Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done – in Fort Smith – as it is in heaven. Amen.
Last week we looked at those first lines of the Lord’s Prayer, reflecting on what it means to pray that God’s will would be done here and now, not just “on earth”, but in our midst, as we are called to be Christ’s body in the world.
It’s not as though God’s will for how our world should be is a total mystery. Yes, while there are many things that are beyond what we can ask or even imagine, God’s will for how he would have us live is no mystery at all: St. Peter summarized it all so well as we read last week: “as He who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
The lessons assigned by the Church for the next couple of weeks take us through the rest of Peter’s letter, where he writes to teach Christians what “be holy” means. It’s one thing to talk about holiness, about living as citizens of the Kingdom of God, doing His will right here in Fort Smith just as it is done in heaven. But, let’s not pretend that this is an easy, or even a straight-forward task.
Comfortable as we are in our own communities, with friends and neighbours that we have come to know and love over the years, and many of us with vital roles to play as, by God’s grace, we’ve left our mark on the lives of those around us, leaving the world a little bit of a better place, it’s still no accident that scripture refers to us as foreigners, aliens, and even exiles in the world. It’s not so much that we’re not at home in the world. Rather, as citizens of God’s Kingdom by baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves as dual citizens.
We’re called to be holy – to live as we will in the Kingdom of Heaven – while we find ourselves in a world that, deep down, is anything but holy. In a real way, if we’re living as God expects – if we’re striving for holiness, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to hit the target and hear that “well done, my good and faithful servant – then we find ourselves sharing that real tension shared by immigrants who find themselves in a foreign land.
Dual Citizens & Culture Shock
If you ask someone who has done any on-the-ground international travelling – not tourist resorts, but being out-and-about in the streets of a foreign land – they would tell you that it takes a little while to get your bearings. Yes, the food is different and the language is different, but it goes much deeper than that: the culture, the expectations that people share for how they interact, how they show respect, how they live their lives, are very different too.
And, it’s one thing to be a visitor, but to move in and live and contribute to the community as a foreigner is, universally, a difficult task. Beyond learning the language and customs and expectations of your new home, you also have the difficult questions of figuring out how much of your own culture you want to retain.
On the day you move in, do you stake your home country’s flag in the centre of your lawn? Do you wear the clothes of your home country, or do you try to blend in? Do you keep on celebrating the holidays of your homeland, do you give them up for Canada Day and Remembrance Day, or do you combine the holidays of your new and old countries together as best you can?
And, of course, those are the easy questions. When the time comes to raise a family, do you teach them the expectations of respect and manners as they were in your homeland, or do you teach them to blend in with the expectations here.
These are very real questions.
And, St. Peter teaches us, if we’re serious about what it means to be a Christian, then these are the questions we face as well. “Beloved”, he writes after declaring that we are a holy nation set apart to proclaim the light of God’s truth in the darkness of the world, “I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims… to conduct yourselves honourably among the non-believers, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may glorify God by your good works which they observe.” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Finally – this is where we see this lofty idea of ‘holiness’ put into real, everyday practice.
Your job, my job; as a member of Christ’s Body, and as a member of this church, is to live in such a way that, when somebody wants to throw insults or slander us, they have no words; to live so that, when somebody speaks about us, all they have to go on are the good works that we have done in God’s name.
Imagine that – imagine if we, each of us as individual members, lived lives like that. Imagine if, every time someone drove by and noticed the church, every time someone saw “St. John’s Anglican Church” in the Facebook community group, every time a neighbour saw you – a member of the Church, the only words on their lips, all the evidence in our lives, pointed to God’s good works. No matter how different their beliefs, no matter how different their priorities or the way they live their lives, imagine if we all lived such that they were speechless, except to list off the good works that they observe, and then, without even knowing it, they’re glorifying God for the work He’s done at our hands.
That would be holiness. Just imagine.
