Scripture for the seventh Sunday of Easter (the Sunday after Ascension):
Acts 1.15-17,21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-19
There’s an old saying: be careful what you pray for; you just might get it.
We are in the midst of 10 days of prayer: “Your kingdom come.” The intent is to pray for more people to “come to know Christ.” This is all very well, as long as we are not surreptitiously praying for them to become like us in our faith – that’s not the coming of God’s kingdom as demonstrated by Jesus, but just a kingdom of pride and hubris. When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” especially if we uphold specific people in prayer, we should be praying, “God, Abba, may these and the world come to understand your will for all of us, which may be different from our wills for ourselves or one another.”
It is important to pray for others. For example, when we use the expression: “my/our thoughts are with you/them,” at times of crisis and trauma, it makes a difference. And when the sharing of empathy and compassion that comes with being in someone’s thoughts is extended to include God, it creates a sort of emotional and spiritual hug. So if we pray for people come to know Christ, what will they find? What is the kingdom that we want to come?
The prophet Daniel, in the aftermath of four great but destructive empires, or kingdoms, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Macedonian Greeks (Alexander the Great), foresaw a new kingdom, ruled by one “like a son of man,” which would overturn all others and be everlasting. There were those who were contemporaries of Jesus, who would have seen in the Roman empire a candidate for this fifth kingdom – to the extent that its ruler, Caesar, was deemed to be divine. Of course, that empire fell, as do all human empires.
The kingdom anticipated by Daniel, and announced and instituted by Jesus is different. In the gospel of Luke, for example, we see a depiction of Jesus who is passionately committed to the cause of the deprived and neglected and who upholds the ancient warning of the Old Testament prophets about the fat cats of Israel who prosper off the backs of the poor, the strangers and refugees, the widows and the orphans. The early church took this to the extent of pooling resources for communal support. It is a kingdom established for mutual care and compassion of all; a kingdom of justice and peace; a kingdom inspired by the Holy Spirit; above all, it is a kingdom in which it is expected that humanity will participate, not sit back and expect God to do all the work. Prayer can transform the one praying – when praying, “Your kingdom come,” we may well hear the response: “What are you doing to make it come?”! Desmond Tutu, in 1999, paraphrased St Augustine and captured the essence of this: “God, without us, will not; as we, without God, cannot.”
Another angle from which to see the kingdom of the Son of Man is in John’s gospel: we see a Messiah who has deep affection and love for his friends and followers, even though they do not always have that same level of affection for one another. This kingdom of love is already established: it needs us to sustain it. But it comes at a price: Jesus laid down his life for it, and we may have to make sacrifices.
We do need to pray for people to come to know Christ, because God’s kingdom is for them – but we can’t be possessive about how they come to know Christ, or how that manifests itself. God’s vision is bigger than ours. And we need to pray: “Your kingdom come,” because the world needs God’s kingdom – but it has to be God’s kingdom, not ours, with us as collaborators in accomplishing God’s vision.
Be careful what you pray for, indeed – you just might get it! Prayer can transform the one praying as well as the object of the prayer.