3rd Sunday of Lent – Thy Kingdom Come – Penny Ashton

Thy Kingdom Come

Our theme for today in our journey through the Lord’s Prayer is ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.  They do say that you should be careful what you pray for, and I think that the phrase that we are looking at today – Thy Kingdom Come – is one of those occasions.  I did think that since we have a 9-day season with this heading, there would be plenty of resources for me to draw on today, but sadly I couldn’t find any.  I personally find it difficult to separate Thy Kingdom come from the phrase that follows it – Thy Will be done, but Alison will be talking about that in a couple of weeks’ time!  I do feel, however that both should have a comment after them in brackets to the effect that this means you too – and me.

It might be a useful idea to define what we mean by ‘God’s Kingdom’ if we are going to pray for it to happen as often as we do.  The Bible gives us a lot of pictures, and many of them very different – to a wandering people with no settled home it is easy to see why they thought God lived in a garden where everything they needed would grow nearby without too much effort on their part, and where God would come and talk with them at the end of a day’s work.  To a people wandering for many years in a barren desert, the thought of God leading them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ is easy to understand.  Living, as we do in a place where grass grows all too easily and cattle thrive, it is hard for us to understand what a luxury a ready supply of dairy products is.

Isaiah and Micah, both writing at about the same time, and if not actually from a position of exile, then with the strong possibility of it always in mind tell us that the reign of God will bring peace not only to people but also in the animal kingdom – the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the lion eat straw like the ox and a little child shall lead them, and  Micah tells us that every man shall be able to sit beneath his vine and his fig tree, and that swords will be beaten into ploughshares and no one shall study war – or again, as Isaiah put it ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain’ says the Lord.

It is easy to see that our picture of the kingdom of God is very much coloured by our circumstances at the time.  I could be tempted to think that the kingdom of God is where nobody ever grows older or develops new aches and pains and I am sure some of you would agree with me.  We might feel that it is the place where we shall see again people we have loved but who have been taken from us, or perhaps even people we never got the chance to know.

Jesus gave us more pictures of the kingdom than I can count – variously it is like a mustard seed, a valuable pearl, a farm or vineyard, a sheep fold, yeast, a fishing net, a wheat field and buried treasure.  The things he does seem to make clear however, are that the Kingdom cannot be seen except with the mindset of a child, and that, as he explained to Pilate, it is not of this world but that it is growing.  So, what are we actually asking for when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’?

In its simplest form, God’s kingdom must be that place or state of being where God is obeyed.  In this country, all the laws are enacted on behalf of the queen, and it is at least theoretically true to say that if we break the law, we are being disobedient to her, and so it must be with God.  Jesus gave very few commandments but the one that he gave most often is that we should love one another.  We heard it in the summary of the law that was read as part of our service to encourage us to repentance only a few minutes ago.

One thing Jesus was clear about, however, is that going to look for the kingdom is pointless.  We cannot look for signs of the approaching kingdom in the way that we see snowdrops and daffodils as signs of spring, as the kingdom is already here.  So how to be aware of it?

I think we do see glimpses of the kingdom when people are behaving in ways which I think would be pleasing to God.  I am writing this before Comic Relief, but I am sure that by the time you read or hear it, we will once again be amazed by the generosity of people in giving to this cause at a time when their finances are under stress already.  I recently heard that 100,000 people had registered to offer to share their homes with refugees from the war in Ukraine – by now it will be many more than that, and some of the community organisations collecting things to take have had to ask for donations to stop for a while as they have more than they can cope with.  I am fairly sure that there will be people from all the churches – as well as from none – who will come to our Lent lunch on Friday and help us to support our Zambia link.  Alison and I recently heard a speaker telling of how she loves to buy bunches of daffodils at this time of year when they are so cheap, and give them away to complete strangers – simply because she thinks they might be in need of a blessing, and I have in the past spent a day giving away bars or chocolate as part of a lent observance.  It brings home the truth of the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive – if you haven’t tried giving unsolicited gifts, or even kind words, praise or smiles, I recommend it, it is more rewarding than you could imagine.  All of these must bring joy to our heavenly father, and cause the invisible kingdom that is here and now to grow a little.

So are we saying that the kingdom of God is somewhere where everyone is nice?  Somehow that doesn’t seem quite right.  Jesus said a great many things, and some of them seem very far from nice.  And yet people were drawn to Him.  I have been privileged to meet on occasions people who simply made me feel better.  They didn’t necessarily do or say anything unusual, but after talking with them I always felt that the world was a better place.  The one thing they had in common was that they were people of prayer – who spent time with God, in just the way that we read of Jesus doing – slipping away to a quiet place to just be with his Father, when often no words were necessary.  I think this may be the way in which we can seek the kingdom of God, cause it to grow within and around us so that people will be drawn, not to us, but to the Kingdom.  And that is why I think that praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is not just asking God to act, but also to spur ourselves into being a part of making it happen.  Maybe we should be careful only to pray it if we are prepared to do it as well.