Thy Kingdom Come


Friedrich Schorlemmer

[This sermon from the 1993 Church day in Potsdam is translated from the German in: Es ist nicht umsonst. Predigten und Reden 1983-1993, Gustav Kiepenheuer, Leipzig 1993.]

On the Author

Friedrich Schorlemmer was born in 1944 in Wittenburg. Since the beginning of the seventies, he was engaged in the peace- and environmental movements of the DDR (east Germany). From 1970 to 1978, Schorlemmer was a university chaplain in Merseburg. From 1978, he has been a preacher at the castle church in Wittenburg where he joined ina grassroots group. In 1988 with his group, Schorlemmer presented the "20 Wittenburg theses" critical of the regime at the Evangelical church day in Halle. Today he is an academic director at the Evangelical Ac ademy of Saxony and since May 1990 SPD chairperson in the Wittenburg city parliament.

Schorlemmer was a co-founder of the citizen movement "Democratic Awakening" (Demokratischer Aufbruch). In 1989, he was honored with the Carl-von-Ossietzsky-medallion of the International League for Human Rights. He is a member of the west German PEN and belongs to the German UNESCO commission. In 1993, he received the peace prize of the German book industry.

This sincere and courageous man who sought to forge swords into plowshares strengthens through his example fellow human beings in the hope that "gentle water can break the stone".

A man of integrity, Friedrich Schorlemmer lived in the DDR and struggles today for the removal of new inner walls with a language borne by a readiness for reconciliation and understood by people in the East and West. With the whole strength of his personality marked by truthfulness and pensiveness, he admonishes the restoration of inner unity as a condition for successful outer unity. He contributes to overcoming the problems that Germans have in dealing with one another in the process of reunification and at the same time contributes to the preservation of inner and outer peace in Germany and the world.

Thy Kingdom Come

Happy is the one who can pray: "Thy kingdom come". Because he has not given up all hope, he prays. Because he can pray, he has not abandoned all hope. His eyes are not sealed up. He sees what is and what oppresses. While reading the low and high tide reports and the "prosperity of desert growth", he also sees what can develop and grow.

What we hope and desire appears in and throught he little things of life.

Whoever prays is not satisfied with the little things but always has something greater in mind without running down the little things. He sees the new and wondrous that a tree develops out of a mustard seed and that a child in the center of attention becomes a teacher of a life of trust. He can let go and give away since he has found the one thing valuable to him.

"Thy kingdom come" - I murmur, I stutter, I whisper; I plead, call, invoke this wondrously simple, opening and expanding sentence. Spoken a hundred times, I discover this sentence in connection with other sentences.

Our Father, hallowed be your inexpressible and near name, your will be done, give us our daily bread and forgive us outr debts... What I say are approaches, risky sentences, incomplete thoughts - between astonishment and amazement, hoping and worrying - shocking and gratifying, refractory and contradictory, ordinary and daring.

The salvation of a people is the heart of the message of Jesus of Nazareth, not the salvation of the individual's soul, the kingdom of humankind or the peculiarity of a chosen group. The reign of God and God's new different justice for the benefit of all people comes and enlightens them "that life can be different". Whoever prays this way expands his perspective to the whole human world and seeks a kingdom that exceeds and overarches all our kingdoms, not his own kingdom.

Whoever prays this way cannot intend or allow any racist, ideological or religious-confessional superiority of one over others.

Whoever prays this way must resist nationalist narrowing.

Whoever does not actively oppose every form of racist or nationalist superiority cannot pray this way!

We have a time and a society behind ourselves which had a goal but no freedom and arrive in a world that has freedom but is unsure of its goal. In the absence of a goal, there are also no standards. Freedom without goal can also become systematic self-disintegration where people forget why they exist and where all things lead.

