Have We Given Up on Jesus?

Icon_second_comingWhy is Christmas so overblown?

Maybe it’s because we’ve given up on the Second Coming of Christ.

I hadn’t thought about that before yesterday, but as I was looking at all the references to the Second Coming in the New Testament (some 57 of them) I was reminded of those funeral services I’ve been to where people want to “celebrate the life” of the deceased rather than “mourn the death.” They want to focus on the positive, that is, and so they focus on all the happy memories of a well-lived life.

That’s not a bad thing to do, but we Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe that death is not the end of life, but in so many ways only the beginning. The old preachers had a way of pointing us forward—toward that hope—and not only back.

I think the old preachers used to do that with the Second Coming, too (and I mean the really old preachers, like Paul, and Peter, and some of those others whose writings ended up in the New Testament). Some of them were so excited about the return of Christ that they didn’t spend much time “celebrating his life.”

They just kept watching the skies.

But that was 2,000 years ago, when it was a little easier to believe that “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Now we are almost embarrassed to mention it.  It’s been too long.  Surely, if he were coming, he would have come by now.  And so, instead of looking forward to the Second Coming, we look back to the first one, and celebrate it as if it were all we would ever have.

Have we given up on Jesus?  Do we no longer believe that one of these days he will come back, and the Kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever (Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!)?  Is that why we go crazy at Christmas, and rush around buying presents for each other?  Is that why we crank up the Christmas carols and talk about Santa Claus coming to town?

I preached at First African Baptist Church yesterday and ended with a true story about a P.O.W. who came home after seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp to find his wife waiting for him.  Although friends and relatives had suggested that he might never come back, and that she probably ought to move on with her life, she had never given up.  He had told her he would come home and she believed him.

She was there waiting for him when he got off the plane.

He said later that she wasn’t the same girl he married; she was no longer a blushing teenage bride.  In the time he had been away she had become a strong, confident, capable woman.

She’d had to.

New Testament scholar Hans Conzelmann used to say that this period between Christ’s ascension and his return is “the Church’s time.”  It’s our time to fulfill the commission Christ gave us, and to do everything in our power to bring heaven to earth.  But Jesus himself said he was going to come back some day.  When he does I hope he will find what that prisoner of war found:

1. That his bride has waited for him, and,
2. That she has become strong, confident, and capable.

KOH2RVA: Day 297

Linda and Louis

Let me tell you about Linda and Louis Watts (at left in the photo above).

If I’m remembering correctly it was Linda who baked mountains of pumpkin bread at Thanksgiving and took it to the teachers at Glen Lea Elementary School. She and Louis were back for the faculty luncheon last month, serving up heaping plates of goodness for the teachers and letting them know just how much they are appreciated. Kimberly Lee, Principal, was so moved by that kind of generosity that she presented a plaque to Steve Blanchard thanking all the members and friends of First Baptist who have made a difference at Glen Lea during this year-long, every-member mission trip. But if I were giving out plaques, I would want to give one to Louis and Linda.

I found them in the waiting room at VCU Medical Center at 5:45 on Monday morning when I went by to pray for a young woman who was having surgery that day. They had brought her to the hospital because her parents were out of town and she didn’t know who else to ask. So she asked Louis and Linda, her “adopted” parents, and they were glad to help. They had brought books and snacks and were planning to stay until the surgery was over.

While I was sitting with them they told me about the big adventure they’d had the previous weekend, when Louis ended up driving the church bus to Short Pump so 25 international students from VCU could do some shopping. I’ve driven that bus before. It’s a little intimidating. But Louis got everybody to Short Pump and back while Linda took a “cute little Egyptian family” in her car because they had a baby and needed to use the car seat.

And then they told me about the surprise birthday party they threw for one of those international students, a young woman from Iran who has no family here in the States, one of their other “adopted” daughters. She thought she was having a quiet birthday dinner at their home, but when they opened the door—surprise!—a room full of people was waiting to wish her well and sing the birthday song. Louis and Linda were afraid that she might be overwhelmed by all the attention but she blushed with pleasure and called her mother later to tell her all about it. Think how pleased her mother was to know that her daughter had friends in the States.

So, that’s a little about Louis and Linda, who seem to be working every day to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even if it means baking mountains of pumpkin bread, or getting up really early in the morning, or driving a big, intimidating, church bus. They remind me of those servants in Luke 17 who, when they have done everything they were told to do, say, “We are unworthy servants: we have only done our duty.”

Good for you, Louis and Linda. May your tribe increase.

KOH2RVA: Day 49

Ben Campbell is an Episcopal priest, but when he starts talking about transportation he sounds like a Baptist evangelist.

Ben is the Pastoral Director at Richmond Hill, where I heard him speak on Thursday during a day-long clergy convocation on the challenges facing our city. Even though Thursday is my day off, I thought, “If First Baptist Church is serious about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, then its pastor needs to be at this convocation!” (I sometimes have to give myself little pep-talks like that).

We first heard from Mayor Dwight Jones, who introduced the report of his anti-poverty commission. And then we heard the report itself, which suggested that the very best way to get people out of poverty is to put them to work. And then Ben Campbell began to talk about how we could get poor people to the places where entry-level jobs could be found.

