Come home to Calvary
As we continue our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer, today we are looking at what is, for me, the toughest part.
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We’ll get to why it’s tough for me in a bit, but let’s start by what we even mean when we pray for God’s kingdom to arrive.
It means that in addition to God as parent, and us as family, as we talked about last week, it means that God is also the sovereign ruler and we are subjects in the commonwealth of God.
Jesus was known to talk about the kingdom. At the start of his ministry, he said “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. (Matt 4:17)
When he sent his disciples out to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he instructed them: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”
When Jesus taught in parables, he would say ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this….’ and then go on to talk about treasure hidden in field, or seeds sown in a field, or leaven added to flour, a net thrown into the sea, (all of these are in Matt 13).
And the kingdom of God is categorically different than any human kingdom, even the best society we could possibly ever create. It is tricky when we equate God’s kingdom with our own. Rev. Benjamin Cremer wrote these words this week:
“A Christianity that believes it needs a political party, president, legislation, and a nation to ensure its survival and enforce its values is a Christianity that dethrones Jesus as a savior of the nations and promotes a belief that even Jesus needs a nation to be his savior”.
He goes on to say this, which is where it becomes relevant to the prayer we pray each week:
“Also, for us Christians theologically, it tragically reveals how little we truly believe in the power of Christ when we act as though his kingdom and the outworking of his gospel is completely dependent upon a political party, supreme court, president, and a nation maintaining, advancing, and enforcing his will.”
Which kingdom are we working towards? Whose will are we pursuing? And it is tricky. I get that. I can trust that people think they are working for God’s kingdom when they try to limit religious expression to their particular flavor of religious expression. But Jesus called us to be known by our love, not by our control of others.
Maybe you can already tell why this instruction in the prayer is difficult for me. I mean, I’m a professional church person, so of course I want God’s will to be done.
It is also possible, maybe, that on most days, what I’m really working for is “my kingdom come, my will be done”.
I’m not proud of this. But as I’ve said before, I have control issues.
I’m all for God’s kingdom arriving, as long as God likes all the same things I do, right? But when God starts suggesting that perhaps she loves people I want to put in jail, and that the kingdom of God is not just wide enough to include me, but wider still, well, it gives me pause.
I know it is not just me who feels this way.
Because God’s kingdom is bigger than our kingdoms. We aren’t the ones who get to determine its constitution, its rules, its borders, or its membership.
Take any story from the news, especially the ones where we might not agree on the outcome. God’s kingdom might contain both abortion rights activists and five particular Supreme Court justices. It could have the NRA and the families of gun violence victims. It could have people fleeing violence in other countries and crossing borders without documentation and politicians building walls on those borders.
It’s maddening really. What are you up to, God, with your kingdom?
The People of Israel had at least a moment where I’m confident they were questioning God’s kingdom and God’s will.
And in our morning’s passage from Jeremiah, the prophet tells the people they are about to into exile for a long time. Other prophets are trying to tell them it will just be a short exile. But Jeremiah tells them to get comfortable. To plant gardens, to buy real estate, to marry Babylonians, to have half Babylonian kids and grandkids.
They are being kicked out the doors of their comfort in Jerusalem and headed off to foreign lands, where they have to live with people they just don’t want to have to like. They will be foreigners and be surrounded by foreigners.
You can see why the people liked the message of the false prophets. “Don’t worry. You’ll just be there for a bit. Not even enough time to have to go say hi to your neighbors. No need to pack up the patio furniture. You’ll be back before you know it.”
But Jeremiah won’t tell them what they want to hear. And as if going to exile long enough to have grandchildren isn’t bad enough, Jeremiah adds this instruction:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
You don’t just have to live with these people.
You have to pray for them and seek their welfare. Praying for God’s kingdom, and God’s will to be done is like that. It includes praying for the welfare of the people who put us into exile.
