Sermon: Your Beloved Community Come

How is Jesus teaching us to pray — with our lips and our lives — “Your Kingdom Come”? Does your understanding change if, instead of “kingdom of God,” you were to pray for the “Beloved Community,” the “God Movement” or the “Commonwealth of God”? I invite you to consider the image of Egyptian Christians holding hands in a giant circle to watch over and protect Egyptian Muslims in prayer in Tahrir Square. And that the kingdom of God — the beloved community — is like those whose faith is deep and robust enough that they can stand in protective vigil while those of a kindred faith pray. In that inclusive spirit, may we all learn to pray more fervently, not for the limited vision of our small kingdoms, but for God’s Kingdom in all its diversity.

Teach Us To Pray: Your Beloved Community Come

The Rev. J. Carl Gregg

6 February 2011

Broadview Church; Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

(Matthew 6:10 / Luke 11:2c)

This morning I would like for us to begin by taking a step backward to survey the landscape of where we have traveled already on our line-by-line journey through Jesus’ most famous prayer, as well as of to survey the path that lies ahead of us in the coming weeks. I’ve been told that this is Super Bowl Sunday, so to use a metaphor relevant to our nation’s consciousness today, we have reached the fifty-yard line so to speak. This morning is week four of our study, and we will continue for four more weeks at which point we will have reached the beginning of Lent. Accordingly, at the conclusion of this sermon, we will find ourselves in what is typically considered the central hinge point of Jesus’ prayer.

The prayer is typically divided into eight lines. It begins with the Address “Our Father in heaven” and concludes with the Doxology “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” In between are two sets of three petitions each. The first three petitions, on which we have been focusing so far, are more general and more focused on God — concerning God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. The second set of three petitions, which we will begin focusing on next week are more personal and focused on our needs — our need for daily bread, our need for forgiveness, and our need to avoid temptation.

Specifically, we will be focusing today on the final two general petitions to God: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” However, as we have noted before, it is important to acknowledge, that parts of Jesus’ prayer are significantly different in some places when comparing the versions in Matthew and Luke. Most importantly for this morning, where Matthew’s version includes the more familiar “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” Luke’s shorter version says only “Your kingdom come,” and has no mention of God’s will being done or “on earth as in heaven.”

This morning is probably also a good time to mention the potential Jewish background to Jesus’ prayer. A few weeks ago, when we looked at the introduction to the prayer, we noted that in Luke’s version the disciples say, “Rabbi, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” As we saw, this phrase is unclear. Are the disciples asking Jesus to teach them the same prayer that John taught his disciples? Or are the disciples saying to Jesus “John taught his disciples a prayer, so please teach us a prayer too.”

Complicating the debate over whether Jesus is modifying a pre-existing prayer, scholars tell us that an early form of the Kaddish Prayer is thought by many to have been in regular use during Jesus’ day and has parallels to Jesus’ prayer. The word Kaddish means “holy” in Aramaic, and a common form of the Kaddish prayer is especially similar to the first half of Jesus’ prayer.

The Kaddish reads “Exalted and hallowed be His great Name” (which is quite similar to “Hallowed be your name.” It continues “according to His will” (which is like “Your will be done”) and also includes “May he establish his kingdom” (which is quite close to “Your Kingdom come.”) The parallels are not strong to the rest of Jesus’ prayer, but it is worth noting that Jesus’ famous prayer does echo themes that were popular in Jewish liturgies in the early first century.

Having addressed some of the background of Jesus’ prayer, I invite you to connect the previous themes of “Hallowed be your name” with our current themes of “Your kingdom Come” and “Your will be done.” We saw in the last sermon that God’s name is connected to God’s reputation — as in the age-old parental warning to teenagers not to ruin their good name with bad behavior. Likewise, we are to “Hallow God’s Name” — that is make God’s name holy — with our good behavior. And we saw that time after time — from Moses to Isaiah to Paul and many others — encounters with God were associated shifts in behavior: namely with movements toward freedom, liberation, and justice. We saw that “Hallowed be your name” points toward what holiness looks like in society: liberation from captivity modeled in the spirit of Exodus, freedom incessant labor in the spirit of Sabbath, and just distribution of assets for all in the spirit of the year of Jubilee from Leviticus. In other words, it is no coincidence that in both the Kaddish and in Jesus’ prayer, a petition for the hallowing of God’s name is followed almost immediately by a petition for the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Another important note is that the phrase “Kingdom of God” can be seen as an unnecessarily masculine translation (emphasizing a male “king”) or as unnecessarily monarchic (we don’t have kingdoms anymore for the most part). Instead of the “Kingdom of God,” other common translations are the “reign” of God, the “Rule of God,” or the “domain” of God.

