Creator God, the earth is yours and all who inhabit it. May we tune ourselves to your Spirit’s call this day. And may we continue to open ourselves up to your vision for our lives, for our community, and for our world. Amen.
We began our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer last week as we considered “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” And Pastor Dave reminded us of the extravagant, abundant love and grace of God, our Abba, our divine parent, our creator.
And so as we move into this next movement of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come…” I would encourage us to hold onto this understanding of God’s character. This is the God Jesus taught us about in his parables: God who is like a woman searching all night for her one lost coin; God who is like a shepherd who doesn’t give up until he’s found his one lost sheep; God who is like a father who runs out to greet his lost son and welcome him home… a God of forgiveness, compassion, and undying love.
And this is the God whose kingdom we pray for. This is the God whose reign we long for “on earth as it is in heaven.”
On one hand, the idea of the kingdom of God come to earth is pretty simple. It asks the question, what would the world be like if God was the one sitting on the throne? How would God rule? How would God lead? And what help would God expect from the citizens of this world?
Or, on perhaps a more relatable, domestic level, what would God’s house be like if God was the householder? How would God keep house? How would God tend to the needs of the family? And what help would God expect from the family members?
Jesus was, of course, familiar with many images of the kingdom of God that show up in the Jewish scriptures, including the one we heard this morning.
This image of the kingdom of God from Isaiah is not the first, but comes from the 6th century BC when the mighty Babylonian Empire has fallen to the Persian Empire and the Jewish people who had been exiled from Judah to Babylon are now permitted to return to their homeland.
The way history would ultimately unfold beyond the Persian period was complicated, of course. But this was a hopeful moment for Israel because the Persians, though still an imperial power with imperial intentions, were at least more tolerant of local cultures and religions. So, the people who had been exiled would now be able to return to Judah, to Jerusalem (God’s city) that had been wiped out and rebuild the temple (God’s house) that had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
And so here, in this moment of big transition for his people, the prophet offers an image of what the future could be like. He proclaims that God is creating “new heavens and a new earth.” And this is not a violent destruction of the earth. This is an image of renewal, reordering, and restoration. But it is a renewal that is so radical that the “former things shall not be remembered,” a renewal so great that the trauma of war, death, destruction, and exile will not come to mind.
That’s big. And yes, it is quite a fantastical vision filled with metaphor and imagery. The prophet is using his theological imagination to consider what this new world could be like. There will be joy and delight. There will be no more weeping and cries of distress (that one really hit home this week for me). There will be no infant mortality. Live to be one hundred years old and you’re considered still just a kid. No longer would the land and its resources and the labor of the people be exploited and usurped by those in power. Instead, everyone would have a home; everyone would have enough to eat; everyone would enjoy their work. Even predators would become vegetarians – the lion will eat straw with the ox (and when a wolf and lamb have lunch together it means they aren’t eating lamb). And the people would enjoy this beautiful intimacy with God who answers before they call, who hears before they speak. And “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
In the prophet’s vision, God’s Reign “on earth as it is in heaven” is one of peace, justice, fairness, community, abundance, joy, and deep relationship with a God of love. This is the vision of the kingdom of God for which Jesus taught us to pray.
This is also the vision of the kingdom of God that we, as Christians, proclaim was unfolding and revealed in the person of Jesus – in his ministries of healing, forgiveness, compassion, and restorative justice; in his teachings and stories that taught us to do the same; in his willingness to stand up against the unjust powers of his own time; in his call to us to follow him in that same work; and in the final word God spoke through his life – not a word of suffering, death, and despair; but a word of joy, resurrection, and hope.
And we still proclaim that this vision of the kingdom of God continues to unfold and be revealed in our midst through the work of the Holy Spirit in this world. And the Holy Spirit does not work alone. God needs our cooperation and our collaboration. Jesus taught us that God, the householder, needs us to help clean up the house. We have chores to do! And Jesus taught us that we have a role to play in helping to build good and fair relationships in this global family of which we are a part.
And yes, sometimes the world house feels really messy. And it can be overwhelming to just get started or even figure out where to start to help address the mess. Or, maybe we feel like we’re making progress on one mess just as another one explodes.
But when compassion seems to have been forgotten by those in power and when just and fair solutions to big problems seem so distant, I always come back to two images which Jesus used to illustrate the kingdom of God.
First, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It’s tiny. Like many small things and small people, it might be overlooked and underestimated. But when it takes root, watch out. It grows into a shrub big enough to provide a shady nesting place for the birds. And mustard plants are really like weeds that spread fast and grow quickly. Sure, they can be cut back, uprooted, or even the whole field burned up, but it’s not so easy to get rid of all of the mustard plants. They come back; they make more seeds; they take root once more.
