God Used It for Good

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. 

17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

+++years later+++

15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

+++

Amazing: a father treating one child better than his siblings. Amazing: a youngster teasing his older brothers. Amazing: brothers ostracizing their little brother.  Amazing: sons lying to their father.  If I were speaking to you instead of writing to you, you would hear my voice dripping with sarcasm.

 Family members don’t always treat each other with kindness or fairness or understanding. It’s not so amazing to have one sibling receive special treatment.  It’s not unusual for a child to tease his siblings. It’s not strange to have older siblings exclude younger siblings from activities. It’s no surprise that children lie to their parents.

Bad behavior does not surprise us.  That makes me sad. Bad behavior should upset us.  We shouldn’t take it for granted.  Yet how much of the evil around us is ignored or excused?  “Boys will boys.”  “Women are just that way.” “That’s the way the world is.” “What did you expect?”  “It’s none of my business.”  “It’s a free country.” “Who am I to judge?”

We have found more ways to ignore sin than kernels on a cob.

Two pastor friends were talking on the phone the other day. 

Charles: Walt, I think we need to start talking about sin again.

Walt: I never stopped. 

The confirmation class definition of sin is “missing the mark;” that smacks of sin being unintentional or accidental. The sin we see around us today is intentional, purposeful, and we are the targets.

The evening news, the morning news—we see example after example of meanness, cruelty, selfishness. My pastor colleagues talk of being assailed by demonic forces, even within their own congregations. Those demonic forces do not carry pitchforks and have forked tails. They have forked tongues; they see what is best for the church as what is best for them, personally. 

When we strive to use the church to serve the world, do we end up pleasing the world instead?  Do we provide a sense of security, a mindset that soothes us into believing God is love and that’s all we have to know?

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, not because Joseph was extraordinarily cute or talented, but because he was the first child born to Rachel, Jacob’s true love. Jacob had fathered children with three other women by the time Joseph was born, but he did not love any of them. By the time Joseph was born he had ten older brothers, but none of them the sons of the beloved Rachel. Joseph was a child born out of love, so of course he was his father’s favorite. Joseph used that position to annoy his brothers to the point where they decided they didn’t need to put up with him any longer. The consensus was to kill him, but Reuben stepped up and Joseph lived.  He lived to save thousands of people from starvation and he lived long enough to forgive his brothers.

Anne Lamott tweeted yesterday:

In this excruciating time, don’t forget the story of Joseph in the Hebrew Bible, whose jealous brothers got him sold into slavery. Later he ends up saving multitudes from famine. When he is w them again, he says, “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.” 

She ends her Tweet by saying, “Maturity is hope.”

Let us put a twist on “God is love” and say “God is hope.”   

Have you reflected on the good that has come out of the pandemic? I have seen people step up to help other people in myriad ways. In my own personal experience, I have seen one hundred women volunteer their time, their skill, their talent to provide masks for people they will never meet.  They are the kingdom of God in living color, in 3-D action, blessing others with their work.  They will never know whose lives they saved, whose lives they protected, but they made something beautiful blossom out of the pandemic.

Joseph made something beautiful blossom out of hate. The hate his brothers had for him became not only his salvation but the salvation of a nation.

Theologians call what we believe about Jesus  “the theology of the cross.” Again, here is something excruciatingly ugly that becomes beautiful. The most humiliating form of punishment known to the forces of evil became the means to bring about forgiveness of all sins for all time.  The world is never without sin, but that sin is forgiven, over and over and over, through the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through forgiveness we become fresh, new beings created in the image of God—hold that though in your mind for a minute and think about how marvelous you are!  

God is love. God is hope.  Let’s add one more: God is power.  Evil has been conquered for all time through Jesus’ sacrifice, but evil continues to wage war on us. May the knowledge, the faith that we are on God’s side and God is on our side give us courage to use evil for good.  Amen.

The Political Kingdom

New Revised Standard Version

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.

3      Give us each day our daily bread.

4      And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

King James Version

2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

+++

How many times have I heard that sermons should not be political?  It’s common sense and common courtesy to leave politics out of a worship service. But politics does not stay out of religion in the real world and your religion should play a part in your politics. 

First of all, let me remind you that the basic definition of politics is “how groups of people make decisions.”  If we work with that definition and not with the concept of political parties, then how does you religion influence your political decisions?  When you vote, you are participating in making decisions as part of a group, that group being the entire population of the United States. 

Let’s look first at your religion.  How would you define your “religion?”

Do you define your religion according to your practice of attending worship or your practice of prayer?  Do you define your religion according to a creed, like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed? Do you define your religion as your own personal relationship with God and none of anyone’s business? Do you define your religion as something separate from the real world? Do you define your religion as the right group of people who think the right way? 

