Your Kingdom Come
Years ago I heard something that may have been a song or book title. I don't remember where it came from; all I remember is what it said: God is a surprise! I want to talk to you today about surprises, about being caught off guard, astonished. And about how, I believe, God is indeed a surprise.
As most of us know from experience, some surprises are better than others. Slipping on a banana peel and crashing to the ground, is not the same as going to a friend's house for dinner and finding a house full of people you love waiting to wish you a Happy Birthday!
We are in the third week of an eight-week preaching series on The Lord's Prayer. Last week I had a pleasant surprise. A parishioner said, "I'll be there next Sunday; I don't want to miss any of those sermons on 'The Lord's Prayer.'" I don't either. So far, the sermons have inspired and surprised me.
Bob Hansel, who introduced the series, may have surprised some of us when he explained that this is not really the Lord's Prayer, but ours. Jesus suggested this prayer to his disciples when they asked him how they should pray. Our first two sermons, one from Bob and one from George Yandell, dealt with 'Our Father in heaven' and 'Hallowed be your name.'
Today it will NOT surprise you that my topic is "Your Kingdom Come"—three short words, which are undoubtedly familiar to you. You have probably said them a thousand times. What I hope to offer today are some insights about why I believe the Kingdom of God is a surprise.
The first word "Your," refers to God, which is not surprising since the prayer is directed to God. But, please note: we ask that GOD'S Kingdom come, and that may not always coincide with what we have in mind! "God's ways are not our ways; God's thoughts are not our thoughts." I can still hear one of our Lenten preachers, Joanna Adams, standing in this pulpit and saying, "When God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and said, 'I AM WHO I AM,' God meant, and YOU are NOT!"
The third word, "come," is interesting. It may surprise you to know that it doesn't mean a once and for all coming; rather it means a revealing or appearing, a process. The Kingdom of God is active, not static, like the love of God, which I hope we know, is ongoing and eternal.
Now let's turn to the word "Kingdom," where the real surprises come. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God over and over; it was one of the dominant themes of his ministry. But he never defined what it was, never formulated a mission statement for it! Instead, he told stories and gave images of what the kingdom was like.
"The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that becomes a great bush," Jesus said. "Excuse me??" his listeners replied. They were used to hearing the Kingdom of God compared to the mighty cedar trees of Lebanon. The mustard seed image was shocking to Jesus' listeners. It would be like Jesus telling us that our national bird should be a chickadee, not an eagle or that dandelions, not towering oaks, are like the kingdom.
Some things defy definition. When I am asked about the Street Ministry, I start by saying, "It is not a clothes closet, not a soup kitchen and not an overnight shelter." "Then what is it?" people ask, and I try to explain that it is a place where people who most of us have given up on are welcome, and where each individual's life is important. Mostly, I say, "Come and see, and just be there. You may see something of the Kingdom of God first hand."
Just as the Street Ministry is NOT certain things, so also the Kingdom of God is NOT certain things—it is not geography or a territory; it is not a hierarchy with a King on a throne; and it certainly is not like the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland.
The Kingdom of God is like standing on your head and seeing the world upside down. It is seeing things differently. It is seeing things the way God apparently sees them. God, according to Jesus, sees greatness in small people and things and actions, in the seemingly insignificant people and events we tend to overlook. God is looking for justice and fairness and peace. One Bible scholar says that 'Your Kingdom Come' should be translated "Set the world right."
To set the world right means to make the world a better place. It may surprise us to know that when Jesus tells us, his disciples, to pray for the coming of the kingdom, he means the outer conditions of the world as much, if not more, than in human hearts. Jesus was a social activist; he died to set the world right.
It seems to me that he would be urging us today to act for justice, to speak up for better schools, to get to the core of the causes of poverty and addiction. Jesus would tell us to talk more about peace and less about war. To build weapons of massive peace initiatives while we take action to protect innocent people from mass destruction. It is not always comfortable to raise these issues, but as Barbara Taylor says, "Jesus needs followers, not admirers."
As we pray 'your kingdom come,' and have as our national motto, "In God we trust," we affirm God's rule, not ours. We may be surprised—our world may turn upside down, in wonderful ways.
What is true for the outer world is true for the inner world. Praying your kingdom come can turn our inner worlds upside down, too. Many of you have heard me talk about finding sea glass on a rocky beach in Maine. Those beautiful, broken, battered, worthless fragments of glass, with their sharp edges worn smooth remind me that I can be smoothed and softened. Finding each piece fills me with unspeakable delight, and I think that God must delight that way in each of us. Like Nathanael in today's gospel, who is very surprised that Jesus already knows him and asks, "Where did you get to know me?" The Kingdom of God really comes in our hearts when we recognize that God knows us and finds us precious, priceless.
For the last few summers in Maine, I have noticed the rocks along with the glass. The rocks are all shapes and sizes, and they are of course very hard. Most of them are very dark. The rocks remind me of the hard, dark side of life. Does the Kingdom of God come there, too?
I got an answer to that question this past summer. A man my husband and I dearly loved in Maine, became very ill and died while we were there. He and his wife were our closest friends there, the reason we started going to Maine every summer. When I realized what was happening, I could not believe it. It made me sick to think of him not being with us—the golden Maine days, the boat rides, the blueberries and lobster were tinged with heaviness and sadness. It was MUCH more than having a good time spoiled. It was as if Maine—which had become a metaphor of joy and beauty for me—had turned completely upside down.
And yet, living through that experience, I can tell you that God's
Kingdom DOES come in the darkness, and in despair. I cannot explain it; I can
only tell you that as my friend died surrounded by his wife and daughters, and
as I was allowed to be part of that family, I saw with my own eyes and felt with
my heart the power of love, and the presence of God. I was profoundly surprised.
Is that what the Kingdom of God is like? It felt like it to me. "Our Father in
heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come." Amen.
Copyright ©2002 Margaret Jones. This series was first presented at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN.