Today, Remembrance Sunday, is when we recall the heroism, suffering and deaths of so many in wars of the past. And now we have the daily unfolding of the horrors of Ukraine and Israel-Palestine. Horrors and suffering. I’m sure we all wish with all our hearts that we could do something about it all, but feel so powerless. Meanwhile, the ecclesiastical calendar tells us that these four weeks before Advent are the Kingdom season. Let’s see if there’s a connection.
The Kingdom of God figures prominently in Jesus’s teaching, which he sometimes calls the Kingdom of Heaven. For instance, in these familiar words:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
The Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, is largely if not wholly composed of couplets. The lines are in pairs, with the second line almost repeating or else developing the previous line. It’s As part of Hebrew tradition, you can see it most prominently in many of the Psalms. For instance, in Psalm 103:
You founded the earth on its base,
To stand firm from age to age.
You wrapped it with the ocean like a cloak:
The waters stood higher than the mountains.
At your threat they took to flight;
At the voice of your thunder they fled.
The Our Father prayer is like that, and this includes: Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Remember that the kingdom of heaven is the same thing as the kingdom of God. So these two lines are saying more or less the same thing: Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. When God’s will is being done on earth, there is a mark of his Kingdom, his kingly influence.
And how we wish his kingdom would come for Israel-Palestine, for Ukraine, and for so many other conflicts. We are living in a much-fractured world at the moment, even our own western society socially disjointed. Don’t we wish we could do something? It’s easy to feel so helpless. But let’s never underestimate the contributions for good and ill that we make to the advancement of God’s kingdom.
You’ve probably heard of the Butterfly Effect. This is the theory of a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo and causing a tornado several weeks later in San Francisco. Whether it’s literally true or not doesn’t matter. Another illustration would be ripples in a pond from a solitary stone being dropped in. Brilliant illustrations of how what we do or don’t do can have a knock-on effect in the pool of good and bad emotion in the human race as a whole, and thus, by osmosis, by many invisible steps, into the attitudes and decisions of men and women who have world-altering decisions to make for good or ill.
One of our younger grandchildren had to choose a poem to recite in assembly during the pandemic. And she chose the lovely Spike Milligan poem that you may know:
Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too.
I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled, I realized I’d passed it on to him.
I thought about that smile, then I real-ized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine, could travel round the earth.
So, if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!
I hope this doesn’t sound too sentimental. Because it’s true! Our little initiatives and responses can have world-altering effects. And these can be contributions to the Kingdom of God, initiated in the person of Jesus and now up to us to continue.
So, we have considered the part of the Our Father that prays:
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
The rest of the prayer spells out what this means in practice:
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Incidentally, I wonder how helpful the ‘trespasses’ word is in the traditional English version. It smacks of straying on to other people’s land. Goodness knows what children make of ‘trespassing’ when they say the Lord’s Prayer! If you walk one of the footpaths between here and Hursley, there’s a memorable sign in a garden at the side that says: ‘Trespassers will be composted’. So far I’ve avoided testing it out!
Now the Lord’s Prayer is made up of couplets. The first of these two pairs of lines about daily bread and forgiveness isn’t so obviously a couplet, but it is a connected pair. It’s about our physical and mental needs in the form of our daily bread, and us forgiving one another. And the following couplet is about not contributing to evil in the world through temptation we can’t resist, and not being caught up in evil happenings or an evil destiny. And all these petitions are about ‘us’ and ‘our’ – for everyone.
So here are possible connections between our distress about Ukraine and Israel-Palestine and what we can do about it. It’s matter of advancing God’s Kingdom. We can certainly contribute to physical needs in Gaza. Christian Aid is already working with partners on the ground to be ready to supply aid as soon as that is possible. We can’t directly supply forgiveness, of course. But we can voice support for politicians and their diplomats as they try for pauses in hostilities or cease-fires and for just, long-terms settlements like a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, and a settlement for Ukraine too.
We can ourselves personify the marks of God’s kingdom in all our own dealings with other people, in our sharing and in our forgiving. God loves us and forgives us when we fail. God loves us and blesses us when we succeed.
It’s Remembrance Sunday. We want to contribute to building God’s kingdom on earth, and we have glimpsed little ways we can. It can start with simple smiling: smiles for everyone here, at the Peace, and then at the cathedral door as we leave, and in greetings for as many people as we can manage this week. You never know the butterfly or pond ripple effect we might have. The words of the Eucharistic Prayer for the Kingdom season speak of ‘gathering into one in your kingdom a divided and broken humanity’. How very apt. May it be so.