Standing in a circle of four, holding hands with my neighbors and praying on Sunday afternoon brought tears streaming down my face. “Miss Maimie” called three of us to meet with her and we went with great fear that we had done something to offend or were about to be educated about negative views of us by neighbors (guilty conscience?) or in some other way were being forced into conflict. Some of that is certainly assuming the worst and fear of man and insecurity. But some of that is because as white neighbors, which the three of us are, in a neighborhood that has been “black” since the early 60’s, we are the newcomers and, in some ways, intruders. The gathering turned out to be a widowed older woman reaching out for support and prayer to neighbors who she has come to assume actually care and are willing to love. So there she prayed, in that wonderful traditional black preacher cadence, and there I stood, bowed, weeping at what felt in that moment like winning the lottery.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Rev. 5:8-10
Every tribe and language and people and nation…every tribe and language and people and nation…I need to keep repeating it just to start to hear it. It isn’t just that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white…He is making them a kingdom and priests to reign together on the earth just as He initially designed it in the Garden. A Kingdom and Priests together! If it will be so one day, oh might we taste more of this sign of His glory now?
But we don’t. And we don’t because even in our own families we are divided by personalities, style preferences, music choices, eating habits, and interests and comforts which vary person to person. Outside our families, family backgrounds, finances, positions and titles separate us from one another, as do life stages, skin color, educational background and recreational pursuits. Quite honestly, every single thing that we can come up with has the potential to divide us from one another. It just seems easier to move toward sameness because that validates us and then to move from sameness to isolation, because that too protects us.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7
The difference in God’s Kingdom and His view of people is that we are so focused on the outside of the cup, the outside of the dish, the outer behaviors and circumstances, that we miss the heart inside all that varied wrapping, and it is the heart upon which God sets His gaze and attentive work. It is not what goes into a body that makes it clean/dirty (hip hop music, organic vegetables, liquor, sunscreen or cigarette smoke) but what comes out that reveals the heart. And it is on this level that all of human creation, affluent and destitute, black or white or purple, overeducated or undereducated, formal or casual, powerful or invisible, religious or irreligious all stand in absolute equality of position.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:20-23
The person and work of Jesus, accomplishing perfect righteousness and crediting that obedience to us and taking our selfish, self-seeking, rebellious rejection of the Law as if His own, is accomplishing a unity far better than a room full of people who share an enjoyment of the same t.v. show or band. Only in this framework can individuals who have opposite tastes in music, “fashion”, books, who use different vocabulary, humor and reference points, who are in different life stages and socioeconomic positions…only through the person and work of Jesus can two or more such individuals be united as genuine equals with sincere love and delight in one another. Apart from Him, there will always be condescension, bitterness, resentment, demoralizing patronizing of one or the other, and perpetual disconnect. We naturally assume superiority or inferiority with those who we deem “different” than us, according to the outward appearance of things. In Christ, there is only One Head and every other member is an essential part of the body.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9-10
Might that circle of elderly African American widow, single young white woman, married mother of three grow to include an even greater variety of God’s people and even then occur with greater frequency? Might it grow to be genuine love and not merely awkward togetherness? He is making all things new, starting with my heart and my vision of people, to love as I have been loved. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is hungering and thirsting after Jesus, and He is building a kingdom and priesthood from every tribe and language and nation and people. May we know, taste and get to enjoy more of this even now, even if only in part.
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Rev. 5:11-14