Title: Thy Kingdom Come
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Date: November 14, 2010
Place: Bald Eagle United Methodist Parish (Tyrone, PA)
Author: Christopher Klopp
This past Thursday, on Veterans’ Day I had the honor of praying for the gathering of veterans and their families at the American Legion. At one point in the ceremony a list of names were read, names of those who had died in World Wars One and Two, and in Vietnam, and as these names were remembered, red poppies were dropped into a symbolic grave. Soon the grave was full of perhaps a hundred red poppies, each one representing a human being whose life was ended by war.
And as I watched I noticed the great love and pride on the faces of each of the participants. They mourned the dead, and they were thankful for their service to this country. Then there was some music, a speech by our state representative, I said a prayer, and the celebration was over. As I left I realized that Veterans’ Day is a very special day for those who attended the ceremony, but I also realized something else.
As special as Veterans’ Day is, the Church is looking forward to a world when there will be no such thing as Veterans’ Day- a world where Veterans’ Day will not be necessary.
As far back as anyone can remember, we human beings have been killing each other. It started with Cain and Abel and has only gotten worse since. As of today there have been 100,000 documented civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war there in 2001, there have been about 4,000 American soldiers killed. And this is only one war. In Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Mexico, there are wars going on right now, in which millions more have died.
And it’s not just war. Murder, abortion, disease, and starvation roam this world like a “roaring lion, seeking for whom to devour.” Death, more often than God, seems to be Lord of this world. And so people all over the globe gather to celebrate days like Veterans Day. People all countries mourn the loss of their soldiers and their citizens. People all over the world have rituals to mark the passing of their loved ones killed in war. We build monuments to them, we hang yellow ribbons, put stars in windows, we put bumper stickers on our cars, we play music, we eat together, we tell stories, and we pray… But how do we pray? What do we pray?
Throughout the world it seems that there are basically two ways we tend to pray in the face of death: “My kingdom come”, or “thy kingdom come.”
Sometimes, when confronted with such a great loss of life, it seems necessary to pray in ways that reinforce our belief that our friends have not died in vain. We want to believe that every death in war has lead to some greater cause, some greater peace. We can’t even face the possibility that some of them may have died for no reason at all. So we pray that God would help our Country (whether that’s America, Russia, Germany, Japan, Iran) – our country win its wars so that our soldiers’ deaths might not be meaningless.
But this kind of prayer is not the way to find meaning in death. For when we pray only for our own victory, when we pray for our kingdom, it means that someone else’s kingdom is going to suffer. Someone else’s children are going to die. Someone else’s young men and women will lie on the battlefield. Someone else’s roads and schools and hospitals will be destroyed. For in this world, the victory of one kingdom always means the defeat of another. Cain always kills Abel.
Not surprisingly those who pray only for their own kingdom soon find themselves condemned to constant battle, constant vigilance against all enemies, constantly looking over their shoulder to see who might be about to strike.
People who pray “my kingdom come” soon end up saying: Do unto others “before” they do unto you.
People who pray “my kingdom come” begin to make excuses for civilian casualties and torture.
And it is no wonder that people like that eventually begin to consider their own lives meaningless. We have seen this reality unfold in recent months as the Veterans Administration has released information about the thousands of veterans’ suicides committed each year. Twelve thousand attempts a year, of which 6,000 are successful, that’s a rate of about 18 per day. These are our sons and daughters, our friends, our neighbors. These are the “troops” we claim to support. These are people who have given everything for their country and have found that it was not enough, that it could not save them. These are a people without hope. These are people who know all too well that in the kingdoms of this world Cain always kills Abel.
But it is not so in God’s kingdom.
When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we tell God that we are ready for something different. We are ready for a world where Veterans Day is unnecessary. We are ready for a world where suicide and pain and drug addiction and despair are things of the past. When we pray for God’s kingdom rather than our own, only then are telling God that we are ready for peace. We are ready for hope.
For those of us who mourn the loss of our loved ones to war, or any other kind of violence, or even to disease or drugs, the prophet Isaiah brings a message of hope today. And this is his message:
God is about to create a new world.
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…
In this new world that God is creating, all the things that make Veterans Day necessary will no longer exist. The bombs, the land mines, the shrapnel… The crying, the mourning, the weeping, the pain…all put away forever. “No more shall the sound of weeping be heard …or the cry of distress,” because in this new world,
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
On the mountain of the Lord, the New and Heavenly Jerusalem, ancient enemies will become friends, the hunter and the hunted will become partners, the violent will become meek, and the meek will never be afraid again. And this new day is coming soon…
The Christians of the New Testament certainly looked forward to this new day, because knew their share of death. They were abused and persecuted, thrown in prison and publicly humiliated for their faith in Jesus. They looked forward to the day when Isaiah’s vision would become reality. But they also knew something else. They knew that with the resurrection of Jesus, that New World was right now in the process of breaking forth right in the midst of this old world. In the Church, enemies were becoming friends, the violent were becoming peacemakers, the suicidal were being healed, the lonely were being loved, and the lowly had nothing to fear. The Church was the sign and the “preview” of Isaiah’s vision.
If you’ve had enough of war. If you’ve had enough of hating. If you’ve had enough of suicide. If you’ve had enough of seeking your own kingdom. Then look at the church; because the mission of the church is to show the world what God’s holy mountain of peace looks like.
The mission of the church is to show the world the Kingdom of God.
And one way -just one small way- that we can carry out that mission is by making the church a safe place for veterans. Not a place that will play “Stars and Stripes Forever” and pretend that all of the sickness of war is forgotten. Not a place that will simply pat them on the back and say “thanks.” But a place where veterans, and everybody else affected by war and death, can meet Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The church can be a little piece of that heavenly mountain that Isaiah describes by offering a haven of rest to people who have been scarred and wounded by war. A place where they can honestly tell their brothers and sisters what their experience of war was really like. A place that will not judge, but that will heal, and forgive, and love.
Jesus warns us that if we try to do this, if we really try to become a place that reveals the Kingdom of God, then the world will hate us.
It will hate us because we are not content simply to cry and mourn and place red poppies.
It will hate us because we want a world where Veterans’ Day has become unnecessary, because there is no war.
It will hate us because we want the prophet’s dream of peace to be fulfilled.
And it will hate us because we know where to turn to find that peace.
The world will hate us because we pray “thy kingdom come.”
One day soon, Jesus will return to fulfill Isaiah’s dream, and when he does we are going to be ready. But until then, Jesus says, I will “give you words and a wisdom that the world will not be able to contradict.”
And Jesus has given us those words: “For God so loved the world…”
Our job is to live like those words mean something. Our job is to be a sign and a foretaste of the Kingdom of Peace in a world weeping from war.