YOUR KINGDOM COME
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When I was a child I heard the phrase in two places. The first was in Bugs Bunny cartoons. Yosemite Sam would threaten to blow Bugs “to kingdom come.” “What did this mean?” I thought. The second was in the Lord’s Prayer. Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? What does it mean to pray it? Is it some future event? Does it have anything to do with us right now? Let us consider our prayer “Your kingdom come” this morning and see what God has to say to our hearts.
Everyone it seems, is talking about hope. I saw the Star Wars movie over Christmas. One of those films was actually called “A New Hope.” At the end of the film, Princess Leia is handed something (I don’t say what it was in case you haven’t seen it and care) and when she’s asked what it is, replies “It’s hope.” Someone has written this about human beings and hope – “Anthropologists say that we are inhabited by a ‘hope principle.’ It takes the form of a tension, of an unending search for the new, of a world without frontiers, of a questioning of the de facto circumstances, of expectation, of tomorrow, of dreams of a better life… in this hope principle we find the deepest and most radical part of human nature… Hope is for what has not yet been, but is present in desire and is anticipated by the longings of the heart.”
Our hearts long for something better. Praying “Your kingdom come” is a recognition that it is in God that our hope is to found. “In Christ alone, my hope is found,” as the song goes. The thing is that we have looked for hope in different places. Everyone dreams of a utopia and it there are many different beliefs as to how we might get there. One is the theory of human progress. We can get there ourselves. We’ve been trying to do that for thousands of years. The right system of government will get us there. Free markets will get us there. Imposing God on others by force will get us there. A caliphate imposed by violence will get us there. The end of the Cold War would get us there. I spoke recently about the Peace Dividend – this great hope of the late 80’s and early 90’s that we would see peace in our time. An essay was written at the time called “The End of History” in which a political scientist named Francis Fukuyama argued that liberal capitalist democracy would take over the world and free humankind of all its problems. We’re still waiting of course.
The question becomes “Where do we look for our hope?” The answer that the Lord’s Prayer gives is God. Our Father in heaven. The one whose name is holy. Jesus, our Lord. What is Jesus Lord of? A Lord needs a kingdom. The kingdom of God was a central message of Jesus. He was constantly talking about it. So much so that people thought he was crazy. They called his family at one point to come get him he sounded so crazy. We might say that it was the central plank of Jesus’ message. Mark begins his account of Jesus’ work like this “Now after John was arrested, 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.’” (Mk 1:14-15) Repent. Turn to God. Get behind me in this Kingdom Project – this thing that we call God’s Great Deliverance Project.
It’s the most important thing in the world. Loyalty to it is more important than loyalty to any other thing, group, corporate entity – family, nation, ideology, political party. These are not things to put our hope in (though loyalty to the kingdom will colour your relationships to family in a really good way, and any other corporate entity you’re involved with, that’s what we’re called to do). It can be hard to find. It’s like a treasure that a man finds in a field. When the man finds it he goes and sells everything he has to buy the field. It’s like a pearl of great value that a merchant finds. Upon finding it the merchant goes and sells all that he had to buy it. The kingdom advances because God causes it to advance – not through striving of our own. We don’t bring it (though we’re invited to take part in it of course!). It’s like a farmer who sows seed and goes to bed and the seed grows and becomes wheat – the farmer doesn’t even know how it happens. It’s a kingdom in which its subjects are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It’s a kingdom that belongs to those who become like little children – recognizing their need for help. Recognizing that things are not always as they seem when looked at with eyes of faith. It’s the key thing for the follower of Christ, who has handed his followers the keys to his kingdom and said “I’m going to make you the instruments by which I bring my kingdom about.”
How amazing is that? How exciting is that?
This was new. There was talk in the Old Testament about God as King. Of God reigning. Of the Day of the Lord which was to come. People have always had hope. For the ancient Israelites it was hoped that the installation of a king would bring about peace. Later it was hoped that Temple worship would bring about peace. Israel’s kings were to remember justice and mercy and care for the widow and orphan. Worship was to be founded on living humbly and loving mercy and walking humbly with God. It didn’t happen but these things pointed forward to the one who was to say “The kingdom of heaven has come near” and “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
And so I always pray “Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear.”
What was going on here? Jesus had brought the kingdom of God to earth. In this day and age we might prefer to say “Reign of God.” One writer suggests “God’s regime has taken power. The dominion of the God of Israel has approached… The YHWH Administration has made Jesus… dictator for life…” I like Reign of God. God’s reign has approached. You say “Yes but it’s hard to see” and I say “I know and we’ll talk in a few minutes about how God’s reign is also to come”, but I want to stick with this for a few minutes. God’s reign has drawn nigh, come near, approached, arrived, in the person of Jesus and in his life and death and resurrection from the dead.
