It is part of the fabric of who we are as Christians. I know you hear it often. At least once a week you even utter it yourselves. Not too long after I finish this sermon we will stand together as a community of faith and pray to our Father in heaven, "Your Kingdom come." Yet, if you are like me there are many times you probably do not even think about what you are saying while you are saying it.
"Your Kingdom come." What does this mean? At LCM, we spent some rather productive time discussing this question over at the Rose House a few weeks ago and tossed around some good possibilities. Perhaps today is the day we can get all the answers. After all our passage from Revelation today ends in the last chapter of the Bible. And the answers always come at the end of the book, right?
Before I get too far into things, however, I must tell you I am exercising the preacher's prerogative to preach beyond the sliced and diced version of the scripture printed from our common lectionary. For between verses 10 and 22 of the 21st chapter of Revelation we encounter a new face of God today. In addition to the Consoling and Comforting God with whom we are readily familiar, today's Scripture tells us about "General Contractor" God...starring in a very special episode of Extreme Makeover, Jerusalem Edition!
The first few times I read this entire text describing Jerusalem descending from above I could not help but wonder about the planning and rather impressive budget necessary for this makeover. One of the first things we discover is that this New Jerusalem is huge. At 1500 square miles it is nearly four times the size of Monroe County or about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. And then, there are the walls. The walls are made of gold and have foundations adorned with jasper, sapphire, emerald, onyx, carnelian, and a host of other jewels I am not brave enough to try to pronounce in public! One thing is for sure. This is most certainly decorating on a scale much grander than the simple coat of paint Kelli and I finally got on our walls at home!
But back to Jerusalem. Will this grand metropolis be what comes to your mind when we reach that point in our liturgy later this morning to recite the Lord's Prayer? Do you find yourself thinking about a place, a destination, when we petition to God, Thy Kingdom come? Is the kingdom an exotic remote locale beyond our reach? Is it something to sit back and yearn for in the afterlife? It would certainly be tempting to reach out longingly for the mysterious city described in this chapter of Revelation. The well adorned walls, the bejeweled foundations, and the flowing rivers could serve as an enticing retreat from the suffering in our midst.
Just look at the world around us. According to Bread for the World1 800 billion people worldwide are chronically malnourished. In this country 13 million children under the age of eighteen are hungry.2 Our armed forces are stuck between serving in a deadly conflict half a world away and a paralyzing lack of will to find a resolution that will bring them home. We continue to grieve over the absurd violence that took the lives of more than thirty people at Virginia Tech. Cruel diseases like cancer eat away at the lives of family and friends...even children.
As we reflect on these and other events, God seems at best hidden, at worst completely absent from our lives. Your kingdom come? Indeed! If not that, a retreat from this part of our existence cannot come soon enough. It is all we can do not to plead, "Please God, put a stop to this, take us away. Take us to this magnificent city so that we may be with you in peace."
That lament to find an escape points to a more popular understanding of the apocalyptic writing in the book of Revelation. All too often we hear charismatic leaders warning of the cataclysmic end of time and the ensuing battles that will occur between the forces of good and evil. Implicit in that narrative is the claim that life as we know it is not worth living. This interpretation, however, begins to stray from the root meaning of the apocalypse. Literally, this word apocalypse means to remove the veil. For our concerns about learning the mystery of our faith, to unveil would be to take the mystery away. In this view, the time of the apocalypse is not an occasion to be whisked away from it all. Rather we are given the opportunity to see the whole...to grasp the big picture...to see the God who is in our midst.
And so it should also be when we pray, "your kingdom come." As we pray for God's kingdom to come, we do not pray for a cosmic catastrophe and the end of times. Rather we pray, as Luther explains in his Small Catechism for the kingdom to come to us now, in this time. For us this means to look for something more than a vision of the spectacularly adorned city as the only indication of God's coming kingdom. As our text does not stop there, neither will we. The scripture today notes that it is not a particular place at a particular time that marks the kingdom. Instead, the kingdom is marked by that which dwells within it. "Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it."
Well the very good news for us is that is something that God has already done. More than two thousand years ago God came down to dwell with us and through Jesus proclaimed the kingdom was here. Indeed, Jesus tells us as much in Luke's gospel: "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact the kingdom of God is among you".3 But this proclamation was more than some parchment press release. By his actions, Jesus physically brought God's reign on Earth into existence. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and cast out demons. He showed compassion to those on the margins by inviting them to the table...and challenged his disciples to do likewise. Jesus confronted the powers of this world with such determination that it eventually lead to his death
Yet even death could not keep God from engaging in creation. Through the risen Christ God ushers in a new life for each of us. The risen Christ does not threaten us with destruction of life and the promise of escape from this life. Instead, Jesus draws us into the world. As inheritors of a blessed future, we can begin to build on earth the reality toward which our hope reaches out.
In the face of deepest despair signs of God's work, signs of the kingdom, abound:
The kingdom is among us as individuals combine forces with organizations such as Bread for the World to advocate for changes in policies that will allow our extravagant abundance to be distributed more equally among all of God's children.
The kingdom is among us when coalitions of citizens (many faithful among them) organize campaigns to pressure our representatives seek effective, judicious ways to end the violence in Iraq.
The kingdom is among us when Liviu Lebrescu, a professor at Virginia Tech, holds his classroom door shut, in effect sacrificing himself, so his students can flee from the danger lurking in the hallway.
The kingdom is among us as friends and family gather to celebrate the precious moments of life together.
While the end may or may not be near, each of these instances is a sign that the apocalypse, the unveiling, is indeed up on us, for in each case the face of God is revealed just a little bit. We are blessed to have God, in Jesus, showing us the way. Like Jesus, we proclaim the reality of the kingdom in both our words and our works. And we live out this reign each day by loving our enemies, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving those who wrong us, and living as active members of a community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our Father in Heaven
Your kingdom is here...Your kingdom is coming
We rejoice each time a part of your face is revealed
We look forward to a complete unveiling
We await your full dwelling within creation