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October 2019

Hermeneutics: Facts & Interpretation in the Age of Information

Hermeneutics: Facts and Interpretation in the Age of InformationHermeneutics: Facts and Interpretation in the Age of Information by John D. Caputo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There were two chapters I really enjoyed and learned from, one about Vattimo and Rorty and the other about how a group of Canadian health care workers applied Gadamerian hermeneutics to their work. Otherwise I didn't care much for the book. Too much of it was simply an introduction to Heidegger, Derrida, etc. But often with a tone that was too clever by half and therefore off-putting. I kept hoping that the book was going to break new ground and speak to our cultural (read Trumpian) moment as indicated in the subtitle, but it never really got there, so very disappointing. In fact the final chapter, on religion, was simply a rehash of the (I think) out-dated theology of Paul Tillich. Sigh.

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Your Will Be Done

This fall we are exploring the Lord’s Prayer, each week considering a different phrase.  Today we arrive at “Your will be done.”  For our Gospel lesson, I have selected another passage in scripture, where Jesus prays for God’s will to be done—it is the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane where he is awaiting his arrest.  Of this prayer, theologian Timothy Bradshaw writes, “Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane reveals an honest human turning to God for help in desperate danger.”  Hear, now the prayer of Jesus, from the Gospel of Matthew.


Matthew 26:36-39


Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.  Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”


For the Word of God in scripture,

For the Word of God among us,

For the Word of God within us,

Thanks be to God.



            Harold Bloom, America’s best-selling literary critic, died this week.  The obituary in The Guardian proclaimed that “Bloom magisterially reaffirmed the centrality of the great works of literature in western culture.”  In doing so, he wrote best-selling books and generated controversy in academic and critical circles.

            I pulled Bloom’s books off my shelf and perused them again this week.  A few of what I have are poetry anthologies he edited, including one of my favorites The Best Poems of the English Language from Chaucer through Robert Frost.  The book is not just an anthology, Bloom introduces each poet with insightful essays.  That book sits on a shelf within easy reach of my desk, as I pull it down often when I am writing a worship service, looking for just the right poem to read, or even seeking a good turn of phrase.  It is no exaggeration to say that that one book of Bloom’s has been deeply influential in shaping not only my own understanding of poetry, but also our worship as a congregation.

            In the introduction to that anthology he wrote, “The work of great poetry is to aid us to become free artists of ourselves.”  Let’s return to that idea in a moment when we get to talking about the human and divine wills.

            Bloom was also a fascinating biblical critic.  He was Jewish, but with rather unconventional religious beliefs that were deeply influenced by Gnosticism.  In his best-selling Book of J, which is on my shelf but I haven’t yet read, he argued that one of the key writers of the Torah must have been a woman.  Bloom delighted in the character of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.  In an essay he wrote on the Book of Exodus which I admire, he wrote that “Yahweh is an uncanny personality, and not at all a concept.”  He was critical of the monotheistic faiths for the ways in which they tried to tame God.  He wrote, “To see the God of Israel is to see as though the world had been turned upside down.”  He suggests a stance toward God that is “appreciative, wryly apprehensive, intensely interested, and above all attentive and alert.”  Also “perhaps a touch wary” and “prepared to be surprised.”

            On Facebook this week, I posted a few of my favorite quotes from his book How to Read and Why. 


"Why read? Because you will be haunted by great visions."


"Reread what is most worthy of rereading, and you will remember what strengthens your spirit."


"We read to find ourselves, more fully and more strange than otherwise we could hope to find."


            That’s one reason he enjoyed reading the Bible—because it is uncanny and strange and compels us to find ourselves such. 

            Of course, he was a great proponent of reading Shakespeare, arguing that Shakespeare invented our modern sense of the human self.  The most important text for that is Hamlet.  About the character Hamlet, Bloom wrote, “Hamlet primarily is brooding upon the will . . . .  Does one have a will to act, or does one only sicken unto action, and what are the limits of the will?”

            Hamlet is such a compelling story precisely because the Danish prince can’t decide what to do.  He is struggling over what is the correct course of action and what his duties are.  And in that way he is not dissimilar to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also struggling in a desperate situation about what he should do.  Timothy Bradshaw writes, “His Gethsemane prayer was the point of agonizing conflict between human well-being, freedom from pain and evil, and trust in the divine will.”