The kingdom of God is a space, a boundless space transcending boundaries, something to which we move and which comes to us. Thy kingdom come is a cry for help, a petition or plea, a sigh of hope, a routine formula, a resistance slogan, a demonstration of an alternative world and a declaration of agreement. It can be completely formalized and can come from the deepest part of our hearts, susceptible to abuse like all other words and language which become formulas. In any case, it is the simplest sentence for the simplest standard of living. There is (still) hope. There is (still) openness. There is something different than what already exists. There is something to which we are directed which orders and establishes us, enabling us to look up even after defeats. This is said in the middle of a world where everything crumbles, ideas and institutions, nature and culture, where no light rises from the East any more and where in the West the sun sets in the vapor of our excrements, where the end of history is conjured and everyone who speaks of a utopia is ridiculed. We pray for God's kingdom and have several mistakes behind us. Germans rejoiced and gained by devious means the "empire of (superior) Germans". To our fathers Germany was so far "above everything" that dreadful things came over everyone and we sat on the ruins in which we had bombed ourselves before the others bombed us. The next mistake and the next compensation are also behind us: the "kingdom of liberated persons", fulfillment promised for all dreams of humanity, the beginning of the history of humanity now at a miserable end with miserable processes and miserable protests. Now seductive blossoming dreams of a flourishing free enterprise land are promoted. Many came from the drudgery of work with little meaning into freedom from work without sharing in the meaning of the whole.

Whoever prays for "thy kingdom" doesn't pray for "my kingdom" or "our kingdom" but "his kingdom" surpassing our kingdoms. This is not a political utopia or an empty religious promise but a vision underway. "His kingdom come" means it is a path that comes to us and a path on which we go. Whoever prays this way is also not embittered or distraught in his political or moral truths.

Whoever sets out to establish God's kingdom produces hells like the ideologies of the "kingdom of humanity" releasing the devil to aid the good. We can only seek, hope, expect and move towards what comes to us. God's kingdom is not a chase for prosperity but a wealth that grows out of thankfulness, asceticism and the happiness of seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and active existence - the happiness of sharing in changing and preserving. 1000 year kingdoms and personal kingdoms can and should be buried with the dogs. Many ruins remain on which our history rests. Our history, full of pride and shame, cannot be undone, forgotten or simply paraphrased. Our history must be honestly filtered so that everythng does not fall through. The spirit of tolerance, enlightenment and sincerity, faithfulness to conscience, honesty, justice and reform are also included here.

Now we are at a symbolic place. Behind you are the buildings; before you are the backsides of an ornate castle. now you are settled or stand in the rain. Above you are the skies through whose gaps the dear sun dangerously shines. Below you are the grass roots thirsting for water. What are you awaiting? For the latest reports about rising and falling stock prices, diminishing jobs int he crubling East and increasing money and gossip in the sunny West? What are you awaiting? For the next bearer of hope, traffic jam reports from the streets and low tide reports from the rivers? For ozone readings and stock quotations, political barometers?

No, we pray.

Dear 1000 year Potsdamers, beloved guests on earth, the garrison church has been forcibly removed. The confusion of "one God, one faith, one baptism" with "one God, one empire, one Fuhrer" cannot be touched up any more. Steel helmets seem to replace the umbrella of the Most High after a general superintendent, a general field marshall and a Fuhrer issued a blessing on what was not a blessing. When we pray "Thy kingdom come" in Potsdam at the end of the church day in the 1000 year celebration of this city, we remembered how conflicting were the history of this city and the emerging empires. This city was a city of slavish obedience, saber-rattling and also of resistance in the conflict between obedience and conscience. The German hubris, the militarist tradition, razed out land to the ground after cities of other nations were razed to the ground and millions of people made into ashes in the German name. Whoever wants to gain a future needs constant remembrance of the past, how beautiful artificial ruins were superseded by dreadful concrete ruins. This city has still not recovered and yet again has a chance not to repeat disaster.

We Germans - Christians who are Germans - have to hold onto a permanent lesson in this place to communicate to the late-born:

"Don't march to new wars as though the old wars were not enough. Have mercy on yourselves" (Bert Brecht).

Our bravery so misused militarily, the much-admired strength, intelligence, capacity for self-assertion and genius of our people, this "valor" and inventiveness now need the imagination and valor of peace, the inventiveness of peaceful solutions to conflicts, a very different determination and readiness for risks than a repeated military trial of strength. After everything we have inflicted on the nations, the other peoples are entitled to our bravery, to arbitration over strike and to remember ourselves before others must remember who we were.

Whoever wants a Europe-wide escalation at the Balkan must send German soldiers there. The shock over the orgies of violence in the civil war may not seduce us again to violence that we can hardly master. This is not cowardice but the search for another valor. Active de-escalation can also represent engagement of life.

