Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
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Your kingdom come
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου Your kingdom come…, your will be done. I pray this every day. I pray the whole Lord’s prayer, but that phrase–your kingdom come–ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, is often on my lips and I hope it is in my pulse. Some days praying “your kingdom come” is humble submission–your kingdom–O God who created the universe–your kingdom, not mine. ‘Your kingdom come’ is a prayer of relinquishment of my wrong-headed or wrong-hearted aspirations. Some days praying ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου I’m looking for fresh language–the kingdom of God? How about the reign of God or the commonwealth of God. Other Christian writers and thinkers try out terms like kin-dom of God, which reflects the kinship among people and all creation, and loses that archaic metaphor of king and kingdom. Martin Luther King Jr. used the term Beloved Community. Since I know the Greek word that stands behind our translation kingdom, since I know it is the same word for empire and it makes sense in the whole story of God and the people of God in scripture, I keep praying ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου.
Some days praying ‘your kingdom come’ is a longing for something better than the political and institutional structures that dominate our society and even our church, something better than the corrupt influences that infiltrate my thoughts, and reduce my imagination about what is possible among people, nations and the church. And sometimes there is a bit of fury as I pray ‘your kingdom come’ as if God may not deliver on this kingdom or not soon enough to spare suffering people and a suffering world.
The prayer Jesus taught his followers–the Lord’s prayer–is focused on the end–that is, the telos of history. The Lord’s prayer unites those who pray with the end, the goal, the central purpose of God, namely the revelation and realization of a new kingdom one that is already begun and will outlast every earthly kingdom.
Ancient & Current Context
All the while Jesus was teaching and praying this prayer he was living in ancient Palestine under the brutal and seemingly global Roman Empire. His Jewish nation was struggling with whether and how to accommodate Roman influence or to resist. Some Jews took up arms and led stealth campaigns as well as rebellions. Many of his followers thought Jesus would do the same at least when push came to shove. The gospel of Luke includes the story of Jesus’ very real struggle about whether to take up the sword when he was in the garden of Gethsemane. It is in prayer, that Christ resolves to be a man of peace no matter the cost–and calls his fearful community to the same.
A presidential election sharpens our questions about our highest allegiance. Do we ultimately trust in God or government? Do we accept or resist government authority in our lives? When and how does a personal commitment to Jesus have public and political implications? When we exercise power in a democratic process are we acting as agents of a kingdom that is eternal, universal, and protected by no earthly government?
Jesus and his disciples did not vote. They didn’t have that option. But like us they argued about ultimate allegiance, relationship to government, and the right exercise power and authority. They had sharp disputes about how to govern at the micro and macro level. After all, Jesus was teaching, preaching and demonstrating a kingdom, a new political reality that was emerging from fields, fishing boats, hillsides and human hearts. It must have been unsettling, even chaotic, to be among his friends or even among his closest opponents.
The problem back then was that Jesus “took it to Jerusalem.” Jesus brought his revolutionary discourse about this kingdom of God into the Jerusalem Temple. It was like talking politics in church. It was like bringing faith convictions into public discourse. Jesus talked directly about the end, all the while bringing forth a new beginning of healing and peace, at great personal cost.
When Jesus heard people admiring the beautiful stones of the temple walls and the objects that had been given as donations to the Temple treasury as offerings to God, instead of ooing and awing with the crowd, Jesus said that this Temple state would be overthrown. And he described a terrible scene: wars, insurrections, violent protest. Not only violence between people, Jesus says that in the end–or at least en route to the kingdom–before the end and even as the new beginning emerges–there will be great earthquakes. It’s as if the planet will be writhing in pain. Jesus describes famine and plagues–as if basic human needs of food security and healthcare will be threatened. Jesus described a corrupt legal system whose judgements were against the least of these: they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. Did you notice that it’s not just the state, but also the the synagogues? The grassroots faith communities–the little synagogues of Judea–would no longer be places of refuge for the least of these, but party to oppression. These are frightening times.