            We modern humans are shaped by an understanding of the self in which we create ourselves through acts of our own wills.  By the choices and decisions we make and the actions we take.  We are autonomous and self-created.  Which means that we often struggle with exactly what we are supposed to do and be.  We wrestle with our choices in decisions both small and great.  Should I take the job?  Should I buy those boots?  Am I really in love with this person?  

            Sometimes the mere act of choosing makes us anxious and afraid.  Sometimes we wish the choices were made for us.  Sometimes we feel like a character in a Jean-Paul Sartre novel, burdened by our very freedom. 

            And, so, what does it mean for us to pray to God, “Your will be done.”  How does God’s will and our wills interact? 



            Growing up a Southern Baptist in the late eighties and early nineties, “What is God’s will for your life?” was a common question.  It seemed that we needed to really work at figuring out what God’s will is and in particular what God wanted for each of us. 

            And so a popular devotional study of the time was Experiencing God by the Canadian Baptist Henry Blackaby.  The subtitle to that was “How to live the full adventure of knowing and doing the will of God.” Blackaby and his partner Claude V. King turned the study guide into a published book.  My high school Sunday school teacher gave me a copy as a gift when I graduated college (Ironically at a point when I had become rather more liberal).  This week when I pulled that book off the shelf to re-examine it, I found this written by her in the front:


Congratulations on your recent graduation.  God is working in your life, remember, [And then she quoted the book of Jeremiah] “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”


The note suggests that God has a plan for my life, and it is my job to discern what that is and then obey it. 

            Henry Blackaby was more sophisticated than that in his take.  For instance, he wrote, “’What is God’s will for my life?’ is not the best question to ask.  I think the right question is simply, ‘What is God’s will?’  Once I know God’s will, then I can adjust my life to Him and His purposes. . . . Once I know what God is doing, then I know what I need to do.”

            Also for Blackaby, God’s plan for our lives is about a personal, spiritual relationship.  He wrote, “[God] wants you to experience an intimate love relationship with Him that is real and personal.”  He elaborated on this:


Knowing God does not come through a program, a study, or a method.  Knowing God comes through a relationship with a Person.  This is an intimate love relationship with God.  Through this relationship, God reveals Himself, His purposes, and His ways; God accomplished through you something only He can do.  Then you come to know God in a more intimate way by experiencing God at work though you.


            I like the emphases on relationship, experience, and joining up with the work God is already about.  But even as a young man I grew uncomfortable with the idea that God has some firmly determined plan that I either fit in or not through my obedience.  That troubled me for a host of reasons.  One reason was that I observed some people who took these ideas to the extreme, praying for God’s will about what clothes to buy or what to eat for dinner.  And seeing God’s plan at work every time they got a good parking space.  There is a fatalism to such views that eliminate our human freedom and autonomy and makes the life of faith mechanical rather than creative.  Theologian Timothy Bradshaw writes that for people who feel the need to discern God’s will “from moment to moment can lead to a dehumanizing of the creaturely person.”  He even says that doing so risks a kind of insanity.

            In college I began to feel that surely we don’t have to discern God’s will in each and every moment for every little thing, but instead our lives our shaped by our faith in such a way that God trusts us to make the right decisions on our own.  Bradshaw articulates this as well, “We know the will of God sufficiently to conduct our lives with confidence—we tend to know when we are against the grain of divine intention.”

            We shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to know the will of God, because God has already made that abundantly clear in scripture and the life of Jesus.  The passage from Isaiah read earlier today is one example.  Or think of Micah 6: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  We can absorb the teachings of Jesus and the scripture and let these guide us in the broad direction of our life.


            In an undergraduate philosophy course on Evil and Suffering, we read an essay by Lewis Ford on God’s persuasive power.  Ford was a Process Theologian, meaning his views were shaped by the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead that placed process not substance as the primary element in reality.  You may know that I wrote my dissertation on Whitehead.  Reading Ford’s essay was one of the lures that drew me into process philosophy.  Ford died earlier this year, and for his funeral they requested comments from those who had been influenced by his work.  In the short response I submitted, I included this statement, “I am grateful to his scholarship which freed me.”