We Christians should organize worldwide an ecumenical peace service which dares the bravery of peace and justice in the centers of conflict. That could be our "out-of-area" service! Peace-keepers for more justice, these are people in intercontinental responsibility, living alternatives to intercontinental missiles. The kingdom of God is not a quantitative greatness but a creative principle present in the smallest things independent of size, length and chronological order. Universal realization is the surplus; local experience is the driving force. What is desired and always expected is already present. Whoever doesn't see the now is also blind for the then. The world to come of hope is the strength for this world. Don't be put off with empty promises, don't be defrauded or cheated out of hope because hope is the source or spring of action. Love of life and hope for life can make us strong, allowing sorrowwithout falling to paralysis, ignoring the lost and dependent or sinking into hopeless bitterness.

Let us not be put off with false religious or political promises. At the same time let us not cheat ourselves out of the hope that supports us even through the valley of tears. Let us not be beguiled by blossoming dreams of prosperous regions but trust the insights that human conduct involves orders which we observe or violate to our own injury or well-being.

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" looks around with open, curious and expectant eyes for what now already exists despite everything that darkens our horizon. He doesn't turn a blind eye or let himself be depressed but is motivated to reach out to what is expected. For him there are higher goods than the increased gross national product. For a rich country, this is a question of more just distribution of money and work.

Take the horizon of this kingdom in your life and live in this horizon. The horizon of his kingdom, the larger context, is the whole human history, the whole cosmos and the completion of the world drama. Everything that you do, experience, suffer, expect and hope for happens in this larger context. Live in this larger open context and see the mystery, the wonder of life in the daily routine.

The great will be small, the small great, the plain will shine, the last will be at the front, those on the bottom will be on top, the hungry will be satiated, the narrow wide and the ignored important. A beginning is planted in the end, a smile in the tears.

Gain inner freedom in your actions amidst the thick of pressures.

Break away from paralyzing fear and turn relaxed to life.

Forget your nerve-racking anxiety and allow life to fall to you daily.

Because we hope for God's kingdom, the world retains its meaning. This meaning lies in its orientation to development and justice. This kingdom and its justice becomes the highest value relavitivizing all other values. God's kingdom is the kingdom of another justice than the constitutional state administered by lawyers whose supreme reality is property. Here it is not said "whoever has will receive more and more" although he already has much. Who, if not we Christians, must be among those who resist new injustice out of hope since we have overcome the old injustice? Who, if not us, should be an alternative society counteracting atomization and the rule of obstinacy over public spirit? For that, we need the courage not to first seek popularity and respectability among the old or the new masters but to seek the good for those at the bottom. Who if not us waiting for God's kingdom can refuse sacrificing everything for the security of the church? Who if not us should be a stable and dynamic community even where the inner decay of institutions continues unceasingly, values crumble and everyone either resigns or is totally occupied organizing his little happiness only for himself? The kingdom for which we plead in the Our Father is a community that brings people together in a certain spirit. Here a constructive resistance is organized through the experience of community in hope, resistance against far-reaching abortive decisions, for the protection of species and protection against radiation and against merciless meat production as animal torture, against the channelization plans for the Elbe and its region, for the preservation of nature's reserves, against the ideology and praxis of automobilism which seizes the majority of people far more strongly than the ideas of communism some time ago, against an automobilism that devours more and more land and landscape and where the ozone alarm for senior citizens and children will soon be the daily routine, for the limitations of our consumption for the sake of a different wealth, not the hypocritical forced ascetic existence hostile to the body but a wealth of life with one another. Whoever hopes for the kingdom will come into conflict with those whose kingdom is entwined with dreams of increased money.

Whoever prays and hopes will accept very concretely the bitterness of those who don't know how they can pay their rent and must hear how the "upper ones" make3 money, how those "make their money" who already have money, how shamelessness becomes daily reality.

Whoever feels free from having to establish God's kingdom on earth can also be more modest and more honest... We don't need to be and cannot be angels. We also don't need to ultimately arrive at self-contempt with the contempt of others and only admit the disgust of existence to one another. Whoever hopes in God's kingdom knows about human worthiness and neediness of love.

Let us not talk too loudly religiously, politically or morally. The one who strives or maintains the highest moral standard is not credible but the one who can be honest, face his limits, mistakes and guilt and make this possible for others instead of putting it on a pedestal from which they will be thrown down again with relish.

