Readings: Luke 11:1-13, Luke 4:16-21
Today we’re continuing our series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, looking at “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. Lesley began last week with “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. I’m still reeling from her challenge that to pray “our Father” is to take with us into prayer everyone who can call God “Father” - and who are we to judge who is included in that. Prayer cannot be an escape from our common humanity or a safe haven for our selfish likes & dislikes. However difficult my relationship with someone else, however sure I am that they are “wrong”, I cannot ask God to take my side against them. I need to find a way - metaphorically at least - to pray with them, as if alongside them.
In their book Lord Teach Us Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon make a similar point about our phrase for today, “your kingdom come”. Our prayers are to be for the kingdom of God not, for instance, for “our nation” or even “our family”. Of course, this put the early church at odds with an empire which expected not only loyalty to the empire but even worship of the emperor, and can put us at odds today with the gods of our culture such as nationalism and consumerism.
So that’s my first point: to pray “your kingdom come” is to focus away from our own petty or territorial concerns and towards Jesus and his concerns. (That’s not to say our griefs and joys, our fears and hopes don’t count - I’m talking about not letting our parochial or partisan concerns or our envies and rivalries get in the way of praying for the coming of God’s kingdom.) And my next point is like unto the first, to pray “your kingdom come” is to remember that we are pilgrims and strangers, resident aliens, whose citizenship is in the kingdom of God and whose loyalty is to Jesus.
Now, I’m already two points in and I haven’t tried to define “the kingdom of God”. Maybe that’s because there isn’t really a neat one sentence definition, or better still a one verse definition lifted straight from one of the gospels. Perhaps that’s partly because for Jesus’ Jewish hearers, the idea of the kingship and sovereignty of God ran through their entire scriptures. In their book Kingdom Ethics Stassen and Gushee point out how the life and words of Jesus echo the book of Isaiah. And Isaiah was probably significant for forming 1st century Jewish expectations of the kingdom of God. Isaiah looks forward to a time when God will act to deliver the oppressed and bring salvation. And the words and images that come up time and time again in Isaiah’s descriptions of this deliverance are light, joy, peace, justice, righteousness, healing and return from exile. So perhaps this is the vision Jesus’ use of the phrase “the kingdom of God” conjured up for his listeners - and it certainly sounds familiar to anyone who knows Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is… righteousness (or justice) and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
But maybe also Jesus doesn’t bother defining the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God is what Jesus’ life is all about. He doesn’t need to define it because he is living it. Listen to Jesus’ at the synagogue in Nazareth, in Luke 4:16-21:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
So to pray “your kingdom come” is to pray for signs of the life of Jesus to become visible among us. Now the church can be one of those signs - but there’s a warning from Jürgen Moltmann (via Chris Marshall for those who remember his time in this church):
The church is not there for its own sake. It is there for the sake of 'Jesus' concern'. All the church's interests -- its continuation in its existing form, the extension of its influence -- must be subordinated to the interests of the kingdom of God. If the spirit and the institutions of the church are in line with God's kingdom, then the church is Christ's church. If they run counter to God's kingdom, the church loses its right to exist and becomes a superfluous religious society.
The last point I want to make about the kingdom is that it is full of paradox. In the early days of Jesus ministry he proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). So the kingdom is brought in by Jesus and it is already here. But it’s not fully here yet - we can all think of hundreds of ways in which our world today falls short of righteousness and peace and joy, of letting the oppressed go free. And although the kingdom of God dawns with Jesus, although in Jesus some of those visions of Isaiah are realised, and although we are to wait eagerly and expectantly and hopefully for God’s continued interventions, we are also called to do something ourselves - to repent and believe, to get involved, to enact that hope in God, to act - and to pray - faithfully for God’s kingdom to come.
The kingdom of God - for those of you who have been following John and Anicka’s blog as they prepare to move house within Kinshasa - is like a house that is structurally sound and has great potential and where you have all the necessary agreements with the landlord that you can move in in due course but where the plumbing may not actually be functional just yet and which will take some months and plenty of money to fix up before they can move in and longer still till it becomes a home. Or the kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19). The seed is sown in Jesus but there’s some growing and spreading still to do before the earth is full of mustard trees. In fact on Tuesday evening we used a liturgy which sent us out “in joy and service scattering like tiny seeds” to be part of the spreading of the kingdom, to be “the irrepressible weeds of peace”.
But Jesus tells his disciples to pray not only for the coming of the kingdom but for the Father’s will to be done. Does that contradict what I’ve just been saying about our part in God’s purposes? Do we actually just need to sit and wait for God to do it all? Hauerwas and Willimon say that while praying “your kingdom come” challenges us to be hopeful and actively involved with the kingdom, “your will be done” helps us learn patience, to learn not to turn to violence as we long for the kingdom to come but, rather, to wait to achieve those dreams with God, to practise Gelassenheit as we trust to God to act.
I have to say that I find this difficult. Sometimes I am quite passive so “waiting for God” sounds attractive, but maybe this is a temptation. Perhaps there are times when I have a responsibility not to wait but to act. But I can be impatient too, so sometimes jumping into what I see as the tide of the kingdom will appeal, but perhaps that too is a temptation. And I don’t know the answer, indeed I am wrestling with concrete questions along these lines right now.
What can I do? Well, I fear there is no quick fix answer. Maybe I have to practise praying “your will be done” - practise praying it day after day, week after week - trying to learn what God wants. Perhaps in the faithful praying of those few words I can express a longing along the lines of the well known prayer (but rather more wordy!) God, grant me the Gelassenheit to wait patiently for your time and intervention where that is most helpful, the courage to act where acting can help build your kingdom, the obedience to act faithfully even where it seems pointless - and the wisdom to know the difference, to know your will and to pray “your kingdom come”.