Desmond Tutu used to say that if people told him that politics and religion didn’t go together, he wondered what Bible they were reading, because the Bible he read was full of politics.
Today we find that politics is at the heart of our praying, because if “your kingdom come” has any meaning at all, it’s surely political. Here the Lord’s Prayer moves from God towards us and the world, from the divine to the specific and the mundane. Praying is surely not to fill ourselves with enough spiritual hot air that we float a foot above the earth, but to pray in such a way that material matters like politics and bread will be for us spiritual matters. Jesus didn’t come urging us to think about him, or to feel deeply about him. Jesus came inviting us to join his kingdom.
Christianity is forever mixing religion and politics. Jesus is, as the prayer portrays, very “political.” Matthew says that when Jesus was born, the moment King Herod heard about it, he called together his political advisors and was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod had been in office long enough to know a threat to his rule when he saw one. Herod knew that in this baby at Bethlehem everything his kingdom was built upon was in mortal peril.
Early in his earthly ministry, right at the first, even before he preached his first sermon, when Jesus was fasting in the desert, he was offered complete political control, all the kingdoms of the world, but we know Jesus refused that. Rather than running the kingdoms of the world, Jesus went about establishing a new kingdom, a kingdom in this world yet not of it, what he called the kingdom of God.
When we pray ”our Father,” it’s about inclusivity and community, but when we pray, “your kingdom come,” it’s something rather different. There’s a gap between the world and the kingdom of God. Those who first met Jesus had the good sense to know that they had encountered one whom they hadn’t met before. What Jesus said and made clear was that he was from somewhere other than our kingdoms. As C. S. Lewis once noted, Jesus spoke and acted in such a way that one either had to follow him or decide that he was crazy. There was no middle ground in his kingdom. You either had to move towards it, risk letting go and being caught up in his project, or else you had to move on, realizing that you wanted to retain citizenship in the kingdoms of the world.
In Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela wrote that:
“I did not return home after the verdict. Although others were in a festive mood and eager to celebrate, I knew the authorities could strike at any moment, and I did not want to give them the opportunity. I was anxious to be off before I was banned or arrested, and I spent a night in a safe house in Johannesburg. It was a restless night in a strange bed, and I started at the sound of every car, thinking it might be the police…
…That night I addressed a meeting of African township ministers in Cape Town. I mention this because the opening prayer of one of the ministers has stayed with me over these many years and was a source of strength at a difficult time. He thanked the Lord for His bounty and goodness, for His mercy and His concern for all men. But then he took the liberty of reminding the Lord that some of his subjects were more downtrodden than others, and that it sometimes seemed as though He was not paying attention. Then the minister said that if the Lord did not show a little more initiative in leading the black man to salvation, the black man would have to take matters into his own hands. Amen.”
It can be very easy to assume that we know all about the kingdom of God just because we’re reasonably intelligent. We all know people who’ve gone to church all their lives, and are still shocked when the penny drops about what Jesus and his kingdom are all about. When you look at Jesus’s hints, analogies, parables, and images, you see glimpses of the kingdom, but you don’t get definitions and explanations. Jesus said the kingdom is like a little seed that silently grows, eventually yielding great harvest; like a rich man who gave all of his property to his servants and then left town. Jesus also says that the kingdom of God is both here, and not yet. What I mean by that is that the kingdom is here, emerging in glimpses, but not yet in its fullness, which is a reminder that Christianity isn’t satisfied with things as they are, now, today. Christianity isn’t preoccupied with an archaeological exhumation of some distant past by which it attempts to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless present. Christian is always leaning into the future, standing on tiptoes, eager to see what God is bringing to birth among us. We are created for no better purpose than the praise of God. This is our true destiny, yet any fool can see that the world is not like that, at least not yet. So when we pray “your kingdom come”, we’re leaning forward, towards that day when all creation shall be fulfilled in one mighty prayer of praise.
However, this isn’t really something heavenly, because it’s about what happens now and in the future in this world. When we pray “your kingdom come”, we’re pledging our allegiance to a Jesus, relinquishing our allegiance to the kingdoms of this world. As the church gathers to pray this prayer, we are already forming a visible new community, formed on the basis of God’s rule rather than on the basis of the way the world holds people together.
This kingdom for which we pray is not just a set of ideals, which might be very good in themselves but things for which people can work and strive just as well without God, it’s to believe that God rules, and that we don’t have to wait for that rule because God rules in Jesus.
When we pray “your kingdom come”, we’ve seen the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, but we also know that all the world is not yet fulfilled as God’s world. That tension, stretched as we are between what is ours now in Christ and that which is yet promised, is our role as God’s people. We are living, breathing evidence that God has not abandoned the world. We can be honest about all the ways in which this world is not the kingdom of God in its fullness, and also hope for more because we know that God’s kingdom has yet to come. We need not despair in the world’s present situation because, even in us, God has claimed a bit of enemy territory, has wrestled something from the forces of evil and death. That reclaimed, renovated, territory is us, and when we pray “your kingdom come”, we help that kingdom to grow in us.
I end with some words, from the World Council of Churches, that lead into our silence for reflection:
In the midst of hunger and war
we celebrate the promise of plenty and peace.
In the midst of oppression and tyranny
we celebrate the promise of service and freedom.
In the midst of doubt and despair
we celebrate the promise of faith and hope.
In the midst of fear and betrayal
we celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty.
In the midst of hatred and death
we celebrate the promise of love and life.
In the midst of sin and decay
we celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal
In the midst of death on every side
we celebrate the promise of the living Christ.