Daily Devotional: Joining the King-less Kingdom, God’s Original Revolution

gethsemane prayerI continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

 

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

Today I want to start reflecting on Jesus’ words “Thy Kingdom come”.  My first thought as I reflect on those words are what we might easily overlook if we have prayed this prayer our whole lives:   how problematic asking for a kingdom to come ought to be for us in our modern world.

prince charmingI think a lot of time our images of kingship and kingdoms are Disney images: prince charming sweeping a fair maiden off her feet.   An attractive benevolent figure, who protects the people, cares for them, is chivalrous and kind.  A happily ever after.

The reality of kingship has only rarely been that.  When we read the history of great kings and queens we see intrigue and murder, suspicion and execution of enemies.   We see Henry the Eighth beheading his wives and Mary Queen of Scotts’ reign of terror.  We read stories of poor people being oppressed and of the average person being taken advantage by those in power.   Even in the Biblical accounts, in which David and Solomon are presented as the ideal kings, we see this too, don’t we?  David as king rapes Bathsheba, spins a plot to kill her husband when this rape produces a pregnancy, and at times has his army act like a gang of thugs under the rule of some mafia lord.    Solomon may exercise wisdom and spark a literary and artistic renaissance expressed

King Lear

in inspiring wisdom literature, some of which becomes Scripture, and the building of the temple in Jerusalem, but we must not forget his marrying many women in a way that treats them not as human beings but as property like cattle, used to secure business deals.   We can’t forget the cries of the people against him when he uses average folks like slaves, taxes them beyond what is fair, all while living a life of ease.  These are the good kings in the Bible, the good kingdoms.  How far removed they are from our “happily ever after” magical kingdom picture.

 

My own country, the United States, tells its own story in terms of the horrors of kingdoms.  The story we Americans tell of our founding is of many who came here to found our country doing so in order to flee the oppression produced by kings and queens, so that they could be free to live their lives honestly and without fear.   Though I think you can also question this story as not the whole truth, in light of many of these same founders of our country’s own slave-owning and treatment of women and children, the fact these settlers told this story shows the horror and fear such absolute rulers can produce.

Their hope to build a society not based on kingship or monarchy, but based on every person being treated with respect, fairness, and compassion is beautifully expressed by the hymn “Sing John Ball” by Sydney Carter:

 

 

“Who’ll be the lady, who will be the lord

When we are ruled by the love of one another

Who’ll be the lady, who will be the lord

In the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Chorus

Sing, John Ball and tell it to them all

Long live the day that is dawning

And I’ll crow like a cock, I’ll carol like a lark

For the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Eve is the lady, Adam is the lord

When we are ruled by the love of one another

Eve is the lady, Adam is the lord

In the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Chorus…

Sing, John Ball and tell it to them all

Long live the day that is dawning

And I’ll crow like a cock, I’ll carol like a lark

For the life that is coming in the morning

All shall be ruled by fellowship I say

All shall be ruled by the love of one another

All shall be ruled by fellowship I say

In the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Chorus… Sing, John Ball and tell it to them all

Long live the day that is dawning

And I’ll crow like a cock, I’ll carol like a lark

For the life that is coming in the morning

 

 

“Labour and spin for fellowship I say

Labour and spin for the love of one another

Labour and spin for fellowship I say

And the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Chorus…

Sing, John Ball and tell it to them all

Long live the day that is dawning

And I’ll crow like a cock, I’ll carol like a lark

For the life that is coming in the morning

 

“Chorus…

Sing, John Ball and tell it to them all

Long live the day that is dawning

And I’ll crow like a cock, I’ll carol like a lark

For the life that is coming in the morning”

 

Being ruled not by some dictator whether with a benevolent generosity or iron fist but by the love and compassion we share for one on another, the longing to build the bonds of fellowship and community that make life thrive, is quite a compelling vision.  It is a vision that stands in stark contrast to the desire to build security, safety, prosperity by crushing underfoot the poor, the marginalized, those we deem others.  It is a different dream than all our systems of control throughout time have produced.

 

The irony, of course, is just this hope which Sydney Carter’s song describes and its corresponding criticism of not just monarchy but patriarchy, heterosexism, totalitarianism, in fact any and all systems that oppress one group to lift up another is at the heart of Jesus’ language of “kingdom of God”.

 

In using the phrase “kingdom of God” in his prayer here, and also in his teaching in which he envisions this other reality, this other way of relating to God and organizing community, Jesus is drawing on a common theme of Jewish prayer.   A common Jewish prayer on the Sabbath goes like this:

“Blessed are You, the Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. (Amen)

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and hoped for us, and with love and intent invested us with His sacred Sabbath, as a memorial to the deed of Creation. It is the first among the holy festivals, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. For You chose us, and sanctified us, out of all nations, and with love and intent You invested us with Your Holy Sabbath.”