            Ford argued that God’s power is never coercive.  God does not control or compel.  God only persuades.  He wrote,


Divine persuasive power maximizes creaturely freedom, respecting the integrity of each creature in the very act of guiding that creature's development toward greater freedom. The image of God as the craftsman, the cosmic watchmaker, must be abandoned. God is the husbandman in the vineyard of the world, fostering and nurturing its continuous evolutionary growth throughout all ages; he is the companion and friend who inspires us to achieve the very best that is within us. God creates by persuading the world to create itself.


            I once heard John Cobb, another Process theologian, put it succinctly, “God is not a jerk.”

            As my professor, Dr. Bob Clarke, explained it, yes God has a will for your life, which God presents as a lure that entices you to follow.  But, you are free to contribute to your life plan with your choices, then God’s persuasive lure and your choices work together.  So, it isn’t about obedience to one particular plan that you either follow or you are completely in the wrong. 

            As a young college student, figuring out my own beliefs, I found these ideas completely liberating.  And they’ve remained core aspects of my theology ever since. 


            So, let’s return to the Lord’s Prayer and what we mean when we pray “Your will be done.”  Timothy Bradshaw, whose book Praying as Believing, is my guide for this entire sermon series, is not a Process theologian, but on this particular point he is deeply influenced by that way of thinking.  He argues that God’s work is a “joint enterprise” with us: “God implements [God’s] will only through the will and activity of [God’s] faithful people.”

            He continues:


In praying ‘Your will be done,’ we share the very vision of God’s creative and re-creative purpose: the heavenly [Parent] has entrusted creation . . . to us: we acknowledge that and responsively offer ourselves for [the] kingdom.


            Bradshaw supports the idea that “the self is created by act[s] of will” and that we human beings are “creative centre[s] of activity and decision.”  It is just that our “human will is most fulfilled when we [identify] with the divine.”  We are, therefore, also praying for an “inner transformation of the heart.” 

            That doesn’t mean blind obedience to some fatalistic plan, but an act of solidarity and trust built upon a personal, loving relationship.  To pray “Your will be done,” is to freely commit ourselves to the goals of the creation—communion, peace, joy—and to therefore shape our own wills by those goals. 

Bradshaw writes, “When we pray for the will of God to be done, this takes our life forward into the future of God, something we cannot chart safely but must launch out into with the venture of faith.”  John Cobb names this the “call forward.”  We have been lured and persuaded and now we too desire the same ends as God, and therefore we move forward into a new future filled with possibilities, trusting the goodness of God to do its work on us and on the world. 

And so we conform our will to God’s will as an active of creative freedom, of adventure, of hope.  What of those times when we are deciding what to do?  There is no one path forward that is your destiny that you must discern.  There are endless possibilities that are open to you and remain within the persuasive lure of God.  What we choose and who we become is a joint project, fully of playfulness and novelty.

I began with Harold Bloom who wrote that “The work of great poetry is to aid us to become free artists of ourselves.”  That is also the work of prayer.  Particularly this prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer, and it’s petition “Your will be done.”

Let us, then, pray as Jesus taught us to pray.

Hallowed Be Your Name

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Luke 11:1-4

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

6 October 2019



            The Lord’s Prayer is most familiar to us from the version in the Gospel of Matthew.  Today, we hear Luke’s version.


Luke 11:1-4


He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”


He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”


For the Word of God in scripture,

For the Word of God among us,

For the Word of God within us,

Thanks be to God.


            To dig more deeply into the phrase “Hallowed be your name,” we are going to begin in what you might consider to be a strange place—we are going digging in dirt, to look for fungi.

            According to naturalist David George Haskell in his book The Forest Unseen, “Fungal threads cover most of the soil like a subterranean spiderweb.”  “A thimbleful of soil may contain a hundred feet of” fungal threads, known as hyphae. 