Looser, more dynamic translations that have been proposed are the “people of God, the community of God, the kingship of God, or the household of God.” Some of my favorite translations are the “commonwealth of God,” the “Beloved Community,” or the “God Movement.” The Aramaic and Hebrew words behind the word commonly translated as kingdom actually “emphasize process over person and style of rule over area of control. You could more accurately translate them as the ‘reigning’ of God rather than the ‘kingdom’ of God, because they stress the type and mode of divine rule…. ‘ruling style of God.’”

So as we ask what it means that Jesus is teaching us to pray “Your Kingdom Come. Your will be done,” I find Franciscan monk Richard Rohr’s words helpful on the elusiveness of the kingdom:

If we try to make the church into the kingdom of God, we create a false idol that will disappoint us. If we try to make the world itself into the kingdom, we will always be resentful when it does not come through. If we make a later heaven into the kingdom, we miss most of its transformative message for now. We are not waiting for the coming of an ideal church or any perfect world here and now, or even for the next world. The kingdom is more than all of these….. The kingdom of God supersedes and far surpasses all kingdoms of self and society or personal reward.

But perhaps most simply the “Kingdom of God” is what is looks like when God is in charge and not us — that is, as we learn to increasingly trust God’s will or, better, God’s way of love and justice and compassion in our everyday lives.

We will explore all of these issues in much greater detail in our upcoming Lenten study of Bruce Epperly book Holy Adventure in which he invites us to consider that God’s way or God’s will is not simply one static idea for what our life should be like. Instead, “God does not want slaves and puppets but companions and cocreators.”

As we continue to explore how Jesus is teaching us to pray — both with our lips and with our lives — I invite you to listen again to the contemporary version of Jesus’ prayer that we prayed earlier this morning:

Loving God, Sacred One, God our Father, God our Mother, Holy are Your Names.

May Your commonwealth of love be realized.

May Your loving will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Grant us this day all that we need.

As we have been forgiven by You, help us to forgive others.

And may we trust in Your presence during times of adversity,

For all things are held in Your grace, now and forever.  Amen.

With these words freshly in your mind, in the contemplative silence to follow, I invite you to ponder where you have seen the “kingdom of God” or the “reigning of God” emerge — if only partially — in your life or in the world in recent days and weeks. Where have you seen God’s way of love and justice and compassion made manifest in everyday life?

After the silence, I will invite you to share what come to mind. As inspiration I offer you one example: the image of Egyptian Christians holding hands in a giant circle to watch over and protect Egyptian Muslims in prayer in Tahrir Square. I am not saying that the kingdom of God is like whatever new form of government Egypt finds for itself any more that I would claim that the kingdom of God is like the United States Congress. But I invite you to consider that the kingdom of God — the beloved community — is like those whose faith is deep and robust enough that they can stand in protective vigil while those of a kindred faith pray. In that inclusive spirit, may we all learn to pray more fervently, not for the limited vision of our small kingdoms, but for God’s Kingdom in all its diversity.

Notes

1 Instead of the more familiar King James English “on earth as it is in heaven,” a more literal, wooden translation of the Greek would be “as in heaven so on earth.” See John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (Crossan 2010:118).

2 The “Kaddish” is a type of Jewish liturgical prayer.

3 Jakob J. Petuchowski, “Jewish Prayer Texts of the Rabbinic Period,” in The Lord’s Prayer and Jewish Liturgy, eds. Jakob J. Petowski and Michael Brocke (New York: Seabury P., 1978), 37, 57-58.

4 The following quote adapted from the work of scholar John Dominic Crossan helps visually connect the themes between the petitions:  “God’s name is God’s reputation for justice and righteousness. That reputation is established by the those who practice God’s kingdom, the beloved community. That kingdom is will of God — which is the dream of God for us and the for the world.” See The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (2010:115).

5 Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1993), 32.

6 The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, Religious Statement (2006). See also Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (2006) or the more recent version with similar themes co-authored with John Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (2009).

7 Crossan 2010: 77-78. The word translated as “kingdom” would be the Greek basilea, the Hebrew malkuth and the Aramaic malktha.

8 For a similar reflection of Christian and Muslim relations in Egypt as well as the picture in question, see Reza Aslan’s blog “Christians and Muslims, We Are All Egyptians” at http://blog.sojo.net/2011/02/07/christians-and-muslims-we-are-all-egyptians/.

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