Let’s turn it around. How does your religion define you? Let’s bring in the dreaded media. Which definition in the media fits your religion?  Is your religion the only true way to worship God? Does your religion exclude all other religions?  Does your religion exclude segments of the population? Does your religion assume that a theocracy is its ultimate goal?  

I’ve been doing some research about the Pledge of Allegiance of the USA. It was first published in a children’s magazine in 1892. The author, Francis Bellamy, wrote it so that it would be suitable for citizens of any country. “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Later insertions included  “the Flag of the United States of America” in 1923 and “one nation under God in 1954”  What is there about that phrase that is so attractive?  

I was surprised to learn that both the author of the original pledge and the pastor who most elegantly argued for the insertion of God in the pledge were both considered socialists.  

In 1954, as a piece of anti-communist propaganda, the words “under God” were added. Eisenhower was president at the time and he added more than two words to the pledge.  Having seen the rise of communism—which was communism in name only; the real name of the soviet system was totalitarianism—Eisenhower knew that it would take more than military threat to contain the Soviet Union’s encroachment. 

 Eisenhower believed religious faith was the single most important distinction between American freedom and Communist oppression. The U.S.S.R. was against any kind of religion, any kind of spirituality.  On paper, communism made everybody not only equal, but alike.  Americans of the Judeo-Christian tradition, by contrast, held to the belief that every person was created in the image of God. The interpretation of this put a priority on Individualism.  To wage and win the Cold War, Eisenhower believed, Americans must be dedicated to that principle.

This belief in individualism has been transformed so that now each of us claims our individual rights above the common good. This individualism manifests itself now not only in a claim to rights, but an incorrigibility that says, like the old Revolutionary War flag, “Don’t tread on me.” In case you don’t recall that flag, it is not a picture of a puppy wanting to be picked up and cuddled; it is a picture of a rattlesnake, ready to strike, ready to injure, ready to kill.

How far we have come since Jesus invited us to create a kingdom on earth for the good of all of God’s creation.

So, compare the kingdom we vote for to the Kingdom Jesus brought to earth.

Your Kingdom come, or, in the language of Shakespeare, Thy kingdom come. Are we asking for that Kingdom to come now or are we assuming it is somewhere between heaven and here, delayed in some celestial post office?

20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21  New Revised Standard Version)

The Kingdom is among us.  To the untrained eye, the Kingdom may not be visible.  It starts out quite small, quietly. It arrives without fanfare.  

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (This was the mustard of the Middle East, not the mustard that grows wild in our ditches. )20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21  New Revised Standard Version)

Like a tiny seed, like yeast  so thoroughly incorporated that it can make the heavy flour and eggs and butter double in size.  Have you ever heard bread rise? Or even tried to watch it? The kingdom of God is like that.  

But from where does that heavenly yeast come? Us. We are mixed in with all the other ingredients of humanity. We are mixed in with the pain and the greed and the danger

When we ask for the coming of the kingdom, we are asking for a gift God wants to give.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

I know that you prefer I keep politics out of the sermon. You’ve told me as much. Except for those of you who vote like me; then—the more, the merrier.  That’s not how the kingdom of God works, though. It’s how we work in the kingdom of God. 

Let me share words from one of my textbooks, written by one of my professors. 

According to Dr.Nessan, God uses two strategies to bring about the kingdom.

[According to Martin Luther,]  God employs both a right-hand and a left-hand strategy in the mission of defeating Satan and ushering in the kingdom of God, shalom. 

The right-hand strategy entails God’s mission of bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world through the church. The primary instruments for carrying out this strategy are the proclamation of the gospel and the sharing of the means of grace, baptism and the Eucharist. …God seeks to encounter us in Word and sacrament in order to forgive sin, deliver us from the powers of the evil one, and bring us to eternal life.  (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (pp. 14-15). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.) 

The Gospel. Baptism.  Holy Communion. Forgiveness. Deliverance. Eternal life.

This left-hand strategy involves the establishment of a just, equitable, peaceful social order that entails distinct attention to four arenas: family, work, church, and state. It is crucial to notice how Luther does not abandon the world to its own devices by relegating the activity of God only to what happens in the church building. Rather, Luther sees all of life, organized according to these four arenas, engaged by God through the left-hand strategy.    (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (p. 17). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.) 

Family. Work. Church. State.  

To simplify, God’s two strategies are thus: What God does for us—salvation. What we do for God—build the kingdom—right now.  

What does this have to do with politics?  

