Evensong 9th September 2018
Your kingdom come, your will be done
Text: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6.10)
The other day when I answered the door bell, the neighbour with whom we share the garden wanted some advice. His son’s football had flown across the fence into another garden. Was it safe to go and retrieve it? He was asking because he had lived in another country where an innocent intruder might be shot on sight. I said that it might be polite to go round and ring the door bell at the front of the house, but if there was no reply, and no one in the garden to ask, it was safe enough in these parts to just climb over the fence and fetch the ball. The ball was retrieved and he came to no harm, but on reflection I was struck by our good fortune in being able to trust our neighbours.
If good relations cannot everywhere be taken for granted across the garden fence, it is even more obvious that that they cannot be taken for granted in international relations. Our first reading tonight was about conflict and aggression. I don’t need to repeat the story. You know how the Israelites escaped across the sea-bed on dry foot, followed by the Egyptian army, which was caught in the mud and drowned as the water returned. The archaeologists have failed to find any solid evidence for such an event, though it has been suggested that the miraculous parting of the waters might be linked to a major earthquake in the Mediterranean and an associated tsunami; but even if the narrative is not securely rooted in an independently attested historical event, it has entered our culture as part of the founding story of the people of Israel - an instance of the power of God to shape a people’s destiny. And that assertion of faith in the overarching power of God to act in history remains the context within which we say the Lord’s Prayer. In it we pray for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and we conclude by reminding ourselves that ‘Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory’ not just at some future time or even at the end of time, but now – Thine IS the kingdom’. Do we really believe that, as we look around the world? I believe we can and should.
We are perhaps more immediately conscious of our earthly citizenship. This is after all where we live and work and vote, where we pay our taxes, where we make our contribution to society as managers, teachers, nurses, mothers or fathers. Within this earthly realm we inhabit many roles, and the recognition which goes with them helps to establish our sense of identity – who we are. Sadly, when things go wrong, or simply as we get older, these roles may become compromised. We may even come to feel that we no longer have any role, any purpose in life.
If we sometimes feel like that, it could be because we have forgotten two things about our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. The first thing is simply this: that God who has known us all our lives, in success and failure and everything in between, knows us through and through as the whole person we still are inside ourselves. The gospels are full of stories about people who had lost all hope, but they put their trust in Jesus, and Jesus healed them. And what did Jesus say to them? Your faith has made you whole. It was their own trust in Jesus’ love that made room for the power and the glory of the kingdom of heaven to enter into their lives, making their broken spirits whole again. Our Father, to whom we pray, knows and loves us as we truly are.
But the second thing is this: what remains when all our earthly roles and responsibilities have fallen away, is actually what matters most. Nobody is going to remember what I did at work, or as a member of the various social and leisure communities to which I once belonged. Things move on, and rightly so. What I remember of others, what I hope will be remembered of me, is what sort of person I was as colleague or parent, friend or manager. As we get older, or less distracted for one reason or another by being busy and active in this world, we have the chance to reflect and see more clearly that what really matters is where the kingdom of heaven broke through in our lives. What lasts is not the possessions we amassed, it’s not even our achievements or our reputation, but the love we encountered from others, the love we spent ourselves, the love which is the true currency of the kingdom of heaven - Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
What then of the bigger picture? Is God at work in human history, and if so, why is it such a terrifying and bloody mess? I would not suggest for one moment that what is going on to-day, in Syria for example, is the result of anything other than our own sinful capacity to generate violence and hatred. But on the other side of the ledger we should note the impressive development through the twentieth century of the institutions of a rules-based international society. That framework is of course under threat on both sides of the Atlantic. It has failed to contain, much less resolve the desperate crisis in Syria. The readiness of such countries as Germany and Sweden to absorb high levels of immigration is being severely tested, as are the liberal foundations of our own society, and especially our fragile commitment to building cordial relations with our European partners. There are no doubt many ways to achieve that goal – that’s what politics is about – but it is our duty as Christians to advocate and vote for those policies which best reflect the love and respect that we should have for one another as brothers and sisters within the family of God’s children, and to challenge those policies which seem to us to tend in the opposite direction.
In the words of the hymn, Thy kingdom come, on bended knee the passing ages pray. All life, all that we pray for, is lived in the context of the true kingdom, the kingdom into which we were received at baptism, the kingdom where God’s love rules supreme. Just as we belong here, so do we also belong as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, which broke through into our world definitively in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and continues to break through wherever God’s love - his Holy Spirit – is at work in our lives. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
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