            What is all that fungus doing there?  In a forest, the fungus is married to the trees.  Listen to this description:


The fungus and the [tree] root greet each other with chemical signals and, if the salutation goes smoothly, the fungus extends its hyphae in readiness for an embrace.  In some cases, the plant responds by growing tiny rootlets for the fungi to colonize.  In others, the plant allows the fungus to penetrate the root’s cell walls and spread the hyphae into the interior of the cells.  Once inside, the hyphae divide into fingers, forming a miniature rootlike network within the cells of the root. 


Haskell then remarks at how strange this seems.


This arrangement looks pathological.  I would be a sick man if my cells were infested with fungi in this way.  But the ability of hyphae to penetrate plant cells is put to healthy use in this marriage with roots.  The plant supplies the fungus with sugars and other complex molecules; the fungus reciprocates with a flow of minerals, particularly phosphates.  This union builds on the strengths of the two kingdoms: plants can create sugars from air and sunlight; fungi can mine minerals from the soil’s tiny crevices.


            Recent science is leading to the conclusion that individuality is an illusion in plant communities, as the rhizosphere makes such intimate connections.  We may need to think of a forest as an organism.

            Haskell writes, “We are explorers standing at the edge of a dark jungle, peering at the strange shapes in the soil’s interior, naming a handful of the most obvious novelties but understanding little.”

            But even from our limited knowledge of the ground that supports life on this planet, we can draw some conclusions.  Haskell says,


The more we learn about the life of the soil, the more apt our language’s symbols become: “roots,” “groundedness.”  These words reflect not only a physical connection to place but reciprocity with the environment, mutual dependence with other members of the community, and the positive effects of roots on the rest of their home.  All these relationships are embedded in a history so deep that individuality has started to dissolve and uprootedness is impossible.



            In my office hangs a painting by Joyce Wilson of the roots of trees deep in the ground, connecting around rocks.  I saw that painting once when I visited her studio and Michael bought it for me for my birthday that year.  I wanted it, not just because I liked it visually, but because of its rich theological imagery.

            How are tree roots and dirt “rich theological imagery” you ask?

            Listen to these words of the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart:


Now know, all our perfection and our holiness rests in this: that a person must penetrate and transcend everything created and temporal and all being and go into the ground that has no ground.  We pray our dear Lord God that we may become one and indwelling, and may God help us into the same ground.  Amen.


            Eckhart uses the ground as a rich metaphor to explain our relationship with God.  God is the ground of our being, and we sink our roots deep into the mysterious otherness of God, where, much like the tree roots, we are nurtured and sustained.  God’s ground is our ground and together we are fused.  Eckhart would have reveled in the discoveries of modern biology.

            As I’ve moved fully into middle age I have found that gardening is one of my delights.  Here at the church I have a vegetable plot in our community garden and at home I have cultivated flower and herb beds.  My domestic chores now flow to the rhythm of the seasonal cycles of growth.

            When I garden I rarely wear gloves.  I like to get my hands really dirty.  That may be a little bit of the kid still a part of me, but I’ve also read that there are actual health benefits, including for fighting depression and anxiety, in getting one’s hands dirty. 

            It’s also because I’m a fan of Meister Eckhart’s image of our relationship to God, getting my hands dirty feels like a form of prayer and communion.


            The twentieth-century Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov uses a similar imagery to Eckhart’s.  He wrote, “The roots of a person’s being are submerged in the bottomless ocean of divine life and get their nourishment from this life.”

            For Bulgakov this nourishment of our roots in divine being is closely associated with prayer.  “Prayer is a form of direct synergism, a living meeting of God and man.”  “In prayer . . . human beings are permeated with life in God.” 

            As I read those words, I’m drawn back to the description of the tree roots and the fungus entangling and permeating one another and passing nourishment back and forth.  Where deep histories and intimate connections of mutual dependence dissolve individuality.  In prayer, the roots of our being entangle with the living God, and we are permeated with the divine life and energy.  Sounds a little bit like communion as well.


What nourishment do we then draw from this ground of our being, from the Holy God who is the Source of our life? 

            Timothy Bradshaw answers, “Prayer counteracts the corrosive fear and worry common throughout our culture, by steady contemplation of the source of all Being.”

