Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Lenten study has taken three weeks to delve deep into this first sentence of the Lord’s Prayer. And our scriptures for this morning felt like they dove-tailed into this most common and yet most magical of communications. Today, I’d like us to spend a few moments thinking about what it means to desire that God’s kingdom, God’s will, be done, on earth as it is in heaven. On earth as it is in heaven.
What is heaven like? We might go to the shelves of the bookstore and read some of the NDE (near-death experience) stories. Or maybe we might go to the library and take out the imaginings of some of the masters—Dante, Milton, Bunyan, Homer, Virgil, Spenser, CS Lewis, to name a few.
Or maybe we have our own visions of what heaven must be like. Or maybe we are unsure of what we would find there, if we should be so lucky. If we go to the Bible there are the specs of Jerusalem in heaven in Revelation, with streets of gold and the foundations of the city walls in precious stone. And in this vision of John the most important thing is the throne of God, where everyone is focused, worshipping day and night.
And yet, actually the first thing John says about this new heaven and new earth are these familiar words, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them… God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3b-4)
The old heaven and the old earth have passed away, because heaven and earth have become one—God lives with God’s people, and the terrible grief and suffering that used to divide heaven and earth will be wiped away. On earth as it is in heaven.
There are other visions of heaven, of the way things ought to be—and today’s focus Scripture from Isaiah is one of them. Here Isaiah imagines a place where when one is hungry, there is food for the taking, don’t worry about the price. When one is thirsty, milk and wine and water are in abundance—free. In this imaginary world nations will come together, and sins are pardoned, and all come, to listen and to live. On earth as it is in heaven.
And we shake our heads, to clear the clouds, and we say, yes, it’s a nice dream, but now we are awake, now we are living in this world. It just doesn’t work that way, right?
On earth as it is in heaven. Why doesn’t it work that way? Why isn’t there enough food and water for everyone? Why do nations have to war with other nations? Why do we seem to revel in bickering and hating and putting others down? Why isn’t earth closer to heaven—after all these years?
Some may say that that is the way of this world, but I think Jesus might disagree. I think the truth of the matter is that we think making earth and heaven closer is God’s work. That God should come down and wave a magic wand and poof, it would all be better. Isn’t that kind of what some of the people, maybe most of the people who followed Jesus, thought was going to happen? Hosanna, they shouted. Save us. Fix us. Fix our world.
And that didn’t happen. So, heaven and earth aren’t going to be one until earth ceases to be. Ah well. But then, we’ll get to live in a heaven, ready-made by God—up there, pie-in-the-sky, by and by.
So why would Isaiah hear God saying, “Come to me, Incline your ear, Listen and live”? Why would Jesus tell a parable about a fig tree that should be cut down because it isn’t bearing fruit?
“On earth as it is in heaven” isn’t just a lottery wish. I think it might be marching orders, the “to do” list from God, our mission. We are the fig tree, planted in the garden—not just to look pretty, not just to hang out and enjoy the sun and the ground and the rain. A fig tree is intended to bear fruit—to help feed the birds and the soil, and the gardener. And it if doesn’t … well, maybe it needs to be hacked down to make room for a tree that can bear fruit.
Seems rather harsh, doesn’t it? But we aren’t supposed to get paralyzed by the possibility of God’s judgment. I believe we are supposed to get motivated. I believe we are supposed to look around and say, “this is not heaven on earth, and what are we going to do about it!” No one says how big the fruit has to be on our fig tree, or how much fruit—it is just supposed to bear something—it is just supposed to come up to its potential—it is a fig tree after all.
And that’s what I hear as a message to us—individually and as a church. God isn’t asking us to become MLK, or Billy Graham, or a 1000 member church. God is asking us to look around and see where we might bend heaven a little closer to earth, even if only for an instant.
What does that look like? Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated on this day, March 24th, in 1980, while he was celebrating mass. Maybe he might help us with an example. Romero was appointed Archbishop in February of 1977, an appointment that brought disappointment to many priests who feared his conservative reputation would affect liberation theology’s commitment to the poor. And that might have been the case, except, in March of 1977, a good friend of Romero named Rutilio Grande, who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor, was assassinated. And Romero later said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’” Romero became an outspoken critic, not just of his own country’s leaders, but of world leaders, like our own president at the time, Jimmy Carter, for not coming to the aid of poor people.
Rutilio Grande was working to bring heaven and earth a little closer, and his work made an impact on Oscar Romero, whose name now brings the poor, especially the poor of central America to mind. Heaven and earth are not one and the same, yet. But I can only hope that the courageous example of these two men will give strength to others and continue to shine a light on the plight of the poor who knock on our very doors.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts! Come to the waters …” is a call to those of us who pray that prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to open our eyes to the gaps in our world—to those places where heaven is the furthest from ourselves. And we at UPC have found ways to step into the breach—that is what our hunger ministry is all about. That is what the PC(USA) collection for One Great Hour of Sharing is all about. That is what our buying of blankets, and our sharing of our excess is all about. “On earth as it is in heaven.”
We are the fig trees, trying to bear fruit. And thank God there is a gardener who pleads for more time. Because we do not yet live in a world where heaven has come close to the earth. And so we work our little plot, making sure we do all we can, thinking up new ways to be faithful servants of the gracious God.
God has been calling people to be a blessing since the beginning. Jesus called us to follow him. The Spirit empowers us to do things we thought impossible. We have a lot of help in making things “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, once said “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe if long, but it bends toward justice.” I want us to reimagine that quote today. Heaven and earth seem far apart. But our faithful work, undergirded by God’s promise, is to hang on heaven and bend it a little closer to the earth. That is what I hear Jesus’ prayer saying to us. That is what we must hear each and every time we say it. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
May we each find our own way of following through on our plea, that our fig trees might bring forth fruit in abundance. Amen and amen.