A poor track record…
Unfortunately, though, churches don’t have the best track record. Yes, sin and pride are part of the problem, but too often, it comes down to how we’ve chosen to live as dual citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and the world around us, how we’ve chosen to live as foreigners and exiles on pilgrimage in the world.
Some Christians live as those who fly the flag of the foreign Kingdom proudly, as those who stick out as not belonging in the world, having nothing to do with the sinful world around them. Unfortunately, the same thing happens for Christians who live that way as happens in many immigrant communities – they become cut off from the wider culture, and they only hang out amongst themselves. Not that it’s a bad thing to be proud of your identity, but if Christians are supposed to be on a mission to draw in those around us, and give no evidence except our good works, then Christians who cut themselves off from the world are going to have a hard time carrying out that mission.
And, on the other hand, there are those who have assimilated so well into the world around them, that it’s impossible to tell that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This is the temptation that many churches have faced since the 1700s, especially us Anglicans. If the Church has no different message than the world, then the mission also fails. There’s no point inviting someone in to something that looks exactly like the world around it, and, in the eyes of those outside, produces none of that fruit of good works that leaves them speechless.
No, we’re to live as those on a mission. We’re in the world, for the sake of the world.
Now, that’s not always easy.
Is it Persecution, or are we jerks?
As we read this morning, Peter warns the Church in every age that there will be suffering – something we already know from the lips of Jesus himself.
But, even in the early Church, it seems people were quick to claim they were suffering for righteousness, when really they were just getting what they deserved; they were quick to say they were being persecuted, when really they were just being jerks.
“It is commendable”, Peter writes, “if you endure suffering for the sake of conscience toward God”. Yes, certainly. If we suffer for doing good, we are to follow Christ’s example. If someone robs from you, if someone slanders you, you don’t seek revenge. No, you live your life so that the only thing people can say about you is about your good works that glorify your Father in Heaven. As St. Paul says in Romans, even if your worst enemy is hungry or thirsty, go give him food and drink, so in the end even your enemy can’t say anything bad against you. (Romans 12:20, cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). When the world around us causes us to suffer for the sake of conscience, to suffer for what is right, then we trust fully in our Good Shepherd, and follow boldly, knowing that even the valley of the shadow of death if not a place to fear if we’re following where he guides.
But are we being persecuted when we’ve brought suffering on ourselves? No, not at all. “For what credit is it if, when you are punished for your faults, you take it patiently?”
No, as dual-citizens, we’re to submit to those with authority over us, even when our leaders make decisions that anger and upset us – and certainly, this time in our history highlights that, no matter where you are on issues of the economy and public health and gun control, everyone’s got an opinion on what our leaders are doing. Of course, it’s our duty to participate in politics – but, we are to do so while submitting to authority. Why? So that, no matter what, when people see us Citizens of the Kingdom of God, they are speechless except to give God glory for the good works done through us.
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15).
This is where Christians have so often shot ourselves in the foot.
Turn on the American news today, and what do you see? People claiming – in the name of Christ – to be persecuted by public health orders to stay home; Christians making headlines as pastors are ticketed and fined for endangering the lives of the vulnerable, many of whom don’t even have access to proper healthcare.
If we were serious – if we were serious about being holy as God is holy, if we were serious about God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven – then, if the world wanted to find a story about Christians, there would be nothing to report except God’s good works: churches reaching out to communities; churches delivering necessities; churches partnering with governments and shelters and community organizations to meet people’s needs; churches finding new and creative ways to reach out to seniors and those who are isolated, so that even at a time like this, we bear one another’s burdens and spread God’s light in the world around us.
Thy will be done.
Just imagine what our church – just imagine what our community – would be like if, every single time someone drove or walked past this building, every time they saw the church posting on Facebook, every time they saw our posters in the stores, if every time they saw you, as a member of the Church, the only words they could find to say would be to praise God for his good works done through us.
That can happen. God can do it. And it would change this church forever as God drew people in to the light of his Word. That’s God’s will. And, for his will to be done in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven, we need to be willing… to be holy, as He is holy.