Sunday, May 31st, 2015 – Laity Sunday (Second Sunday of Pentecost)
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: I Corinthians 12:4-18, Revelation 22:1-5
Hymns: “Mighty to Save”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Jesus Loves Me”, “All Creatures of Our God and King”, “Here at Thy Table, Lord”, “God of This City”
Special Music: “Signature of Divine (Yahweh)”, by Needtobreathe
‘Til Kingdom Come
Last year, in the span of just under three months, I experienced two of the most important days of my life to date, if not the two most important days. Many of you were present for the first – March 2nd, 2014, when I was installed as the pastor of this church. It was the culmination of three and a half years since I began studying at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and it was the fulfillment of a call that I had realized some thirteen years earlier, and which others had seen in me for several years before that.
The second – and I would say, for me as a person, more important – of those two days occurred one year ago today. On May 31st, 2014, I woke up in a hotel suite in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I roused two of my oldest friends from their beds, and we left the hotel to go get breakfast.
That day proceeded like many of the other days that I spent in North Carolina from 2010 to 2014, except that it ended a little differently – you see, that evening, just prior to 6:00 PM, I stepped out of the door on the ground floor of the main building at Childress Vineyards. I was wearing my US Navy dinner dress blue uniform – the Navy’s answer to a tuxedo – and as I placed my cover on my head, I stepped off at the end of a line of six of my dearest family and friends that would come to a stop at the base of a grand staircase.
A few moments later, a song that will forever be burned into my mind began to play. The song is called “’Til Kingdom Come”, and if you listen to it, it is a beautiful representation of the eschatological hope that we each hold, the hope for fulfillment that is represented in Revelation 22. “For you I’d wait ‘til kingdom come, until my day, my day is done,” the words say very simply. Recorded by Coldplay, the song at first blush seems to be sung from the point of view of the people of this earth, waiting for the fulfillment that has been promised to them, the day that God will dwell among them.
But then, a look at the writers of the song tells a different story. You see, alongside the normal writers of Coldplay songs – vocalist Chris Martin and drummer Will Champion – you will see another writer, by the name of John R. Cash.
You see, “’Til Kingdom Come” was written by Coldplay and Johnny Cash as a song of love and tribute to the recently deceased June Carter Cash, and was intended to be recorded on the then-in-development Coldplay record that would eventually become the 2005 album X&Y. But Johnny Cash himself died before the song could be recorded, and Coldplay would go on to record the song for X&Y as a tribute to him.
I had thoroughly researched this song before Caitie and I chose it for the processional, and so the significance of the words of the song weighed upon me as the bridesmaids began to come down the grand staircase. Here we were, using this song that was written in order for Johnny Cash to express his love for June Carter and his intent to wait for her until the day when he was reunited with her in paradise, and it would be the song that ushered us from our lives apart into the beginning of our commitment to life together.
Of course, all of those thoughts totally disappeared from my mind as soon as Caitie’s father escorted her around the bend above the staircase and she came into view, but make no mistake – they stayed with me once I had regained control of my mental faculties.
In Revelation 22, we are given a description of the way the new Jerusalem will appear. It will be perfect. Nothing accursed will be there. The throne of God will be there, and all of God’s servants will worship around it. Not just a few. All of them.
Can you even imagine? Every single person who has served God will be there at the throne. And with all imperfection and sin gone from that place, there will be only love and joy present at the throne of God. A group of people together in circumstances never before seen.
Think of all the servants of God we have already blessed and recognized in this very room today, and those yet to come. Each one has their own particular gifts, blessings, and talents of which they have freely shared with this congregation, for the glory of the coming realm of God. Now think of that same group of people, gathered with similar yet vastly different groups of people, from different communities, different places all around the world, different times throughout the history of humanity. God will gather all of the servants into the new Jerusalem, not just to live lives of worship to Him, but to grant them access to the River of Life, and to be the light that shines upon them forever and ever.
