We feel most comfortable with Jesus' prayer when he says, "thy kingdom come." Although it doesn't seem to trouble us, much, we are not sure of its eact meaning. When he prays "thy kingdom, come," we look back and we look ahead, wishing to remember and return and longing for the kingdom to break out among us. We are asking, no more and no less, for the fulfillment of our deepest desire, and we sense this. This is a huge request! (Paraphrased from Lorraine Kisly, The Prayer of Fire, Paraclette Press, Brewster, Mass., 2004, p.45).
The Kingdom of God was made known and explained by the Hebrew prophets. Daniel sees night visions of God's kingdom coming to earth. "Behold, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like the son of man, whose everlasting dominion shall never pass away (Daniel 7:13-14). In the darkest hour, God gives the heavens to the people of God, Daniel 7:27 proclaims. Jesus picks up on this theme early in his mission. In Mark 1:15, we read, "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand...." In Luke 17:21, Jesus declares, The kingdom of God is in the midst of you." So the kingdom is not so much a place that is to be marked on the map of the universe, but an event that touches everything that exists. From the beginning of scriptures, to our current day, God's kingdom coming is the ultimate goal.
God's kingdom requires nothing less than a complete change of heart, if we are to approach it. Jesus spends his entire ministry teaching, preaching, embodying the kingdom of God. And we have spent the best hours of Christian faith through the past two millennia attempting to grasp all his intentions for us. God's kingdom coming will bring justice for the poor, peace in our hearts and thus on the earth, righteousness for all people, equality, dignity, hope.
By the end of his life, Jesus had taught us everything we need to know about the kingdom of God: how to look for it, how to find it, how to live it. His lessons range from seeds in fields (Mt. 13:24), to certain rewards for the poor and poor in spirit persecuted for justice's sake (Mt. 5:3-10), to the demanding, but absolutely necessary practice of compassion (Mt. 25). To seek God's kingdom proceeds everything else in his teaching and his model for seeking to do God's will is the children. He says, "Become like them." If you become like them, then you will enter the kingdom of God.
You see, when Jesus says, "thy kingdom come.....on earth as in heaven....," he offers the disciples and each one of us so much more than improved spirituality, or a better code of morals, or a freshly crafted theology. He offers the most radical religious idea ever. He says, if you open your eyes, if you change your hearts, if you move from darkness to light, you will become a new person - a person of immeasurable compassion, a person who loves with extravagance.
I feel like too much of the Christian Church is walking - no running - away from this amazing gift of God's kingdom rooted in compassion, love, justice and grace. In fact, what scares me most is that Christians have become, for the mowst part, either quiet and self-absorbed in the face of the world's problems or angry and on the attack against (you name it) Muslims, Jews, and other Christians who don't measure up to a certain set of beliefs. I believe we see this trend because seeking God's kingdom is such hard work, people lower their sights and give in to their lowest denominator of human nature.
This week I received another `hate letter." This one came to my house, which unnerved Susan and me, a bit. This one was relatively softer and kinder, but it said essentially the same thing. I was told I was going to hell for welcoming gays and lesbians in the church. Sadly, I have grown accustomed to verbal and written attacks - having received them now for years and years. By the way, they always come from Christians. Like gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who receive similar messages through writing, phone calls, legislation, TV preaching, and "body language" similar to this, my skin has thickened - although it takes a toll, at times, on the soul that is below your skin. But, what troubles me most often with these letters and phone messages is the amount of anger, rage, and vitriolic language contained within them. Among other things, this letter told me that Jesus did not come to bring peace, he came to bring a sword. While this is a twisted variation of scripture and my understanding of the "Prince of Peace," it presents a Christ with no love. It leaves me cold. And I wonder, if it leaves me cold, what is in the heart of the one who wrote it - the warmth of God's love or the cold hate of frozen doctrine? And didn't we just hear Paul say in Romans, "Anyone who calls on the Lord shall not be put to shame?"
