Fresh Perspectives

Preparing for a new chapter in our church's life

Matthew 6:5-15

“Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven”
“Words of faith are too well known to believers for their meaning to be knowable.”
 Rowan Williams
“Your Kingdom come”
Human history can be divided up by reference to kingdoms.  Powerful rulers who have ruled with military might and dominated entire regions of the earth.  Throughout known history there have been many such kingdoms, and we live in the midst of kingdoms now.  The rise of the militant ISIL group, with their stated aim of creating a new Islamic caliphate has perhaps focussed our attention on the pressing reality of the rise and fall of kingdoms and the struggle for power and resultant violence that comes when one kingdom meets another. 
Living as they did under the dominant Roman ‘kingdom’, Jesus early hearers were familiar with what it was to live under the rule of an empire / kingdom. 
Recognising the difficulties and suffering that this caused, in response to the request ‘teach us how to pray’ Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for the advent of another type of kingdom.  The kingdom that he himself embodied and established – the Kingdom of God.
The hope of a coming of a new kingdom was nothing new for those first century men and women.  The prophets had long spoken of the coming of a new type of kingdom – Daniel calls it the kingdom of the Son of Man and holds it up as a kingdom that defies the kingdoms which have come before it.  (Dan ch7). 
But what is this kingdom and where is it found? 
What does it look like and how does it arrive?
Here are some widespread ideas about the Kingdom of God borrowed from Ken Bailey’s book ‘Jesus through middle-eastern eyes’. 
What is the kingdom and where is it found?
Traditionally there have been four ways of seeing and understanding the kingdom of God. 
This view is concerned primarily with seeing the kingdom as a gift of God given at the end of human history.  Entering the kingdom is an as yet unfulfilled expectation of a future event.
This view focusses more on the idea that the kingdom is within the hearts / lives / person of believers.  Entering the kingdom is enacted by being a disciple of Jesus and living his way.  This view does also include the future hope of a fully realised kingdom of God.
Throughout history, but far less so now, some have seen the kingdom as a geo-political entity and have for example undertaken military campaigns to claim land and build the kingdom as a socio-political dominion. 
Likewise some identify the kingdom of heaven with the institutional church, this way of thinking is more prevalent within the Catholic Church (particularly in Latin America), and is less prevalent in the reformed church. 
In reality each of these views contain varying aspects of the truth.
The kingdom in its fullness is a gift from God at the end of history as Christ returns.  The kingdom is located within the hearts and minds of disciples of Christ.  The kingdom is not the gathered church and yet the gathered church plays a crucial role in embodying and living and making known the kingdom.  And it is true to say that the kingdom of God has political and social and economic ramifications; peace, justice and righteousness are central to the kingdom agenda, concerned as it is with the here and now on earth.
What does it look like and how does it arrive?
The Kingdom of God as described in scripture contains quite a lot of paradoxes.  But this isn’t a problem. In the words of Ken bailey “A paradox affirms the truth of two opposing ideas which cannot logically be reconciled.  Such truth is greater than either of the two sides of the paradox.”  In the kingdom of God we search for and see a great truth, and the only way to give it expression is through paradox. What are some of those paradoxes?
The kingdom has come in Jesus but is still in the future
In Luke 11:20 Jesus says “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  The verse affirms that the kingdom is already here.  At the same time we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “your kingdom come” which looks forward in expectation to a future event which has not yet taken place.  The kingdom is now and it is also not yet.
The Kingdom of God is near but also far away
In various points in the New Testament various writers affirm the idea that the kingdom is near, i.e that it is immanent.  1Pet4:7, 1Cor7:29, Rom 13:12 all express the idea that the final consummation of the kingdom is close by, that the end is near.  Jesus himself talks in this way too in Lk19:9.  Later in Luke 19 Jesus tells a parable which seems to suggest that the final establishing of the kingdom (Gods rule and reign) is still far off and that in the meantime Gods people have responsibilities to fulfil. 
There are signs of the coming of the Kingdom but we will not be able to predict the point of its fulfilment.
