Preached August 4, 2013
Texts: Matthew 6:10, Psalm 145:10-14
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” Matt 6:10
We don’t think in “kingdom” terms much in 21st century America. Perhaps this prayer, prayed in our day, would read instead, “Your party win, your agenda be passed, in the halls of Congress as it does in the West Wing.” Or…something like that.
It feels much more crass, more confrontational, when put in the context of our own political system, doesn’t it? But it is perhaps closer to the original impact of these words. This part of the Lord’s Prayer – “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” is inherently political and subversive. It unsettles the powers-that-be, and challenges the established order. Right or wrong, when Jesus’ disciples heard these words, they would have imagined a political revolution, and a physical kingdom.
It is easy for us, some 2,000 years later, to shake our heads at their narrow view of the Kingdom of God. We generally don’t give much thought to their longing for political independence from the Roman Empire. From our vantage point, it seems clear enough to us that the Kingdom of God is more a spiritual reality than a physical one, more metaphor than literal.
Except…it’s not. That next line – “on earth, as it is in heaven” – makes it clear that whatever the Kingdom of God is, it is certainly not some other-worldly reality that is separated from the concrete realities of life. Rather, the Kingdom of God is something concrete, coming to be in time and place, in the real world.
So how is it that the Kingdom of God comes on earth? For what do we pray when we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”
Most basically, we are saying: “God, take control!” Take control of our world, our politics, our nation. Take control of our environment, our woods, our mountains, our oceans. Take control of our schools, our cities, our youth. Take control of our lives. Take control!
There is a certain desperation expressed here. “God, the earth is a mess. Our families are a mess. Our lives are a mess. Won’t you take control, and bring some order to this chaos?!”
Jesus knows that the Kingdom of God is not always evident to us. As he continues to teach his disciples, he will tell them, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…the smallest of seeds.” Or, “The kingdom of God is like a bit of yeast, mixed into a large amount of flour…”
These parables seem to say: The Kingdom of God is here, sometimes almost unnoticeable because of its smallness, its hiddenness. God is in control already; but it may not always be visible. There will be times, looking around, when you will wonder how it could possibly be.
But there is also a certain confidence in praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” By Matthew’s 6th chapter, Jesus has already told his disciples repeatedly, “The kingdom of God has come near.” He doesn’t say, “The kingdom of God is coming” – as if it were a future reality to be hoped for someday. But, “The kingdom of God has come.” That Kingdom has arrived, already, on earth!
Like a seed that has taken root, or a bit of yeast mixed into the dough, God’s kingdom will grow and spread.
With each right decision, each moment when our hearts yield to the Holy Spirit, our lives begin to come under the will of God. With each hurt forgiven, each relationship restored, our families begin to come under the will of God. Each time resources are poured into peacemaking rather than weapon-making, our nations begin to come under the will of God.
In those moments, when we catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth, we find ourselves feeling most alive, most aware of God’s presence, most confident in God’s promises. They remind me, a bit, of the days of pregnancy, when a flutter (or a kick!) from inside reminds a woman life is indeed growing inside her, even if it is not yet fully visible to the rest of the world. They are moments of hope and beauty and joy.
But even with those moments, living in the time between the planting of the seed and the flowering of the plant is not easy. Jesus experienced the full weight of this “already-but-not-yet” aspect of the Kingdom of God in the Garden of Gethsemene. There, just before his arrest (which will lead to his death by crucifixion), Jesus prays, “If this cup cannot be taken from me, then Your will be done.” (Mt 26:42)
What does it mean for us to pray with Jesus, “Your will be done”? Is it simply to accept the hardest, most difficult things in life as “God’s will”? Is it to trust that however unfair life may seem, God must have some higher purpose that we cannot know?
Perhaps there is some truth to that. Certainly, God’s ways are higher than our ways. But I think that when Jesus says, “Your will be done,” in the Garden of Gethsemene he is praying something more than, “help me accept this awful, unfair thing as your will, God.” I think, rather, he is praying, “No matter what comes, let me still live as you would have me live. Let my words and actions reflect your character. Let me love no matter how unlovable people act toward me. Let me forgive when I’d rather strike back.” “Not my will, but thine, be done.”
That’s not easy. But it is possible, because Jesus has already provided us with evidence that the Kingdom of God has taken root and is growing in our world.
To pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is to ask, then, that the character of God – shown to us in real, concrete ways on earth during Jesus’ life – would also control our lives. And if our lives are ruled by such qualities, then our homes and families will be too – and our neighborhoods – our towns – even our whole world.
“Thy kingdom come…” is both a profoundly big and profoundly small prayer, reaching out to the greatest social ills in our world and also down to the deepest places of our hearts. The hope that we strain toward, the seed we trust is already planted and growing within us, is the promise of God’s reign in our own hearts; in our closest, most intimate relationships; and in the whole complex web of relations among human beings and with the natural world. So we pray and hope and live:
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”