Thy Kingdom Come
In the New Testament, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God more than any other topic. Do you know what’s second? Money. That’s right; but more about debts and debtors later. Today, as we continue our worship series on the Lord’s Prayer, we take a deeper look at the phrase “thy kingdom come.” As we talked about a few weeks ago, that word “thy” is an archaic remnant from an older English. If I remember my grammatical training correctly, it’s the informal second person possessive pronoun, suggesting that the appropriate relationship with God is one of intimacy, not formality.
And that theme has been consistent throughout our conversations on the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words were far more radical then than we can comprehend. He broke with tradition, praying in Aramaic, the language of the street, rather than Hebrew, the language of ritual. And he also dropped all pretense of formality, praying for things that were simple and close to him. And as we continue to look closely at the Lord’s Prayer, it is my hope that a similar sense of surprise will grab hold of us.
Surprise, after all, is the watchword for Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God. We have to go back to the phrase as it was used in the Hebrew Bible. There, the “kingdom of God” referred very literally to the kingdom of Israel, which was seen as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of heirs and an inheritance. Once the kingdom of Israel is destroyed, the phrase continues to appear as reference to the restoration of that same earthly kingdom, David’s lineage, a political and national reality.
We can see this in the Psalm we heard this morning. In it, the author talks about unsteady footing and wicked nations assaulting all around. God’s steadfast love provides the sure foundation. God is the one who provides the victory to the earthly kingdom.
In Jesus’ teaching, however, the “kingdom of God” takes on a different meaning. Stripped away is the teaching about political rule and national identity. Instead, it centers on moral teaching, a community and personal ethics rooted in relationship with God. And that relationship, time after time, is shown to be one of surprise. In Jesus’ parables, God rarely acts predictably; and even sometimes behaves unreasonably. The point, it seems, is that the kingdom of God is very unlike the kingdoms of earth. And we live somewhere in the middle of the two.
It would be a mistake to say that the kingdom of God is all about the after life. But it would also be a mistake to say that the kingdom of God is all about the here and now. Instead, it’s a little bit of both. And the more we understand about Jesus, the clearer that becomes. Here, in the person of Jesus himself, is heavenly reality, divine essence, God’s presence in human form. The kingdom of God, perfected, exists beyond our immediate comprehension. But God “breaks in” to creation nonetheless, giving us these glimpses to see the way that God desires the world to be.
In other words, the world isn’t perfect, by any stretch; but neither is it abandoned, either.
When we look again at our two lessons from Scripture this morning, things begin to come into focus. In the Psalm, the writer speaks of times when the imperfections of the world seem more present than any sense of God’s presence. Even so, the writer is convinced that God will have the last word. We may cringe when we hear the phrase “God will wipe them out”, and rightly so, but what we can take away from this text is that perfected justice is in God’s hands, not ours…and that this same justice will, ultimately, triumph over wrongdoing.
That thread, of the kingdom of God that is, but not yet, runs through the whole of Scripture. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author lifts up Abraham and Sarah as paragons of faith. What they chose to believe, that God would give them an heir in their old age, was nothing short of absurd. And what they did to show this faith, leaving their home for a nomadic life of wandering in deserts, was pretty much nuts. But here’s the nugget that holds it all together:
“…they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, making it plain that they are looking for their true home…they were after a country far better than that, a heavenly one.”
In short, the world they knew does not look like the world that God intended it to be. For us, we should be able to recognize that creation is corrupted. The world bears little resemblance to the kingdom of God that Jesus describes. And ultimately, much like Abraham and Sarah, we are not meant to feel “at home” in this world. We should be unsettled by what we see and experience, as we note how different things are from the way God desires them to be.
As that great theologian Westley – not the founder of Methodism, but the character from The Princess Bride – says, “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
All of which brings us back to the topic at hand, this phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.” The best translation would be something along the lines of “let your kingdom come.” In other words, there’s a yearning that goes on. When we put Jesus’ parables side by side with what we see at work in the world around us, there is this huge gap. Whether we are talking about issues of personal integrity or societal standards of justice, we are not a reflection of God’s desires.
In the Lord’s Prayer, then, there is this pleading. It is as if to say, “God, we know that this world doesn’t look the way you want it to. Please let your kingdom take over, because that’s the world we want to live in, where forgiveness is more important than power, where selfless giving is more important that material excess, where there is celebration over what is found rather than weeping over what is lost.”
Are we sure that’s something we want to pray? I think there’s risk inherent in praying the Lord’s Prayer. Do we really want the world to look like the kingdom of God? And do we really want to live in that reality?
Think about it: If we want forgiveness to be our priority, that means we have to let go of grudges. If we want generosity to be the watchword, that means we have to be willing to give of ourselves and our possessions, no strings attached. If we want celebration to be the order of the day, we have to be willing for old wounds to heal.
If we are honest with ourselves, I’m not sure we would want the world to be this way, because we have too much to lose. Just like Abraham and Sarah. And so, that right there is the essence of faith as the author of Hebrews describes it.
Faith requires a willingness to be seen as foolish in the world’s eyes for the sake of the kingdom of God. And that’s not easy, because we are so shaped by a desire to be seen as respectable in the eyes of our neighbors. If that’s the case, then faith takes more courage than humanly possible; or it takes prayer, and loads of it.
What better time to begin than right now?