A few years back I became alienated from my church and walked for several months in a spiritual desert, relying on only my meager practices: occasional Bible reading, prayers for intervention only in times of desperation. I never had the option of abandoning faith entirely…a different story. But I had the option, even the desire, to be isolated from Christian community.
When I look back on it I am reminded of Sue, a woman I met while we were pre-med students at the University of Minnesota. She got in the year ahead of me, eager to get a degree and serve humanity as a primary care specialist. As the daughter of a small town Lutheran minister, she was well versed in Christian altruism. I lost track of her for a couple of years, but ran into her at “match day,” the day all medical students find out where they will do their internships and residency. She was pleased to be matched to a pathology program in Chicago.
I asked her what happened to her dream of being a family practitioner.
“Oh my God,” she said, “how can you stand those patients?”
She then related to me her rotations at the general hospital and the VA where unwashed people with drug and alcohol and tobacco addictions showed up and only occasionally took their medicine and even more rarely took the doctors advice, and unsurprisingly showed up with the same medical issues two weeks later.
Sue loved humanity well enough; it was people that drove her nuts. So she found a specialty where she didn’t have contact with the living.
I think I am the same way about church. I’m pretty awed by God and like Jesus well enough. And some of the people in church are great. And I’m all for saving the world. It’s just all the messy people I have trouble with.
So in that general state of mind I did think that I could do one devotional thing that wouldn’t interfere with my busy days. I could say the Lord’s Prayer in the car on my way to work each morning. It’s about the only thing in the Bible that I’d committed to memory.
Every day I would pray for the Kingdom to come, on Earth as it is in heaven, the words I’d memorized as a child.
Then one day I started imagining what the world would look like if my prayer was answered at that moment. What would you imagine? Angels on clouds? Harps? Golden pavement and pearly gates?
Someday, we hope. But what would it look like today?
One morning, I imagined (received a vision?) a world where every single human being was a Christian. Not a Christian by church membership or graduation from theological colleges or by little gold cross pins on lapels or fish signs on the back of their cars. No…I mean Christian by having a personal relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, their every thought and action guided by the Holy Spirit.
Your initial reaction might be like mine: That would be boring.
But, after I thought about it, it would not be boring. Everyone would be just as unique, just as quirky, just as gifted, just as passionate as they are in this crazy world, but without the addictions, the pride, the greed, the anger. Imagine if everybody was kind to everybody else. Imagine a world where drunken drivers didn’t kill themselves and cripple others. Imagine a world where men and women didn’t live from one fix or one drunk to the next, where children where never molested, where abortions never occur because children were always received as the gift they are to parents who have sex because they are in love and stay in love.
Since I was on my way to work when I received this vision, I asked myself what would change. And the first thought I had was that I’d be a lot less busy. No drunk driver car accidents, fewer liability cases of low back pain from injuries at work or from slip and falls. No lung cancers from smoking. No psychosomatic illnesses, no drug-seeking behaviors. Maybe after a few decades, no congenital defects or conditions as person was attracted to only the person whom God had chosen for them.
Would people still work? Would somebody build my car or my house? Grow my food and put it convenient packages so I could pick it up at the grocery store on my way home? I imagine everybody born with skills and a passion for some kind of work. Some would love to build cars, some would love to build houses (and furniture), and some would love to farm vegetables, others would love to raise pigs (it still takes all kinds). And they would do what they do because they love it, and they wouldn’t need to get paid because as they provided for others, they could trust God to provide for them through other people doing for them simply by doing what they loved to do. A gift economy.
I know you’re thinking right now, “That would never happen.” That’s the first thing I thought. Another utopian daydream. Not on this planet, not ever.
Maybe in heaven. Never on Planet Earth short of The Second Coming.
But then I consider the source. Billy Graham didn’t make up this prayer. Neither did Martin Luther or St. Thomas or St. Augustine. No…Jesus taught us to pray, and the very first thing he taught us to pray for was for our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom to come. And a little later He told his disciples that their prayers would be answered. Not might be or could be. Our prayers will be answered.
Imagine a world full of Christians who loved all their neighbors, and all their enemies, with the same kind of love. The Kingdom is coming.
Paul understood this when he wrote his letter to the Romans. And do this, he said, meaning act like Christians. Pay your taxes and your debts, don’t steal or lie or murder or commit adultery. Love one another as yourself, because in this the commandments are fulfilled. And do this, he said, meaning the Kingdom is coming.
When the Kingdom comes, healing comes. My profession will be unneeded and extinct. But more than healed bodies, we will have healed souls. Self-hatred will be gone with shame; we will all love ourselves again. Conflict with our brothers and sisters will be gone as we learn to love them as Christ loves us. Wars will be unnecessary when we all experience true and universal justice.
I think when we do the “do this” that Paul talks about, the Kingdom does come to this earth, person by person, street corner by street corner, family by family, community by community, city by city, nation by nation. Do This and the Kingdom comes to you today.
But we live in “present times,” as Paul did, and we must understand them. More about this next week.