Texts: “I Happened to be Standing” by Mary Oliver * Luke 11:1-4 (“Father . . . “)
Ever since I learned “The Lord’s Prayer” as a child, I have been waiting for God’s kingdom to come. But despite never-ending repetition of the prayer by myself and billions of others, God’s kingdom doesn’t seem to have yet materialized.
Perhaps out of frustration with this, our prayers might have turned of late to more mundane kingdoms. I am thinking of the excitement many have exhibited since January 8 at the news that Prince Harry, his wife Meghan Markle, and their child Archie are moving to Canada. Some are hostile to the idea. But others are charmed by the prospect of having this attractive and high-profile celebrity family living on Vancouver Island, or in Toronto, or – stranger things have happened! — in Edmonton.
Still others have gone further and suggested that Prince Harry become the next Governor General of Canada. This would take us back to olden-times when Canada’s governor general was a British aristocrat. One pertinent example is the Duke of Argyll who from 1878 to 1883 was the fourth Governor General of Canada after Confederation. Like Prince Harry, the Duke was a relative of the British monarch, being the son-in-law of Queen Victoria. You may also recall that the Duke’s wife, Louisa Caroline Alberta, was both the sixth-born child of Queen Victoria and the inspiration for the name of the province in which we live.
During last week’s media frenzy about Harry, Meghan, and their son Archie, a few Canadians went even further and suggested that Canada establish its own home-grown monarchy and appoint Prince Harry as Canada’s first resident King. So, instead of praying that God’s kingdom come, perhaps we should start praying for Harry’s kingdom to come!
But even if we did pray for this, Harry probably won’t become Canada’s King, although it does seem likely that Harry, Meghan, and Archie will now spend much of their time in Canada despite legal, constitutional, and financial questions.
The news frenzy about Harry, Meghan, and their relationship with the rest of the British Royal Family highlights the oddness of monarchy in today’s age.
England was the first world power to throw off monarchy when Puritan revolutionaries executed King Charles I in 1649 and instituted a republic that lasted for ten years.
The United States has had a better run of republican rule beginning with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and continuing to this day. Some people fear that if the Senate acquits the U.S. President in his impeachment trial, which began last week, this will turn the USA into a de facto monarchy. But for now, republicanism is the form of government there, as it is in much of the world.
Even countries like Canada that are constitutional monarchies tend to operate as though they were republics, which is one of the reasons that churches like Mill Woods United prefer terms like reign or realm of God to the kingdom of God. In the paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer that we will recite at the end of The Prayers of the People this morning, the word “commonwealth” is used instead of kingdom.
But regardless of the word used, what did Jesus mean by the phrase “Your reign, or realm, or kingdom come?”
As a child, I thought it referred to life in heaven after one’s death, which is an idea captured by the phrase “blown to kingdom come.”
Later, I connected “your kingdom come” to the idea that Jesus might return to earth a second time as a warrior king as in the fantasies of the biblical book of Revelation. But given that I reject the notion of a violent God, this idea doesn’t work for me.
Today I realize that The Lord’s Prayer is focused on this world and not the next. It invites us to pray that God’s name be made holy in the same way that God’s creation is holy. It prays that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And it prays for God’s kingdom to come, which can also only mean on earth as it is in heaven.
The focus on this world continues in the second half of The Lord’s Prayer. After praying about God’s name, kingdom, and will, The Lord’s Prayer turns to bread for today, forgiveness of debts, and protection from evil. So, the notion that God’s kingdom is about heaven doesn’t seem to make sense.
Finally, I no longer believe that God’s kingdom is a future hope. In his first sermon, Jesus preaches that the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15), which is something that he repeats many times.
In Luke, Jesus makes the metaphor clearer. When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God is coming, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God never comes by watching for it. People cannot say, ‘Look, here it is’, or ‘there it is’, for the kingdom of God is inside you.” (Luke 17:20-21).
God’s kingdom, then, refers to inner sovereignty and divinity. The various monarchs and presidents of the world may believe that sovereignty rests with them. But Jesus rejects this. Instead, he says that sovereignty is within us. God’s kingdom has come near. Indeed, it has already arrived, flickering within us; and our task as followers of the Way of Jesus is to wake up to the sovereign Christ within us.
Not only does this notion of an inner and divine sovereignty subvert the pretensions of earthly monarchs, presidents, or nations. It empowers us to work for bread for today and liberation from debt and evil. To create the society we want, we don’t need to rely on the corrupt and violent kings of this world. Instead, Jesus calls us to rely on the divine sovereign that reigns within us. This reality is what gives us the collective power to make God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I have more to say about prayer, and so I will return to the topic on February 2 and 23. But for now, I briefly turn to the poem we heard, “I Happened to be Standing” by Mary Oliver.
Oliver suggests that prayer might be a constant reality of all living beings, whether opossums, wildflowers, sleeping cats, or singing birds. She doesn’t want to convince the reader of something other than what we believe or don’t believe. She simply knows that when the wren sings, she can only interpret it as a prayer.
Prayer might seem complicated, and so we might identify with Jesus’ friends who ask him for instruction on how to pray. But perhaps prayer is a simple as a black oak growing older every year or a sunflower turning towards a blazing sun.
In a similar way, the realm of God might seem complicated. But I am confident that Jesus is right. God’s realm exists right here and now within each of us. Praying for this realm to come is a call to wake up to the glory and joy of life that already exists. It empowers us to work for bread for all and liberation for the indebted and the oppressed.
May it be so.