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ago I heard something that may have been a song or book title.
I don't remember where it came from; all I remember is what it
God is a surprise! I want to talk to you today about
surprises, about being caught off guard, astonished. And about
how, I believe, God is indeed a surprise.
most of us know from experience, some surprises are better than
others. Slipping on a banana peel and crashing to the ground,
is not the same as going to a friend's house for dinner and finding
a house full of people you love waiting to wish you a Happy Birthday!
are in the third week of an eight-week preaching series on The
Lord's Prayer. Last week I had a pleasant surprise. A parishioner
said, "I'll be there next Sunday; I don't want to miss any
of those sermons on 'The Lord's Prayer.'" I don't either.
So far, the sermons have inspired and surprised me.
Hansel, who introduced the series, may have surprised some of
us when he explained that this is not really the Lord's Prayer,
but ours. Jesus suggested this prayer to his disciples when they
asked him how they should pray. Our first two sermons, one from
Bob and one from George Yandell, dealt with 'Our Father in heaven'
and 'Hallowed be your name.'
it will NOT surprise you that my topic is 'Your Kingdom Come'—three
short words, which are undoubtedly familiar to you. You have probably
said them a thousand times. What I hope to offer today are some
insights about why I believe the Kingdom of God is a surprise.
first word "Your," refers to God, which is not surprising
since the prayer is directed to God. But, please note: we ask
that GOD'S Kingdom come, and that may not always coincide with
what we have in mind! "God's ways are not our ways; God's
thoughts are not our thoughts." I can still hear one of our
Lenten preachers, Joanna Adams,
standing in this pulpit and saying, "When God spoke to Moses
on Mt. Sinai and said, 'I AM WHO I AM,' God meant, and YOU are
third word, "come," is interesting. It may surprise
you to know that it doesn't mean a once and for all coming; rather
it means a revealing or appearing, a process. The Kingdom of God
is active, not static, like the love of God, which I hope we know,
is ongoing and eternal.
let's turn to the word "Kingdom," where the real surprises
come. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God over and over; it
was one of the dominant themes of his ministry. But he never defined
what it was, never formulated a mission statement for it! Instead,
he told stories and gave images of what the kingdom was like.
Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that becomes a great bush,"
Jesus said. "Excuse me??" his listeners replied. They
were used to hearing the Kingdom of God compared to the mighty
cedar trees of Lebanon. The mustard seed image was shocking to
Jesus' listeners. It
would be like Jesus telling us that our national bird should be
a chickadee, not an eagle or that dandelions, not towering oaks,
are like the kingdom.
things defy definition. When I am asked about the Street Ministry,
I start by saying, "It is not a clothes closet, not a soup
kitchen and not an overnight shelter." "Then what is
it?" people ask, and I try to explain that it is a place
where people who most of us have given up on are welcome, and
where each individual's life is important. Mostly, I say, "Come
and see, and just be there. You may see something of the Kingdom
of God first hand."
as the Street Ministry is NOT certain things, so also the Kingdom
of God is NOT certain things—it is not geography or a territory;
it is not a hierarchy with a King on a throne; and it certainly
is not like the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland.
Kingdom of God is like standing on your head and seeing the world
is seeing things differently. It is seeing things the way God
apparently sees them. God, according to Jesus, sees greatness
in small people and things and actions, in the seemingly insignificant
people and events we tend to overlook. God is looking for justice
and fairness and peace. One Bible scholar says that 'Your Kingdom
Come' should be translated "Set the world right."
set the world right means to make the world a better place. It
may surprise us to know that when Jesus tells us, his disciples,
to pray for the coming of the kingdom, he means the outer conditions
of the world as much, if not more, than in human hearts. Jesus
was a social activist; he died to set the world right.
seems to me that he would be urging us today to act for justice,
to speak up for better schools, to get to the core of the causes
of poverty and addiction. Jesus would tell us to talk more about
peace and less about war. To build weapons of massive peace initiatives
while we take action to protect innocent people from mass destruction.
It is not always comfortable to raise these issues, but as Barbara
Taylor says, "Jesus needs followers, not admirers."
we pray 'your kingdom come,' and have as our national motto, "In
God we trust," we affirm God's rule, not ours. We may be
surprised—our world may turn upside down, in wonderful ways.
is true for the outer world is true for the inner world. Praying
your kingdom come can turn our inner worlds upside down, too.
Many of you have heard me talk about finding sea glass on a rocky
beach in Maine. Those beautiful, broken, battered, worthless fragments
of glass, with their sharp edges worn smooth remind me that I
can be smoothed and softened. Finding each piece fills me with
unspeakable delight, and I think that God must delight that way
in each of us. Like Nathanael in today's gospel, who is very surprised
that Jesus already knows him and asks, "Where did you get
to know me?" The Kingdom of God really comes in our hearts
when we recognize that God knows us and finds us precious, priceless.
the last few summers in Maine, I have noticed the rocks along
with the glass. The rocks are all shapes and sizes, and they are
of course very hard. Most of them are very dark. The rocks remind
me of the hard, dark side of life. Does the Kingdom of God come
got an answer to that question this past summer. A man my husband
and I dearly loved in Maine, became very ill and died while we
were there. He and his wife were our closest friends there, the
reason we started going to Maine every summer. When I realized
what was happening, I could not believe it. It made me sick to
think of him not being with us—the golden Maine days, the
boat rides, the blueberries and lobster were tinged with heaviness
and sadness. It was MUCH more than having a good time spoiled.
It was as if Maine—which had become a metaphor of joy and
beauty for me—had turned completely upside down.
yet, living through that experience, I
can tell you that God's Kingdom DOES come in the darkness, and
in despair. I cannot
explain it; I can only tell you that as my friend died surrounded
by his wife and daughters, and as I was allowed to be part of
that family, I saw with my own eyes and felt with my heart the
power of love, and the presence of God. I was profoundly surprised.
Is that what the Kingdom of God is like? It felt like it to me.
"Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom
2002 Calvary Episcopal Church. This series was first presented
at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN.
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