Rector's Blog: Thy Kingdom Come
Episcopal author and activist Vida Scudder wrote these words in 1917: “This is the hour of opportunity; this is the hour of the Church. In the last fifty years she has accomplished a great preparation, by her rediscovery of the purpose of Jesus. Few and hesitant, however, have been her attempts to realize that purpose, to strive boldly, through profound labors of readjustment and reconstruction, to establish the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, on earth.”
As I read those words, I tightened up. I felt tension in my shoulders that matched the tension Scudder there describes: It’s the tension between what is possible and what is typical.
The Lord’s Prayer is central to the worship of our church. It is found in every liturgy in our Prayer Book. It is taken directly from the Gospel narrative: When Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray, Jesus responds specifically with this prayer, this “Our Father…” In this essential prayer, our first petition to God is, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I have been Christian my whole life, which means I’ve been saying, hearing, reading this prayer my whole life, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually paid any attention at all to that first petition, to what it means. Plainly speaking, we are asking that God make this life, this place just like Heaven. That’s what we’re asking. And I don’t think Jesus was being hyperbolic, parabolic, symbolic, or idealistic. I think Jesus meant it, and I think Jesus wants us to mean it.
That this world be heavenly should be something we actively seek and desire.
The Episcopal Church is explicitly meant to be a visionary and driven body. Our catechism states that our mission is to restore all people to unity with God through Jesus Christ, and that we do this by praying, worshiping, proclaiming the Gospel, and promoting justice, peace, and love. At Church of the Redeemer we have our own Vision Statement that is likewise driven, and it seeks to focus us on how we live into that mission. It is worth recognizing that what we are really doing is trying to help our own petition to God come true. We are saying, “God we want Earth look more like Heaven, and we want to help make it happen.”
This is the powerful possibility of which Scudder writes. This is the purpose of Jesus – not only to bring God’s Kingdom to bear, but to empower our participation in that miraculous act. And this raises the questions that cause my shoulders to tense up: Are we helping participate in the bringing of God’s Kingdom? Are we seeing to God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven? Why would we pray for that and then not help make it happen?
This is where the possible and the typical butt heads.
I am thinking now of this church I love here in the Queen City, this congregation that has become my spiritual home. This community has helped so many of us feel a sense of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. We have seen church as a thing that is meant to transform those of us who participate. And indeed, it absolutely should. This is a beautiful thing about our church: we understand that our involvement in the church is supposed to transform us, to help us grow and mature and see the world differently.
I love this. It’s not wrong. It’s just incomplete.
Incomplete because we know our existence isn’t supposed to simply transform those of us who participate. We believe we exist also in order to make our neighborhood look more like God’s Kingdom than it would if we were not here. That is to say, the world around us should be more loved, more loving, more just, more peaceful, more equitable than it would if there was no Church of the Redeemer. If a church focuses entirely on the transformation and spiritual formation of the congregation they may do absolutely stunningly beautiful work – but it will be incomplete.
We know the pandemic was made more difficult by our inability to gather in our usual fashion. But equally difficult is the reality that for most of the pandemic we have not been able to engage in our Mission ministries – the outward facing work that most affects our neighborhood. Not to be able to gather was painful. But not being able to further Jesus’ purpose through the impact we make on our neighborhood has been downright tragic.
While we have never been perfect at this, it has long been our community’s conscious desire to undertake Mission ministries that make an impact on our neighborhood – to take our Love outside the walls of this hallowed building and to make a positive, practical difference in the lives of others. We have made great strides in that work throughout the years.
Our focus has been on housing-related issues, and in our historic work with Interfaith Hospitality Network, Madisonville Education and Assistance Center, Episcopal Retirement Services, and other beautiful organizations, we have sought to bridge the possible and the typical.
For two years what was possible felt severely limited. I’m overjoyed to say we are ready to re-engage with our neighborhood. In the coming months, you will hear some big announcements about the next chapter of Mission work at Redeemer. Along with those announcements will come invitations for you to actively participate with God in the bringing of love, justice and peace more fully to bear. I am beyond excited not only by what is on the horizon, but by the prospect of your involvement and transformation!
So much of the work of Becoming Beloved Community is the realization that we have not yet met all the people we are going to love. We have not yet met all the people who will be transformed by our church. We have not yet met all the people who are going to transform us and love us and make us more like Heaven. The embracing of the Beloved Community, the heeding of Scudder’s prophetic utterance, these are the reclaiming of Jesus’ purpose here and now. May they not be few and may we not be hesitant.
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