In prepping for today’s message, I kept having images in my head like scenes from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones - maybe even Star Wars. If you put the Scripture selections together, Daniel’s vision describes these beasts that trample everything in their path. And then in Mark we have the story’s hero having a solemn moment with his Father, submitting to whatever happens. Couple that with the piece of the Lord’s Prayer we are studying today “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and you might imagine a great King and his troops descending down from the skies in some great science fiction battle over the earth.
In a sense, yes, this is the scene we have before us today. In another sense, the imagery and the wording of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” paints a much different picture.
Thy kingdom come….
Daniel’s vision is from long before Jesus’ time, and in true biblical literary fashion, it tells a history in a very different way than historians now write. John Dominic Crossan, in The Greatest Prayer, explains that the first beast, the lion with eagles wings, represents the Babylonian empire. Next, the bear represents the Medes empire. Third, the leopard, is the Persians. Fourth, the Macedonian Greeks are represented by the “dreadfully different” beast. This is the historical order of reign in that region of the world. (Though, the biblical author writes it much differently than “starting in the mid-second century BCE, these four kingdoms followed one another in power, ending with the fourth-century BCE empire of Alexander the Great.”)
Finally, the fifth part of this vision. Historically, it should be the Roman empire. Yet, Daniel has a different vision for the 5th empire. It is one led by the (capital A) Ancient One, giving dominion over to a human who comes from heaven. This reign is much different than the preceding kingdoms.
The first four are “animal-fied.” (Crossan’s term, not mine.) They are compared to beasts.
The fifth is “person-ified.”
The first four were impermanent; their dominion was taken away.
The fifth is eternal, an “everlasting dominion that will not pass away.”
The first four were earth-born.
The fifth is heaven-born.
Using the word “kingdom” is somewhat irrelevant to us, unless you’ve recently moved here from another country or been in Bahrain (which I just learned is the Kingdom of Bahrain). Using the word “kingdom” in the Lord’s Prayer and reading it alongside Daniel’s vision, though, shows the contrast of earthly and godly rule. Asking for God’s Kingdom to reign means asking for the “ruling style of God” to be established.
God’s kingdom looks much different than these animal-fied, impermanent, earth-born kingdoms.
What I love is that a “ruling style” can transcend country or nation. God’s “ruling style” of justice and mercy and grace and love can be implemented across languages, cultures, and most governments.
Looking at what Jesus taught, I’d say God’s ruling style is a lot to do with collaboration, participation by us. Jesus invites his listeners to “take up your cross and follow me.” He sends out his disciples to heal and feed people, just as he has shown them. God, as we read in Psalm 8 last week, has given responsibility to humans to care for the earth and everything in it. This kingdom is not a “hey, sit back and watch me be awesome!” type of kingdom. It is a “all hands on deck, everybody pitch in, we can do this together” type of kingdom.
It is quite a paradigm shift from the earthly empires of that time (and even now). Additionally, Jesus taught them to achieve this without violence. In John 18:36, Jesus says “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Crossan states, “The difference between God’s kingdom and Rome’s empire, between Jesus and Pilate, between Jesus’ companions and Pilate’s followers is that one is nonviolent and the other is violent.” (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, p91)
A moment of raw truth: that’s a hard thing to say in a military town. I mean no disrespect to those here today who are veterans or are currently serving, knowing that some of your jobs have meant operating weapons.
However, I think being reminded of what God’s kingdom looks like is a reminder of the goal. The goal is a world of no violence. Of course, the Bible has violence in it - try reading the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, without hearing about one tribe attacking another or a person raising their arm to signal when “God’s team” would get ahead. (True story: Exodus 17) I’ve come to believe that God was meeting the people of those times where they were - in a society that very much relied on those wars. I believe God meets us today where we are - in a world where countries and individuals have to look for ways to defend against violence. And I believe the goal is non-violence.
I believe God’s kingdom, God’s style of rule, is the goal.
Thy will be done…
One of the distinguishing factors in Daniel’s vision of the empires was that the 5th one was personified, not “animal-fied.” That mindset follows through to this phrase “thy will,” indicating God has a desire or dream for the world. It’s a personification of the Divine.
In determining what God’s will is, Crossan considers the question “Did God will Jesus to die an unjust, imperial-driven death?” Super easy question. After all, our Mark Scripture today shows Jesus praying in the garden before his arrest and crucifixion for, what is essentially, God’s will to be done. Jesus ends up dying a cruel death. Was that God’s will?
Thinking through this question can really fill out your theology, shedding light on what you think of punishment versus consequence. Punishments are more externally dealt (i.e., the driver was caught going 55 in a 25mph zone, so they were fined by the state). Consequences are more internally dealt (the driver was speeding around a curve and hit a tree). Is God’s will more punishment-driven or consequence-driven?
Crossan does intense work going through these options and Scripture that could support the spectrum of answers. I’ll fast forward you to his conclusion: God is more consequence-driven, not punishment-driven. It is God’s desire that our actions reap positive consequences.
Like most parents who want their children to grow up and make wise decisions on their own, God’s will allows for us to have freedom of choice. With that freedom of choice, much like the decisions we make while growing up, we face positive and negative consequences. We try running down a slide, we may face plant onto the ground. We work hard at a career, we may be recognized and promoted. We turn our backs on the weak/the poor/the oppressed, and as Psalm 82 says, “the foundations of the earth are shaken.”
If we live in an empire that relies on violence and fear to rule a people, we likely end up killing someone trying to shift the paradigm. Crossan concludes that God did not will Jesus’ death as a punishment for humanity’s sins; Jesus’ death was a sacrificial consequence of humanity’s free will. Crossan states, “There are...consequences of freedom that must be accepted even if never willed.” This consequence, Jesus’ death, freed us from thinking that we needed to continue offering sacrifices to appease God.
God’s will, God’s eternal vision, is for us to make wise choices. Choices that lead to justice on behalf of the weak and orphaned; choices that lead to everyone in God’s Household being looked after.
God’s will is a goal that is here and that is far away. Jesus said numerous times that “the kingdom of God has come to you,” stating that his presence was the presence of the kingdom of God. And yet, we pray for “thy will be done” as if it is something not yet occurring. It is the great “now, not yet” conundrum of Christianity. How do we live both as if “in heaven” and “on earth?”
How do you see both sides of one coin simultaneously? Technically, you can try. I know some of you “wise guys/gals” (aka, smart asses) out there will want to show me something with a mirror contraption. Yet, the fact is that if you’re looking at one side of the coin, the other is hidden from you.
When it comes to thinking of heaven and earth, as we name it in the Lord’s Prayer, the key is being aware that they are part of the same coin - they are both present even when we only see one side.
Praying “thy kingdom come” is not praying for some far away king to descend upon us here - it is praying that the ruling style of God be known to all as it is already present among us.
Praying “thy will be done” is not praying for punishments to be doled out - it is praying that we, as those given responsibility on earth, make wise decisions with positive consequences.
Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Householder of all the earth, may our actions bring honor to your reputation.
May your ruling style be implemented, may your eternal vision of wise choices be fulfilled.
Scripture: Daniel 7:1-14; Mark 14:32-36