“Thy kingdom come.” How many times have we prayed that? And what do we mean when we pray it? Are you praying for the end of time when Jesus will return and establish his kingdom on earth? Or are you praying for a world worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, one in which the love of God is the motivation in all of our actions and relationships?
I guess we pretty much know what Jesus’ disciples thought when Jesus first taught them this petition. The poor guys whose supplication inspires Jesus’ teaching in the lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary for Pentecost Ten (Luke 11:1-13) were looking forward to a glorious earthly kingdom. They were waiting for Jesus to bring back the kingdom they’d heard about when they were kids—the one in which their ancestor David kicked the snot out of all of their enemies and established Zion in glory and victory before the nations of the earth. They must’ve been praying for the rescue of their country from Roman occupation and the restoration of their national pride. Maybe they contemplated making baseball caps emblazoned with “Thy Kingdom Come!” or “Make Israel Great Again!”
But what does this phrase which Jesus tells us to pray mean for us?
I always wonder why the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary marry certain Bible stories together. This week Jesus’ injunction for us to be in continual prayer is wedded to the story of Abraham beseeching God to be merciful to the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:20-32). If you remember from last week, Abraham has just shown pretty impressive hospitality to some wandering strangers. This story is juxtaposed with the disgusting and shameful way the Sodomites treat the foreigners in Genesis 19 (And please note: the context of this story is not a condemnation of homosexuality. The threatened rape of the visitors is more like a prison rape—an act intended more for violent domination than sexual gratification).
Interestingly, God does not actually tell Abraham that He plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but old Abe assumes that God’s righteous anger will be pretty bad news for the town where his nephew, Lot, is living with his family. Abraham, out of family devotion, begins to pray to God for mercy for Lot—even if it means showing mercy to some xenophobic, violent, bigots who probably deserve the family-sized can of whoop-ass he’s certain God will open on them.
God seems perfectly willing to forgive the guilty for the sake of the innocent and accepts Abraham’s first offer. Personally, I think God is just jerking Abraham around. God’s actually willing to be much more merciful than Abraham believes, but he really makes Abe sweat to know this. Abe keeps praying, wheeling and dealing with God for more mercy. I don’t think Abraham’s begging is changing who God is, but God is changing Abraham by teaching him mercy—even for enemies who are outside God’s righteousness.
This, I think, is why prayer is so necessary. We are what we pray, and if we pray for grace we will become gracious. Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s kingdom to come. Martin Luther always taught that God’s will and God’s kingdom will certainly come without our praying for them, but we are taught to pray that this kingdom might be acceptable to our selfish hearts. Again, the prayer doesn’t change God, but rather we are asking God to change us.
Unfortunately, I suspect—especially after watching a week of the Republican National Convention—that our idea of the coming kingdom is much more in line with what Jesus’ disciples were hoping for and much less in line with the kingdom of mercy and righteousness preached by our Lord himself. God’s kingdom is not a superpower which glories in its superiority over other nations while worshiping wealth, military might, and victory over others. Neither is it a socialist utopia. Both of these ideas have been tried on this planet, and both have been miserable and painful failures.
The kingdom of God must come from a place of mercy—even for those whom we despise. I must confess that this is tough for me these past few weeks. Terrorist attacks, the deaths of black citizens at the hands of police who seem to have used excessive force, and the utterly insane “retaliation” of sick individuals which has resulted in the murder of eight police officers have not brought as much puss into my heart as has the vitriolic rhetoric of the RNC. This vitriol has made me want to respond with vitriol of my own. My sinful reaction is poisoning me and drawing me further from the cross of Christ, further from the crucified God who proclaimed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As much as anyone else, I need to pray the way Jesus taught, and keep on praying. The prayer our Lord gave us encapsulates everything for which we need to pray: for obedience to God’s rule of justice, mercy, and compassion; for provisions sufficient for our needs and not for a selfish surplus; for forgiveness and the willingness to forgive others; and for safety from all which draws us away from God. Jesus teaches us to pray this from our hearts, and to pray unceasingly.
God will not be changed by our prayer, but perhaps we can be changed into the kind of people who will create the kingdom God has intended for us.
Thank you for visiting, my friends. Pray for me, will you?