Every servant of God is a person who has been blessed in their own different way. Each one is unique, each one is special, and each one gives back to God from what they have received. The Lord has created each one of us, and on us has been written the signature of the divine. We heard in the song by the band Needtobreathe just a little while ago about how each one of us has received that signature by God’s design, and it’s no surprise – Bear and Bo Rinehart, the brothers who formed the band, are the sons of a pastor who dedicated his life to camping ministry in South Carolina. More than most, they would have seen the unique talents of each of the servants of God as they came to that place in South Carolina to worship God. And for those of us who have been in camping ministry for any period of time, sometimes those camps can seem like the new Jerusalem has already come. We feel that God’s presence is in our midst, that the cares and sins of the world melt away as we gather around the throne. It is, in and of itself, a place of eschatological fulfillment.
And that makes sense, because if you consider it, each time a group arrives at a camp, they represent a group of people that will never be exactly the same in that place ever again. Even if you gathered exactly the same people in the same place a day later, a week later, a month later, a year later, some, if not all, would be different in some way. Indeed, consider the sixteen of us who will find our way to Loch Leven Christian Camp in southern California in just a few days – we will arrive on Friday evening, and I assure you that by the time we leave that place next Wednesday morning, at least one member of the group will have seen their life permanently changed.
But what will not change is the reason we are there – the reason that any group of people gathers in such a place. We are there as the people, the servants of God, to join together in the praise, the worship, and the service of God. Indeed, wherever God’s servants gather, that is why they have come together. We were promised by Christ that wherever two or three are gathered, so too is He there with us. It is the most immediate fulfillment of the presence of God among His people in the new Jerusalem that we find in the Bible, and it is the fulfillment that we cling to even now. That gathering of two or three in the name of Christ will always represent that most holy fulfillment in some manner or another – even if it’s a group of 130 diverse people gathered for a wedding.
The people who gathered in North Carolina that week for our wedding were perhaps one of the most unlikely mixes I have ever before seen. On Caitie’s side, her family was present. People she had grown up with were present, people she had gone to school with, to college with, to church with were there. Friends of hers from many different times and places. And of course, on my side, my family too was there, as well as people with whom I had attended Northern Arizona University, people from my home church in Phoenix, one of my former CYF campers from Arizona, and people from my adopted congregation in Winston-Salem – to say nothing of my two groomsmen, both of whom I had known since we were all in elementary school.
Then, above and beyond all of those people were the many students and alumni from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, friends of both mine and Caitie’s, including our officiating minister, who got quite the chuckle out of all Wake Div people present when he ended his homily by quoting the regrettably slightly cheesy yet incredibly sincere Divinity School hymn.
All these people were gathered together at Childress Vineyards that evening to witness the wedding of two people who they had come to know and love over anywhere from just a few months to the full thirty two and a half years that I had been alive at that point. And when Michelle Voss Roberts, one of the theology professors at Wake Div, offered the blessing before the meal that evening, she compared the gathered group of people to the eschatological banquet – that moment when we will all be together before the throne.
Later that night, when Caitie and I had one of a bare handful of quiet moments, this one coming after we had finished eating and before we embarked on our quest to greet every single person in the room, she commented on Dr. Voss Roberts’ commentary on how it was like the eschatological banquet. “It’s true,” she said. “We will never see all these people in one place again on this earth.”
I had to agree, and added, “And think of how it’s like the servants before the throne – nobody here is angry. There is no fear, no sadness, but only love and joy.”
And had you spoken to any of the people present, though Pentecost was still a week away, I don’t think any would have argued about the presence of God in that place that night. God had come to dwell among His people on the grounds of Childress Vineyards, as an unlikely group of His servants had gathered to celebrate in joy and love. Nothing accursed was found there. The servants of God worshiped Him.
As Caitie and I drove away that evening, there was a bit of sadness on our parts, knowing that never again on this earth would we see such a gathering of the people we knew and loved. But we hold fast to the promise of the eschaton. We cling to the victory over the grave that was accomplished for all of God’s children through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rejoice in the presence of God in our lives, being present through the Holy Spirit just as He has since that very first day of Pentecost.
“For you I’d wait ‘til kingdom come, until my day, my day is done. Just say you’ll come and set me free; just say you’ll wait, you’ll wait for me.” It’s not just a tribute Johnny Cash wrote to June Carter. It’s not just a promise that Caitie and I made to one another on our wedding day. It is a commitment that we have each made to our God. We will wait for God until the kingdom has come, living our lives for that kingdom until our very days are done. In turn, God will set us free of our sins and our fears, and no matter how long it takes, God will wait for us. God will wait for you. God will wait for me.