6th Sunday of Easter evensong – 6 May 2018
The Rev’d Stuart Langshaw

There are a lot of “short-hand” phrases and words that convey a world of meaning to the people who hear them. “I love you,” is such a short-hand phrase that takes ages and ages, thousands of words and deeds, to express fully.  On another, more banal level, such an expression as “Go the Crows” has a world of meaning behind it, being a wish for a good match, an instruction to play well, as well as being a shared sentiment with all the other supporters around us. And the over-used phrase, used by Christians, by careless agnostics and by unthinking atheists alike, “O my God!” has a world of meaning behind it if only the careless and unthinking users of it would stop and care and think.

In The Lord’s Prayer there is a “short-hand” phrase that really needs books and books to unpack it.  “Thy kingdom come.”  Just 3 words among the 65 words of the Lord’s Prayer in English. What does it mean?

Let’s do some digging, first of all.  The kingdom of God was central in Jesus’ teaching. In Mark chapter 1 verse 1, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.  In Luke 4:43, Jesus himself described the preaching of the kingdom of God as an obligation laid upon him.  He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”  When Luke was describing Jesus’ activity, he wrote that Jesus went through every city and village preaching and showing the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1).  So our initial digging reveals the centrality of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ activity.

As we continue to dig, we find that Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in three different ways.  He spoke of it as existing in the past. He said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets were in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28). But Jesus also spoke of the kingdom as being present.  “… the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke17:21). It is a present reality, here and now.  And Jesus also spoke o the kingdom of God as being in the future, because in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom.

The kingdom is central in Jesus’ activity … the kingdom is referred to as past, present and future.

Our third digging away shows that we have to come to terms with what is called Hebrew parallelism. Hebrew writers and Hebrew poetry say many things twice.  It is said in one way, and then immediately it is said in another way that repeats, or amplifies, or explains the first way.  We could spend a lot of time in the Psalms seeing how parallelism is present in them.  But just one example will suffice to make the point.  Psalm 46 verse 1.  “God is our refuge and strength.”  And its parallel – “a very present help in trouble.”  In the Lord’s Prayer we have this same parallelism – “Thy kingdom come” – and its parallel – “thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”  Here’s a very good definition of the kingdom of God -The kingdom of God is a society on earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven.

And how is God’s will done in heaven? It is done voluntarily, willingly, fully, perfectly and immediately.

So when we look at the results of our digging, we see that the kingdom of God is at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry … that it is in all of time … and that it involves the doing of God’s will.

To really get hold of an understanding of the kingdom of God, we have to set aside our geo-political understanding of the word “ kingdom” as being a place where a king governs.  In our world we have kingdoms, princedoms (as in Monaco), commonwealths, empires and bailiwicks (as in the island of Guernsey). In the last 10 years we have seen an attempt to establish a caliphate.

But the kingdom of God is not a place. It is an action by God. The kingdom of God is the rule of God in the lives and hearts and actions and interactions of people.  And that rule of God is loving, and peaceful, and just, and good. To be in the kingdom of God is to accept God’s rule by doing God’s will. The kingdom of God demands the submission of my heart, my will and my life to the rule of God. The kingdom of God comes when each of us makes the personal decision to put God’s rule of love, peace, justice and goodness in each of our lives.

The Archbishop of Canterbury – Justin Welby – this year is again calling on Christians all over the world to pray “Your kingdom come” in an intentional way, especially in the period between May 10 and May 20 … between Ascension Day and the Feast of Pentecost.  10 days of intentional prayer that God’s rule of love, peace, justice and goodness may prevail.  And not prevail in a general sort of way, but in a specific, intentional way.  Archbishop Welby asks each and every Christian, regardless of his and her denominational attachment, to identify 5 people, nations, causes, for which to pray.  So, maybe 3 individual people, one nation and one cause.  Or 5 individual people and no nation and no causes.  We are asked to pray for these five identified entities each day for 10 days – and not simply to pray – but to pray with a believing heart that God will work in those entities’ lives.

Thus, if I identify a member of my family as one of my identified entities, my prayer would be, “Father God, I pray that your kingdom will come in Sally’s life – that she may experience your rule of love, peace, justice and goodness.”  And if as part of my personal five entities I have identified the cause of peace between South and North Korea,  my prayer would be, “Father God, I pray that your kingdom will come in South and North Korea’s life – that those nations may experience your rule of love, peace, justice and goodness.”

I encourage each of us to take Archbishop Welby’s call to us seriously – to spend some time identifying 5 entities/ people for whom we shall pray – and then between Ascension and Pentecost (May 10 – May 20), praying “Your kingdom come” for each of those 5 entities, and believing, expecting, that God will bring about God’s rule of love and grace in their lives.

It is prayer that is motivated in us by our care, our love and our concern for others. It is prayer that is pastoral and that is evangelistic.

People spend a lifetime trying to understand the depths and ramifications of prayer.  But as we consider committing ourselves to this brief Archbishop-of-Canterbury period of prayer, let us be encouraged by the words of St James in chapter 5 and verse 16 of his letter in the Bible – “The prayer of a righteous person has great power in its effects.”

“Our Father God – may your kingdom come.”