Last night at our Faith Study we were discussing the third chapter of Doug Hall’s book Why Christian. The chapter focuses on Jesus as Saviour and what we are being saved from and for. It was a lively conversation with many points of view. 25 is a large group! One of the participants asked a question that generated a lot of good debate. The question was, “What do you mean by the Kingdom of God has already begun and is being lived out by the church?” I think the concern being expressed was one of arrogance, the 20th century is littered with examples of Christians and churches who thought they had all the answers and the damage their efforts caused is well documented.
Those who believe that Jesus ushered in the Reign of God into our world believe the church witnesses to that reality when it lives out the difficult and sacrificial calling of following Jesus here and now. Heaven is not some delayed gratification, we are not to put off our witness to the “sweet by and by”. Now is the time to act, just as Jesus lived out the Reign of God in our midst in his lifetime.
The obvious question is “what does these Reign of God moments look like?” Thinking on the spot I came up with two. Both seemed to strike a cord and resonate with the 25.
1) Relatives of the nine victims killed in a shooting inside an AME church in Charleston, S.C., addressed the alleged shooter Dylann Roof during a bond hearing, many offering forgiveness to Roof. One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses. “I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul." Felicia Sanders spoke about her son, Tywanza Sanders, who was killed. “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms,” said Felicia Sanders, her voice trembling. “Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero...May God have mercy on you.” Some people chose not to speak. Others, like a relative of Myra Thompson, echoed the forgiving sentiment, calling on Roof to repent. “I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said the sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor. “But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family...is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.” Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons, said that the pleas for Roof’s soul were proof that “hate won’t win.”
2) Pope Francis stepped away from the pomp and pageantry of Capitol Hill to be with the poor and homeless. Passing on the opportunity to dine with politicians after addressing Congress Francis instead said a prayer blessing a meal for homeless clients of St. Maria’s Meals, a food program run by Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. Just before the meal, Francis drew a powerful comparison between the plight of the homeless and the Christmas story about Jesus’ birth in a stable. “The son of God knew what it was to be a homeless person,” Francis said, during a speech at nearby St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. “What it was to start life without a roof over his head.” “I want to be very clear. We can’t find any social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever for lack of housing,” he continued. “We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person. He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help and his love. He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice. He tells us this clearly, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”
Each and every time the Reign of God is lived out by the church the world sees evidence of what we humans can be. We do not wait for this time, it is now.