Thy Kingdom Come
Lectionary Texts: Isaiah 65: 17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12, Luke 21: 5-9
First United Methodist Church, Wharton
Sunday, November 13, 2016
- Are You Ready?
So, are you ready? I don’t mean to panic anyone, but you have eleven days to get ready for Thanksgiving (and 41 days until Christmas if you’re counting!). Thanksgiving is my holiday. When you think about it, it’s probably the only one I can actually host given my Sunday and religious holiday schedule. I love doing it. I love the practice of cooking—REALLY cooking, not just throwing things together in some sort of haphazard way, but cooking as an art, almost a creation. I start ahead of time with the cranberry sauce which, given enough time, will turn from those hard tart berries into a rich, fragrant sauce with walnuts and ginger. I make my grandmother’s pecan pie that she taught me to make and my own pumpkin pie recipe. Then early on Thanksgiving morning, I prep the turkey with lots of Kosher salt and Bicentennial Rub from Penzey’s spices and a whole apple and put it in the oven. (That rub was the secret to the turkeys that we had a couple of weeks ago!) And the house begins to smell like Thanksgiving.
The table is set with Aunt Doll’s china and Grandmother’s silver and my hodgepodge collection of blue and white serving dishes. And we sit down and for a few minutes, and time DOES slow down and we once again get what it’s all about. (At least that’s our hope and prayer for the day!) So, are you ready? No, you’re probably just hungry. Aren’t there times when you sort of wish you could slow time, maybe put it on hold a little while? You want it to come, you want to celebrate, you want to see everyone, you want to do everything that it entails–but not today.
- No, Are You REALLY Ready?
Every Sunday we recite the Lord’s Prayer. We could probably say it in our sleep. Perhaps some of us are. Sadly, I think the words often come without much thought. After all, many of us have known it our whole lives. So the words just sort of come out of us in such a perfected rote that we sometimes forget to think about what we are saying. But if you really pay attention to the words, one of the petitions in that prayer is a lot more powerful than we probably care to admit. “Thy Kingdom come,” we ask. We say that we want God to come and reign over us; we say that we want God to rule in our lives. We say that we want to no longer rely on our own resources to make our way in the world. That’s what that means, right? And when we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, our answer comes: “Yes, Lord, but not today! I rather like the way I am directing things at the moment, God. What about a little later? Let me get a little more ready. Let me do some things before the fullness of your Kingdom comes seeping or spilling or perhaps crashing into my world.”
See, the whole petition for which we pray is, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It doesn’t speak of some far removed place where things will finally turn out alright. It says what Jesus was trying to say. The Kingdom is here; the Kingdom is now. Our calling, then, is not only to prepare for a future promise but also to live as if God’s vision is already here—because, at least in part, it is.
III. For I Am About to Create…
So, what is this vision of God that has begun to take hold and is also yet to be? The passage that we read from Isaiah begins “for I am about to create”. So, apparently, that whole Creation thing in Genesis really WAS just the beginning. In his study of Creation, Norman Habel points out in the first verse of Genesis that there is a “when” inserted. So, there is a way to read the whole of Creation—everything that those chapters depict that God did as the summation not of the total of Creation, but only the beginning. (“In the beginning WHEN God created the heavens and the earth…all these things happened.”) God didn’t check it off the divine to-do list and finish it. God BEGAN Creation.
So, now we are told God is about to do something new—to create a NEW heaven and a NEW earth. This is not a rehash of what existed before. We are not going back to the way it was. There are no “good old days”. (Or, if we pay attention to the Scripture, we won’t remember them anyway! Instead, we are gifted with a sort of “holy amnesia”—no more baggage or regrets of what was.) There are those that believe that this whole faith journey is to get us back to that Garden of Eden, to somehow start the journey again. That’s not what this implies, though. I once heard someone call it the “Kindergarten of Eden”. It is not where we are going; it is the place where we began, the place that started our faith journey so that we could move beyond it and begin to grow in faith.
And now God is about to do something new—a new Creation that will be the very peace that God envisions and for which God works. It is a new peace unlike any we’ve ever experienced before, a new life. Death and violence are consumed by harmony and peace and life. Justice reigns. Everyone has what they need and those who have always had more than they need are finally satisfied. All work will be rich and fulfilling. Enemies and competitors will feed together, without one taking advantage of or consuming the other. None of us will ever again hurt or destroy another. All of Creation is resurrected. All that destroys life will pass away. Ok, wasn’t that what Jesus tried to show us before?
Do you remember building sand castles on the beach? You would painstakingly work on this glorious creation, making it look exactly like what you thought it should be. And then a wave would come and it would wash it away. It was no more—or at least not the way you had envisioned. But the truth is, while your creation ceased to exist, the sand from which it was created just became part of something bigger.
