Image Copyright: https://twitter.com/justindillon/status/896416237399310336
This was shared in our time of response at First Baptist Church, Ashland in worship on Sunday, August 13, 2017 in response to the events in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.
John, the author of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, gives us a glimpse of what it will look like when God’s rule is fully present. When the old order of things has passed away and the new has come.
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
The New International Version. (2011). (Re 7:9-10, 13-17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The vision that John shares with us is one where people of every tribe, every nation, every ethnicity, every color, are singing praises to God with one another and there is no violence. No tears.
No hunger. No thirst.
No more pain.
Our Pastor of Senior Life Bill just shared with us a compelling vision of what it looks like when we take seriously the call to grow in our faith over our lifetime. From childhood to adulthood. From birth to death.
We expand our horizons. Our worldview becomes bigger, broader, more simple and at the same time much more complex.
But this vision from Revelation is what we long for. It is a glimpse of what it will be like when God’s rule, God’s kingdom is fully realized.
And that vision of hope and heaven couldn’t have been any more different than what happened in Charlottesville the last two days.
About 2,000 thousand white people, mostly white men, espousing a reckless, violent, racist hatred towards people of color, Jews, and people of different national identities tried to claim some kind of special connection to God and American roots with markers of terror in the false claim of creating unity.
They gathered with heavily armed militias.
There were screaming, chanting, torch-bearing white folks in white robes, or white polos and khakis.
And one man was even using a car as a weapon, running it into a crowd killing at least one and injuring 19 others.
That sounds nothing like the passage from Revelation.
It sounds like, looks like, and smells like domestic terrorism and hate.
There is a lot of room for conversation in our church. We won’t always agree on everything both politically and theologically.
But, when a few thousand folks come to a city, an hour away, and give us a glimpse of what kind of violence could come to our own city of Richmond when we talk about race, confederate monuments, and our shared future…we are compelled to hold up the vision of the future being offered by Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacy groups…and take that vision and hold it up to the light of our narrative as Christians and see that the visions couldn’t be any more different.
We are a people who must continue to expand our horizons until it matches up with that story from John in Revelation, when the good news, the gospel, is a story for all people. All nations. All languages. All colors. All human beings!
We give thanks for the clergy of many, many different denominations who linked arms and sang that Love has overcome while hatred was spewed at their faces.
We give thanks for the law enforcement and first responders that sought to protect the most vulnerable and keep things from getting out of control.
I give thanks for our friend David Bailey, whose band was singing during a prayer meeting at All Souls Church, a Baptist church in Charlottesville on Friday night when the church became surrounded by folks with torches yelling Nazi chants at those gathered for prayer. (David Bailey and his non-profit Arrabon consulted with First Baptist from 2016 to early 2017 to help us think about worship as equipping for mission and to begin some conversations about racial reconciliation in our community. His team of interns and some of his other staff also regularly serve with us. He’s become a tremendous friend to our church.)
David and his entire team of young people had to be escorted one by one by police out of the church. OUT OF A CHURCH.
And David was back preaching at All Souls Sunday morning.
So today. I invite you to respond.
If you need someone to pray with. Someone to lament with. Someone to weep with over what you’ve seen. There will be staff and other leaders up here to pray.
If you need someone to repent with, perhaps you have seen the images, the hate, and you have felt God stirring up within you the need to turn from some racism that you’ve had within your heart. Please come up and don’t feel like you need to face that change alone.
If you want to pray for Ashland. For Richmond. For Hanover county and the unhealed wounds of race in our community. To pray for God’s hope to meet us here. Please come up.
And if today, you have been looking for a church family to call home. To know that you have a place that is safe for you and your family and friends, no matter what tribe or nation or color of skin or what age you are and you are ready to be on mission with God of the universe at First Baptist Church, then come down and talk to me or one of the staff and we’d love for you to become a member here.
Lastly, if you have heard the gospel in a new way today. You’ve heard the good news that Jesus loves you. He sees you in your sin and brokenness, your frailty and shame, and goes to the cross to bury your sin and raise you to experience life and life to the full. And you’d like to begin a relationship with Jesus today. Please, come forward or talk to me or one of the staff after the service and let us know so that we can be a help to you for the road ahead.
Our God is a God who is still speaking. Still working.
No matter your age, God can work in and through you for the betterment of our world.
No matter your color of skin, your tribe or nation, God is for you.
And today, I hope that you will respond.
Let us condemn hate together and cry out for God’s kingdom to be here on earth as it is in heaven as we sang earlier today.
We are going to have music playing today, but we are not going to sing. We are going to pray. And respond. And ask God to move in our hearts. And ask God to move in our town.
If you are able. Stand. Be in a posture to hear from God today.
A familiar hymn, Rock of Ages will wash over us as we stand.
We put our hope in the Rock that doesn’t change. The Rock of Love that can withstand the attacks of hate.
After some time, we will quiet the music and do our sending out together. We will grasp hands with one another. And we will pray together and commit to living out God’s love.
At the end of the time of prayer we joined hands across the aisle of our church. Reached out to one another. I read the quote below and then we recited the words of the sending out as a unified voice.
I was reminded of a powerful quote from Nelson Mandela this weekend:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
So, let us say words together that are meant to teach us to love.
Let us go from this place:
Joining in the mission of God
Because we are loved by Jesus
And empowered by the Spirit
To grow in unity
To practice hospitality
And to love our neighbors