Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
How often do we stop to think about what those words mean?
For so many of us, the Lord’s Prayer was one of the first things we learned as children (and for good reason, too: they’re the very words that our Lord gave us in his lesson on prayer!). Those words are a part of every worship gathering of our churches, when we raise our voices as one to claim God as Our Father because we have been adopted as sons and daughters in baptism. They’re comforting words – words we can turn to, words Jesus gave us, for every situation, and especially those times when we just can’t find the words to say.
But how often do we stop to think about what those words mean?
Over the next few weeks, our Sunday readings bring us through St. Peter’s first epistle, a letter in which he instructs Christians on how we should live in the world around us. Far from simply calling us to “be good” and “do unto others…”, what we find there is much more profound; a much higher calling. We’re called not just be ‘good’. No, we’re to be holy. Why? Well, precisely because we are those who call God our Father; every time we say those words we are boldly claiming that we – you and me – have been made members of that royal family, and if God is our Father, than we are claiming to be nothing short of heirs of the eternal kingdom of God. A kingdom built not on kindness and good manners, but holiness; “holy”, meaning that which is set apart from worldly use.
For St. Peter, and for the Church reading God’s Word in this season of Resurrection, this is where our faith comes down to brass tacks, this is where the rubber meets the road. If we say Christ is risen, if we say we’re sons and daughters of God, if we say Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us until his kingdom is revealed, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and live as those who are holy, as those preparing for that future glory as we learn by imitation to follow in our Lord’s steps.
Living as Citizens of the Kingdom
First and foremost, we must realize that, for all the good things in the world around us: for the beauty of the earth; for family, friends, and neighbours; for all the progress we have made in the past centuries towards a society built on freedom and justice, as proud as we should be for the ways that we help each other out, carry each other’s burdens, and make the world a little bit better by our efforts, we must realize that human effort will never be good enough to make the world as it ought to be; as we said on Easter Day, if there was any other way to restore our relationship with God and one another, then the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is completely unnecessary. But there is no other way for that which is perishable – for bodies that cripple and wrinkle and seize up, and for minds that store up guilt, shame, and regret – to be re-made for eternal life. No human effort can do that.
As we said last week, with doubting Thomas reaching into our Lord’s side, as we said at our Bible Class on Tuesday, the Gospel writers go to great lengths to make the point that Jesus rose in his body, that this is no spiritual experience or philosophy, but that Christ is the first fruits of a new crop; a crop that is imperishable.
And that’s important. No amount of happy thoughts, positivity, or wishful thinking can turn that which is perishable into something non-perishable.
A Food Bank analogy…
And, to be clear, this isn’t a lofty religious idea. Here’s an example a bit more down-to-earth:
I can be the most generous person alive, the most giving; I can want with all my mind to make the world around me a better place… but, very practically, no amount of positive thinking makes bananas or fresh, ripe tomatoes good gifts for the food bank. No amount of good will or generosity or positive thinking can change the perishable into non-perishable.
No, what it takes is a complete change.
Take a tomato, for example.
Tomatoes are great. They’re versatile. They’re full of great nutrients. But, they’re perishable. They bruise, then they rot, then they decay.
And in spite of how great they are when they’re fresh, not only is a tomato a bad food bank gift… it’s actually harmful. It rots, it spreads that decay to whatever is around it, and then it spawns mold that spreads.
If only there were a way to make tomatoes imperishable…
What’s required is for the very nature of the thing to change. And, as a start, for the tomato to last, the first thing that happens is that it is cut down; it dies. But in that dying, as the tomato is buried in the darkness of a pot and meets the source of heat and energy, the fresh tomato is transformed, and suddenly, put into a can, you have one of the best non-perishable foods you can buy: suddenly, that tomato is made into something that can last, not just a week in your fridge, but it is something that can be stored until, at the right time, it shares health and life with those around it.
And, of course, we don’t want to push our tomato analogy too far, but for us mortal, perishable people to share eternity, it requires us to be changed, to be made imperishable, a process which begins as we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism.
But that process doesn’t end there. That process requires us to be set apart, to be holy.
Now, holiness is an idea that often gets skewed. It seems every few generations someone starts a new “holiness movement”, which, all too often, turns into a competition to see how good you are at keeping a law: whether it’s being a teetotaler, or in the old days, not dancing or chewing tobacco, or, perhaps in our own day, when it becomes about mindfulness and healthy living – none of which are bad, in and of themselves.
But, when Peter writes of holiness, he has a bigger idea in mind.
For Peter, holiness is about living here and now as those who know will share in the eternal life of God. Or, as we read today, do not be conformed to the ways of the perishing world, but be set apart. We’ve been picked up out of the spreading rot and decay of the perishable world, and washed clean, and are now called to live as the sons and daughters we are.
So Peter tells us, “live in reverent fear during this time of exile”. Not fear as in being afraid, but the reverent fear of respecting the one in authority and knowing that actions have consequences; the reverent fear of longing to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant”.
St. Peter tells the Church to live now as we will live in Heaven.
…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith as it is in Heaven.
In those familiar words, given to us my Jesus, we’re taught two big, bold ideas right in that one line.
Thy Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God isn’t here – yet. But, with Jesus, we’re to long for that day when our faith will be sight. Our faith is not in some far-off land of bliss, but as the Bible teaches, our faith is that God will restore that which has been broken, and those who trust in Him will share his imperishable life in a world where rot and rust and decay are done away, where sighing and tears are no more.
That’s what we pray God will do.
But, bigger yet, we pray that, in the meantime, thy will be done, here, as it is in glory.
That God’s will would be done here, where we are.
Of course, if God is who we believe him to be, we don’t have to wonder about his will as it is in Heaven: he’s revealed it for us in scripture, in great detail, about what the world will be like when his gracious, loving will, rather than our selfish wills are in charge.
But, think about it: if he’s our Father, if we’re the heirs to his Kingdom, and our Lord taught us to pray that God’s will – the way of life in the Kingdom – would be found here and now, then what are we asking for?
Are we asking for God to do something?
Or, are we really asking for God to assist us as we live as sons and daughters, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, even while we’re here, right now. God’s will is being done in Heaven… for Our Father’s will to be done here, we’re asking for us to have the grace to be willing to live as those being prepared for eternity, and to live that way starting now.
Over the next 4 weeks, our lessons being us to explore this idea: how does St. Peter envision us being holy, as those already on the path to eternal life through baptism and the life of faith. How do we let God’s will be done on earth, in a world where we’re subject to governments and employers, in a world whose economy and priorities doesn’t share God’s values, and in an age where it can cost us dearly when those Kingdom values don’t line up with whatever ideas are trending in our world this week.
Thy will be done… right here, as it is in heaven.
Well, what’s the first step?
Be holy, as Our Father is holy. Amen.