Thy Kingdom Come
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Lord's Prayer - The Second Petition
"Thy Kingdom Come"
Just this past Friday, something happened. Something happened, something so significant that some people said it would change their lives. Apple started selling the iPhone. If you're not sure what this brand-new, cutting-edge bit of technological wizardry actually is, you're not alone. To hear some people express their desire for an iPhone of their very own, you'd think it'd cure disease and bring world peace. Basically, this device a combination of a cell phone, an iPod digital music player, and an Internet-access device. As some reporters have noted, there's been a lot of iHype around the iPhone. Truth be told, some of that is merited: the folks at Apple have done what looks to be a brilliant job of combining several existing technologies into a very well-designed, people-friendly gadget. It is now the must-have item on the market, inciting hundreds of people to camp out in front of the store to make sure that they got one - if not for themselves, to sell for a bit of profit on eBay. But the iPhone isn't everything that it could be. While it's flying off the shelves, it's already out-of-date: its Internet connection is much slower than that of many of its competitors; its battery life might not be enough for real-world usage. Though it is now creating shockwaves in the mobile-communications industry and making real changes in the way that people think about their phones, the iPhone is not yet perfected.
This tension between "now" and "not yet" might change the way that you see life - maybe even more than an iPhone would. As we're studying the Lord's Prayer this summer, we've once again included a Take-Away sheet in the worship bulletins. On it, you'll see that we've moved to the Second Petition, "Thy kingdom come." (Let's read the petition and explanations to learn a bit more about what's going on in this prayer.) As Luther notes in the Small Catechism, God's kingdom comes, whether we pray for it or not. But what is God's kingdom in an iPhone world? Is it "now," or is it "not yet?"
God's kingdom comes now. God's reign is a present reality. It brings freedom from the power of sin which would hold us captive. It gives direction and purpose and focus in a culture that seems to thrive on constant distraction and chasing after the latest thing. Something happened. God's kingdom came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ. It comes to us in God's gift of forgiveness and healing. It comes this weekend to little Gabriella in the waters of Holy Baptism. God's kingdom is "now." In this second petition of the Lord's Prayer we're asking God to build us up in His Holy Spirit that we might live faithfully as those who have been made members of Christ's body, the Church. We're asking that God's means of grace be given to those who are in need. We're asking God to use us in expanding the church on earth. God's kingdom is "now."
But God's kingdom is also "not yet." Kind of like the iPhone, it has not yet arrived in all its fullness: it is not yet what it will be. We live in a world which is still sick with sin, and all of us are subject to the pains of this world. In the recent past, many families in our congregation have been reminded of this in the death of loved ones. Others battle illness, joblessness, or pain in family relationships. Sometimes we get so focused on the "now" that we don't even consider the "not yet." But this all will end. Something will happen: the Last Day, when Jesus will come again and reunite his people with our heavenly Father. Scripture doesn't go into extensive detail about what that will be like, when God restores our fallen world, but this is clear: sin and its effects will be wiped out. The victory that Jesus won for us on the cross will come in its full force. In praying, "Thy kingdom come," we ask God to speed this day along and to bring His kingdom of glory. We're asking the Father to send the Son back, to bring the new heavens and new earth. In this way, God's kingdom is "not yet."
As American Christians, we must guard against confusing the "now" and the "not yet." In the week ahead, something will happen: we will celebrate the anniversary of our nation's independence. In our service today, you'll notice a patriotic theme in some of the songs that we sing together. Indeed, as Christians, God calls us to live as faithful citizens, supporting the government and demonstrating what we might call civil righteousness. Government is a gift of God - even at tax time. How many families in our congregation work for or with the government or are current or former military? Many Christians live in the United States, but this not a "Christian nation." The government is not called to be a theocracy.
God established government in order to provide for the protection and well-being of its people. The state exists, not to control its citizens, but to defend them from attacks from within and without. In our time, we often hear about "separation of church and state;" however, church and state are not meant to be separate: they both are subject to God's reign as King of all. The one should defend the good function of the other. Christians aren't called to try to remake their government into a "Christian" government, but neither should we be silent and inactive. We are called to serve and live as Christians in all spheres of life, including that as citizens. Christians can be active in politics and policy-making, carrying out the God-given role of the state.
During the Reformation era, the theologians thought about the Church and the state as two kingdoms: the Church as the "kingdom of the right" and the state as the "kingdom of the left." You might hear those terms used still today; however, I would encourage you to consider thinking of "twofold reign of God." Both Church and state are under God's kingdom - the kingdom of power of the One who created the world and all its peoples, the One who created and sustains the universe, the One who keeps the stars burning and the planets spinning. God reigns over all.
We can see a glimpse of this in our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 19. Elijah, who has in fact fled from the state - something about his having killed all the state-sponsored false prophets - has gone into hiding, lamenting to the Lord that he is all alone. But God, who has authority and oversight over all nations, give Elijah a command. Elijah is to go and anoint kings as agents of God's will. If you noticed, our pericope (the assigned text) actually skips a couple of verses. When you see that happen, chances are that something is happening in those skipped verses. This time, as is often the case, the omitted verses contain something that the people who assembled the lectionary thought might be a bit "negative" for Sunday morning: God tells Elijah that the kings the prophet will anoint will kill those who have set themselves against God. It's a case of "those who escape the sword of A will fall to the sword of B, and if any escape the sword of B, they will fall to the sword of C." God's rule extends over the kingdoms of the earth.
We live in an iPhone world of "now" and "not yet," so we pray in the second petition that God's kingdom come in our lives and that it come in its fullness.
Let us pray: God our Father, let your kingdom come in our minds and hearts as it is in heaven. Guide us as those who live as citizens of both Your eternal kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. You are the King of heaven and earth and all its nations, in the "now" and the "not yet." Keep us mindful of the coming completion of Your reign on the Last Day, when we may join with all the saints in praising Your holy Name.