Sometimes the Bible just doesn’t talk about reality? Right?
I mean look at today’s Psalm. David writes that Jerusalem is a city of heavenly glory – a kingdom of God – a place of mercy, love, charity, peace. But, you know, I’ve been there. And, it ain’t that way anymore.
In the 12th century, a Jewish Rabbi from Spain, traveled all the way to China, describing various cities on the way. His account of Baghdad is truly awesome. He describes it as a giant city of great beauty, ruled by a wise, generous, and humble Muslim Caliph – the direct descendant of Mohammed. The rabbi tells us that the Caliph reads Arabic, Greek and Hebrew. He is loved deeply by his followers from Palestine to Tibet. He loves them. And not only that, he loves the tens of thousands of Jews who live in his kingdom. He loves them so much that the Jewish high priest gets an imperial honor guard and a throne of his own, down at the palace.
Benjamin writes that Baghdad is like a city of heavenly glory, a kingdom of Godliness. But, you know, I’ve been watching the news, and it ain’t that way anymore.
You and I both know that Jerusalem and Baghdad are nothing like what King David or Rabbi Benjamin wrote.
Perhaps, the real truth of these fallen cities is closer to what we find in First Chronicles – which says that Jerusalem was so unfaithful, so idolatrous, so abominable, so torn by violence and perversion, that the Lord God decided to stir up foreign invaders to tear the place down.
The cities of men and the kingdom of God – how different they are.
How different from God you and I are. How far from His holiness. How far from His wisdom. How far from His love and generosity. And if you don’t believe me – watch some more TV.
I believe that we are all a mess, and that goes for Baghdad and Jerusalem – just as it does for Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and even old Richmond.
Compared to God’s ways – we are all quite a mess.
And there will always be suffering, and there will always be fools – on city councils and in the thrones of power — until the day this great cosmos is redeemed.
But we sure aren’t there yet.
Except for one thing: there is a way to get there. There is a way to a better world.
It is a way unlike our ways. It is unlike what we call necessary. It is unlike what we call possible. It is unlike us.
It is Jesus’ way.
The problem is — Jesus didn’t live that way for very long. Because – we killed him.
Which is exactly why most of us aren’t willing to follow him too closely.
We’re not sure we really want to die the way Jesus did – innocent, betrayed, falsely accused, tricked, ambushed. We’re not really sure we want to let go of the immoral status quo of contained and frozen lives.
After all, this life may not be so great, but it’s all we’ve got – right? We’d hate to lose what we’ve got. Especially since we live in a world where there isn’t enough. Right?
There is enough.
And Jesus proved that again, and again.
Look at today’s Gospel — Jesus took a small boy’s little gift – his unfulfilled potential — and he turned it into a caravan of aid, feeding thousands of hungry people in that sparse land somewhere between Jerusalem and Baghad.
Jesus took the reasonable fear of his followers – the logical impossibility, the frightening crisis, the potential quagmire – and he turned it into satisfaction for all.
How? By trusting in the principle of plenty.
By trusting in the principle of God’s plentiful power. For after all, God can make everything out of nothing. God denies the limits of a zero-sum-game in this ground zero of real life — and in Christ He feeds His sheep.
Jesus never seems to fear that nothing good can be done.
Jesus always makes something out of what looks like nothing. He takes people who have no health – and gives them some. He takes people who have no sight, and gives them some.
He takes people who have no love, and forgives them some.
He takes five loaves and two fishes from a small boy – and gives them all that they needed.
You and I will only ever live in the twilighted cities of men – unless we look to live in the kingdom of God — trusting God’s fulfilling power.
We mustn’t look at how little there is, but only at how much good we can do by the power of faith in Christ.
This is today’s gospel: there once was a child who had a little food – by Jesus Christ he is becomes a supply line for an army.
We are called to do the same.
Do you suppose there are any children in our midst who yet have only a little?
What about the boys and girls of Richmond? What about the boys and girls of Richmond whose families can’t pay private school tuition even with six months wages?
What about the boys and girls of the Children’s Center?
These little folks could become presidents, artists, CEO’s, teachers, even priests.
By God’s grace alone, these little people could be seated on the highest thrones of leadership – and all we have to do is see to it that the grace of God gets to them.
God bless Geraldine, the board of trustees and the staff of the Children’s center, for by God’s grace, dozens of boys and girls are becoming future giants in the city of Richmond, and the kingdom of God.
Everyday that I walk through the Children’s Center and see those little faces – I am happy. I am hopeful. I believe that there is still a chance that the world could be a better place. For my faith in Christ assures me that by God’s grace alone – the world can become a better place.
All we need to do is make sure the supply lines of that Grace are open.
If you had known me many years ago you might have said – this guy’s never really going to amount to much. He has potential, but he’s letting it go to waste.
Unlike many of this country’s children, I had resources supporting me. And yet I was wasting them.
Like the Jerusalem of the Old Testament – and the Medieval Baghdad – I had wasted the support of my family, and of God himself.
But then a humble preacher channeled the grace of God to me. He showed me something of God’s love and power, he called me to come back to the One God who sent a son to die for me, and show me that there was enough. And I did. And I grew, and I began to reclaim the life that God wanted me to lead.
You and I are called to put our faith in the amazing power of God to do big things out of what appears to us to be very little. We are called to have hope that God can do a lot — out of stuff we can’t even see yet.
You and I are called to go in faith and help those in our midst who don’t have enough.
What could be a better focus for our ministry than the children who live around us in this city?
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Let Christ work in you – fulfill your destiny – bring the city of Richmond closer to the kingdom of God.