirmands will gather to share their lives in love and fellowship in the walk of discipleship.

. And so we pray: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray with a fierce hope that the reign of love is our future. But we also pray, that we may have the courage and conviction to meet God in the in the desert and parched places and join God in the emerging kingdom that is now. That that through what we do and how we live, what once was rock, will become a font of living water and what once was only dessert will become a beautiful vineyard, a garden again. The reign of love is coming that is our greatest hope. But our greatest joy is that the reign of love is emerging among us now and our greatest work is to be midwives to its birthing.

And so we pray,





. The Lord’s Prayer. Trans. Theodore Morrow (Orbis Boks: Maryknoll, New York. 1985). P. 59

[2] Isabel Carter Heyward. The Redemption of God: a theology of Mutual Relation. (University Press of America: Lanham, New York, London. 1982). P. 132