We do well at this point to recall how Jesus himself got involved in political matters pertaining to the arrival of the kingdom of God: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, advocating forgiveness and nonviolence, welcoming strangers. This kingdom agenda involved Jesus in heated controversy with the religious and political establishment of his time, provocatively leading to his eventual execution by the government. For those who would prefer political quietism, we discover little comfort or support in the witness of Jesus.  . (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (p. 13). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.)

 Another way to see how we continue the Kingdom that Jesus initiated is to get personal: God freed us FROM SIN TO SERVE. 

 The Kingdom of God is a gift from God. It is not so much a gift we ask for as a gift God wants to give us, like a dandelion from a child.

31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. ( Luke12:31-36)

This gift comes with expectations.  Imagine being given five yards of cloth or six tomato plants.  You have to do something with that cloth. You have to plant those tomatoes and harvest those tomatoes. 

When we pray for the kingdom to come we are asking to be citizens of this kingdom. We trust God to equip us to continue to establish this Kingdom. Luther says we have four areas in which to establish this Kingdom: Family. Work. Church. State.  That doesn’t leave much out.  Establishing the Kingdom sounds like a full-time occupation. It is.  It is not a separate mission project. It is not confined to the four walls of a building or to the membership lists of active congregations.  It requires a consistent mindset that is not separate from your definition of your religion.  Your religion is NOT your own business. It is the business of constantly, consistently sharing the Good News of the Gospel and serving the brothers and sisters who would love to live in this Kingdom.

Let this verse from 1 Peter guide you this week: 

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8 New Revised Standard Version)

New Revised Standard Version

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.

3      Give us each day our daily bread.

4      And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

King James Version

2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

+++

How many times have I heard that sermons should not be political?  It’s common sense and common courtesy to leave politics out of a worship service. But politics does not stay out of religion in the real world and your religion should play a part in your politics. 

First of all, let me remind you that the basic definition of politics is “how groups of people make decisions.”  If we work with that definition and not with the concept of political parties, then how does you religion influence your political decisions?  When you vote, you are participating in making decisions as part of a group, that group being the entire population of the United States. 

Let’s look first at your religion.  How would you define your “religion?”

Do you define your religion according to your practice of attending worship or your practice of prayer?  Do you define your religion according to a creed, like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed? Do you define your religion as your own personal relationship with God and none of anyone’s business? Do you define your religion as something separate from the real world? Do you define your religion as the right group of people who think the right way? 

Let’s turn it around. How does your religion define you? Let’s bring in the dreaded media. Which definition in the media fits your religion?  Is your religion the only true way to worship God? Does your religion exclude all other religions?  Does your religion exclude segments of the population? Does your religion assume that a theocracy is its ultimate goal?  

I’ve been doing some research about the Pledge of Allegiance of the USA. It was first published in a children’s magazine in 1892. The author, Francis Bellamy, wrote it so that it would be suitable for citizens of any country. “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Later insertions included  “the Flag of the United States of America” in 1923 and “one nation under God in 1954”  What is there about that phrase that is so attractive?  

I was surprised to learn that both the author of the original pledge and the pastor who most elegantly argued for the insertion of God in the pledge were both considered socialists.  

In 1954, as a piece of anti-communist propaganda, the words “under God” were added. Eisenhower was president at the time and he added more than two words to the pledge.  Having seen the rise of communism—which was communism in name only; the real name of the soviet system was totalitarianism—Eisenhower knew that it would take more than military threat to contain the Soviet Union’s encroachment. 

 Eisenhower believed religious faith was the single most important distinction between American freedom and Communist oppression. The U.S.S.R. was against any kind of religion, any kind of spirituality.  On paper, communism made everybody not only equal, but alike.  Americans of the Judeo-Christian tradition, by contrast, held to the belief that every person was created in the image of God. The interpretation of this put a priority on Individualism.  To wage and win the Cold War, Eisenhower believed, Americans must be dedicated to that principle.

This belief in individualism has been transformed so that now each of us claims our individual rights above the common good. This individualism manifests itself now not only in a claim to rights, but an incorrigibility that says, like the old Revolutionary War flag, “Don’t tread on me.” In case you don’t recall that flag, it is not a picture of a puppy wanting to be picked up and cuddled; it is a picture of a rattlesnake, ready to strike, ready to injure, ready to kill.

How far we have come since Jesus invited us to create a kingdom on earth for the good of all of God’s creation.

So, compare the kingdom we vote for to the Kingdom Jesus brought to earth.

Your Kingdom come, or, in the language of Shakespeare, Thy kingdom come. Are we asking for that Kingdom to come now or are we assuming it is somewhere between heaven and here, delayed in some celestial post office?

