Sermon – When Hope Is Missing
Job 17; Matthew 6:9-13
Farmville Presbyterian Church
August 13, 2023
– Finding the missing benediction from the Lord’s Prayer
I feel like all of you should get a sticker that says, “I survived Pastor Pete’s sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer.” I wish I had thought of that a few weeks ago. We have been working our way through this iconic, beloved, and widely used prayer for a number of weeks, and today, we have finally arrived to the last line that we pray. To be clear, I am focusing on the last spoken line of the prayer. My wife holds this statement, the last part in our spoken prayer, most dear because it connects her to her grandmother who used to always add an emphasis by saying “For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever AND EVER. Amen.” I love that stamp on the eternity of God and the future of our place in God’s enduring glory. It is a way of promoting, “Yes, God’s glory is forever and let me underline that: forever and forever.” As it turns out in my research, plenty of others pray the prayer that way, too, through the centuries.
For those of you who are more strictly Biblicists, however, you have already noticed a small issue. While many, many folk that I have heard use this prayer (both debts people and trespasses people) all say this doxology of an ending to the prayer, the ending itself is NOT in the Bible. The rest of the prayer is all in there. You just heard that in the reading from Matthew. Jesus has given us this model prayer, but someone, somewhere, somewhen decided to add a doxology. And we continue to run with the addition. Apparently, we are all of the mind to improve on Jesus’ prayer. We can clearly see what is in Matthew’s Gospel, but it is obviously not the same that we pray. For some of you, this is a curious thing, for others perhaps troubling, and still others aren’t bothered either way. That’s fine. But what I’m getting into today is why this extrabiblical blessing is actually pretty important.
About 40 to 50 years after the books of the New Testament were written, we have another writing from the Christian community that adds a conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer: Thine is the Power and Glory forever. This was a writing to teach the faith, so these Christians wanted new ones to learn the prayer that way. A couple of hundred years later, we have the full conclusion that we have today that became the norm way back then, as well: For thine is the Kingdom and Power and Glory forever and ever. Amen. This addition worked its way into the much later King James, but it is clearly absent in the original and oldest texts of the Bible.
What could have happened between the original writing of the books of the New Testament, largely in the 50s and 60s of the first century, a couple of decades after Jesus died and when we see this prayer used and enlarged?
Let’s see: the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. What was left is still standing today. The nation of Israel was basically dissolved. The Romans came through and took it all down. The early Christians saw themselves as Jews, so this was pretty devastating. The Roman Empire didn’t really know what to do with those early Christians. Some were persecuted and killed. Some just blended in. Some were OK. Eventually, the Roman Empire even became Christian, but before that, the early followers of Jesus did not know which way the world of Rome was going to turn for them. This is the same Rome that was the great and horrible beast in the book of Revelation. The last book written in the New Testament has this picture of the horrible nature of Rome – a monstrous and grotesque beast. If you have ever read Revelation, the imagery may have shocked you or scared you or puzzled you. The book is like that, but the key to understanding that whole book is where it ends up – after all of the chaos and terror, God wins in the end. Rome can be big and bad and evil and terrifying, but God wins in the end. You can pray and pray and pray for God to be active in our lives, but it sure feels good to end that prayer, “and God wins in the end.” That is basically what we are doing every time we pray the prayer. We make our petitions for food and forgiveness and protection from evil and the coming of God’s Kingdom, but every time we pray that prayer we are going to end with the future we are looking to see: “Yours is the Kingdom God; yours is the Power God; yours is the glory God forever and for all time.” Just like in the Book of Revelation, the Lord’s prayer, prayed in that same time of the world in scary days, ends with a huge statement of HOPE. That doxology, that conclusion, that closing statement of praise is really a faith statement that God is not done with us. God will never be done with us but will love us and care for us for all time. This is our hope laid out on the line. Our prayer should always end with our hope and confidence that God hears and God cares. It should also end with the claim that God will never leave us nor forsake us.
Job would have loved to have had that same sense of assurance. When he was down at his lowest and felt the utter devastation of his calamity as people do in extreme disaster, he could only end up in the same place as the early Christians. When all seems to be gone, when all seems to be missing, when all seems to be wrong, where is the hope? If it is not obvious, if it is not expressed, maybe we need to be the ones who create space for new hope. Maybe our lives need to outwardly and openly say, “God still wins in the end.”
That’s what happening with Madeline’s House as I speak.
A number of you know something about Madeline’s House. It was created in 1999 after a woman named Madeline was murdered by her abusive husband. There was no shelter for women in crisis or their children in this entire region. Since 1999, Madeline’s House has tried with varying levels of success to be an effective agent for help, refuge, and change across our area in more than seven counties. What should have grown, however, ended up withering. The ministry died after years of struggle with finding good leadership and other reasons. It closed its doors in 2022. People in crisis would just have to go without. Except that is not the end of the story. STEPS has taken over the ministry and the site and the calling to provide this vital ministry in the same area. They are coordinating an effort to renovate the shelter to again serve women and children by the beginning of 2024. Of course, they welcome any help that we or the community wants to provide. I met with their community liaison the other day, and this sounds like a much better future for this service in our community.
They found hope where it seemed hope had disappeared. It did not surprise me at all when Madeline’s House ceased. Toward the end, no one was even picking up the phone. You could not even reach them with donations. They had given up on themselves. That’s what happens when hope disappears.
It is truly difficult, maybe impossible in some situations to even try to hope. Hawaii right now is digging to save lives. They are hoping where hope seems very pressed. They are giving their all to find a future.
From Ukraine to the American south and west to Sudan to the islands bracing for another hurricane season to political unrest in more places than you can count to extreme political instability and economic oppression through South and Central America, there is no shortage of places where hope may seem elusive. But is it?
If there is no obvious hope, if it is very tough to identify where possibility and potential might be. If seeing a tomorrow sounds more unlikely than likely, then we may need to help create hope. Since God has put the responsibility of the Kingdom in our vision and given us the very presence of the Spirit, we can faithfully go about the work of building up our sisters and brothers in every hope that we are willing to build in Christ. No matter what we do or do not do, there is still one assurance that concludes every thought, every prayer, every offering of worship, every plan for action – God will be victorious and glorious. When we can see that powerful truth for ourselves, we will find comfort, also, but we will also have a way forward to the glory of God. Amen.
May the God of life, light, and love bring us hope in our failures, hope in our stumbling, hope in our brokenness, hope in our grief, hope in our hurt, and hope in our despair and hold us in the confidence that goodness can come, that goodness is coming, and that as long as Jesus reigns, goodness will always be ours. Let us bear this hope as one people in the Triune God to all of God’s children, especially to those who need a friend this day. As God’s people we go together in faith, hope, and love. Amen.