I confess I sort of wish Jeremiah would give us the instruction to “ignore the welfare of the city where you are in exile. Forget to pray for them at all, for they are bad people and you can just forget about them.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, we are called to pray for the welfare of the city where we find ourselves surrounded by people who ruined our city and ruined our lives. We’re called to pray for its flourishing and its well-being, and in that, we will find our well-being.
And it isn’t easy.
It is so much easier to pray for our own welfare than it is to pray for the welfare of our enemies.
But Jeremiah wants us to see that the two are not unrelated.
To pray for God’s kingdom, and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we have to have a wider view than just our own success, our own health, our own tax cuts, our own religious expression.
I am relieved I live in a state where we can access a full spectrum of reproductive medical care. But I pray for, and I work, to make sure people in other states will also be able to get medical care. A friend’s church in Dallas is buying women plane tickets to New Mexico so they can get care now denied them at home in Texas.
You can apply that to all sorts of issues. But to pray for God’s will and God’s kingdom involves our action too. To pray for God’s will and God’s kingdom is to pay attention to how well our neighbors are doing.
It’s good that we have housing, but lots of our neighbors do not. It’s good that we have access to clean water, but our neighbors in Flint, Michigan and other places still do not. It’s good that we have access to good education for our children, but some of our neighbors do not.
Jeremiah tells his people: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”
Because maybe the best way to pray for the welfare of the city is to build houses and live in them—which leads you to care that streets are maintained, and trash is picked up, etc.; to marry, which connects your family to other families; to have children—who you then send to school, which leads you to join the PTA and volunteer for the bake sale so there will be books in the library; to plant gardens—which leads you to care for the earth and worry about the effects of climate change, and then share your extra tomatoes with people who don’t have gardens.
Praying and working for God’s kingdom and God’s will is also a joyful venture. I was reminded of that this week by a friend of mine. Hannah Adair Bonner is a woman I met on one of my preacher cruise study leave events about 10 years ago.
We’ve been connected on social media since then, and I don’t want to speak what her journey is or has been, but what I’ve seen of it has inspired and challenged my own journey.
She’s a young white woman, and when Sandra Bland was put in jail after a minor traffic violation, and then found dead in her cell a few days later, in July 2015, Hannah went every day and stood outside that jail, protesting the death of a black woman at the hands of the police we hire to keep people safe. Even after the news cycle went on to cover the next tragedy, Hannah continued to stand there, to make sure we didn’t forget. Seven years later, she’s still making sure we don’t forget the names of black lives killed by racist systems and structures.
Hannah has worked to make her own denomination more just and fair, even as they have tried to deny her own ordination and ministry. She continues in the work for a world where the way black lives matter to God is lived out in our own world. And this past week, she was speaking at a panel about her justice work and she said this:
“There’s a line in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy kin*dom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This past week, while I was on a panel…about Women in the Movement, we were asked what keeps us motivated to work for justice. I shared that line from the Lord’s Prayer, and explained that my theology tells me that we do not have to wait to live in heaven, but rather can begin to experience it here by doing God’s will. We can choose to live by heaven’s rules. I elaborated that heaven is a place where Black women are safe; where Black women are protected, cherished, and respected; where Black women are treated with tenderness and compassion. I said I do not want to wait until I die to get to live there.”
Maybe it is as simple as this. We picture what we want heaven to be like and then we work to make earth look like it. And if your image of heaven is that you get a golden palace and everyone else lives in a shack, I’d suggest that might not be a vision of heaven you’re picturing.
I think heaven is the thing we yearn for—the place where people are safe from violence, disease, racism, homophobia, the pains of this world; heaven is the place where our joy is abundant and everyone has enough. And to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” is to decide we don’t want to wait until we die to get to live there.
And so, we surrender our will for God’s. And we trust God is planning something better than we can dream up, and we participate in that.
As Jeremiah ended his instruction to the people in exile:
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
God has plans for our welfare, for a future with hope. Blessings to us all as we pray and work for God’s kingdom and God’s will. Amen.
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4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[a] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]