Repressed Questions and an Unknown God.

Our Father… Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith, as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Today we come to the end of our walk through First Peter, a journey that has highlighted how we ought to live if we take seriously what it means to be members of God’s family. 

It’s God’s explicit desire that anyone bold enough to call Him their Father would bring that heavenly lifestyle to bear in the world around us; that he would empower us to make our own town – here and now – a little more like heaven as we, his sons and daughters by adoption, serve him in thought, word, and deed.

And that’s nothing easy: it requires us to be willing to undergo a total change, for those perishable, even rotten parts of our human nature to be transformed into the image and likeness of the Risen Christ.  We have to be willing to live as Jesus; willing to give up our pride, to give up our own best interests, to give up revenge or proving ourselves right: living instead so that all we’re known for are the good works and mercy shown at our hands. 

And, as we heard last week, this is not an individual project.  Living into the new life of Christ, carrying out God’s will here as in heaven, is not something that you or I can do by our own effort.  The Good News is that we don’t have to pretend to be strong and mighty. We can be ourselves: we can be small, we can be vulnerable, we don’t have to worry about leaving a legacy, because our strength and our worth isn’t in our small selves; our strength comes from being cemented together and grounded firmly on the foundation that cannot be moved: Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone.

With all that in mind, today, we see why it is that God wants us to live this way; we come to see the master plan – what it is that God intends to do with us, members of his family willing to live as he intends.

Good Intentions: An Altar in Athens

This plan is nothing new – in fact, it looks a lot like what we read in Acts.[1]

It’s a wonderful scene: St. Paul, having journeyed to the great, ancient city of Athens, notices how enlightened the people are, with everyone concerned with religion, politics, and philosophy. 

But then he notices something that strikes him: these modern, open-minded, educated people have, alongside their traditional religion, their temples, their synagogues, and their university debate halls, something most curious: a temple to unknown gods.

In the name of being progressive, of embracing the best bits of ideas brought from all over, the ancient myths of the heroes and gods of Greece had become a hodge-podge, a cafeteria-style religion where you choose what suits your taste, where you choose to take bits and pieces of whatever teachers happen to resonate with you, but are left knowing that your choices may or not be the “right” ones.  So, just in case, you hedge your bets: you throw in a little offering to the unknown gods just in case it turns out you were wrong.[2]

Paul, arriving in Athens, found a highly developed, modern, peaceful, democratic society with a fatal flaw: in the name of sophistication, in the name of open-mindedness, they had given up any sort of coherent, wholistic, logical system of belief and had instead developed nothing more than a choose-your-own-adventure set of superstitions. 

This modern society, in the name of progress, accidentally went backwards: they had a common language to discuss science, politics, and the economy, but lost the ability to discuss the things that, deep down, matter so much more to each of us: the questions of life and love, the nature of thought and emotions, and the questions of why we’re here, and what shall become of us hereafter.

That was the issue facing the Church 1900 years ago: their world had become a hodge-podge of well-intentioned religious superstitions that, added together, made little sense at all.

And Peter, writing to the Church living in that secular society, tells us simply: “do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be ready to give anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you – but do so with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear…”[3]

Do not fear what they fear. 

Yes, at it’s root, all superstition is grounded in fear.  Now, it might not be heart-pounding terror – and that’s part of the problem.  When we’re terrified, shaken to the core, people – more often than not – are able to identify the cause, and do something about it.  No, superstition comes from that sort of weak, but constant anxiety, the sort of deep unsettledness that causes even the most brilliant minds to retreat and avoid the very things they want most.

You see, altars to an unknown god are no first-century problem.

With the best of intentions, we’ve built a society where each of us has to build our own altars.  In the name of enlightenment, in the name of progress, we’ve unhinged and unanchored religious ideas from any sense of logic and reason, and we’ve created such a hodge-podge of beliefs that those within the same family can no longer even encourage or build each other up, because no two people agree on what they hold to be true.

And, when push comes to shove, we resort to nothing more than superstition.

In terms of science, in terms of medicine, in terms of technology, we live in the most advanced time the world has ever seen.  Literacy is at an all-time high, and all the world’s information is a few clicks away on the phone in your pocket.

