New York? Chicago? San Salvador? Managua? Johannesburg? Washington? Jerusalem?
A desolate reality! A strange and prophetic vision? A broken-hearted and unrequited lover of peace and justice! And even as He speaks, and even through the translucency of His tears, there is a buoyant soul shining with hope that God’s children will seize the final opportunity for the redemption of the city.
Even as He speaks and weeps, there is yet time in the inexhaustible patience and faithfulness of the Almighty for the welfare of the city. But they will not will it so. They will not have it to be.
He talks about the “time of your visitation.” And yet they failed to recognize the divine reality in the visitation. The religious establishment was busy with business, and failed to recognize the messiah-ship that is inherent in souls that endure unearned suffering.
In their preoccupation with management of the institution they neglected to see the quality of redemption in those who work for peace. So busy with institutional maintenance and pride of virtue, they could not understand that the cries of the poor, the call from the tenements, the wails of agonized people, the warning voices of the dispossessed are the voice of God calling. Caught up in the works of urban righteousness and metropolitan minutiae, they missed the overwhelmingly gracious love of God that was so generously offered — that had they responded would have made for peace and salvation and justice — all for the welfare of the city and their own welfare.
Will it be so with us? Will we allow our refusal to seek justice to render our worship simply empty solemn assemblies? Amos had a word from the Lord on that!
Will our insensitivities to those whose problems have been forgotten in our community render us simply competent instrumental servants of the church and not centrally children of God, and therefore servants of one another? The Gospel calls us first to be children of God and thereby servants of one another.
And when He drew near to the city, He wept. Would that even today you know the things that make for peace!”
The city! That dark furnace where everything is devoured. That steaming slum, where millions of blacks and other poor minorities are herded together like cattle. That place where the senses and imaginations and sensibilities and emotions and sorrows and desires, and hopes and dreams and ideas of a race with vivid feeling and deep emotional reactions are forced in upon themselves; bound by the iron fence of frustration.
That place where racism and its consequences over many years hem them in with its mighty-high four walls. That place of blessing and curse; that place where the blues received its first paid audience, where jazz was created in the deep subterranean passages of the soul before it could be expressed in the vocals and the instruments of a thousand human persons seeking to express the cosmic reality of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.
The city! That place where the rural Negro spiritual was urbanized, where Saturday night and Sunday morning came together to create the gospel song. Saturday night’s plea: “Help me make it through the night,” becomes Sunday morning’s praise: “It’s another day’s Journey and I’m glad about it.” And “Precious Lord, Take My Hand, lead me on, let me stand, I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn” becomes a prayer for enough strength and guidance to make it through the labyrinth of problems created by the absence of shalom in the city.
The city that Jesus loves and weeps about. “That huge cauldron, inestimable natural gifts, wisdom, love, music, science, poetry are stamped down and left to boil with the dregs of an elementally-corrupted nature, and thousands upon thousands of souls are destroyed by vice and misery, and degredations; obliterated, wiped out, washed out, from the register of the living.” Dehumanized! Forgotten!
The city! Black and getting blacker all the time. Poor and getting poorer all the time. Who will seek the welfare of the city?
We, the people of God, are called to do so. We who value what God values. We who value social justice above social order. We who rest in the confidence of the revelation of God which we have in Jesus Christ.
We who are convinced that we are able to hear both the whisperings and the thunderings of God’s Spirit and discern the signs of the times. We who stand in the line of the apostles and prophets and who believe that God’s word in the human activity of preaching and ministering and teaching has the power to refashion and transform peoples and society.
We join with others as the church and its ministry to discern the dehumanizing and unjust contradictions of city life and to take actions to raise up signs of hope and help; to act with courage and love; to be a sign of the Kingdom of God; to be a “lived out” Beatitude; to be a prophetic presence; to be a proleptic agent in the present; to announce hope for those who have no hope; to be a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for those who have no advocate and a refuge for those who have no home or don’t know where home is.
To bring a ministry of healing, loving, redeeming, confronting servanthood; to seek out those places and points of anguish, sickness, pain, despair, oppression, loneliness and brokenness; to discover those who have been forgotten, those whose problems have been ignored, and to proclaim in word and action that the Christ of God who weeps for the city is also a Living Presence who will neither leave us alone nor let us alone.
We cannot be anti-urban because the city events of the crucifixion and the resurrection are too important to our faith. We are not anti-urban because Luke’s Easter stories — all centered around metropolitan Jerusalem — feed our faith. We are not anti-urban because we read Paul’s letters addressed to the churches in the cities and which bear their names.
We are not anti-urban because we follow Him who set His face steadfast toward Jerusalem, and His weeping over the sins of the city reflects His deep love for the city. And in His indicative tears is an imperative for us: we are to love the city no less than He loves it. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they prosper who love you!”
And so we prepare ourselves to work for the welfare of the city. Most of our talents are adequate but not brilliant; our persons are steady but not scintillating; our egos reach out to Christ, yet often we veer away on self-serving errands. We are vulnerable and vacillating and often vain, but we have been chosen to share the word of grace we have found; to witness to what we have heard.
We have heard a call to be on a special errand, a particular errand. We have seen the work of salvation. Part of that work is to help ourselves and to help others find the bottom in deep waters. We know, as Nicholas Berdyaev knew, “That bread for ourselves is a physical matter, but bread for our brothers and sisters is a spiritual matter.”
We know also that D.T. Niles was right: “We are simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Bread that keeps us nourished to stay on the journey. Bread that feeds others so they can join us on the journey. Bread that gives dignity to those who hunger for the freedom to live abundantly. And bread that feeds the soul.
Oh, there is bread! It is the bread of the world in mercy broken. It is by God’s overwhelming grace that our souls are fed. “Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more!” Bread of heaven, feed the whole world so that we have to want no more.”
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