He explains how this contemplation works:


This orientation of the self to holy Being, in praying ‘hallowed be your name,’ opens it up afresh, effectively dispensing with the attitudes of cynicism and despair which afflict [us]. . . .  To pray in this regard, sinking one’s will again into the divine life, deliberately giving up one’s idols, refocusing on the generous love and holiness of God, is to go more deeply into the springs of trust and honesty, away from hardness of heart and hiddenness. 


To experience the Holy God is to have “an invigorating encounter and challenge” he writes.

Prayer does something to us.  It nourishes and sustains us with the divine life, so that we might joyfully and wonderfully live.


This week in my reading I followed rabbits down various holes, one of which led to reviewing the writings on prayer and holiness of the great Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards.  According to Edwards, when we pray “Hallowed be thy name,” clearly we are not informing God of anything.  We are instead “preparing us to receive the blessings we ask.”  According to Edwards, we are affecting our own hearts. 

            He writes that “true religion, or holiness of heart, lies very much in the affection of the heart.”  And so “True saints have their minds . . . inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. . . .  It is the joy of their joy . . . a ravishing entertainment . . . in the view of the beautiful and delightful nature of divine things.”

            To declare God’s holiness is to declare God’s worthiness, God’s beauty, God’s glory.  It is to experience awe and wonder at the source and renewal of our life.  And this experience of awe and wonder draws us forward into gratitude, praise, and joy.

            Edwards declared, “The Holy [Spirit] being the love and joy of God is [God’s] beauty and happiness, and it is in our partaking of the same Holy Spirit that our communion with God consists.”

            When we encounter the Holy God in prayer, we experience beauty and joy, and these work upon our affections, healing our pain and suffering, drawing us into communion, and giving us happiness.

             To declare that God is holy is to claim that God is unique and transcendent.  And yet, we experience God not as remote and set apart but as the very source of our life and wonder and joy. 


            When we pray, we enter into relationship with a loving and holy God.  Praying is like sending our roots into the soil to be nourished.  In that ground we grow intimate connections, and individuality begins to dissolve into communion.  In that ground we experience beauty and joy that transform us. 

            God is not out there, remote and distant.  God is deep in us, the source of our life, the breath of our breath, the joy of our joy. 

So, let us pray as Jesus taught, “Hallowed be thy name.”          

Your Kingdom Come

Your Kingdom Come

Luke 17:20-21

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

13 October 2019



            As we continue our series on the Lord’s Prayer, today we come to the phrase, “Your Kingdom Come.”  Our Gospel reading is another passage in the Book of Luke where Jesus addresses the coming of the kingdom.


Luke 17:20-21


Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”


For the Word of God in scripture,

For the Word of God among us,

For the Word of God within us,

Thanks be to God.



            A few weeks ago in the philosophy class I teach at Creighton University, we discussed Aristotle’s views on government.  Aristotle was a critic of democracy because he felt that the masses were selfish and could not be trusted to be good and wise.  Instead he defended monarchy as the best form of government, but he had a few important qualifications he put on that.  Monarchy is the best form of government only as long as the ruler is wise and good and always put the interest of the people ahead of the monarch’s own.  Now, even Aristotle was quick to admit that monarchy could devolve into tyranny when the ruler became self-interested, and tyranny he thought is the worst form of government.  I always point out to my students that one reason the founders of our nation were so critical of monarchy is because they had a couple of thousand more years of empirical experience than Aristotle did to draw upon, and they knew that his idealized form of monarchy was so rare as to be almost nonexistent.  Monarchy turns quite regularly into tyranny. 

            After teaching on the subject, I ask my students on a quiz which form of government they prefer and why.  Of course, most students defend democracy against its criticisms; which is ideally what I’m looking for.  But there are a handful of students who agree with Aristotle and defend monarchy.  This always surprises me when I see it.

            This semester, a few days after that quiz, I read an article published by the Guardian entitled “The Americans who think a monarchy would solve their political problems.”  Apparently there is a growing online community of American supporters of monarchy.  The article quotes a Wharton professor who has studied the trend and tries to explain it:


“I think it’s nostalgia,” . . . . “They like the pomp and circumstance,” he said. “Maybe they’re traditionalists, and they like something that provides continuity.” He also pointed out that Hollywood, and specifically Disney, with its famous princesses, has been culturally influential when it comes to the public perception of a monarchical government.


