THY KINGDOM COME
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 22nd 2009
1 Corinthians 15: 20 “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead – the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
What do you imagine when you pray “Thy kingdom come”? Most of us think of a future event. Jesus himself said: “My kingdom is not of this world”, suggesting another place and time. So we see the coming of the kingdom as an event associated with the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.
It was in this context that I quoted 1 Corinthians 15:20 in last week’s sermon. Only after the final judgment will the kingdom of God be seen in all its fullness. That seems to be the message of today’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne”. And he will proceed then to separate the sheep from the goats….to judge everyone according to the way they have lived.
In Matthew 25 it is how we treat the poor and the marginalized that determines how we are judged. This has been the impetus behind the Church’s ministry of social justice and care through the ages. Religious orders down through the years, and in recent years the Church has taken over social welfare. We have had churches establishing agencies of social concern – in this diocese we have Episcopal Community Services, as one example.
The concept of Christ’s kingdom finally arriving at the second coming is not completely satisfactory, however. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, are we really in our hearts praying for the end of this world when we say “Thy kingdom come?” I doubt it.
We are more likely to be praying in those words for the reality of God’s kingdom to be made more evident and manifest in our society. Those works of charity and care are examples of us trying to make God’s kingdom more real in this world. When we pray there is an intention that we want America to be a more Christian country. To reflect what the Eucharistic preface today says: “A kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace”.
We know that it won’t just happen. If we pray “Thy kingdom come” we must be prepared to work for that.
Many Christians took this understanding of “Thy kingdom come” and combined it with Matthew 25 in the 1960’s. In the South Clergy marched for civil rights, and against the Vietnam War in the North, and the National Council Churches funded the ANC in South Africa in its fight against apartheid.
Political action is still carried out by Christians today, and yet the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 was not that we should overthrow governments – but that Jesus our King is present in everyone whom we encounter, despite the rulers of this world.
To serve the poor was to serve Jesus and to make his kingdom real – but only because he said: “The kingdom of God is within you”. Christ is King here and now and his kingdom is present when the way we live represents that kingdom of love and peace.
Yes, the kingdom will be revealed at end of time in all its fullness. But it already lies hidden in the world when two or three are gathered in his name and also in the heart of the individual believer. The point of Matthew 25 is that the way we live our lives makes the kingdom present now, despite everything. This brings us to 1 Corinthians 15 (our Epistle today)
Saint Paul declares that Christ is the first fruits of all who have died, through his resurrection on the first Easter Day. Then he paints a picture of Christ reigning over the world until the final end. That is, having risen, ascended, and returned to heaven, Christ not only reigns in heaven but in the world.
The first Christians understood this to refer to the Church. In the midst of the Roman Empire the only place where Christ was king was in his Church. This led to an identification of the Church with the kingdom – which is not the same. All sorts of problems arose from identifying the Church with the kingdom – particularly in the middle ages.
Now 2,000 years later we are back in the first century. Christ no longer is king of Western Christian society. Here in the USA, to be an inclusive community often means excluding Christ. So once again the one place where Christ is King is the Church.
That makes our coming together and our worship so essential if God’s kingdom is to be embraced. Because the Church is the place where Jesus reigns as King – in every age saints have been examples of God’s love, often enduring sacrifices, hardship and persecution.
They did this because they lived God’s kingdom in their lives. They didn’t just follow the commands of Jesus, like love your neighbour – they lived as if the kingdom was real, and Christ was really King.
That is the challenge for us today in the 21st century. We are called not only to be subjects of the kingdom, but also to take the kingdom into the world – the same way those saints of old did.
How did they do that?
By the regular life of prayer, by behaviour and ethics, by their commitment to forgiveness and repentance, by acts of kindness and generosity, by being images of Christ in world.
The only way we can do this is through his grace – which is most easily encountered here in the Eucharist.
+ Here we, his subjects come face to face with him personally.
+ Here Christ truly reigns as King more than anywhere else.
For here we join with “Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven” evermore praising him who is our King.