Second, the kingdom of God is like yeast. It’s the leaven that makes the bread rise. Once it’s activated and mixed in, it starts to raise everything. And no one can extract the yeast from the dough. It’s too late for that; the rising process has begun. And even if you pound it down, what happens? It rises again.
I think our faith calls us to be curious and active gardeners and bakers.
What if we look around to find the seeds of God’s kingdom that are being planted, and taking root, and growing around us; to watch for where the leaven of God’s kingdom is on the rise?
And then, what if we pray that those tiny seeds will take root and that leaven will be activated in us, in our church, in our country, in our world?
And then, what if we let those prayers become meaningful action?
God has lovingly given us a life, an earthly home, and a place in the global family. And I think this kingdom living Jesus called us to involves prayer and contemplation as well as action and behavior. Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom of God and how to offer ourselves in service to the kingdom of God.
How do we do this?
I think we pray for the lives of others, for their wellbeing. We listen to their stories with compassion and let ourselves be moved. We try to be open and avoid selfishness and defensiveness when we’re confronted with the reality of our own privilege. We consider not only the personal, individual dimensions of our life of faith, but also the interpersonal, societal, and political dimensions as well. We ponder deeply the stories of our forebears in faith and engage in good quality Bible study in order to learn and grow in our own faith and theological understanding. We learn more about world political history as well as religious history in order to grow in our understanding of this place in which we live and the other people who live here with us. And we pray for God’s guidance, for courage, for empowerment to live out our faith in meaningful ways. And, through it all, we remember that God’s abundant love uplifts us and holds onto us as we seek to love our neighbors and live towards that vision of God’s kingdom.
And then we act. And there are lots of ways to do this. We care for and serve others, near and far, with compassion and a commitment to justice. We donate money, resources, and time to organizations that are making a positive difference. We stand alongside others in nonviolent public demonstrations. We find partners in our work and remember that we don’t have to go it alone. We learn from others who are doing the work we want to be doing. We encourage and support others who are doing difficult things. We vote. We contact our elected officials to let them know where we, as people of faith, stand on the social issues at hand (and we thank them for standing up for the rights of people when they do). Whatever we do, we don’t just sit back and let someone else do it all for us.
There are a lot of ways to both pray for and act for the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. It is an ongoing part of the life of faith. It is part of our call to discipleship. It has been from the beginning. It is part of our relationship with God, part of that call to love God and love our neighbors.
And you’ve noticed I’ve rattled off a lot of big ideas about kingdom living and haven’t mentioned any of the major perennial issues of justice. I haven’t mentioned poverty, violence, human rights, racism or environmental exploitation. I haven’t mentioned refugees, immigration, healthcare, women’s rights, or public education. Ok, well I guess I just mentioned all of those. These are all part of this big picture.
And I know that it is sometimes challenging, uncomfortable, anger inducing, or downright heartbreaking to confront these issues. And I know that is sometimes difficult to have meaningful, relevant conversation about these issues with family and friends or at church because we worry about stirring the pot, or we are uncomfortable with disagreement or conflict, or we’re concerned about alienating someone who has a different perspective, or we don’t feel like we’re in a place to listen well to another person’s perspective. It’s complicated.
But I believe God cares about all of these issues and feels deep compassion for and commitment to the people affected by them, and, indeed, all creation. That is in God’s loving character. And we are called to care too.
And so today, I’d like to invite you to ponder for yourself what it means for you to pray for and act for the kingdom of God. And if you turn in your bulletin to the Prayers of Our Church Community page, you’ll see that there is a sticky note. And I invite you over the next few minutes to think of a “kingdom commitment” that you would like to offer to God and to the world. And then write it on that sticky note. And you see there are a couple of world maps up on the sidewalls. During the offertory in a few minutes, I invite you to put up your kingdom commitment on or around one of the maps. And I’d like to publish these commitments in the Carillon this week, just as we do all of our prayers. And I invite you to join me in committing to pray for these commitments and for each other who are making them.
Like anything we do, this is an optional invitation. If you’d rather not do this, you don’t have to and won’t get any judgment from me. Or if you want to write something down and keep it to yourself, between you and God, that’s ok too.
And don’t feel obligated to address a particular issue unless you want to or to come up with something totally new. Perhaps you are already doing something and you’d like to commit to keep doing it. The one I wrote down is like that. Among other things, I am a children’s minister and feel strongly that each generation is called to keep up this kingdom living, kingdom building work. So, I commit to “teach kids that God loves them and that they have gifts to serve others with love.”
There are lots and lots of ways to pray for and live towards the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. And God needs you; the world needs you. Keep the faith and keep up the good work! Amen.