Who’d be a King? Not Prince Harry if the reports this week are anything to go by, in fact according to interviews he has given, not many of the Royal family themselves. In some ways, I can see his point. I’m not sure I’d welcome the amount of scrutiny and lack of privacy that goes with a Royal role in modern Britain. It’s not as though you get much power or authority really either – it’s been downhill in that regard for the British Royal Family since King John signed the Magna Carta. As the role of the royals has changed, and our understanding of what a King or Queen is for has changed, I wonder what that has done to our understanding of what it means to live in a Kingdom. I wonder if the fact that we live in a Kingdom where the monarch is a nice little old lady who we might respect but who has very little impact on the reality of our lives has affected the way in which we think about God as King of our lives. I wonder what we think it means to live in God’s Kingdom, to pray for God’s kingdom to come.
The reading we’ve just heard from Matthew’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life on earth contains one of the most well known and widely memorised pieces of Christian scripture. The Lord’s prayer, a prayer that has been learnt and prayed by billions of people in hundreds of languages, in many different kingdoms and republics for centuries.
Right at the beginning of it is that prayer that God’s kingdom may come. But what does that mean? If our ideas of what a kingdom look like have been watered down by the reality of the society we live in today, or taken to the realm of fantasy by Game of Thrones or the Tudors, what is it exactly we’re praying for?
Well, let’s look at our first reading. Isaiah describes some aspects of God’s kingdom. As God’s messenger and prophet to God’s people, Isaiah paints this word picture of how things work in a society in which God’s authority is acknowledged and which is shaped by it. This picture is picked up by Jesus, very early in his public ministry – he reads the first few verses of this chapter in the synagogue and then says, “today this scripture is fulfilled”. Part of the reason that Jesus came to live on earth was to bring the promise of this picture closer to being fulfilled.
So, what does God’s kingdom look like? For individuals it looks like a place where those who are heart broken find emotional and spiritual healing and wholeness. A place where those who are kept captive by circumstances, life choices, or oppression find freedom and liberty. A place of light, where those who have been kept in the dark and feel shadowed and grey, see clearly the colours of a full life.
What does God’s kingdom look like? For a community it looks like a place where things that have fallen into ruin are rebuilt and restored. Long devastation does not have to be the end for a community. In the kingdom of God there is hope and a future. It looks like a place where justice is done, and seen to be done, and crime and violence are no more.
Of course, there is no neat dividing line that runs down the middle between individuals and community. All communities are made up of individuals, and all individuals are part of the community. As individuals find themselves living in God’s kingdom, so they turn outwards, learn to love and support others and community is strengthened and built up. As a community takes on the characteristics of the Kingdom of God so the individuals within it are enabled to prosper and flourish.
I wonder who your favourite monarch is. Ever since I read, “The Once and Future King” I’ve loved the stories of King Arthur, valiantly trying to forge a noble Kingdom in the face of the forces of darkness, the vested interests of the Barons, and treachery and betrayal from those he loved most. There’s the romance of the Cavalier King Charles, the long bravery of women in a man’s world of The three great queens, Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II.
In the history of God’s people, everybody looked back to King David. He was the great King of their history, who had stitched the kingdom together, who had forged the nation as a political and military power. In Jesus’ time, in a land under occupation every body was looking our for a new King David, sent by God to deliver God’s people from the Romans.
Jesus was that King. Jesus was the descendant of David, chosen by God to rescue the people from oppression. Jesus really was the Messiah. The thing is, he refused to be a King in the way that people expected him to be. He had authority and power, but he did not use it for himself, but to heal people, to feed them, to bring them life. He brought freedom, not just for the Jewish nation, but for all people. Freedom from all oppression, for all time. But he did not bring it by heading up a conquering army or winning elections or with political influence. His only crown was a crown of thorns. He was exalted, lifted high, not onto a throne but onto a cross.
Jesus’ death and resurrection, historical events that actually happened, were the dawn of a new Kingdom, God’s kingdom. The full noon of that Kingdom still has not come, but every time we pray this prayer, we bring it closer. Every time we choose to live as Jesus did, with humility and love, we bring it closer. Every time we acknowledge that Jesus is King of our own lives, and the life of our community and choose to be shaped by his commands and values, we bring it closer.
When I look at the news I am struck that the Kingdom of God and the forces that oppose it have never been clearer.
On the one side we have the fire at Grenfell Towers and the social injustices that led to it being such a tragedy. We have terrorist attacks that have left people dead, injured and afraid. These are things of the kingdom of darkness. On the other hand we have people giving food, bags of clothing, opening community spaces, offering housing. We have the people of Manchester offering free taxi rides, hotel rooms. We have charity concerts and singles. We have Justin Bieber telling thousands of young people, “God is good is the midst of the evil. God is good in the midst of the darkness. He loves you,” These are the things of the Kingdom of light, things of the Kingdom of God.
Since I have moved to Wellington I have been heartened and encouraged by the people of good will in this community who put so much into working for the flourishing of the people who live and work in this place. From the Remembrance Day events, through the Christmas celebrations, to the work of those looking to set up community groups to look after the station and the town centre environment, to the teams over at Strickland House working with vulnerable members of our community, to the counsellors and counsel staff in their week to week work, to the Midsummer Fayre and the POW festival yesterday. So many people who are working for the good of this community in so many ways.
It is my prayer for the coming year that God’s kingdom will come in Wellington. That the poor will hear good news, that the broken hearted will find healing, that those held captive will be freed, and that the places of desolation will be rebuilt and renewed. It is my belief that we will see these things happen more and more as we choose to live with Jesus as our King, not as a nice little old dear that we respect but has no real impact on our daily lives, but as a real person, a present reality whose kingdom is shaped by love and self sacrifice.