Today is the last Sunday of Easter – this coming Thursday is Ascension Day and then we begin our yearly vigil for the coming of the Spirit. Please do come to the short evening service on Ascension Day. It’s an important day in the Christian Calendar – apparently, in law, working people and school children are entitled to take time off to attend worship – the only festival for which this is the case!
For the last few years on the 10 days from Ascension day to Pentecost, Christians across the world, Christians of many different denominations, have joined together in prayer under the banner of Thy Kingdom Come. Today you will be given prayer booklets as you leave – please take more than one if you can think of someone else who might like to join in, There’s also a website with all kinds of videos, prayers, places where you can pledge to pray – your pledge goes on a map and pledge by pledge the world map is lighting up.
We can all be part of this – please do your part. There is also a Beacon event at Blackburn Cathedral on Wednesday evening – please go along if you can.
Of course, thy Kingdom come is something we pray often – always on Sundays at church and hopefully at home during the week. This is part of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us, so it’s something very precious. More and more as I wait with people who are, for one reason or another, not able to manage lots of words, I realise that The Lord’s prayer is all we need. It’s enough to say with the sick and the dying and, very often, these are the last words people remember in the journey out of this world and into eternity.
It acknowledges our relationship with God – Our Father, expresses our yearning for greater relationship – who art in heaven. It asks God’s forgiveness for our sins and for his help in forgiving others. It seeks provision for our needs – give us this day our daily bread, a line which is probably best translated ‘give us enough bread for today’ – so it’s about what we really need rather than what we want – it encourages us to trust.
It asks for strength in dealing with temptations and avoiding that which is evil. And then there are those two lines ‘Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’. I think these are, perhaps, the most difficult words of the Lord’s prayer. What do they mean, and what do we mean when we say them?
Jesus spoke a lot about The Kingdom. There is a whole group of parables which are known as the Parables of the Kingdom – the parable of the sower who broadcast seed in different places, the parable of the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the mustard seed, the leaven – there are more.
All these are about things growing, about something precious worth giving other things up for, about abundance, about insignificant things – like a mustard seed – which turn out to be significant. The parables turn the world upside down – so the poor and outcast are dragged in to the great feast while posh people miss out because of their excuses. These parables remind us about our priorities, they ask us to look carefully and to find possibilities that others overlook, and they remind us that we might plant the seed but it’s God that gives life and growth.
Jesus didn’t just preach about the Kingdom, he showed us what it’s like by his life and ministry. If we think about Jesus’ life we can see that the kingdom has very topsy turvy values: Jesus spent his time and energy not with dignitaries, or religious or political leaders but with the poor and outcast, beggars, prostitutes, dishonest businessmen, the unclean, the smelly – people we generally avoid if at all possible. It was in his love and care for these people that he showed us what the ‘Kingdom come’ means.
Today, Jesus would be with those trying to cross the mediterranean in tiny boats to find places of safety, he’d be in the immigration centres, prisons, hostels, with homeless people in cardboard cities and under railway arches, with abused and neglected children, with those who die for lack of food or clean water. Each time we do something for one of these, we do it for Jesus himself.
What strikes me about Jesus’ ministry is that, encountering Jesus, those whom he touched, healed and fed understood something very clearly about God’s love – these were encounters which shook people, if you like. It wasn’t just that they were no longer blind or lame, but also they knew they were loved as God’s children. How often have I wished people would have this same experience when they come to the Vicarage door for a sandwich or a brew. As you know all too well, I’m not Jesus. But neither are you.
So how can people know that what we give is food plus, healing plus, help plus? Immediately it’s plain that we need to pray that will will become more and more like Jesus, so people will know God’s love through us. So ‘Kingdom Come’ implies an unceasing quest for transformation on our part. It maybe also means that we need to tell people – we’re doing this because we’re followers of Jesus trying to build his Kingdom of peace and justice here on earth. We may be accused of being hypocrites – you say you’re a follower of Jesus but you’re grumpy, you got caught speeding, you’re lazy, etc etc. But at least we’re trying. And, of course, back to those parables – we plant the seeds, but it’s God who makes them grow.
So, Thy Kingdom come. Amen