But, we’re anxious.  Deep down, our world is searching for answers.  For all our knowledge, we’re less able than ever to answer any of the big questions.  What’s the purpose of family?  Why do we have this desire for love and relationships?  What is the purpose of life?  What is the value in life?  What is the ‘common good’, and why would we seek it?  Why is life worth living if I’m not feeling happy?  What’s the point?

For every simple, scientific, mechanical question we’ve answered about the world around us, we’ve been asked to ignore the deeper questions that allow us to ground our life on a firm foundation.

If love is just a chemical reaction in the brain, then why does it hurt so much when a loved one is lost?

If memory is just electrons in brain tissue, then why can we be moved to tears by a favourite song, or even a familiar smell?

If the purpose of our species is self-preservation, then why would so many doctors, nurses, police officers, soldiers, social workers, and volunteers put their lives at risk every day for the sake of the weakest and least profitable among us?

If the purpose of life is survival of the fittest, then why is true joy found in the service and company of others?

Repressing the Deep Questions

We, like them, in the name of being enlightened, in the name of progress, have given up the very logic and reason that allows us to answer even a child’s most basic questions – let alone our own.

Our friends and neighbours, and sadly even some in the church, have such a mish-mash of beliefs that, when we need stability the most, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of foggy, half-hearted superstition on even the most basic matters.

I think friends with a young family who suddenly lost a pet.  Their little girl wanted to know what happened to their beloved kitty after she died.

Having nothing but a mixed plate of cafeteria religions, and having been trained like most in our society to bury these deep, anxiety-causing questions in the deepest part of our being, the mom did as she’d been taught: she did a quick Google search. 

She found a convenient option: she told her little girl about a rainbow bridge reaching into the sky, where pets are happy forever.

The girl’s father, when the girl went to him separately, went another direction: he went to a cheap, easy mis-interpretation of Buddhism and said that their cat was already re-born as another kitten to make another family happy.

Confusing for the child, but all well and good, and the anxieties and deep questions buried deep under the surface once again… until a few years later when the grandmother dies. 

“Where’s Nan?”

At moments like these those deep, repressed questions rush to the surface, and the anxiety becomes so overwhelming that so many in our society no longer even have the language to voice the reality of their grief.  So little of the language of the deep questions of life has been passed on, that it takes a trained counsellor just to fish the questions out, let alone begin the search for answers.

“Where’s Nan?” the very bright 12-year-old asks.

Obviously she didn’t walk over a rainbow bridge to be with Fluffy.  Is she reborn already into a new baby to make another family happy?

A well-meaning aunt steps in and offers the religion of The Lion King movie: “she’s gone to be among the stars, and every time you look up, she’s there looking down.”

“…but”, says the bright girl, “the stars are balls of hydrogen gas lightyears away… that doesn’t make sense.”

…and she’s right.  It doesn’t.

Neither leg to stand on.

All around us are well-meaning temples to an unknown god.  All around us are people who’ve been led to believe that the most enlightened thing they can do is to simply abandon the deep questions; bury them, and focus instead on the far easier questions of what is found through a telescope and under a microscope.

But we see the effects even now: a society that has no language to discuss the common good; a society that has no language, no venue to discuss the value of human life relative to the security of our economies.  Societies that have no way to discuss that my freedoms – and my retirement portfolio – depend on other people being willing to do work that I’m not willing to do, under conditions that I would no accept.

And the hidden effects are even worse, precisely because we cannot speak of them: people stressed, deeply anxious because they do want to get back to normal, and they are willing to take some calculated risks, but they aren’t willing to endanger anybody else… and we have no shared language to discuss what is right.

The Bold, Gentle Task

This is nothing new – in fact, it’s very old.

And our task is the same as those first Christians: we’re to proclaim the truth.

And it isn’t good enough to offer just a bit of truth.  That’s the problem we’re in. 

God didn’t send Jesus to offer us a smattering of happy thoughts and good advice. 

He has revealed, in his Word and by the Holy Spirit, a coherent system of belief and practice: a life of faith that is at once logical – that is, word-based – and reasonable – engaging our gifts of reason and thought.

