I am not a regular reader of the newspaper. I am not a regular watcher of television news. Even so, I have heard plenty about Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Cleveland, OH in the last few weeks. I know that there is racial unrest in our nation that is registering on the Richter Scale.
I haven’t preached about it. Although Karl Barth famously urged preachers to step into the pulpit with the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other I tend to leave the Times behind. I preach from the Bible, and I’m amazed at how often its timeless truths seem as fresh and relevant as the morning newspaper. Anyone who is listening to its pleas for justice, mercy, and humble walking with God will hear the names of “Ferguson,” “Cleveland,” and “New York.”
But I’m not thinking about them this morning; I’m thinking about Richmond.
What I want for Richmond is a different kind of reality. I don’t want us to be the next Ferguson. I want us to be a place where God’s kingdom has come and God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. And I can’t imagine that it is God’s will for there to be enmity among his children, and especially not because of color or class.
So, what if, in Richmond:
- We went out of our way to be kind to each other?
- We greeted each other warmly, sincerely, with the sign of the open palm, proving that we meant each other no harm?
- We visited each other’s churches, celebrating the truth that we have the same Heavenly Father, which makes us all sisters and brothers?
- We took the time to call or listen to those who may feel especially vulnerable in this time of unrest, those who are thinking, “That could have been my son,” or, “That could have been me”?
- We tried to be patient with those who learned prejudice from their parents or grandparents or other trusted elders as they struggle to learn a better way?
- We prayed for police officers, who regularly risk their lives in the line of duty, and who live with more fear than they would ever want us to see?
- We tried hard to see in the face of every other human being the face of Christ, and tried to love one another as he has loved us?
That’s what I want for Richmond. I know it’s a lot to ask, and I know it seems to leave out those who are not part of my tradition, and who may not be willing to look for “the face of Christ” in others. But can we at least see the face of a neighbor in the other, and recognize that this is our city, together? That it rises or falls on the basis of how we treat each other? And can we make a silent promise, right now, to treat each other with love and respect?
My friend Ben Campbell has said he wants “the former Capital of the Confederacy to become the Capital of Racial Reconciliation.” That’s a good and worthy goal and I embrace it, but I realize I want even more than that:
I want it to become Heaven on Earth.