Adapted from a talk I gave recently.
“Thy kingdom come.” Let there come the full establishment of thy realm. This is the first thing Jesus teaches us to pray about after addressing God and honoring God’s name. There’s a Jewish saying used in the yeshivas, “a prayer where there is no mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”
Jesus puts it up front and center. Zion is not just something to pray for, it is the first thing to pray for. It is both a wish – because the arrival of God’s kingdom means rest and paradise – and a pledge of allegiance, submission to God as the real commander in chief. Whatever authorities and governments we have over us now, Jesus seems to ask us to look to God and say, “thy kingdom come.”
I feel like we are living in very dark times, both as a nation and as a community. There are some very real divides between us that threaten us. I want to talk about how God’s kingdom can come at a time like this. These are the questions I want to talk through: How can we have Zion when we are not one? What hope is there for us to come together, when everything else in this world is tearing apart our countries, our wards and our families?
It seems impossible. And Zion doesn’t just seem impossible, it seems almost a relic, something we used to believe in but now is a vestige of an earlier version of our religion, like speaking in tongues or holding Fast & Testimony meetings on Thursdays. Does “thy kingdom come” become a traditional phrase, like leaving an empty chair for Elijah at the Passover Seder table?
Well, I do believe that God’s kingdom will come. This is part of the Good News. And God’s kingdom will come, not just when Jesus returns someday – no, I believe that we can be a united people now, today, that these enormous gaps between us in politics, in economics, taste in movies, all of it – these can be overcome. We can see eye to eye.
To get there, allow me to get personal. I want to talk about my father a little. In college, dad was big man on campus, dashing looks, a popular guy with a tremendous personality. He swept my mother off her feet. My dad was the sort of man who had lots of friends all over – people would call out to him as he walked down the street. He was gregarious and personable and fun. But this is not the father I knew.
My father was moody. He worked long hours and would spend his evenings in front of the television. He would become furious for inexplicable reasons, then sulk for days, ostracizing us. Dad would plan grand, sweeping gestures of love for us, then retreat into himself when the real world would get in the way of that big romantic vision. We didn’t have words for it then, but my father had untreated depression and was likely mentally ill, subject to huge swings of mood and behavior that we could not understand. I spent most of my life not understanding him. It felt like we were on opposite sides of a door that we were both desperately trying to open, each of us by pulling as hard as we could. So of course that door could never open.
Then, this summer, I was pulling out of the Costco parking lot and my phone rang. It was my parents. I hope it’s ok that I’m sharing something a little personal here. My father had been in some declining health, and had some onset of dementia, and hadn’t been doing very well. But now he was on the phone, and he said, “Steve, I’m feeling good today, and I don’t know how long this will last. I wanted to talk to you while I can.” And there, while I sat in my car on some side street in West Valley, my Dad reached out one last time to me. He called to petition me, to try to breathe life into a relationship which had been burning low for many years – for too long. He told me that he loved me. He had faith. And in that moment, the door between us swung open. Dad would die a few weeks later.
From a favorite prophet, Bruce Springsteen:
We honor our parents by not accepting as the final equation the most troubling characteristics of our relationship… the sum of our troubles is not the summation of our lives together… you work to turn the ghosts that haunt you in to ancestors who accompany you.
So this sums up, more or less, how I feel about our families, our ward families, our broader communities as well: we are not defined by what divides us. The sum of our troubles is not the summation of our lives together! We are defined by the love we show for each other, each moment of kindness. Each time the bishop slips a candy to one of my kids. Each time the EQ president wears a crazy sweater. Each time our home teachers leave a note because they were thinking of us, but we weren’t home. Drop by drop, we are filling up a well of living water.
Jesus says, “thy kingdom come,” and the next words are “thy will be done.” You cannot have the first part without the second. Each of these moments of joy we have with each other, each shining moment, is doing God’s will and bringing God’s kingdom closer. I believe we will still have divisions, because we’re human beings. I can promise you that I am still going to roll my eyes hard when someone brings up Cleon Skousen in class. I can also promise that you are going to groan when I talk about women’s marches and civil rights. There are some really bad times ahead, even though there will be good times. Some of those divisions are because of important issues that we shouldn’t ignore. It will take a miracle to keep us together.
One more story: we recently switched wards a few months ago, and at the time we were feeling really at the end of our rope. We’d been going through some difficult times, and we were starting to wonder if there was really a place for us in the community, in the ward, in the church. We were afraid. So we showed up, and just sort of stowed ourselves off to the side.
And then miracles started. Kindness from people who were strangers to us. Not just kindness – real love, real concern. I have come to view my ward as a place where God has shown us that He is there and that He listens to prayers. To quote Elder Springsteen again: “those you are with in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you.”
In the end, yes. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. It will take a miracle. But miracles are real, and I already know that they can happen here. Life will not separate us. Death will not separate us.