20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21  New Revised Standard Version)

The Kingdom is among us.  To the untrained eye, the Kingdom may not be visible.  It starts out quite small, quietly. It arrives without fanfare.  

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (This was the mustard of the Middle East, not the mustard that grows wild in our ditches. )20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21  New Revised Standard Version)

Like a tiny seed, like yeast  so thoroughly incorporated that it can make the heavy flour and eggs and butter double in size.  Have you ever heard bread rise? Or even tried to watch it? The kingdom of God is like that.  

But from where does that heavenly yeast come? Us. We are mixed in with all the other ingredients of humanity. We are mixed in with the pain and the greed and the danger

When we ask for the coming of the kingdom, we are asking for a gift God wants to give.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

I know that you prefer I keep politics out of the sermon. You’ve told me as much. Except for those of you who vote like me; then—the more, the merrier.  That’s not how the kingdom of God works, though. It’s how we work in the kingdom of God. 

Let me share words from one of my textbooks, written by one of my professors. 

According to Dr.Nessan, God uses two strategies to bring about the kingdom.

[According to Martin Luther,]  God employs both a right-hand and a left-hand strategy in the mission of defeating Satan and ushering in the kingdom of God, shalom. 

The right-hand strategy entails God’s mission of bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world through the church. The primary instruments for carrying out this strategy are the proclamation of the gospel and the sharing of the means of grace, baptism and the Eucharist. …God seeks to encounter us in Word and sacrament in order to forgive sin, deliver us from the powers of the evil one, and bring us to eternal life.  (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (pp. 14-15). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.) 

The Gospel. Baptism.  Holy Communion. Forgiveness. Deliverance. Eternal life.

This left-hand strategy involves the establishment of a just, equitable, peaceful social order that entails distinct attention to four arenas: family, work, church, and state. It is crucial to notice how Luther does not abandon the world to its own devices by relegating the activity of God only to what happens in the church building. Rather, Luther sees all of life, organized according to these four arenas, engaged by God through the left-hand strategy.    (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (p. 17). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.) 

Family. Work. Church. State.  

To simplify, God’s two strategies are thus: What God does for us—salvation. What we do for God—build the kingdom—right now.  

What does this have to do with politics?  

We do well at this point to recall how Jesus himself got involved in political matters pertaining to the arrival of the kingdom of God: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, advocating forgiveness and nonviolence, welcoming strangers. This kingdom agenda involved Jesus in heated controversy with the religious and political establishment of his time, provocatively leading to his eventual execution by the government. For those who would prefer political quietism, we discover little comfort or support in the witness of Jesus.  . (Nessan, Craig. Shalom Church (p. 13). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.)

 Another way to see how we continue the Kingdom that Jesus initiated is to get personal: God freed us FROM SIN TO SERVE. 

 The Kingdom of God is a gift from God. It is not so much a gift we ask for as a gift God wants to give us, like a dandelion from a child.

31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. ( Luke12:31-36)

This gift comes with expectations.  Imagine being given five yards of cloth or six tomato plants.  You have to do something with that cloth. You have to plant those tomatoes and harvest those tomatoes. 

When we pray for the kingdom to come we are asking to be citizens of this kingdom. We trust God to equip us to continue to establish this Kingdom. Luther says we have four areas in which to establish this Kingdom: Family. Work. Church. State.  That doesn’t leave much out.  Establishing the Kingdom sounds like a full-time occupation. It is.  It is not a separate mission project. It is not confined to the four walls of a building or to the membership lists of active congregations.  It requires a consistent mindset that is not separate from your definition of your religion.  Your religion is NOT your own business. It is the business of constantly, consistently sharing the Good News of the Gospel and serving the brothers and sisters who would love to live in this Kingdom.

Let this verse from 1 Peter guide you this week: 

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8 New Revised Standard Version)

Holy, Holy, Holy Luke 11: 2

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.

+++

How many times we have rattled off these two sentences, knowing that we are saying something significant? How many times have spoken these words without thinking about the the magnificence of the person to whom we pray? How many times have we prayed “your kingdom come” without thinking what the kingdom will look like.

God is holy. When we hallow God, we are saying that God is holy, that we respect and venerate God above all else. It is a starting point in our relationship with God. First, we acknowledge that God is the Holiest of Holies. 

At that point, logic tells me I should fall in disgrace and despair because I am the least holy person in the world.  But Jesus doesn’t go there when he teaches this prayer. Instead, instead of running the other way, we ask God to come to us. Your kingdom come.  

