Thy Kingdom Come

The world of American politics is very divisive.  People have strong feelings that this party and its supporters are good and the other party is wrong, bad, even frightening.  Politics seems fundamentally about power and being able to have power over others.  In the midst of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions I find myself turning again to the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father), this time to Thy kingdom come.

When I was younger I was upset by the appeal Thy kingdom come.  It seemed like a plea for a male-dominated, hierarchical governing system, which didn’t interest me then, nor does it now.  Admittedly if God is a white male with a long, flowing beard, seated in heaven far away, pulling strings and sending down lightning bolts to punish, God’s kingdom won’t have much appeal for many of us.

I now yearn for God’s kingdom because I believe it is a time when there is shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace and wellbeing for all.  I think of it as Eden renewed, when God’s word is written on our hearts and God is God of us all and we are all God’s people.  It is like a hidden treasure in a field or a pearl of great value that is worth selling all that I have in order to buy.

The prayer asks for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, and for that to happen on earth, I think right here and right now.  So how do we open to that possibility, because it does happen already in moments and in part?

I think we can choose to try to know all of us as God’s beloved children.  There is so much social change happening now and international insecurity of terrible proportions.  How can we comfort and be comforted?  Can we ask what are the fears, needs, dreams, and hurts of those with whom we disagree?  What am I blind to in those whose views I find unacceptable that keeps me from recognizing our common humanity?  I think everyone yearns to be listened to, heard, and respected.  Everyone wants a sense of having a valued place at the table.

Queries:

What do I understand as the kingdom of God?

What do I have to let go in order not to slam and box up those with whom I disagree?  How do I disagree strongly with someone and yet be open to hear that person’s soul?

Prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

For further reference: 

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (See Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming a new creation” ourselves (Galatians 6:15)—Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, July 27, 2016.

“Sin”–A Four-Letter Word?

“I don’t drink and I don’t chew, and I don’t go out with girls that do.” A ditty that my father repeated jokingly, it presents sin as bad things an individual does and implies there is a catalogue of such sins. Furthermore, if you do them you are bad, and if you don’t do them, you are good. Such a view quickly escalates into the assumption that certain people are bad, especially certain kinds of people. And it sets the stage for debilitating shame and guilt, or unjust self-righteousness.

The true meaning of sin is missing the mark, being turned away from God’s ways rather than cooperating with God’s order and justice—a stance of a community or corporate body as much as of an individual. To sin is not to be a bad person; to sin is not about being unlovable or unloved by God. To sin is to be out of the flow of what is life-giving. Sin is a force within us and beyond us. Turning to God in repentance and surrender saps its power.

I heard an auto mechanic talk about the expense of medical insurance for his family under the Affordable Care Act. He said he had to have the insurance because of his wife’s many health issues. In order to solve his problem, he joked, “I could divorce her.” Then he added more seriously, “but that wouldn’t be a God-thing.” I wonder if the notion of sin is more of a deterrent to hurtful choices than thinking of some behavior as simply wrong or bad.

What if we regarded sin not as a code of wrong behaviors but as those ways that create in us a lack of compassion, that let us take care of me to the neglect and harm of others; those ways that put us individually and collectively out of the Garden of Eden, that push away the kingdom of God where there is peace and wellbeing for all? Might using the word sin to name such ways make an even more powerful statement of the damage they do and encourage us to repent?

Queries:

What have you been taught about sin, and how has that been helpful or hurtful? If hurtful, is there a way that word could be reclaimed and serve a positive function?

How does sin operate to divide us and to diminish our compassion?

Prayer:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” Pray the Lord’s Prayer; perhaps you will want to put it in your own words.

For further reflection:

“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . .” (See Romans 7: 14-25a).

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Heaven

As someone of a certain age, I find that pondering about what happens when we die is natural. For some the answer is about going to heaven. A widespread belief is that heaven is the place you go after you die if you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Some would add the assumption that it is where you go if you have been good enough. For some, this picture gives life and hope. For others, this understanding seems too pat, simply unbelievable, or meaningless.

I think there are other faithful ways to think about heaven. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 9-13). The yearning is for the two realms to be one—one where God’s ways are fully and completely present, where God’s “commandments” are in our hearts so that we choose to live them and live in harmony with all—the beloved community. God reigns–not human rulers, who are caught up in the ways of power and dominance.

Early Friends were among other religious people who were trying to find a way to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. George Fox realized that the peaceable kingdom couldn’t come through violence and war. He came to know experientially that our hearts need to be changed, and that Christ is present and available to teach us– to love, to live in harmony, to follow God’s ways. Heaven is not confined to what happens to us when we die, or where we go after this life. As we come to know that life and power that tenders our hearts and changes our ways (this is different from intellectual assent to a set of beliefs), heaven—eternal and everlasting life—begins now.

When we are “in heaven,” all that is good in us rises up. All that hurts and destroys is ended. There is oneness and unity, creation is sustained. God dwells with us and in us. Because we know it now in moments, and as a promise, we hope that in time we will know it in full. That hope, held deeper and deeper, changes our lives now and forever. Death, then, I think, is a continued moving into love.

Queries:

What do you think about heaven and how does that impact how you live now?

When have you experienced that sense of oneness with all, of being loved completely, of God dwelling within, of being transformed?

Prayer:

In your imagination allow a vision of heaven to rise up. Take that into your heart and dwell there.

For further reflection:

“I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts . . .” (See Jeremiah 31: 31-34).

“Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” –George Fox, Journal, 1647