He has given us the Spirit of Truth[4], to see and know the way, the truth, and the life laid out before us, as a lamp for our feet and a light to our path. 

And if we’re doing God’s will, here and now, as we will in heaven, then our task, like Paul in Athens, is to come alongside those who have caught glimpses, shadows, and reflections of that light, and gently and respectfully take them from the warmed-over smattering of leftover cafeteria-style ideas and invite them instead to a feast – to a banquet table overflowing with the finest food and the richest wine, and which offers the language to ask those deepest questions, and the opportunity to find rest, as the never-ending meal is digested over a lifetime with patience and faithfulness… and we become what we eat.

With gentleness and respect, your work is to give an answer to those muttering deep questions at the altars of unknown gods.

But for that to happen, you yourself need to be confident in the truth.  For us to do God’s will together, you need to know what we believe.  You and I need to throw out the half-hearted leftovers, and know why it was Jesus came as one of us, why he had to die, why bad things happen to good people; to know that prayer works, and to have experienced that God still heals; to know that all that we have comes from God, that strength comes in humble service, and that true life is only found in admitting defeat, asking for mercy, and allowing yourself to become part of the Body of Christ.

Then, and only then, will we fulfil our pledge that God’s will would be done… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.

[1] Acts 17:22-31

[2] Archeological evidence points to temples and altars to “foreign and unknown gods”, and refences in Greek literature point to sacrifices “to nameless gods” or “to the appropriate god”, essentially prayers addressed to whom it may concern.

[3] 1 Peter 3:14-16

[4] See John 14:17

As useless as a box of rocks…

A sermon on cement and sticking together.

1 Peter 2:2-10.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.  Amen.

As we continue through the letter of Peter to the Church on this Mothers’ Day, we’re given a glimpse of the vision that God has for His spiritual family, not just our earthly parents and siblings, but the family, the household of faith, made up of everyone who sincerely calls God “Our Father”.  It’s a family in which all of us are adopted by faith, a family in which each adopted brother and sister is equally dependant on God’s mercy – fully dependent on the goodness and willingness of God to welcome us in, in spite of whatever we’ve done.  A family that, like any other, is called to honour our parents – to bring honour and glory to God our Father as we live together as his people in the world.

So far in our walk through 1st Peter, we’ve heard that our Father’s will is that we would live on earth as we will in Heaven.  We’ve heard that, “thy will be done” isn’t wishful thinking or a desperate prayer, but is an instruction for the Church: God’s will isn’t a mystery; He tells us how we ought to live, and our job is to do it; and in doing so, we bring His will to bear in the world around us, as we strive to be holy, as God is holy.

And then, last week, we heard the clear call of how we ought to live in the sight of the world.  Regardless of our opinions, our preferences, our politics, as members together of God’s family, we’re to live so that, when the world wants to insult us, they have nothing to go on – nothing to say except to name our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Just imagine what our world would be like, if every time someone drove by this building dedicated and consecrated to the glory of God, if every time someone met a member of this church, if every time someone saw “St. John’s Anglican Church” on Facebook, all they could say was “wow…”, and “see how they love one another”, and then, even if they don’t know it, they’re giving God the glory for the works done through us, His hands, feet, and voice. 

Those have been great instructions these past two weeks for what we should do.

But today, rather than focusing on what we do, St. Peter digs in and casts a vision for what we should be.  He’s laying a foundation for who we are, as we are built together in the household of faith.

Peter writes: Come to Christ, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

A living stone. 

We’re to be living stones.

Now, right off the bat, this is a weird sort of phrase.  I mean, really, if you had to pick a word to describe a rock, I’m guessing “living” is the exact opposite of what you’d say.

I mean, yes, it could be a compliment if you say someone is ‘a rock’.

But, a “living stone”?  It’s a weird phrase.  Honestly, we’re more likely to think of someone as being “stone deaf”, or, if we’re being honest, I’ll admit there have been times – not my proudest moments – when I’ve thought someone was about as useless as a box of rocks. 

What does that mean, living stones?

