Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
What is the Kingdom of God?
Jesus gives many descriptions of the kingdom, particularly through his parables. While some of his stories are metaphors beyond our understanding, some are very clear in their explanations. Whether or not we want to accept his message about the expansiveness of the kingdom or its openness is a different story. In particular, the kingdom is a place of welcome, no tears, no dying, growth in mind and spirit, forgiveness, justice, and inclusion.
What is heaven like? Specifically, how is heaven different from earth?
In the most specific sense, given our knowns, unknowns, and unknown unknowns, heaven is the place [right now] where God’s kingdom, Christ’s reign, the Spirit’s effects, are all fully realized. It is the place of the healing of the nations, the river of life, where death and sin have no power.
However, since we are not yet there… more correctly, since we are here, we have purpose here. Jesus specifically says, according to Matthew, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And, according to Luke, the kingdom of heaven is within you. Thus, we are not talking about an abstract place, but a reality that is both here and now. A place apart from sin and death is at hand and within you… at this moment.
If the kingdom of heaven is among us… what would that look like?
I know a couple people who do not like the song we sang earlier and will finish after the homily. They don’t like the line, “I abandon my small boat” because they like their boats. They enjoy the experience of God they feel on their boats- in creation, in harvesting, in solitude, in family time. All of us have things like that… if not specifically a boat. No one wants to sing- I abandon my garden, my hiking boots, my dog’s leash…
The song isn’t about leaving behind pursuits that we love- per se. It’s about discipleship. It is about understanding that when Jesus spoke to the disciples, the fishing disciples, they left what they knew- essentially all that they knew- and followed him. We are called to the same kind of following. To let go of our insistence on perfect knowledge before action, on total agreement before prayer, on hours of study before acceptance... we are called into faithful living as a way of trusting that God’s kingdom is at hand and within us.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come- what are we asking for? Are we prepared to have it come through us?
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes about the second petition: But just as the name of God is in itself holy, and we pray nevertheless that it be holy among us, so also His kingdom comes of itself, without our prayer, yet we pray nevertheless that it may come to us, that is, prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom His name is hallowed and His kingdom prospers.
God’s kingdom will come, possibly despite our efforts and still- more possibly- through us. By trusting in God and the truth and power of the kingdom, we are more open, more ready for the Spirit to use us in the work of defeating death and sin here and now- being a part of the kingdom of heaven at hand. But there is no limit to whom God may use to bring about the kingdom.
In his 5/22/13 homily, Pope Francis said: "The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!"... We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Through Jesus, we trust that God is committed to creation and re-creation, to redemption and to perfecting, to wooing and to receiving, to welcoming and to reassuring. The Holy Spirit does all of that and more, through all kind of people. We who believe… we who are living through faithful action and trust… we are more ready to see how God is at work in all things (or we are supposed to be).
We are bold to pray…
This is why we say we are “bold to pray the way our Savior taught us”. When we say, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven”, we are asking to be part of the work that we trust God is doing in creation, in the world around us right now! It is not a pray that God do what God needs to do and we look forward to the results.
It is a prayer of power. A prayer that God’s will- to see an end to the destruction and separation of death and sin- would take effect in us and all around us and that we would be a part of how that happens. If we are not willing to be active participants in that work, if we do not believe it is possible, if we are not sure that God can do it… then we are not praying boldly. Our prayer is weak tea- at best.
Jesus is the pioneer of our faith (Hebrews). He teaches us to pray in this way because what we are asking for is not only possible, but is a reality within God and God’s work in the world. The kingdom… a kingdom of life, light, and love… is at hand. It is a kingdom that welcomes all people, including us. And it is a kingdom within us, through Christ, and moving out of us by the Spirit. Praying to be included in how heaven is experienced on earth is the privilege of our faith. Being included in God’s kingdom work is the freedom we have received through being saved by grace- God’s grace in Jesus the Christ.