As objectionable as the image of God as King and Lord may be in our modern culture – and rightly so! – in the Jewish and early Christian context, it was a revolutionary Caesar-crossing-the-rubiconstatement.   The ancient approach to organizing life that seemed most successful was the approach of empire begun by the Babylonians and that in Jesus’ day had reached a kind of climax in the Roman government which crushed Jesus’ people under foot.  In Rome, just as in earlier empires, language of god-hood and kingship were ascribed of course to the emperor.  Caesar was hailed throughout the lands as Savior, son of god, Prince of Peace.  Just as the Gospels later proclaim “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” , so Caesar was said to bring about the “Pax Romana”, a nearly global absence of war.  But Rome’s peace came in a different way than either the peace the Jewish people hoped for or the peace about which Jesus spoke.

The Jewish hope of peace came, as the Sabbath prayer suggests, out of people discovering and participating in the commandments of God.  This was more than the legalistic rigidity which Paul and Jesus later challenged in the Jewish faith they were raised, but more a sense that there is a harmony woven into life itself which these laws invite us to rediscover.  It is like a dance moving all about us in creation which, in dancing near godjoining, causes our lives to take on a peace and rhythm that brings wholeness.   Jewish prophets and sages in the Hebrew Scriptures which Jews and Christians share envision a coming shalom in which violence, warfare, division, and poverty are no more not out of a crushing violence that flattens the criminal but more out of the natural outcome of individuals, communities, and even nature itself finding their place in the pattern of life God has woven into the universe itself which, in so far as we join in it, causes us and all around us to thrive.

Similarly Jesus’ peace is one that is found not in crushing the enemy, but in loving the neighbor and even the one we know as enemy, praying for them, doing good even to those that harm us.  It is in breaking the cycle of violence and retribution itself.  It comes in recognizing as Gandhi said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  It is choosing to embrace reconciliation where there is alienation, healing where there is brokenness, compassion exactly where violence & inhumanity reign.   It is only possibly out of that inward peace that comes which passes understanding and is not as the world gives, but flows from the deep realization that just as was spoken over Jesus at his baptism, so we too exactly as we are before we can ever live up to the world’s or religion’s standards are God’s children, whom God loves completely, and in whom God is completely well pleased just as we are.   Such peace within enables us in the Christian understanding of such peace to embrace this other way of relating and ways of organizing our common life that flow from such a place.

For me the wonderful book by Desmond Tutu No Future Without Forgiveness which charts the attempt in South Africa at the end of apartheid to embrace a way forward based on such models which envision peace and healing in community flowing not from retribution or crushing the other but from embracing healing, reconciliation, mutual respect.

This is in stark contrast to the peace of empire which Caesar promoted, a peace Tacitus described by saying “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”   Flattening under foot of those who don’t fit your image of the ideal life, pushing aside the poor, the forsaken, the undesirables.  This is exactly the way of empire, the way that the early Jews, Jesus, and the early Christians are suggesting in praying to God as “King” or one whose Kingdom ought to come, that it is not this path of oppression, marginalization, and discard of the least of these which is the path forward to lasting wholeness but rather one grounded on shalom, on finding a path of healing, reconciliation, embrace of what draws all people and all of life together.

I heard one United Church of Christ preacher I respect suggest, in light of this, it might be helpful to translate Jesus’ phrase “kingdom of God” as “God’s revolution”.  For what we are praying for is what Sydney Carter sings about – a recognition that the only King, only Ruler, we have is the One we find present in the love for one another, expressed in the fellowship found when we embrace each person around us as bearers of this Sacred image.   When we relate to others as each also bearers of the stamp of royalty, with none as forgettable and untouchable, we live out this revolution Jesus teaches us to pray for.   It is a prayer for every oppressive system to be torn down, either replaced by or transformed into an expression of this deep harmony.  It is even a prayer for us to move closer to that place where nature is no longer torn asunder by our greed but made to thrive as we embrace loving toward it.

This doesn’t really answer how the prayer “thy kingdom come” speaks to our present experience of suffering, which I hope to talk about in my next post.   But it does invite us to re-envision these words as a recognition that God ultimately is the true Ruler, not any person, political party, or system.  And that ultimately we are called to be like mid-wives helping birth this other way of weaving together relationships and communities.   Let’s join in both praying for and living out this original revolution which Jesus and the prophets envisioned.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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One thought on “Daily Devotional: Joining the King-less Kingdom, God’s Original Revolution

  1. Pixie Wildflower says:

    Wonderful insight Micah!

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