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" keeps his eyes open and sees what encouraging signs of life flash up and courageously moves instead of staring and congealing spellbound at approaching catastrophes. Praying is being open and remaining open. Praying brings together where everything scatters and gets lost and where everything diverges and goes separate ways. Whoever prays is no longer sullen or weary. He or she has a purpose and a goal. Whoever has lost the purpose doesn't see any goal any more. Whoever has no goal also doesn't know the purpose.

Whoever prays knows that prayer is not the end but the ever new beginning. Even where we are at an end, God plants a beginning with us again and again. Whoever prays hopes. Whoever hopes does not bemoan without consequences the state of the world but reaches out to what is lamentable, seeks his place for being active, finds a task, sees a chance and rejoices more in success than protests continually: "I knew there was no point."

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" will help distressed persons because they are harassed. Whover like us Germans drove out and gassed many people has the obligation to take a responsibility crossing the generations. That Jews again had to leave other european countries is sad. That the oppressed from Odessa and St. Petersburg are openly integrated in Germany and live in Potsdam or Magdeburg is simply beautiful. This is a very small but important sign that life continues as sad as it is that they are driven out again.

Whoever fears "integration" more than the sprouting of a new racism, whoever postpones or prevents the civil integration of non-Germans living among us for the long term, should no longer insist that the word "God" remains in our constitution preable.

Whoever prays "thy kingdom come" will not proclaim the resumption of wars of intervention but will promote the drying up of war and expose the cynical workers who profit in war and yet imagine they create jobs.

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" gives room for Christ's voice against the public mood. The Christian is higher than the German and has the courage of forgiveness where the rage of retaliation becomes insatiable, does justice to the hard truth about every individual person instead of decaying to the "simple truth" of a "guilty-innocent" "friend-enemy division".

God's kingdom always focuses on distressed individuals near and far.

The payment of hospital insurance is controversial. What is central is not only hospital insurance but which needy, weak, old and sick experience love, affection and assistance. Mercy with ourselves is at stake in mercy with others. What must be near to one's heart and demands sacrifice threatens to become stinginess with money. A "social year" for everyone could help us to make hospital insurance a question of the social mercy of society with all its members including our parents and ourselves, not a financial controversy of industry. A "social year" for everyone instead of "alternative or community service". Civil service is not a "substitute" service but a necessary and normal case for peaceful times or a time of peace.

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" is defined by the justice of this kingdom and regards justice as necessary and possible. We may not be crushed to death or overwhelmed by imperatives that cannot be fulfilled but encouraged by gratifying initiatives. Annette goes to El Salvador, Ortrun together with many other women cares for raped Bosnian women, Heinz accepts a refugee family in his house, Lothar fights in the works' council, Rainer in the labor office, Manfred and Kurz struggle for preserving jobs as prime ministers, John organizes a citizens' group for the protection of a village, Kordula campaigns for Inkota even if that is not "in". God's kingdom is fulfilled in many small everyday stories, not in great empires.

A mustard seed, a child, a pearl, leaven...

A question, a questioning, an assistance...

There are people who break away from the world in which "moneymaking" is everything and being better is unimaginable.

People say the time of great ideas and ideals, utopias and visions is past. Altogether they proved harmful or dreadful ideologies. To speak of great designs of humanity is suddenly past for us. But can we ever refuse these designs?

Egoism remains on the plane of action and cynicism on the plane of attitude. Only short-term objectives are pursued, not long-term goals.

Whoever prays "Thy kingdom come" thinks, feels, and acts in long-term perspectives, in perspectives extending far beyond one's own life. He knows this world with all its fractures and setbacks, dangers and endangerments, as ultimately in God's hand. He is certain of a future because he is certain of God. We can only pray that we remain his.

As long as the church has existed, the conflict has raged whether God's kingdom is a dream of the world to come, utopia lyrics and an unlivable ethic of the saints or a changing and practical creative power for this world. The answer was always: a little this and a little that... "A little" of God's kingdom is manifest, "not all". Or in the connection of throne and altar, one delegated God's kingdom to "the empire" that called itself "holy" and began (un-)consciously to confuse the reality of God's kingdom with human power.

We cannot and need not establish God's kingdom. God's kingdom encounters us in everyday stories with profound backgrounds and far-reaching prospects. Our history consists of successful and unsuccessful stories. Where our certainties fade, our standards are lost, borders fall and arise again, where communities collapse and persons of hope tumble from our pedestals, we are left in a gesture of petition from which hope grows.

