Monday, February 22, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come . . .

Having prayed the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, asking the God would hallow God's name in our lives, we move on to pray that God's kingdom would come in its fullness.  This is a petition that seems odd, or should seem odd, to those of us living in a modern republican democracy.  Living in a country that threw off its monarch more than two centuries ago, monarchy seem old fashioned and inappropriate.  Even nations with monarchs, such as England or Spain, don't accord the monarch any real power.  Indeed, in many ways, the monarch is one who goes to funerals and opens shopping centers.  

And so, here we are, invited by Jesus, to pray that God's kingdom might come into existence.  The text that I chose to use Sunday as a catalyst for the sermon is Luke 13:18-21. 

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

If we go to Eugene Peterson's The Message, the first metaphor is changed, but it might make more sense to those of who know mustard to be a low lying bush with small yellow flowers:
The Way to God
 18-19Then he said, "How can I picture God's kingdom for you? What kind of story can I use? It's like a pine nut that a man plants in his front yard. It grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches, and eagles build nests in it."  20-21He tried again. "How can I picture God's kingdom? It's like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread—and waits while the dough rises."
However, we understand the kingdom, it doesn't seem to come with great armies, conquering as it goes.  As I was planning worship for Sunday I was looking at hymns that touch on this theme, and by and large they carry with them a militaristic sense.  

Of course, Onward Christian Soldiers, which I remember singing in the Episcopal Church as a child, isn't in the hymnal, but Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross still stands. I looked at Ernest Shurtleff's Lead on, O King Eternal, but it too has the militaristic sense to it:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation
Thy grace has made us strong;
And now, O King eternal,
We lift our battle song.
 Though the second verse does note that:

For not with swords’ loud clashing,
Nor roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly kingdom comes.
So, as we begin to consider this petition, I'll start the conversation off by again by quoting from John Calvin.  I think it's his recent 500th birthday that has gotten me to attend again to him, though I've never been a Calvinist!

God reigns where men, both by the denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life.  Thus there are two parts to this Kingdom:  first, that God b the power of his Spirit correct all the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him; second that he shape all our thoughts in obedience to his rule.  (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:20:42)
For Calvin, the Kingdom seems to be a matter of the individual -- of God's reign over the desires of the flesh, so that one may live a heavenly life.  This is one view, but obviously it's not the only view.  It also doesn't seem to connect well with Jesus' teaching about mustard seeds and leaven, which seems to have a very different focus.



6 comments:

John said...

Hymns:

All Creatures of our God and King.
Seek Ye First
Love Divine All Loves Excelling
Be Thou My Vision
For the Healing of the Nations

John

Steve said...

If you follow Borg, Crossan, Richard Horsley and many other NT scholars, we get a rich understanding of the Lord's Prayer by placing it in the Palestinian context in the time of Jesus. Each petition has a direct relationship to the Roman Empire and the oppression it brought. Consider:
Our Father (pater, a title for Caesar). This is a rejection of Caesar as Father/Pater of the empire. Who is in heaven, not in Rome. Hallowed be YOUR name, not Caesar's. Your kingdom come, not Rome's. Your will be done on earth..., not Caesar's. [You] give us today our daily bread, rather than Caesar’s bestowing of free bread on the empire as a means of gaining allegiance. Forgive us our debts, so we can overturn the oppressive slave labor imposed by the empire. Lead us not into temptation/testing; that is, don't make us come before the adjutant to be forced to recant Christ. For YOURS is the kingdom, power and glory FOREVER. To hell with Caesar.

Also, Peterson, by changing the metaphor from mustard seed to pine tree makes us overlook the fact that both mustard and yeast were negative symbols to Jews. The jarring edge is lost entirely, and we are left with a ho-hum lesson that a small thing will grow to be big. Using the metaphor of an unclean kingdom restores what Jesus was up to in a way that is consistent with the "you just upset my world view" purpose of a parable. In order to get "dynamic equivalency" right, we first need to get the object compared to right. In order to get the Lord's Prayer right, we need to put it into a context, not treat it as though it were simply pious prose.

John said...

"God reigns where men, both by the denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life."

I do not think that God's Kingdom on earth will be achieved where God's people live in contempt of this world and of their earthly life.

God's Kingdom will be achieved on earth when God's people learn to love God and God's creation with same degree of passion that God loves us. The Kingdom of God is about living in love and basking in the abundant life which God intends for us; there is no room for contempt. If we save up our love for heaven then we have missed the message of the Gospel - the Kingdom of God has come among us! We can choose to live within it or not. But we cannot regard any part of God's creation with contempt, not even sinners, not even ourselves, without in the very act of contempt resisting the arrival Kingdom we pray for.

John

I am not a Calvinist either.

John said...

Steve,

I like it: the Kingdom may not be so comfortable. It will upset our notions of what is righteous. It will challenge our notions of entitlement.

John

John said...

"Thy Kingdom com on earth as it is in heaven."

The Kingdom we pray is intended to be a kingdom on this earth, as opposed to a heavenly kingdom - whatever that may be. It is about an earthly kingdom where God rules and where God's rule's prevail.

It is a kingdom of servanthood, arising from love of God, friend, neighbor, and enemy. Jesus spoke very little about self-denial. The cross he asks us to carry is the cross servanthood.

It is a kingdom of freedom, from burdens, from oppression, from disenfranchisement, from marginalization. I am sensitive to the risk of imposing on the Gospel an American social justice agenda, but I think it is safe to say that in the Gospels Jesus reaches out to the marginalized, he calls to task those in the religious community who oppress their own people, and he never calls on his followers to become aesthetes. He calls on his followers to love and to share, and to serve and to forgive, and to pray.

The wickedness he attacks is not the wickedness of common sinners, but the wickedness of oppression, oppression born out in judgment and self-aggrandizement, expressed in self-serving power and hoarded wealth, and imposed by violence, fear, and deprivation.

Membership in the Kingdom of God is by invitation - extended to all - an by the free choice to believe and enter. Participation requires joyfully recognizing and responding to the preeminence of God by the sharing of wealth and power, by the rule of mercy and compassion, and by living lives characterized by love, compassion, forgiveness, and mutual servanthood.

John

Anonymous said...

Well, I think yeast is awesome. It produces wine, beer, spirits, bread. It makes things rise. It is individuals living in common community. It is versatile, living in oxygen (and making vinegar) or without oxygen (making ethanol). Thank God for yeast. David Mc