This has personal implications. When we pray “Your kingdom come” we are asking God for God’s reign to come in us. To come through us. For God’s reign to be known through us. Personally. There’s a personal aspect to his deliverance project. God’s reign transforms us, you see. What does God’s reign look like? I always like, as an answer to this question, Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist’s followers. John was in prison and he had preached the Messiah coming with a winnowing fork in his hand, clearing the threshing floor, gathering wheat and burning chaff. This was his message in the wilderness. Things were not looking good for him. He craved justice and he was in prison – in the very seat of Roman injustice – and he wondered if Jesus was actually the one he had been waiting for if there was another to come who would actually bring God’s kingdom (maybe by force as so many were expecting). Jesus answers their question not with a yes or no. He tells a story. He tells them to tell John the Baptist what is going on – “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them, and blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
The kingdom of God is deliverance. The kingdom of God is the blind seeing, the lame walking, the poor hearing good news. It’s personal. It’s transformation. It’s being made into someone new. Have you known this? Have you seen this? Have you heard this?
It can be hard to see. We pray for God’s kingdom to come because in many ways we don’t see it. We don’t see it in ourselves. We don’t see it in the world. In the world, when God’s kingdom is not coming it tends to make headlines. Thousands dead. A man on the 427 cutting off a driver in the fast lane who was going too slowly, stopping his in front of hers and getting out (all of this in left lane) to hurl abuse at her. These are the things that go viral, that trend on Twitter right? When we pray “Your kingdom come” we pray for it to come within us. I was at an ordination council recently where the young lady taking part was telling her story. She spoke about growing up in church and not seeing her desire to be transformed by God’s Spirit into the image of Christ reflected in church. She was not seeing transformation happening. May our church be a place where transformation is happening. This needs to be our desire. Our prayer.
This is what the kingdom of God does. It can be hard to perceive sure. It happens quietly doesn’t it. We feel God’s spirit moving within us at a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Around a piano at Out of the Cold as Christmas Carols are being sung. These things are not going to make the news or go viral. We need to be attentive to God’s reign working in us and through us. We need to be attentive for each other and point out where we see God working in one another’s lives. God’ reign is at work where people (including ourselves) are blind, lame, poor (and all of these things work on literal and figurative levels), outcast, discarded, dead even.
Because it is in these places that God’s power is made known. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about the size of your church or your church budget and “Oh God must be really working there because there are 3,000 people there every week!” This is not sour grapes on my part and I’m not saying God can’t be at work among 3,000 (or 5,000 for that matter). I’m saying that when you look at Jesus’ descriptions of the kingdom he doesn’t compare it to an empire or a 10,000 person army, but to yeast, which comes in small amounts yet leavens the whole loaf. It makes a difference in the whole loaf. He compares the kingdom to a mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds and yet look what it turns into and the birds of the air nest in its branches. The smallest of acts done in Jesus’ name – sitting down with someone and being a living indication that they are loved by God and that they are not discarded or abandoned or worthless. This is the kingdom of God.
The Star Wars parallels are interesting. A ragtag group led by The Force who are out to make a difference in the world. A rag tag group of Christ followers led and accompanied by the Spirit who are invited to participate in God’s reign. To proclaim it. To demonstrate it. To continue to pray that it will come. This is the other half of the paradox. God’s reign is here. It’s also coming. The fact that it’s not fully here is all too evident if we look around our world. I don’t need to spell it out. The day will arrive when God himself will be with us and he will wipe every tear from our eyes and death will be no more and mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things will have passed away. This is not a day to fear. It’s not even the end of things like work or creativity. At the funeral for Gord Borron, we heard his son-in-law Ron say that there were likely engines in heaven that needed fixing and Gord was seeing to them. I believe that too. There will be work to do, gifts to use, songs to be sung, when God’s kingdom comes.
In the meantime, we live in the in between. We live in the paradox. I said that we need to pray to live in the paradox. To ask for God’s kingdom to come in us, for it to come through us, and for it to come fully on the great day on which it comes fully. In the meantime we live in the tension. Don’t mind the tension too too much. Guitar strings are under a lot of tension. It’s only when they’re under tension that they make music. Prayer tunes our hearts. Followers of Christ are in the same band, playing the same song. Praying “Your kingdom come” expresses our desire to be in that band. To live and proclaim the kingdom – good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favour. This is the year we’re living in now friends. The question for us is – are we in this? Do we have the patience to keep praying for it and to keep proclaiming it and to keep demonstrating it? God grant that the answer for all of us would be yes, as we keep praying “Your kingdom come.”