March 7, 2012
“Thy Kingdom Come”
This clause of the “Lord’s Prayer,” feels like the most radical request of all.
“Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Tom Wright begins his commentary on this portion of the prayer by reminding us that this kingdom is not limited in its ability to function. What I mean is that God’s kingdom and reign are not restricted by some limiting factor of metaphysics to the heavenly realm.
It is easy to understand that those people who are marginalized or oppressed by the principalities and powers of this current world would believe they are better off in heaven. Heaven, after all, is that region where God’s rule plays itself out continually in accordance with God’s will and way. That is why so many of the Catechisms describe the perfect end of humanity to be in God’s presence, singing God’s praises, forever.
What is not so easy for me to understand is why someone like me would offer this prayer. See, I am pretty comfortable the way things are. My challenges are somewhat pedestrian compared to others. I have experienced the difficulties with health and economics that others have, but I must say that overall my life is pretty darn good under the current regime. Why in the world would I pray something like this, a request that desires a change in the world?
Some months ago I went on a Sea Duck hunt in Chincoteague Virginia. The guide was this old salt, ex Coast Guard guy, who (once he realized I was a pastor) felt compelled to offer his own little half-hearted confession out there in the marsh in a duck blind. He say, in keeping with his Southern Baptist tradition, that he was a ‘well known’ backslider but he grew up in the church under the tutelage of his grandmother (who was a saint) and that he hoped, despite his faults, that he would make it into heaven.
I have a little voice in my head that rehearses something to say before I say it. Do you? My inside my head voice said, “That’s funny, you don’t appear to me to have any real sincere interest in God’s presence now, why might you be interested in spending an eternity with God?” Fortunately I have a filter, which occasionally works, that implored me to not say that, so instead I said: “Well, I believe that God is a God of grace, mercy, and love.” I suppose on the occasions when he does pray, his grandmother taught him to pray: “thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The other thing that he made abundantly clear to me was this popular idea that if only the American citizenry would elect the right Godly person, we would be on the right track here and now.
I believe that this petition of the Lord’s Prayer insists that this business of ‘kingdom coming’ is not otherworldly, but here and now. I disagree with him that it hinges on elections. Faithful or not, the Kingdom of God’s arrival does not hinge on the work of mortals. It has been inaugurated already, affirmed by that ancient Eucharistic acclamation: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Some people might suggest that the church has no role in the real world, or that we have no place in speaking to governments. We do.
It is vital that the church learn to critique the present workings of democracy itself. I don’t simply mean that we should scrutinize voting methods, campaign tactics or the use of big money within the electoral process. I mean that we should take seriously the fact that our present glorification of democracy emerged precisely from Enlightenment dualism—the banishing of God from the public square and the elevation of vox populi to fill the vacuum, which we have seen to be profoundly inadequate when faced with the publicness of the kingdom of God. And we should take very seriously the fact that the early Jews and Christians were not terribly interested in the process by which rulers came to power, but were extremely interested in what rulers did once they had obtained power. (emphasis mine)
This idea isn’t new. In 1917, a Baptist preacher from the ghetto referred to as “Hell’s Kitchen,” Walter Rauschenbusch, described a return to the guiding influence of this idea of “The Kingdom of God.” Rauschenbusch birthed the “Social Gospel.” More recently, a Congregational Minister named Charles Sheldon coined the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” I suspect that most Christians who wear those rubber bracelets or sport bumper stickers with the acronym W.W.J.D. are unaware that Sheldon was committed to Christian Socialism.
Even without any stated political agenda or allegiances, this petition does have a social agenda; that God’s justice and grace might prevail in our here and now.
Thus, this one phrase, “Thy Kingdom Come,” can have lofty goals and huge disappointment, particularly if we mistakenly insist that it is only ‘not yet,’ and the arrival of ‘now’ is dependent upon our action in the world alone.
What is it then, this phrase of a universal Christian prayer? For one, it is a lament. It is a lifting up to God the gap between God’s realm of peace and justice and reality as we know it. The phrase is a cry for a different kind of world. It is an expression of our deepest longings for a time when God’s peace and justice and righteousness will prevail. Like most prayers, when the prayer is answered and something changes, we are the one’s transformed. Praying often changes us. To pray this prayer is to orient our lives toward God and not ourselves, toward God’s will and not our own. The prayer is a way of stating our allegiance to God rather than to the political, economic or cultural powers of this world. It is one way we are forced to recognize that our primary citizenship is not with the world but the Kingdom of God. We may not ask for it directly, but if this petition were granted, the first thing we might receive is the wisdom to recognize where God’s reign is already breaking into this world and for the courage and strength to align ourselves with it.
To pray “thy kingdom come” is finally a confession: we acknowledge that the gap which exists between heaven and earth runs right through our own lives and through the communities of believers who claim to follow Jesus. This phrase is in part why I believe it is more important than ever for the Church to see itself, collectively, as a community; as a community where our business is the making and supporting of disciples of Jesus. Here our kingdom ethics shape our life together in ways that seems quite impractical when compared to the motives and mores of our narccisistic society. This kingdom is finally concerned, as is His community, about social and economic justice. We are concerned about God’s good creation, every bit of it; we are concerned about real things in everyday life, that is why we say we are people of the incarnation. On Patmos, in his vision we call Revelation, John describes this promised restoration, you might notice, not as an escape to another world, but one that comes down from heaven to earth. Once, The Book of Acts testifies, they were sharing a common meal, and the risen Christ appeared to them.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts, chapter 1)
If this restoration begins with God, even before this fullness of time disciples are invited to participate through their witness here and now.
So, this phrase reminds me, to paraphrase Rauschenbusch, that the Commonwealth of God is the very life and word of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is present in the here and now and as we tentatively follow and listen and tell and do we incarnate that same kingdom in the world. May it be so for us. Amen.