But in this bleak assessment of his times Jesus says: Do not be terrified. And Jesus says: This will give an opportunity to testify. And Jesus says: Not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. An opportunity to testify: this was not Jesus’ recommendation that we vote every four years, though voting might certainly be a way of giving testimony in a democracy. Jesus and the prophets before him knew that testimony was a whole life, and whole communities. And he promised that under adverse conditions, even under what he considered apocalyptic conditions, Jesus would give his followers words and ways to make a whole life testimony regarding the kingdom of God.
Four Gospels in View
Every one of the gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–include Jesus’ teaching about how to be a witness in the worst of times. Matthew, Mark and Luke include the passage we heard this morning in parallel. It’s a little different each time. In John the closest parallel is focused on inter-Jewish persecution. In Matthew, Jesus’ promise for how testimony is possible under severe conditions is stated this way: it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. And in Mark the good news is that in that hour it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And in Luke it says: I, Jesus will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand. And in the brilliance of John’s gospel in which the adversaries are so close to home we read: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I, Jesus, have said to you. Reading these together it seems that God’s message to us is that under adverse political, economic, environmental and personal conditions, the kingdom of God breaks in as a message of apocalyptic hope through the lips and pulse of a new political community, the church. When we are afraid, even terrified, the Father, Jesus Christ himself, and the Holy Spirit, will be speaking and acting through us.
Listen, whether or not you fully embrace or understand the trinity, is not what I’m getting at. Christians have spoken of the fullness of God by naming three persons in a triune dance of love and justice. The overflow of this relational God-in-three-persons gives life to the world and plants seeds of the kingdom. So, the powers of oppression may be beating drums that are re-calibrating our pulse. We or people we love may be getting into that fearful, terrified state, but the fullness of God will be filling and fueling persons like us, persons who can give a testimony–with the words we speak, with the decisions we make, with the communities we form, with art we create, with the wounds we heal.
Speaking of healing, I can’t believe we actually read the prophet Malachi this morning without a warning. Malachi used “fighting language” in anticipation of the end, a day when the arrogant and evildoers would burn. Since we repudiate the use of Biblical rhetoric to incite violence and aggression against people or planet, how shall we read this prophet? Well, the promise in this prophetic text is that the sun of righteousness will rise–a new day will dawn, and it will be a day of healing. Biblically speaking, Jesus’ whole story is that new day of healing. Rather than vanquishing human enemies, Jesus indicates that his followers will suffer–war, famine, disease, persecution, imprisonment. But because of what we know of our Lord, even suffering and loss is an opportunity for testimony to a kingdom of peace, justice, joy, and love. It is collective testimony. We are in this together as the body of Christ.
So the gospel word to us–which is suitable in victory or defeat–is that now is the time to testify. And further, that even if it should cost our lives, we have everything to gain. By your endurance you will gain your souls. We are not responsible to make history come out right–not individually, not collectively. We are responsible to give a testimony to the way of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God. This takes daily endurance, daily prayer. This is collective soul work.
This has been a difficult week for many of us because through the electoral college process Americans chose Donald Trump to represent and lead this nation. Since he has not governed before, we feel a high level of uncertainty about what we will experience in his years in the Oval office. Those who have been targeted by his rhetoric and actions feel acutely threatened. And the local and personal hardships we were carrying prior to this election results are perhaps compounded. As testimony, it is a good time to reach out to one another in love–to listen and support each other. It is a good time to reach out to those who might feel especially vulnerable. I had lunch with a Muslim friend on Friday. I reached out to her after the election because I wanted her to know that our friendship is real, that I care about her and her family.
I don’t how you might be individually making testimony under these conditions. If you have a sign in your yard that says: ‘No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,’ maybe it is time to share that message personally with someone who needs to hear it. My friend’s daughter went to high school on Wednesday and was met with taunts to pack her bags and go home. Each of us has someone in our sphere of influence who needs to hear our testimony. As Community Mennonite Church in all our diverse and corporate testimonies, I know that Jesus Christ and all the fullness of God is with us–on our lips and in our pulse. By our endurance as kingdom people we will gain our souls because in terrible times, the body of Christ makes a testimony of hope and healing. We are not responsible to make history come out right, but we are responsible to open ourselves to God’s work within us and through us.
Our theme music is “Jesus, I believe you’re near,” composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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