            Given that our son is currently in a Disney craze--Tangled, the Rapunzel film is his favorite of the moment—that alarmed me just a little. 

            As an avowed believer in democracy, I find this attraction to monarchy both puzzling and a little concerning. 

And, yet, almost every day I pray for a kingdom to come.  What, exactly, am I praying for?


            The kingdom of God was one of the central tenets of Jesus’ teaching, and as a concept and image it has retained its influence and power upon the Christian tradition. 

            But we generally are not praying for some human being to crowned monarch.  When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are speaking in metaphor.  A metaphor that Jesus used before us. 

In recent decades other words have been used because of our discomfort with “kingdom.”  You’ll hear people say the reign, rule, or dominion of God.  I often use reign, but that’s really not substantially different.  It’s still smacks of monarchy. 

Some people say “kin-dom of God.”  That word does express some of Jesus’ idea, but it misses the political element, which seems essential to Jesus’ teaching.  If Jesus wanted to talk about the family of God, he could have done that, but he did not.  He explicitly chose a political metaphor.  Plus, I find “kin-dom” to be cute, in the pejorative sense of cute.

What, then, are we praying for when we pray “Your kingdom come?”  What does the metaphor mean?


Well, let’s first try to understand what Jesus mean when he used it.  He spoke about it often, sometimes in his straightforward teachings.  Sometimes he spoke of it obliquely in parables, such as saying the kingdom of God is like hidden yeast or a mustard seed.  Sometimes it was part of his warnings and proclamations of the coming end of the world. 

            The Southern Baptist theologian W. T. Conner in his book The Faith of the New Testament has a thirty page chapter discussing the various ways Jesus uses the image.  Conner begins that chapter by exploring what the phrase would have been before Jesus, in the Hebrew scriptures, particularly the prophets, and in first century Judaism.  Conner finds three general uses for the phrase in the culture of Jesus.  People were looking forward to a new political order, when an independent Jewish state was restored.  These are the folks who were in fact praying for a human ruler to be crowned.  But Conner points out that some others were looking forward to a restoration of proper religious order.  While others dreamed of the end of time when God would deliver all people, judge the oppressors, and set the world right. 

            What all of these have in common is that they look forward to “the good time coming.”  I’ve always liked that description of the kingdom of God.  The good time coming.  Easy for us to grasp what is meant on the most basic level.  But then we do have to explore the details of what that good time is.  This was the general meaning in the time of Jesus, but when Jesus himself prayed, “Your kingdom come,” what did he mean?  Did he want to crown a new ruler, establish a political order, look forward to the end of time, or something else?


            Well, you might not be surprised that scholars disagree on that point.

  1. T. Conner argues that Jesus did not long for a new political order. Instead, Jesus took this image and gave it new meaning.  Jesus’ unique contribution was to add an inner, spiritual dimension to the idea kingdom of God.  And in support of that interpretation, W. T. Conner references the passage from Luke I just read, wherein Jesus says that the kingdom of God is within and among us.  Conner describes this as the “spiritual reign of God in the hearts and the lives of” humankind.  The kingdom comes within us when we do the will of God, which is to love God and one another.  Conner further emphasizes that as a spiritual kingdom, it is an already present reality.  Followers of Jesus may exist within the troubled political realms of this world, but they also live within the spiritual realm of love inaugurated by Jesus.

            But other writers have rejected that Jesus’ idea was so spiritualized.  They contend that Jesus wasn’t offering a radically new understanding of the kingdom of God.  Instead, what he meant was something that fit the traditional ideas of the Hebrew prophets.

One of the best examples of this interpretation is the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder who in his great book The Politics of Jesus argued that the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching relied upon the priestly vision of the Jubilee when all debts were forgiven.  We will get more into the idea of the Jubilee in a few weeks when we come to the part of the Lord’s Prayer about forgiving debts.  But to put it simply, in the book of Leviticus, the Hebrews were instructed by God to celebrate a Jubilee every fifty years.  Debts were to be forgiven, people were to be restored to the property they had lost, and prisoners and slaves were to be set free.  Basically, it is a chance for the entire society to start over again once every generation. 

