KOH2RVA: Day 201

good-friday-wallpaper-24It’s Good Friday, which is really only our modern English way of saying “God’s Friday” (just as “goodbye” is a modern English contraction of “God be with ye”).

God’s Friday makes more sense than Good Friday. In itself, there is almost nothing good about the day Jesus was nailed to the cross. It was horrible from daybreak to dark. But God was able to reach down into the bloody mess of it all and make something good of it so that, centuries later, we look back on what happened through tears of gratitude.

There’s been some discussion on this blog recently about what we humans are able to do and what God alone can do. Can we bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia? No. Not without God’s help. Not anymore than we could have made something good out of that horrible Friday long ago. But let us remember that there were some on that day who called for Jesus’ crucifixion, who condemned him, jammed a crown of thorns on his head, flogged him until he was nearly dead, nailed him to a cross, mocked him, cursed him, spit on him, and gambled for his clothes, but there were others who stood at the foot of the cross, looking up at him with love, who took his lifeless body down, placed it in a borrowed tomb, and anointed it with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:38-42).

We may not be able to bring heaven to earth all by ourselves but we can make it clear which side we are on. We are on the side of heaven. We want to work with God, and not against him. And if it is his will to someday bring heaven to earth we want to do everything we can to tip the balance in that direction. We want to put our shoulder to the wheel of the Kingdom and push hard.

For me, every time a child laughs, every time love is shared, every time the hungry are fed or the weary are lifted up, it serves as evidence that God’s Kingdom is coming and that we are helping. When the day of judgment comes—whenever and however it does—I want it to be clear which side we are on.

We are on the side of heaven.

KOH2RVA: Day 98

Sandy HookFirst Baptist Church has spent nearly 100 days working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, in a year-long, every-member mission trip. I don’t know that every member has been involved, but it certainly does seem that way. Many of them stop me in the hallway to tell me about the work they’ve been doing. They’re excited about it. You can hear it in their voices. You can see it on their faces. And that’s good, because on a day like today I’m thinking about how it takes all of us working together with Jesus to make this world more like heaven while it only takes one of us to make it more like hell.

It happened yesterday.

While we may never know what drove him to do it we know that 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 26 people—many of them children—before turning the gun on himself. It’s hard to imagine a more horrifying, or hellish, scenario.

How long will it take to undo the damage Adam Lanza did? Forever. While it will take days to restore some semblance of order at Sandy Hook Elementary, weeks to memorialize the 26 people who died in yesterday’s shootings, months to get things back to “normal” in Newtown, some things will never be the same. Parents who lost children will never get them back again, not in this life. And that’s when I become grateful to tears that it’s not all up to us.

While we can “labor alongside Jesus in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth,” Jesus can do some things we can’t. He can bring earth to heaven. He can take the tragedy of yesterday’s shootings and lay it before his heavenly Father. And the Father—who loves little children—can take them in his arms, breathe new life into their broken bodies, and welcome them into his eternal presence.

“God will wipe every tear from their eyes,” writes the author of Revelation. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4).

Until then we keep working with Jesus to bring heaven to earth. We renew our determination. We strengthen our resolve. We know as we didn’t know two days ago…

…it’s going to take all of us.

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Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Authenticity

Nobody could have predicted what happened at last Sunday night’s concert.

Phil Mitchell had put together a program called “Dear God”: an assortment of hymns and anthems interspersed with personal letters to God from members of the congregation.  There must have been a hundred people in the choir, singing like angels, and the orchestral accompaniment was heavenly, but when people began to read their prayers a reverent hush fell over the sanctuary. 

Martha Joyner talked about how grateful she was for her family, and especially for her new granddaughter, Emma Grace.  Carl Johnson talked about how God had led him into his work as treasurer of the International Mission Board and through a time of deep personal tragedy.  But then Hannah Ramsey got up to speak.  You could tell, even before she started, that this was going to be hard for her.  Her hands were shaking.  She took a deep breath and let it out.  And then she said, “Dear God, it’s been 99 days since we last talked…”

As she sobbed and struggled through the rest of her letter she talked about losing her sixteen-year-old brother, Jackson, to suicide.  She talked about how angry she was—still—and how she had been trying to work through her pain and her grief.  Her emotion was raw and real, and she held nothing back.  When she finished I let out the breath I had been holding since she began with a single word: “Wow!”   And when she sat down behind me I wrote this note on a slip of paper and passed it to her:

“That was just about the bravest thing I have ever seen.  Certainly the most honest.  Thank you.”

Her courage and honesty added to what had already been shared, and raised the experience of that concert to a new level.  By the time the choir sang “Total Praise” at the end of the evening we were all caught up in a kind of rare unity, where it didn’t really matter who you were or where you came from—we had become family just by being there.  And as we stood to sing the Lord’s Prayer together as a kind of benediction Pastor Emeritus Jim Flamming made his way over to where Hannah was standing and put his arms around her.  I glanced over my shoulder, saw what was going on, and thought what a good instinct it was on his part.  He’s known Hannah all her life.  There was probably a time when she thought Dr. Flamming was God.  For him to put his arms around her like that and hand her his handkerchief was just the right kind of pastoral care. 

The tears flowed freely.

When it was over I told Hannah’s mother that I had read something that very afternoon about how some people avoid church because it doesn’t seem real to them; they’re looking for something “authentic.”  I told her, “But it doesn’t get any more real than it did tonight.” 

It doesn’t. 

And I think we all learned something: that we can not only trust God with our most honest emotions but—when church is real—we can trust each other, too.  And when we do it can make all the difference.  We’re not a roomful of strangers anymore: we’re family.  And a girl who has lost her brother might just discover that she is not alone.

Not by a long shot.