Later again in Luke ch21 Jesus describes a number of signs of the coming (final establishing) of the kingdom, he then immediately says that no one will be able to determine the time of the coming of the Kingdom because this is known only to the Father.  He says in effect, here are the signs that it’s coming but you’ll never be able to predict its arrival
As we read this line in the Lord’s Prayer we need to be mindful that the prayer itself begins to unpack what this Kingdom looks like on a practical and day to day level.  We’ll pick this up in future sessions but at this stage it is worth remembering that the kingly rule of God is set up over and against the sort of rule the first century Galileans were used to.  The rule of God, and therefore the Kingdom of God is characterised by:
Benevolence and generosity
Protection and provision
Justice and Righteousness
These then are some of the marks of the kingdom for which we pray, and towards which we actively work and live.  As we pray this we are not an inward looking people who pray this for our own ends and needs.  Indeed quite the contrary, as we pray ‘your kingdom come’ our eyes are lifted above and beyond our own needs and the needs of our church so that we can see the whole world as the sphere in which God is working out his purposes of redemption.   This is of course a spiritual action, but it is manifest and made known in immensely practical ways.  As we live under the kingly rule of God we must be as concerned for justice and righteousness as we for healing and deliverance.  Or to turn that around we must be as concerned for healing and deliverance as we are for justice and righteousness. 
Seeing our church with a fresh perspective
  • If we accept that Gods Kingdom is now here, and that we are to be agents of his divine rule – what is the purpose of our church?
  • If we accept that Gods kingdom is now here, and that we are called to make his kingdom known, and invite others to live under his rule, how should our church be shaped and what should be our priorities?
  • As we look at ourselves and our church, in what ways can we see the kingdom values represented and what is missing?
Seeing the Lord’s Prayer with a fresh perspective
  • If the Lord’s prayer invites us to pray for the ever growing establishing of Gods kingdom, and if we see the prayer as an invitation to collaborate with God in the work he is doing, what is the prayer asking of us?
  • The final coming of the kingdom will be a corporate / social act rather than an individual one.  It will have immediate political and social manifestations and will involve the drawing to completion of Gods redemptive purposes in the world.  Do we take seriously the call to live justice and righteousness as a demonstration of the kingdom in the here and now?
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The coming of the kingdom, the active rule and reign of God in history, must of course be tied up in the outworking of Gods will.  After-all it must surely be in the kingdom of God that his will is most fully understood and established?
There are numerous and complex questions surrounding the will of God:
If God is God then surely he is sovereign and his will is going to be done?
If God is not sovereign then what guarantees are there that his desired end will come about?
And yet Jesus teaches us to pray that Gods will should be done.  Once again we’re faced with a paradox, the sovereignty of God and the expression of human free will.  Here isn’t the place to go into the finer points of the nature of Gods sovereignty and human free will, it is enough to note that the Lord’s Prayer gives voice to our desire for the will of God to be accomplished, and our prayer is that we may live in conformity with Gods will.  In the second part of the sentence we acknowledge the desire for the things of heaven to become the things of earth, and underlying this is a deep concern for our home, the earth, and the importance of it and our lives upon it.
It’s less fashionable now but still common in some circles, for life to been seen merely as a process of being made ready for heaven.  A journey of individual sanctification and preparation ready for the transition into life eternal.  From here follows a way of thinking that sees earth as of little value, has little time for things such as economic justice, equality, ecology, peace and other political issues, assuming that these are beyond the scope of concern of God and therefore us.  I disagree. 
The kingdom of God is not ‘of the earth’ in so far as it is not like an earthly kingdom, driven by the same motives or established in the same ways, but it is deeply concerned for the earth and those who live on it and all the things that make up our lives because this is the forum in which the kingdom rule of God is made real and the forum in which it will be drawn to completion at the second coming of Christ. 
In praying ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ we recognise that this sphere in which we live is the sphere in which God is at work.  That the here and now matters.  That the here and now is where the salvation and justice and righteousness of the Kingdom is made real.

Simon Butler, 11/09/2014