And what is the kingdom of God?  When I was a kid, I thought that it meant something like Jesus coming down from heaven on a big white horse with thousands of angels.When Jesus arrived, I thought, he would whip this place into shape.  He would get rid of all the bad people and only the good people would remain. Where I got that idea, I do not know. Maybe from religious story books. Maybe my own unformed theological imagination.  Ironically, my expectation of Jesus as a warrior savior was the same that most of the Jewish nation expected for centuries.  That’s why Jesus did not fit their expectation of a Messiah—they wanted a Messiah that would fight kind with kind and overthrow the Roman government, much like we elect candidates who promise to “make ’em squeal.”  

The kingdom Jesus had in mind did not include bloodshed or force or any kind of military action. Jesus’ brought the kingdom with him in the form of love.  Love. Gentleness. Kindness. Generosity. The kingdom arrived through sharing, through inviting, through forgiving, through accepting.

And guess who the administrators, the elected officials, if you will, of this kingdom are?  Us.  We have been armed, not with tanks and bombs, guns and bullets, but with love.  Galatians 5 gives us a good list of our arsenal.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 

Love.

Joy.

Peace.

Patience.

Kindness.

Generosity.

Faithfulness

Gentleness.

Self-control.

These are not weapons. They are tools. They enable us to build the kingdom. We are not asked to destroy anything. We are asked to build. We are the architects, the urban planners, even the enforcers, but not with force: with love. 

Love. The simplest, toughest rules Jesus gave us command us to love.  Love God. Love your neighbor. In Jesus’ time, loving your neighbor was pretty local; nobody traveled far from home; nobody knew about people on the other side of the world.  Now we do know about people beyond our own city limits.  We know about people all over the world, people who are starving, people who are fighting, people in destroyed cities and in concentration camps. That expands our reach quite a bit.  We need to love even those whom we fear.

Joy.  We rejoice with our neighbor, near and far, when good things happen, when drought is broken by rain, when a life is saved, when a flower blooms, when a treaty is signed and kept.

Peace. We keep the peace, within our families, our communities and through our words and deeds. We do not disparage those who rub us the wrong way. Patience.   We take the time to learn about what we don’t understand.  We listen to the other person’s story.

Kindness.  We show our best side to everyone we meet.

Generosity. We share what we have in gratefulness, happy that we can be the bearers of sustenance out of our own abundance.

Self-control. We let the Holy Spirit,—not the media, the local gossip, the actions and words of others—guide our thoughts and words and actions.

I recently discovered an author whose work I want to read.  Her name is Beatrice Bruteau. She claimed that the “the whole work of prayer is to change our sense of identify.” If you were able to practice the fruits of the spirit completely, in every part of your life, would your friends and family recognize you? Would they think you’d had a stroke? If I were always generous, kind, patient, joyful, peaceful, loving—-all of the time—-would my family think something was wrong with me?  There’s a great irony!  To be exhibit those virtues would seem wrong??!!??!!  

But seriously, how can prayer change our sense of identity?  Perhaps if we pray those words more intentionally, if we really think about what we are asking for, maybe that will change the way we think and act.

Do not think that I am calling us all evil losers who never do anything right. All of you are joyful, kind generous, peace-loving, patient, loving, stable—most of the time.  We have to be to get along with each other.  But what if we thought of our goodness as deliberately building the kingdom of God, a kingdom not just for people like us, a kingdom not just for people who follow the same laws as us, but a kingdom bigger than anything we can imagine.  I’m not taking about a global government.  We’ve seen enough attempts at that through our human wars to know that that won’t work. We already have a global economy and that isn’t working so well.  A kingdom is not about physical property or even resources.  It’s about people, the most amazing of God’s creations. It’s geography and borders being minor considerations in our own actions and in the actions we expect of each other.  It’s about loving instead of blaming.  It’s about rejoicing instead of fearing.  It’s about sharing instead of outsmarting.  

So, when you pray, be careful—that is, really care about what you are praying.  Pray for the kingdom to come. How audacious! But you can because you are a part of that kingdom and the One who created you and everything you have is expecting you to bring that Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, to reality here and now.  It’s not about some future apocalyptic event. It’s not about heaven. It’s about here and now.  Your kingdom come—not after I’m long gone from this earth. Your kingdom come—now!  

It goes against human nature, against much of what we’ve been taught, much of what we’ve experienced. It may even seem impossible—but with God—well, all things are possible. Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ words: Matthew 19:25-26 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

When we hear these words, we are greatly astonished, or at least skeptical. We ask, how can I build the kingdom in my lifetime?  Every time your pray, “Your kingdom come,” you’re volunteering.  For our holy God, all things are possible. Let the faith that has allowed you to pray those words all these years be the faith that helps you to build the kingdom.  Amen.