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 Seed18 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It 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 Yeast20 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It 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 God18-19Then 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.