23 June , 2013
Reverend Grant Lowe
We call it “The Lord’s Prayer” because we received it from Jesus. But we could also call it “The disciple’s prayer” because Jesus gave it to his disciples. Or, we could even call it “The Kingdom Prayer”. “Thy Kingdom come” we pray.
Jesus really focused on The Kingdom of God. He taught it, he practiced it. The phrase Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven appears 72 times in the NT. The version in Matthew emphasizes Jesus is not talking about a kingdom to come in some apocalyptic fury at the end of time, nor when we die in the realm of afterlife, but here and now “Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven”. Jesus is talking about God as King of the world, and prays that the knowledge of God’s grace and mercy may grow and be effected throughout the world. The Gospel of Mark describes Jesus beginning his public ministry with the words “The Kingdom of God is at hand”.
Is the Kingdom of God at hand then? As Fred Buchner put it “Insofar as here and there, now and then, God’s kingly will is being done in various ways among us, even at this moment, the kingdom has already come. Insofar as all the odd ways we do God’s will are at best half baked and half hearted, the kingdom is a long way off.”
God’s Kingdom is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus embodies God’s will. What Jesus is saying is “What would the world look like if God sat on Caesar’s throne, if God was in Herod’s palace”.
“What would a just earth look like?” “What would peace on earth look like rather than a world of force and violence?” What would our world be like if on the airwaves and bumper stickers hate messages were replaced by respectful dialogue when we have differences? Jesus was a living demonstration of how to live in God’s Kingdom, a reign of justice and peace that contradicted the structures of his time. The Kingdom of God contradicted the structures of the temple and it contradicted the structures of Rome.
On September 2, 31 BC Octavian went forth to battle and defeat the fleet of Mark Antony on the Ionia Sea. He thereby became the sole ruler of the Roman Republic and began the Roman Empire. A monument is there with Caesar’s inscription
IMPERATOR CAESAR, SON OF THE DIVINE JULIUS, FOLLOWING THE VICTORY IN THE WAR WHICH HE WAGED ON BEHALF OF THE REPUBLIC IN THIS REGION, WHEN HE WAS CONSUL FOR THE FIFTH TIME AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF FOR THE SEVENTH TIME, AFTER PEACE HAD BEEN SECURED ON LAND AND SEA (pace parta terra marique), CONSECRATED TO NEPTUNE AND MARS THE CAMP FROM WHICH HE SET FORTH TO ATTACK THE ENEMY NOW ORNAMENTED WITH NAVAL SPOILS
Note the supreme confidence, reminiscent of a man who claimed “I found Rome a city of bricks; but left her a city of marble”, permeated the monument dedicated to the gods. It also emphasized that the victor for whom the monument was built was son of the divine Julius. janusquirinus.org/
The battle was 31 BC and by 29 BC the monument was up and he was Caesar Augustus. Octavian Augustus was called son of God, divine, and “savior of the world”. On 1 January 42 BC, the Senate recognized Octavian’s father Julius Caesar as a divinity of the Roman state. Octavian was then the "Son of God".
Millions of people revered Caesar as God. But a few followers of a wandering Jewish rabbi in an insignificant province looked at Jesus and said “That’s what God really looks like.” Both statements are acts of faith. One statement is an act of faith in Roman imperial ideology based on weapons and force, and the other is an act of faith in Kingdom of God theology as demonstrated in the life of Jesus.
As Dom Crossan, former professor of theology at DePaul University put it, we often miss the point how it undermines Caesar when the early church said “Jesus is Lord”. When Caesar Augustus was called the savior of the world it wasn’t just a political ploy – it was something that made sense to millions of people. He won his victory, and brought peace and security. The ideology of the imperial Roman Empire was not just the ideology that Augustus was divine, but that Augustus was savior of the world. To call Jesus God, savior of the world, God from God, divine, to give Jesus all the titles that had been ascribed to Augustus Caesar was undermining the ideology of the empire. That is basically high treason.
They didn’t admire and praise this Jewish peasant teacher because he reflected their idea of God. To the contrary, what happened in their encounter with Jesus is so radical that they were actually forced to construct a completely new understanding of God because of what they had seen in Jesus. In our theology of incarnation we don’t just take our notion of God and ask “How does Jesus fit into that?” If we shape our understanding of Jesus by our notions about God we have it backwards. We look at Jesus and we get a better vision of God than we even had before. This is important: Taking the incarnation seriously means looking at Jesus and seeing this is the revelation of God. People knew about kings and kingdoms. They knew about it from Herod and Caesar and Rome. The Kingdom of God as we learn it from Jesus is a whole new understanding of Kingdom.