If our Christian critics are concerned that you and I seek the kingdom of God, that we pursue God's will for our lives and ministry, why not say so? The fires of hell are too easily stoked by those, to whom Jesus is appealing for no less than the Kingdom of God to be born today! Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added unto you!" As we pray for the coming of God's kingdom, let us be mathematical geniuses - always adding everything else to a faith based on love, hope, faith, grace, peace, justice, and righteousness. I pray that this kingdom of God will come on earth as in heaven.
So, what does it mean when we pray, "Thy Will (not mine) be done?" This is perhaps the most complex of religious questions. Now, I am down to four minutes to explore it....Allow me to tell you a story.
Twenty-five years ago, a little book was published from the Christian Conference of Asia in cooperation with the Asian Christian Art Association. It is a wonderful book with art and stories on the Lord's Prayer. Under the heading, "Your will be done," the story of Cecilia, a Korean factory worker appears. This young woman helped other workers to see and know the reality of their lives. Cecilia died at a young age. One of her co-workers spoke of her this way:
For most people, it takes about 50 years to recognize and overcome our own avarice, but Cecilia learned it very quickly. People knew she was the best, they knew she was smart, but asked only to serve. She kept wanting things for herself but she sublimated that. She was the greatest person I ever knew. She was terribly in love with the workers; she was in love with the most miserable people.
Christians are effective when people recognize that (God doesn't place us here) to get something out of others. We only come to die.
Cecilia was crystal clear and everything was cut to the bone....a factory girl who is dead - how can she have so much power? (Your Kingdom Come, Christian Conference of Asia, Singapore, March 1981, entry #12).
What Cecilia lived was the acknowledgment that the human will is wayward. She lived the affirmation that God's will is good for us. Such an affirmation was costly. As it was true for Jesus, to do the will of God, ultimately cost Cecilia her life. While we lift up this story, it scares as well. Ultimately, to live in the will of God is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. It is being so open to whatever God gives us in any one moment that we yield our wills to be instruments of God's love in action.
You and I love to be free. We love to act out our freedom. We are free to go our own ways - which means to turn away from the will of God and toward our own will. Truthfully, you and I offer daily obstacles to the will of God: our brutishness, our dullness, our obstinacy, our resistance to yield to His call in our lives. We like our freedom more than we like God's will. However, God's will has never compelled a single human being to conform to it.
Thomas Aquinas wrote this petition:
It must be noted that the very words (of the Lord's Prayer)....teach us a lesson....It does not say, therefore, `Let us do,' lest it would seem that the grace of God is left out; nor does it say, `Do,' lest it would appear that our will and our zeal do not matter. Jesus says, `Let God's will be done' through the grace of God, at the same time using our desire and our own efforts (Prayer of Fire, p.60).
The will of God cannot touch our lives without the grace of God being operative. Therefore, when someone says to us, "It was the will of God," I ask, was God's love and grace present in this "so-called" will being done?
In all of our life, we are free to make choices. But, we need to be aware of fatal deception. While we are free to choose, the choices we make may enslave our self-will. For example, if we choose to follow our addictions, whatever they may be, we end up serving our self-will and not the will of God. By so doing, we are swept into selfish and self-destructive pursuits that enslave us and ultimately separate us from God. Nevertheless, we made choices. There is, in the words of Maximus the Confessor, a "divine liberty." In divine liberty, we follow Jesus who implores us to "take up my yoke and learn from me: for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). (Ibid., pp.62-63).
As we pray, "thy will be done on earth as in heaven," we become aware that we live in two currents: one in time, flowing outward; the other an eternal and inward streaming. We are not spiritual beings only, but incarnated on earth. The challenge is to find balance in the two currents of life. Truthfully? It is the outward stream that dominates our lives. But, like Cecilia, the factory worker from Korea, we Christians are effective when others recognize that God has not placed us here to get something out of others. We only come to die.
So come to the table of God's amazing grace - where Christ is alive because of his dying and rising in the will of God, his father. Amen.
Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church