In elementary school, science lessons taught me to pick up and package our plastics, our papers, our cans, and our glass, so I went out into the world on hot summer days with a trash bag to clean out the ditches. We lived in the dirt road and chip-and-seal part of the country, so it was no big deal to spend a few hours wandering down Stafford Road with a trash bag. I rinsed out the glass jars and, even though we had no roadside pickup, put them in a bin. I sang along with Garth Brooks and his gospel choir, “When the last child cries for a crust of bread / when the last man dies for just words that he said / when there’s shelter over the poorest head / we shall be free.”
I’ve been thinking about the closeted racism that is seeping out lately, the hateful political speeches, and the call to make America great again, as if there is some golden age in our collective imagination when things were better for us all than they are right now.
I’ve been thinking about progress, how in 2016 we are only 150 years removed from black men and women being considered property, less than a 100 years from when women could not register an opinion toward the direction of our government, less than 50 years from separate-but-equal education, separate water fountains, and back-of-the-busses.
As kids, we learned how to reduce, reuse, and recycle what was given to us. We were told by parents and teachers and politicians and Michael Jackson that we could change the world, and we believed it. Why is it so surprising that this generation of millennials is dreamy-eyed and civic-driven, more socialist than any previous generation? They taught us not to bully. They taught us to sort our trash, to shrink the ozone layer, and to “Free Willy.” They even taught us there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male and female. They taught us tolerance and peace and justice and truth, and now why is it such a surprise that we believe in them?
Movements forward begin small, with individual people taking individual steps toward something greater, through education, through taking a stand, through raising a voice. When these individuals are motivated by mercy, justice, and truth, it is love that wins. Gradually, other voices join, change happens, and the world becomes better.
Some of my favorite Bible passages begin “The kingdom of heaven is like…” There are a bunch of them—if you get a chance, check them out. The book of Matthew grabs Jesus’s comments on the kingdom in Matthew 13, and then again in Matthew 18, and then again in Matthew 20 and 22 and 25. But to save some time, I’ll summarize:
The kingdom of heaven is like a God who is patiently gathering all of humanity toward him in spite of all that goes wrong. We’re incredibly slow. We’re incredibly broken. And still the kingdom of heaven is this work toward wholeness.
My generation is the largest since the baby boomers, at 81 million strong. We are hopeful about our future. Fueled by that hope, we can be confident that he who began a good work in this world will carry it on to completion. We can be confident that we are part of that movement. We the individual and we the collective unit of inhabitants of planet Earth.
It’s time to rally, friends. Plant one mustard seed at a time. Pursue the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Minister to the widows and orphans. Don’t let the naysayers say “nay!” or “nothing ever changes”; embrace that oft-misquoted quote to be the change you want to see in this world. We are the world. Michael Jackson said so. Don’t you forget it.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Do not give in to fear. God hasn’t given us a spirit of timidity. He’s given us a spirit of power, and love, and self-control.
And with that Spirit, Jesus is coming, through us and within us, advancing his kingdom of heaven on earth daily and constantly. Let’s enter into that kingdom work together.