Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 1 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 2 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 3 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 4
My oldest daughter, Katie is now 12 years old, and this weekend was Lincoln Middle School’s first-ever musical, and Katie was one of the brainiacs. Some of our other youth were in it too, and they were awesome, but I was a bit taken aback by the ways that my weekend became Katie’s weekend. My plans were changed because I needed to be ready to be present for her. Friday we had all my family come for dinner, so everyone could see Katie. Then 5 girls came for a sleepover, Saturday morning was spent cleaning up the kitchen, then making breakfast for the starving children, and cleaning up, then doing hair, driving Katie to Emerson, bringing her money for frozen yogurt, dropping off McDonalds in between performances, and of course being in the audience shining with pride as the brainiacs came onto the stage. Who knew that one’s children could require so much – it was not my weekend, not my will, but Katie’s be done.
As we turn to our second week in the Lord’s prayer, we have already considered to whom we are praying, Our Father and Mother in heaven and on earth, whose name is holy...then we pray that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done. The words conclude the opening section that are oriented around God and who God is. We pray that God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done on earth, as in heaven. There’s nothing like learning that 50 people died, and 50 more men, women, and children were wounded while attending Jummah services at Al Noor and Linwood mosques to remind us that we are not living in the Kingdom of God. When we pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will be done, we pray that with hearts yearning for that to be our reality.
Jesus’ words would have sounded somewhat familiar to those first century Jews who were being taught to pray. The first couple of petitions of the Kaddish in the Jewish prayer services say “May God establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in all the ages of the whole house of Israel soon and in the near future.” And yet, I imagine those who were there listening to this carpenter turned rabbi, while the words had a familiar ring, they also felt a little bit different.
Jesus’ audience had experienced alternate Kingdoms of violence and oppression as well. In the Compendium of Roman History, Velleius Paterculus wrote, “the Assyrians were the first of all races to hold world power, then the Medes, and after them the Persians, and then the Macedonians.” Then...the world power passed to the Roman people. The fives great ages of the world are now five great empires, with Rome as their climax. Kingdoms meant rules, oppression, power held by some, the masses being powerless. The Old Testament prophet Daniel wrote about these empires as well, but he vilified them and then portrayed the Kingdom of God as a Son of Man coming from the order of heaven to rule the world. Jesus’ followers would have learned these texts, understood God’s kingdom as bringing liberation, hope, salvation from the forces of this world.
God’s kingdom meant very specific things – and the Messianic figure would help usher in this new era. John the Baptist preached about the coming kingdom, and his theology held that the sin of the people was keeping God’s kingdom at bay, so if he could baptize enough people, then he would be clearing the path for God’s kingdom to come and it was a pretty dismal picture for those who were unrighteous. Jesus’ understanding seemed to take a different tone. His understanding of the Kingdom of God was not something that was not yet but something that is experienced in the here and now.
Luke 17:20-21 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."
Luke 11:20 "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you."
Mark 1:14-15 "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.’
Matthew 13:16-17 "But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."
It seems as though Jesus thought that the Kingdom of God was right there, waiting for his followers to experience as they healed the sick, fed the hungry, spoke truth to power, embodied loving care, even for their enemies. In The Greatest Prayer, foremost historical Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan, says that Jesus proclaimed a new understanding of the Kingdom of God, “You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it. That is why Jesus did not settle down in Nazareth or Capernaum and have his companions bring others to him. Instead, he sent them out to do exactly what he himself was doing: heal the sick, eat with the healed, and demonstrate the kingdom’s presence in that reciprocity and mutuality. It is not about the intervention of God, but about participation with God.”
So, we pray that God’s Kingdom would come on earth. We pray that God’s will would be done on earth. Not our will, not our Kingdom, but God’s. Funny how prayer works – We communicate with God, we hear God prodding us, we enter into renewed relationship through our prayers, and God calls us to whatever’s next.
St. Augustine wrote “God made you without you, but he doesn’t justify you without you.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu later amended that to say “God, without us, will not; as we, without God, cannot.”
Have you ever heard or read about the meme of a person in the middle of a flood, praying that God would save them. And a crew of firefighters came by to escort them to dry land, but the person replied God would save them, and the waters rose, and another group came by in a boat, and the person replied that God would save them. Then as the person sat on the roof of the house, a helicopter came, and they replied that no, God would save them, and he died. When he got to heaven, he asked God why wasn’t he saved, to which God replied – I sent a team of firefighters, a boat, and a helicopter!
William Carl in The Lord’s Prayer for Today asks “Where do we get glimpses of God’s will being done, or of God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven? We see it all around us if our eyes are open and alert to it. We see it in the soup kitchens and the places where the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, and the sick healed. Father Pierre Raphael saw it every day in Rikers' Prison. God’s kingdom looks like that vision from Revelation where tears and mourning are no more, where God’s people walk hand in hand in peace and equality, love and justice. We partner with God in that important work in our own lives as we offer forgiveness, as we practice non-violence, as we choose to bring canned goods for Maine Township Food Pantry, as we tend to our aging friends and family, as we create spaces for the community to experience the love of Christ, as we empower and teach our children to be critical thinkers, missionaries of God.
Patrick, was a young man born in England. At age 16 he was kidnapped and carried into slavery in Ireland. After 6 years, he dreamed that his ship was ready and he fled back to Britain. After almost starving, being captured again, and then being reunited with his family, he had yet another dream in which he read a letter from the Irish inviting him to “walk once more among them.” Though he wasn’t well educated, he preached, baptized, and confirmed Irish citizens, constantly evading trouble and trial, but sharing the good news of God’s love with those who had not heard it before. He has many legends about his work, most famous is that of the explanation of the Trinity by using a shamrock. Patrick was an ordinary person who had some pretty awful things happen in his life, and yet, his faith inspired him to go about allowing God’s work and will to be done through him.
As we pray the Lord’s prayer, may we heed a word of caution – we may want God’s will not ours to be done; God’s kingdom, not ours to come – as it is in heaven. But, be ready because God may choose to take us up on the offer...the kingdom of God is among you. May it be so. Amen.
Let us pray together the prayer that Jesus taught...