What if we looked at this phrase this way: living stones are stones that have life.  Living stones are stones that have purpose.  And, like all things that are alive, living stones are connected, even dependant on one another to sustain that life.

We, being built up on Christ, who is the cornerstone, are no longer mere stones scattered across the ground, lifeless, but are joined together into something with purpose, to build a house that can be filled with life, and warmth, and joy.

Yes, God’s vision for us who become members of his family is that those scattered and loose stones, as numerous as the sand of the sea, are gathered together and built into something with purpose.

And, if we stop to think about it, that’s really remarkable news.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel pretty insignificant.  It happens to all of us, but sometimes we get “low minded”, all we can focus on is how small we are.

And, while we’re being honest, I think many of us have times when we feel about as useless as a box of rocks.  One of the effects of this pandemic is that, for a lot of us, people who woke up every morning with a routine, with things to do; people who were involved in their communities, visiting those who can’t get out and about; people who were involved in church and many groups in our communities now have moments when we just feel useless, like we just don’t know what we should be doing. 

And, of course, left to our own devices, one of the great temptations in the world around us is to get weighed down by those feelings, to dwell on our own smallness, and, sadly, many then begin to question their own worth – they feel as insignificant as a piece of crushed stone spread on the ground.

But here’s the good news that Peter is bringing to the Church:

Because we’ve been made part of God’s Family, Our Father wants to build us together into something with purpose, a household full of life.

Yes, sometimes we feel as insignificant as a piece of gravel, and yes, in the grand scheme of human history, each of us alone is pretty small.  But, in the hands of a master builder, building on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord, even the smallest stone becomes part of something much bigger.

And the glory comes not in what the stones are by themselves, but in what they are made together.

Think about it: if you wanted to build a mighty fortress; if you wanted to build a temple for the presence of God; if you wanted to build a heavenly kingdom, little pieces of crushed stone is hardly what comes to mind as your building material. 

But what happens if, once the foundation is firmly laid, those crushed stones are bound together, and moulded – formed – as they come to follow the pattern laid for them. 

You take those tiny stones, mix them together until they are bound to one another with cement, pour them into the mould to matches the plan of the builder, and suddenly those stones are no longer weak, small, or insignificant.  No, being cemented together, those stones can reach to amazing heights; they become a structure that can withstand waves and storms; a fortress that can withstand any attack; they can even become the grand palace of the King, with dwelling places prepared for all the King’s sons and daughters.

That insignificant piece of gravel, when infused with purpose, and bound together with love, and strengthened from within by the power of the Holy Spirit, is built into a great spiritual house that, because of it’s firm foundation, can withstand whatever comes its way.

Those insignificant stones, strewn along the ground and trampled under foot, become together something much larger – something not trampled down; no, suddenly we’re joined with Christ, the stone that must be noticed, a stumbling block, that will trip up those who are walking down the path of life without a lamp. We become stones infused with life and purpose, bound together in love and built into a dwelling place fit for no less than the very presence of God Himself, as the Church – all of us cemented together – becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, and all for the sake of the world around us.

Built into something great.

This is the message to the Church. 

If we say God is “our Father”, we must mean it; and, as with our earthly parents, we honour our father by doing his will.

And, by grace, God takes each of us – tiny as we are – and gives us life and purpose, not that we should stand alone or in a heap of gravel, but that we should be bound together, the greatest and the least, the first and the last, the strong and the weak all built up together into a spiritual house, a home filled with the light and life of God Himself; a house built high on a hill, shining it’s light out into the darkness, inviting all who would see it to follow the way, the truth, and the life, and being made new with the life of God, we find our purpose, we find our calling, not in who we were, not in what we’ve done, but in who we have become as members, joined together as the Body of Christ, living not for our own glory, but to the glory of God.

But, Peter says, even in this great building project, we have a part to play.

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…”  We have to be willing to be built up, to be incorporated into what the Lord is doing in our midst.

To do that we have to be holy, as God our Father is holy. 

…to do that, we must work to do his will… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.  Amen.

In the world for the sake of the world.

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. 

Just imagine.

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.

Thy will be done… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.

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.

Big Ideas

…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.