In high school, a friend lent me Douglas Adams’ classic novel, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and I discovered the science fiction and fantasy genre. Until that time, I hadn’t realized that there was a whole section of the library and bookstore dedicated to stories about the far distant future - to spaceflight and sentient computers - and to magic.
I found a whole new world of wonder, and I fell in love.
It was only recently, though, that I realized just why I keep reading science fiction - and other speculative or alternate reality novels. It’s because to writing or reading about an interplanetary future, or a world of magic, demands that the author and the reader have an optimistic view of humanity.
To write about spaceflight - even space battles - in the 23rd century, you have to believe that humanity is going to get that far. To write and read about magic and benevolent dragons, you have to invest in a sense of wonder and possibility. You have to invest in the adaptability and potential of the human race.
Sure, there are some dsytopian sci-fi and fantasy novels, where the alternate or future world is miserable. But I find that they, too, contain the seeds of this human optimism and hope: the subtle, fierce belief that compassion and connection can make a difference even when the worst is happening.
Science fiction and fantasy stories - whether in novels or on the screen - help us to think about the world as it might be, about humanity as we could be,
to stir us up from being resigned to things as they are.
And today, the church does that, too. Today the church imagines an alternate reality, a future, how the world will be, someday, when Christ is King, and we and all creation are truly governed by God.
We read David’s vision of a world where ungodliness self destructs at a touch, so different from our world - and David’s world - of messy moral conflicts, imperfect choices and shades of gray.
The conversation between Jesus and Pilate that we overhear reminds us of how hard it is to imagine our real familiar world governed by truth instead of self interest.
And the church focuses our prayer and attention today on the vision of Christ returning: stunningly, gloriously, unmistakably, to judge and rule the world, personally and directly
without the familiar intermediaries of religion and nations and systems of law and compromise.
It’s a vision that insists on the redeemability of our common, messy, guilty humanity.
Today, the church practices the same imagination as my favorite fiction genre, investing ourselves in a future that won’t look like what we already know.
We do this because what we believe about the future profoundly affects how we live and act here and now.
When we celebrate the unpredictable future coming of Christ as King, we practice dreaming of a world as it should be, and teach ourselves to live so that we’ll fit in to that different world, and prepare for it to transform our own familiar homes and lives.
The church puts this vision on the calendar once a year, but we pray the vision of God’s kingdom and God’s power and glory every single week. Many of us pray it every single day, or more often. In fact, you probably know this vision by heart:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
That’s us praying for the reign of God, for Christ as king, on earth, in our world, here and now.
Give us this day our daily bread,
we pray that God, that Christ the ruler, will distribute the resources of the world according to needs, not self-interest, or wants, or riches.
and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,
we pray for our hearts to be open and generous and freed, to know the incredible release of being forgiven, now, already, the way we want to be when Christ as King judges our actions and intentions and life.
Lead us not into temptation - save us from the time of trial - deliver us from evil,
we pray for protection, for God the ruler, for Christ the King, to do what we ask any government to do: protect us from the moral murk of temptation and the vivid danger of enemies and evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever,
we pray ourselves into proclaiming our commitment to God’s real, present authority and power
in the future and here and now.
When we truly believe;
when we enter into the story, when we trust the holy imagination of the church and the scriptures and get swept up in the potential and promise,
when we truly believe,
we make that future real by our own actions.
The flip phone — the must-have communications device before the iPhone — became real because Star Trek’s designers created entirely fictional flip-open instant communicators for a short-run TV show 30 years earlier.
We still don’t have flying cars, but do we have the Jetsons’ video chat and self-propelled cleaning robots as everyday conveniences.
Because when we read ourselves in to the story, when we trust the vision
we risk change, venture into new territory,
and see ourselves differently where we already are.
Imagine how that might work with the story we pray.
What if radical forgiveness were as common as mobile phones,
and what if it were as natural as touch screens?
What if living the simplicity of need defined by “daily bread” was as automatic as running a Roomba?
What if our confidence in God’s governance, and power, and glory were so great that we could easily believe that ALL God’s people - of any faith and nation - were our fellow citizens in the kingdom of God?
What if we trusted our prayer for protection enough to spend the $3 to 5 billion dollars projected for the 2016 presidential campaign on creating havens of deep human connection in the midst of our hectic, divided world?
When we trust the vision of Christ the King and allow it to guide our imagination, it will shape what we choose to use and invent and do and share, and that will make a world in which God’s kingdom comes closer and closer.
And so, today, this week, I invite you to pray that vision and let it guide your imagination, your life.
With each news story you hear or read or watch, pray the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer.
With every facebook post of joys or complaints, with every email filled with new tasks, pray the vision of the kingdom of God.
When you do the mundane tasks of daily life, when you buy groceries, pay the bills, make the dinner, pray yourself into the story of God’s glory and power.
When you relax: when you read, when you watch TV or movies, when you play,
pray those words that shape the future,
because each time, you give yourself another chance, and another,
to believe, to make it real.
Today, this week, I invite you to enter into the kingdom of God the way you enter a beloved story, to come home to that vision, and believe in its joyful, grace-filled ever-after.