God writes kingdom of God stories with us and through us - alternative and contradiction stories in a competitive society of conflict and self-assertion. Time and again, new attempts counteract the old customs!

For the church of Jesus Christ, it isn't terrible when it lives at the margin of society. It would be terrible if it were always right in the middle - only occupied with marginal problems while saying nothing substantial, continuing or using the theological conflicts of the 16th century.

When Christian churches and their representatives wearing gold crosses adorn the army or its violent actions with rituals of blessing, the Nazarene is far away and the advocates of active non-violence betrayed - whether in russian, ukrainian, german, british, serbian or croatian empires. A church that gives more honor to the warrior memorials of yesterday than concern for refugees from war zones today enables the god of war to triumph again and seduces many to mix up the service of Christ and the national cult. The Pax Romana and the Pax Christi cannot be reconciled. War as a "means of politics" is not necessary but increasingly absurd.

We Christians had certain learning experiences from the DDR time that led to peace resolutions which we should not hastily forget in the changed situation or be brushed away by others.

The new freedom also brought new conflict to our church. The church in the DDR also wasn't a "true church" as the church in the West is not the "false church". We were pathetic and we were rich. We don't need to demonize the past or transfigure who we were.

We were and are underway. We don't establish ourselves but adjust to what Christ expects and entrusts us. Together we face what is now charged to us. Where politicians juggle, strategize and finance, a clear word in an unclear situation can be expected from the church, not a smoothly contoured both-and phraseology ) ala "We are all for peace" weighed out in proportional representation. In a complicated complex world, the simple truths: being merciful, honest and peaceable should not be forgotten.

A church that first prays for God's kingdom will not be first anxious about itself, popularity and proportional representation but will live out of the spirit of opposition of an indefatigable hope.

Always proclaiming nonviolence against violence.

Always setting concern for the poor above one's own increased prosperity.

Always favoring caution toward creation against the exploitive display of human power and seeking corresponding ways instead of prescribing new international political and military calculations and rules. We are together in dreadful tests of endurance in view of orgies of crimes of the yuguslavian civil war. Whoever wants German soldiers there will further provoke the fury of war (The Serbs in their mountains still await us Germans.).

Where the church is no longer a "counter-world" or "alternative world" but snuggles up to it, it has ceased to announce God's kingdom as an inspiring presence of an undecreeable future. The church which waits for God's kingdom cannot sink to a holiday flourish and is truly dispensable as a humble religious opinion. Whoever continues the national church in a well-tempered shapeless way nervous about proportional representation will not be the church of the people in the long run. In the center of Jesus' message is not the church, the group, the salvation of individuals or even the good person but God's kingdom, a greatness inspiring, criticizing and illuminating our kingdoms in which the great become small, the plain great, the ignored respectable and the forgotten noticed.

Whoever reacts anxiously to threatened resignations or asks what enables members to keep their nose to the grind without asking what stands up to Christ loses the point. The main issue for the church must be that Christ doesn't flee us. The essential issue for the church cannot be how many avoid the institution.

God's kingdom enters into history in the lived alternative histories of new existence in the midst of old life, not in human kingdoms.

Martin Luther inimitably described God's kingdom in its political and personal characteristics:

"God's kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy, not a kingdom of anger or punishment because it is pure forgiving, loving, serving, doing good, peace and joy. The worldly kingdom is a kingdom of anger and severity because it is nothing but punishing, defending, and judging to restrain the evil and protect the righteous."

"Look diligently to yourself, whether you are inclined more to good or to evil. If you find that you have love, do good, are friendly and kind from your heart to your neighbor, know yourself as small and more unworthy than all creatures and are willing to help the poor, God's kingdom is raised in you."

So the just prays and acts among people. You will experience miracles and overcome your blue depression. You will fail and break down. Then praying, you begin again. Whoever hopes for the very great is open for the very small and sees signs there for the greater. However he isn't content and doesn't have to be content. He is not put off and will not be put off. Whoever hopes in prayer for God's kingdom hopes for this world of our acting and seeking and is open for the surrounding and the ungraspable where God will be all in all.

This is work in the vineyard of the Lord. Whoever hopes acts out of confidence.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15,13).