It is this idea of the fresh new start for society, which Yoder argues influences Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of God.  So Yoder describes the coming kingdom as “a visible socio-political, economic restructuring of relations among the people of God, achieved by divine intervention in the person of Jesus as the one Anointed . . . with the Spirit.”

Very different from W. T. Conner then.

Spiritual kingdom on one end of the spectrum, new political order on the other.  Any options in between you might ask?  Well, of course there are.


            John Dominic Crossan describes the kingdom of God rather vaguely as “people under divine rule, and that, as ideal, transcends and judges all human rule.”  Not very helpful, actually.  But from that vague start, Crossan draws upon the life and teachings of Jesus to develop a rich understanding of the image. 

It is a “kingdom of nobodies and undesirables,” as Jesus works to embrace and include the sorts of people normally left out of meaningful roles in society—the poor, lepers, prostitutes, children, etc.  Crossan convincingly argues that Jesus did have a radical, political vision.  But Crossan also writes that Jesus’ view was not only that.

            Crossan argues that for Jesus the kingdom was not a dream of the world to come at the end of time, instead it is a world is possible here and now.  Crossan describes this as an “ethical kingdom,” “an ideal mode of human existence.”  He writes, “One enters that Kingdom by wisdom or goodness, by virtue, justice, or freedom.  It is a style of life for now rather than a hope of life for the future.” 

Crossan makes an interesting point that we don’t simply pray for the kingdom, we perform the kingdom.  The kingdom comes when we live it here and now. 

            So, when we pray, we are committing ourselves to an ethical idea.  This ethical idea is rooted in a radical, political vision, but has personal, spiritual implications.


            My own thinking has been richly informed by each of these writers, all of whom grasp various nuances of this idea.  But this week I was most drawn to what Marcus Borg wrote about the kingdom of God.  He said, “It is God’s dream, God’s passion, God’s will, God’s promise, God’s intention for the earth, God’s utopia—the blessed place, the ideal state of affairs.”  And that ideal state of affairs, as made clear in the prophets before Jesus, is “a transformed world, a world of justice and plenty and peace, where everybody has enough and where” no one shall be afraid.  Think of the beautiful words of the prophet Isaiah that we read earlier in the service.

            What is your ideal state of affairs?  What would a transformed world look like for you?  When you pray, “Your kingdom come,” you get to dream what that means. 

            Borg calls this “participatory eschatology.”  We aren’t just awaiting some divine act at the end of history, we get to participate right now in making the kingdom of God a reality.  Borg concludes his discussion of the idea with these words:


Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God, it seems to me, is not that complicated.  God’s will for the earth, God’s passion for this world, is very different from what we see around us.  To his hearers [Jesus] said, ‘Can you see that?’  And he sought to open the eyes of the blind, to set free the captives and oppressed, to proclaim the jubilee of God.



            Can you see that God’s will for the world is different from the status quo?  I bet you can.  I hope you can. 

When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are acknowledging that all is not right with the way things currently are.  We are imagining and dreaming what a world transformed and blessed by God would look like.  We are praying for justice, peace, and plenty. 

We are also praying for ourselves to be transformed by those very dreams.  For us to be inspired and encouraged by those ideals.  We are, thus, praying for the kingdom to come within us, for the spirit of God to take hold of us.  We are committing ourselves to a way of life.

            The kingdom of God is a dream, a goal, and a present possibility, that entices us to be our very best in service to God and one another.

            Then, let us pray, as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”

The Holy Spirit & Preaching

The Holy Spirit & PreachingThe Holy Spirit & Preaching by James Forbes
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed hearing Dr. Forbes on a handful of occasions, and especially the time I ate breakfast with him when he was last in Omaha sponsored by mine and another local church.

Yet, I did not get much out of this book, the published version of his 1986 Lyman Beecher lectures. The key idea can be summarized in this quote, "The anointing of the Holy Spirit is that process by which one comes to a fundamental awareness of God's appointment, empowerment, and guidance for the vocation to which we are called."

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