He talked about the need for a “Transportation Revival,” and started with a picture of a streetcar. He said that in 1887 Richmond was famous for being the first city in the world to have a large electric street railway system. Until 1955, metro Richmond’s public transportation system was excellent. But today Richmond ranks in the bottom 10 percent of America’s top 100 cities when it comes to access to jobs by public transportation. What happened? Ben explains it like this:

In 1951 Richmond’s authorities commissioned a plan that drove a commuter road through nearly every black neighborhood in town. Interstate 95 and the Downtown Expressway together destroyed more than 2,000 homes. Other roads mutilated Fulton, Shockoe Bottom, Jackson Ward. Many of the displaced residents moved to the near white suburbs. And the displaced white residents moved across the county lines to new suburbs in the three surrounding counties. The new highways enabled them to come in and out of town, but Richmond’s bus system stopped at the county lines.

But in the 1950s, most of the jobs were inside the city limits. Now 75 percent of the jobs are in the surrounding counties. At that time, most of the retail was downtown; but today it’s in suburban shopping centers. Sixty years ago, few people in the counties needed public transportation. Today there are many who don’t have cars.

Ben introduced a proposal that would put Richmond in the top 10 percent of American cities when it comes to access to jobs by public transportation, and it’s simple: extending the bus lines on Routes 1, 60, 250, and 360 would double the number of jobs accessible to more than 50 percent of the region’s population. And not only that, but the whole region would benefit. I could get to Short Pump on the bus and catch up on my reading along the way. I could take the Airport Express and save money on parking when I travel. My neighbor could take the bus to his job at the new Amazon.com facility in Chesterfield. And the whole project could be financed by adding a half cent to the sales tax.

Why haven’t we done it already? Ben puts it bluntly:

You could say that the absence of public transportation in metro Richmond is a brutal artifact of Virginia’s segregationist government in the middle of the 20th century. And you’d be right. The buses were stopped at the city line to keep the black population in the center city. Segregation by transportation.

But today, since we have renounced segregation and the heritage of racism, that could not be the reason we haven’t done this good thing. Today, when we know that metropolitan Richmond wants to be known for a decent life, economic health and racial justice, that cannot be the reason. Today, when we have a chance to show the world that Virginia is about liberty, not bigotry, that will not be the reason.

It is just possible that we’ll do the right thing; that we’ll all profit from it; and that, for once, we’ll have a right to be truly proud of what we’ve done. We will show ourselves that we can reverse course and surmount this alleged impossibility; that we can act as one people, as we have always known we were meant to be. We will have the power and wherewithal to build an excellent public transportation system — today.

So why not?

——————————————

You can read Ben’s article in its entirety by clicking HERE

KOH2RVA: Day 48

Here’s an interesting exercise:

If you have an iPhone, click on the “Maps” application and then click on the little arrowhead down in the bottom left corner that gives you your current location (my current location is represented by the blue dot on the map at right, where I’m sitting in my kitchen having a bowl of yummy oatmeal). Then click on the “search” button next to it and type in the address of your workplace (because, let’s face it: if you have an iPhone chances are good that you also have a job).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting:

Click the “directions” button and then click “route” to get directions from your current location to your workplace. The amazing iPhone technology will map out your route and tell you how long it will take to drive there.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting:

Let’s say you live in Creighton Court, in the East End of Richmond, and that you’ve been able to get a job washing cars at Carmax in the West End. According to your iPhone that job is 16.4 miles away from where you live and it will take you 23 minutes to get there. But then do this: go to the top of the screen and click on the little icon that looks like a bus. This will tell you how long it takes to get to your job by public transportation.

If you can get to the bus stop by 7:40, good for you, but you have to walk 0.3 miles to get there, change buses downtown, and walk 1.6 miles when you get off the Gaskins Express bus to get to your job at Carmax. The trip is now 49 minutes rather than 23, and that’s just the part that’s actually on the bus. How long does it take you to walk 1.9 miles? You need to figure that in and then check the bus schedule to make sure it runs at the time you need to get to work. I did this same exercise a little before noon yesterday and found that the Gaskins Express bus didn’t run for another four hours.

Again, if you have an iPhone, try it; see how long it would take you to get from where you live to where you work by public transportation. I’m guessing that it would take longer, and involve a good bit more walking, than simply getting in your car and driving.

But there’s the problem. A lot of the people who live in Creighton Court (for example) don’t have cars. In fact 60 percent of the households in the city of Richmond have one or less cars. How are those people going to get to work? They’re going to ride the bus. But the bus doesn’t always go to where the jobs are. In fact 128,000 jobs in Metropolitan Richmond lie outside the existing bus routes. What’s the solution?

Extend the bus routes.

I need to say more about this tomorrow because I think I’m about to touch on the real problem and the real problem is not easy to talk about. It has to do with poverty and the way we feel about it and that’s never easy.

Until then I’m going to finish my breakfast, get ready for work, get in my car, and drive the 0.5 miles to First Baptist Church.

My iPhone tells me it will take one minute.