No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. (Luke 11:33)
We love to pray for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And yet, is that what we really want? Do we want to see all people, even people who look and think differently than we do, do we want to see them in heaven? What about our enemies? Those who we hate and those who hate us? Do we want to see everyone have what they need? Food, education, medicine, shelter, safety, comfort? Do we want to admit that we all stand as equals before God? Do we want to be a part of a kingdom where, though we are equals, God calls us out when we have blind spots and do not see those who are getting hurt? Those we are hurting? The systems that allow these abominable practices to continue? Do we really want God’s kingdom to be in earth as it is in heaven?
This past summer, our preacher at the Montreat Youth Conference was from Charleston, South Carolina. Her name is Cece Armstrong and man could she preach. I saw even the strongest of agnostics go to church that week. And she told us this story:
There once was a lion who fancied himself king of the jungle. Of course he was, that’s what lions are, right? But he wanted to be sure everyone else knew, so he strode up to a leopard and said, in a mighty voice, “Who is the king of the jungle?” “You are, o mighty lion,” was the leopard’s cowed reply. So the lion walked up to the great bear and said, with a voice of authority, “Who is the king of the jungle?” “You are, great lion,” the bear said with a subdued voice. The lion walked up to a tiger, and confidently pressed, “Who is the king of the jungle?” “Why, you are, of course,” said the tiger feeling the pressure from the other animals around. The lion continued in this practice until he came to the great elephant. He asked in his smug and cocky tone, “Who is the king of the jungle?” At which point, the elephant’s great trunk swept around him and picked him up and tossed him to and fro, beating the ever-loving daylights out of him. When the elephant finally set the lion down, the lion’s reply was: “You know, just ’cause you don’t know the answer, you don’t have to be mean about it.”
How often have we been the lion? All of us at some point in our lives – most likely. When we’ve been on top of the proverbial food-chain and able to take as much power as we wanted. To step on the little people. To cow the big dogs, so to speak.
What about the leopard, the bear, and the tiger? We who have positions of power and authority, either by profession or by privilege of how we were born – and yet, when someone more powerful comes along and does all the wrong things, we cower in fear of what might happen to us.
Who are we called to be?
The mighty elephant. The strong herbivore, with power often underestimated because it is not trying to take a bite out of other animals. The elephant lives in a pack, shares life with its friends, and scientists have told us they can even create rituals to honor the living and their dead. And yes, the elephant can put someone in their place when need be.
That is who we are called to be.
In Sunday School, we were taught about the meek and mild Jesus, the one we are supposed to replicate – partially so that children will respect the authority of their elders.
The problem with that? That’s not who Jesus was. The only authority he recognized was God’s. When the humans around him caused one another harm, he was never afraid to speak out – whatever they might do to him. He may have done so in subversive and non-violent ways (save one exception) – but he was always calling out those in supposed authority who thought themselves kings of the jungle. Be they political, social, or religious.
Our reformed forebears would remind us that all of us have some form of darkness forever in us – until God removes it after death. However, that does not mean that we do not strive toward greater light every single day. We labor for that light to see the whole world full of it. We work to see every power that would dominate, subjugate, lie, tyrannize, repress, oppress, obfuscate, divide, and conquer – we work to see them toppled from their thrones.
As we do, we enter into Christ’s ministry, God’s own ministry, to lift up all who have had their voices taken away, to raise the broken to new life, to see that all find equitable resources in this life, not just the one to come. That is what it means to pray that God’s kingdom would be in earth as it is in heaven. That is what we are called to do. And there is a whole lot of work to be done. Let’s get to it.