This vision of God is one where heaven and earth come together, no longer separated. They become part of each other. Imagine the writer of this passage writing to his audience. This was probably written at a time when some of the Hebrew exiles were allowed to return home. But they were coming home to a Jerusalem they did not know. They had lost everything they knew and the temple had been destroyed. Everything seemed hopeless. “Yes, things are bad,” the writer says, “but, [listen]…for I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” He saw a vision for something different, something better. He saw the ultimate redemption, Creation finally made in the image of God. It is not some elusive, unrealistic pipe dream. It is God’s Kingdom coming to be.
- Signs of What’s to Come
So, our next question is obvious. And when, exactly will this be? After all, we have to plan, right? We have to be ready. When WILL terrorists stop their destructive hate? When WILL cancer be cured? When WILL there food enough for all, livable houses for all, and fulfilling work for all? When WILL we be more open to each other’s differences and the way that we are more alike than we realize? When will unity finally come to be? How will we know? The disciples want to know. Here they are standing at the base of this grand mega-church called a temple—the structure of which they are so proud, the building that holds the very traditions and foundations (or so they thought) of their faith—and Jesus is telling them that it is soon coming down. In other words, the very foundation of their lives and their faiths is coming down. God is about to do something new.
So, in true disciple form, they asked “so when will this be?” Not today I hope. I have to get in there, say some prayers, perhaps make a few last minute sacrifices. So, what will be the sign? What will be that secret code that tells us that it’s about to happen? They were always looking for signs, always trying to sort of tap into that secret mystery that they assumed Jesus was holding, always wanting to be on the inside looking out of whatever would happen. Everyone was always looking for signs from Jesus, which I find ironic because Jesus was about as forthright and blunt as one could be.
And his answer? Well maybe the disciples expected tales of a secret bird with purple eyes and a yellow ribbon in his mouth that would let them know when the end might occur. I love Jesus’ answer. Well, if you MUST have a sign, when you see a great big army with really big weapons camped around the temple, take that as a sign that it’s about to happen. Take that as a sign that if you haven’t sort of changed the direction of your life, this would be an excellent time to do it. Do not be afraid! Do not go after them! Do not join them! Know that God is about to do something new. The sign will be obvious when you are ready to see it. Trust me. You’ll know. And you’ll discover that it’s not about what you see but about who you are. And it will be better than anything that you can imagine.
But don’t get complacent while you’re waiting. That’s the message that was written to the church at Thessalonica that we read. See, the Thessalonian church had waited so long that they had quite paying attention. They had forgotten who they were. The practice of their faith had become routine. Prayer had become rote. Worship had become familiar. Perhaps it had been awhile since the Holy Spirit had been allowed in the front doors. It WILL happen. But you have to pay attention to what is already here.
- So, What are Those Signs?
So what are those signs that we’re supposed to see? We’re probably no better than the early followers at reading signs—or maybe we’re just as bad at paying attention to the ones that are here. Most of us probably tend to live our life with a sort of “movie trailer mentality”. We want to see the dramatic, the big things. We want to see a sign that will get our attention. We want to see the things of movies and books, of fire and flame and people whisked away in an instant.
But instead God leads us slowly through the wilderness gathering us in one by one and showing us the signs that we need to see to remind us who and whose we are, to remind us to live our lives as if the Kingdom of God has already come—because it has. And we learn this. When people of different faiths begin to talk together about God, it is a sign of the Kingdom of God. When people work together to eradicate malaria in Africa, it is a sign of the Kingdom of God. When millions are fed, when Habitat for Humanity builds another house, these are signs of the Kingdom of God. When the youth of our church rebuild Mrs. Humphrey’s flooded house like they did last Saturday, that is a sign of the Kingdom of God. When two or more sit down and have real discussions about our understanding of God and what God is doing in our lives, that is a sign of the Kingdom of God. It is a divine vision that we can never fail to hold before us, reminding us of our part in the dream and reminding us of God’s constant work to make that dream a reality. “Thy Kingdom come,” we say, and it will.
- And in the Meantime…
So, what do we do in the meantime? What do we do as we live suspended between the way things are and the way God envisions that they will be? Well, first we look back at what Jesus said. “Do not be led astray. Things will happen as they happen. Do not go after them. Remember who you are. Stay on the pathway that I have shown you. And do not be terrified. For, lo, I am with you always.”
And in the meantime, live as if God’s Kingdom is already in our midst—because it is. God did not create us to merely sit and wait for what will come next. We are called to BE the Kingdom of God. We are not just waiting on the coming of Christ; we ARE the coming of Christ (or we should be.) So, are you ready? Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. So, go forward in faith—not only faith in God, but faith in yourself—because back there when God began Creation, God created you with this vision in mind and has given you all that you need to do the work that God calls you to do. God entrusted all of Creation to you and called you to be more. So, have faith—have faith in the faith that God has in you. That’s pretty big—the idea that God has put faith in you—faith that you will plant and build and spread God’s love to the world. Have faith in the faith that God has in you. What if YOU are the one you’ve been waiting for? What if YOU are the sign of God’s Kingdom? God’s Kingdom has come—ready or not!