“Thy Kingdom Come”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 17, 2019

Matthew 6:9-13

 

Today we continue our Lenten sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, in which we are turning our attention to this most familiar of Christian prayers, these words we recite each and every week in worship, these words that connect us to our ancestors in faith who have prayed this prayer, all the way back to the earliest disciples and to Jesus, who taught them to pray in this way.  Last week, we focused on the first sentence of the prayer:  “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” and we explored what that line has to say to us about who we are and who God is.  Today, we will tackle the next sentence:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The language of kingdom, for me (and perhaps for you), conjures up images of knights in shining armor, of crowns and scepters, of castles with turrets and walls and moats and regal throne rooms.  It rings of Arthurian legend, of fairytales, of “once upon a time.”  It can feel long ago and far away, an antiquated term that doesn’t have much resonance in our modern American lives.

Kingdom also can carry connotations of authoritative rule, of leadership that is passed down by inheritance, of an approach that is not exactly democratic, not exactly egalitarian, not exactly focused on the needs of the least of these.  Kings are not usually elected by the populace.  They are not usually accountable to the people over whom they rule.  If they are benevolent, it is by their own goodwill, and it lasts as long as that mood endures.  If they are despotic, there is little recourse for those who suffer from their monarch’s whims.

Jesus and his disciples were certainly no strangers to these dangers of human authority.  They lived in a place and a time where those who held power wielded it not for the benefit of the many, but for the continued enrichment and empowerment of those who were already wealthy and powerful.  You remember, at the beginning of the gospels, the story about King Herod, who decreed the massacre of all children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem in order to wipe out the potential threat to his power of Jesus, who was prophesied to be the King of the Jews.  You remember, at the end of the gospels, the back and forth between Herod and Pontius Pilate, both of whom were perfectly content for Jesus to be executed, but neither of whom wanted to be held responsible for it.  These were the kind of kings Jesus knew.

Jesus and his disciples were no strangers to these dangers of human authority.  And when Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come, that prayer stood in direct challenge to the power of earthly kings.  Jesus was proclaiming that God is the true sovereign, over and above any human ruler.  Jesus was teaching his disciples to put their faith not in kings like Herod or rulers like Pilate, but in the Divine.  Jesus was instructing them to pledge their allegiance not to any human authority or nation, but to God and God alone.  And Jesus was asking them to align their lives with the inbreaking Realm of God, the kingdom of heaven that was emerging in their midst.

It is no innocuous thing to defy earthly authority.  You know where this led for Jesus, and for many of the early Christians who were martyred for their witness.  You know where this led for people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., in their choices to disobey civil authority in order to obey God’s authority.  And it leads there still.  In recent days, it has come to light that my friend and UCC colleague, the Rev. Kaji Spellman Douša, has been targeted by Customs and Border Protection because of her work for the Realm of God.  She has had her passport flagged and was detained and interrogated, not because she has done anything illegal, but because she is working to call attention to the inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers at the U.S. border.  Her allegiance is firmly to God’s law and to embodying the Kingdom of God, which is not like earthly kingdoms—the Kingdom of God in which strangers and foreigners are treated as the citizen among us, in which every child of God is treated with the dignity and care they deserve.

If we mean it when we pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer, that’s where it leads.  If we mean it when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” it can lead us to this kind of radical discipleship.  It can lead us, like the early disciples, to defy the powers that be when they act in ways that are inconsistent with God’s call.  It can lead us, like Jesus himself, to break unwritten rules, and sometimes codified laws, when to follow them is to defy God.  It can lead us, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Rome, to be not conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For make no mistake, God’s kingdom will come, God’s will will be done.  Jesus not only taught his disciples to pray for its coming, but to live into the truth that God’s kingdom was already at hand, already in their midst, already among them.  And Jesus knew how to recognize God’s kingdom because he knew his Bible.  The Hebrew scriptures that formed Jesus in his faith describe God’s realm in beautiful, poetic imagery:

 

From Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

 

From Isaiah 40:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

 

From Micah 4:

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
    and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
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;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
    and no one shall make them afraid.

 

From Isaiah 61:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

 

You may recognize that last one because Jesus quoted it as his own personal mission statement of sorts as he began his public ministry.  Jesus knew how to recognize God’s kingdom because he knew his Bible.  And when we know our Bible, when we know our prayers, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer’s second sentence, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” this kind of biblical kingdom is what we help to create:  a realm of peace and justice, beauty and joy.  A realm where the least of these is cherished, where the oppressed go free.  A realm where the vulnerable are sheltered, where the mourning are comforted.  A realm where there is enough room for us all, where there is enough food for us all, where there is enough hope for us all, where there is enough peace for us all, where there is enough—more than enough!—love for us all.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May it be so.

 


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