Jesus is not launching a rebellion against Rome. But he is saying that it is NOT the Kingdom of God. Jesus embodies an alternative way of living that is the Kingdom of God, where human inequality is overcome, where the poor have good news preached to them, especially those who are the outcasts and abandoned of society. This is the alternative Kingdom which has our loyalty. It’s no wonder the empire regarded Christians with suspicion.
The church in the 3rd century and beyond focused on “Who was Jesus” and “Was Jesus divine?” and “How was Jesus divine?” But the real question was, is “Caesar divine or is Jesus divine?”
The Gospel of Luke begins the story of Jesus “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus…” At the end of the Gospel of John the people are saying “We have no king but Caesar.” The story of Jesus is bracketed by the power of Caesar. In the middle of all that, Jesus calls the disciples to an alternative obedience.
Jesus calls us to be part of this alternative Kingdom. For Jesus that alternative starts with a personal relationship with God as “Abba”, and that personal relationship is transformative. The question is “How does our personal relationship with God play out in the world?”
Jesus prays for the Kingdom of God and he embodies that kingdom, a kingdom that doesn’t oppress, it liberates, it doesn’t inflict pain and torture but submits to a redemptive kind of suffering. The Kingdom of God turns our world upside down. It’s not a Kingdom of insiders and outsiders; it’s a “come on in” kingdom in which Jesus beckons both Jew and gentile, Greek and Roman, Syrophonecian woman, tax collector, honest fisherman, temple leaders, roman centurions. For the temple leaders it was all about who was in and who was out, who is acceptable to God and who is unacceptable, and they kept themselves apart from outsiders, those they deemed unacceptable to God. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is not a question of who is in and who is out, who is saved and who is lost; it’s the establishment of the rule of God over all.
The church of Jesus Christ has a message for a fearful world that can’t see any alternatives to its own morass of force and violence.
What would the world look like if God sat on Caesar’s throne, if Jesus was in power in Herod’s palace?
For one thing, following Jesus example and Paul’s words to divided followers of Jesus, we would recognize that in God’s Kingdom there would be no racial or ethnic barriers between people, and we as the church are called to labor for the abolition of all forms of discrimination, and to minister to those injured by it. – Courage and commitment by ordinary people can make a difference. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus in Montgomery AL. Rosa was arrested and later went to church and four days later the church leaders gathered to make plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, because we recognize that we as the church are called to labor for the abolition of all forms of discrimination. Many of you became part of that movement. That’s our calling.
In God’s Kingdom we are called to be peace makers and to seek reconciliation among nations. Although nations may serve God’s purpose in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with God’s Kingdom denies the lordship of Jesus Christ. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we can seek to be peacemakers, that’s our calling. It’s not easy, because there’s a lot of hostility in the world, pent up anger, and most of us share in it. It takes a lot of discipline to be a peacemaker.
In God’s Kingdom enslaving poverty is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. Jesus identified himself with the poor and needy. And if we condone poverty or evade responsibility we make a mockery of God’s love for all God’s children.
The following was part of a report at a white house conference on human trafficking April of this year:
Slavery and other human rights abuses are an ongoing threat in U.S. tomato fields. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields “ground zero” for modern-day slavery in the United States. Over the past 15 years, seven cases of forced labor slavery have been successfully prosecuted, resulting in more than 1,000 people freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.
One of the most successful and innovative programs we researched is the Fair Food Program, developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and promoted in partnerships with T’ruah (a group of Jewish Rabbis) and the International Justice Mission, among others including the Presbyterian Church USA. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we can get involved in efforts to end poverty, that’s our calling.
Jesus confronted resistance and today we face very deep cynicism about seeking God’s just Kingdom.
As Jim Wallis puts it, skepticism is a good and healthy thing. Be skeptical and ask the hard, tough questions. But cynicism is a spiritually dangerous thing because it is a buffer against personal commitment. Becoming so cynical that we don’t believe in God’s just Kingdom allows us to step back, protect ourselves, grab for more security, and avoid taking any risks. But we have accepted God’s call, and I believe God is calling us to model what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God and thereby to attract a new generation of young people by helping them seek the Kingdom of God, and to seek justice around issues like human trafficking, the stewardship of the planet, or the morally unacceptable worldwide rates of deadly poverty and disease. We need to support each other in this, with deeper study, fervent prayer, and new conversations together, all leading to the personal commitments to God.
Finally, and where we began, we can raise the most fundamental question of all, “Who is this Jesus and why does he matter?”
Brothers and sisters let us recommit ourselves to the one who has called us to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, to do what we say when we pray Thy Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.