Paradise. The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Heaven. A place of childish enthusiasm and persistence. A place where “You must become like a little child,” to enter. A place of love, joy and equality. A place we are told by Jesus to pray for daily: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” A place He inaugurated with His life, death and resurrection.
Rev. Cornish Rogers was one of my teachers at Claremont School of Theology. He taught a class on Martin, Malcolm and Thurman and another on the Book of Revelation. He went to school with Martin Luther King, Jr., at Boston University’s School of Theology. They played one on one basketball, and Martin wore street shoes. Cornish said it sounded like tap dancing. They both graduated in 1955.
Cornish went back to Harlem, in New York City, and preached there, saving kids from those drug infested streets. One of those kids, who grew up in Cornish’s care, served a church on Detroit’s drug infested East Side. Rev. Shipley hooked up kids at the local high school with Methodist supported Albion College. Shipley wanted to get scholarships for those Detroit kids. The principle of the high school didn’t think any of his kids could go: “Most of them can’t read,” he said to the preacher. “If they do graduate, they’ll just work in the factory. Lots of them will be dead, anyway, from drugs, or gang killings, or hunger; some of them’ll freeze to death. You’re wasting your time: none of these kids are college material.” Shipley did it anyway, using the Methodist Connection, and a program begun by Cornish: “Aspire.” 35 kids went to Albion college the first year; four years later, 33 of them graduated.
Martin Luther King, Jr. went back South, to Montgomery, Alabama. In the deep south Segregation was the law. How it worked was that if you were black, and you got on the bus and there were no white people on the bus, you could sit anywhere. But if even One white person got on, the black folks had to move to the back half of the bus. So, if there were 30 black folks on the bus, and one white person got on, all 30 of the black folks had to crowd into the back of the bus, even standing, while the front half of the bus was empty except for that one white person. Rosa Parks had gotten on the bus before any white folks had gotten on; she had sat down; she had worked all day and was tired; and she was the secretary of the local NAACP. So, when a white person got on the bus, Rosa refused to move to the back of the bus. She was arrested. The black ministers in town got together and thought perhaps a boycott of the buses would show the bus company, at least, how valuable their black riders were. The black folks of Montgomery walked and car-pooled for over a year. After trumped up court cases and arrests, and a Supreme Court decision that segregation was illegal, black folks rode the buses as full citizens.
On the cross, Jesus was between two “thieves.” The first one lived in the kingdoms of the world: “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one to save us from Roman oppression? Get us all down from here!” The other one knew which Kingdom he needed to worry about: “Don’t you fear God?” And Jesus answered the second’s question about being remembered in Christ’s new Kingdom with, “You will be with me today, in Paradise.” Jesus lived in the Kingdom of God all the time, in the midst of the kingdoms of the world, even on the cross. Rogers, Shipley and King did too. They accomplished great things, many still needing completion, because in the midst of this world, they lived in the Kingdom.
You may have struggles in your life; there may be injustices that you wish to make right. Work within the Kingdom of God, even in the midst of the rules and regulations and kingdoms of this world. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The prayer becomes: Father, forgive them: they don’t know what they’re doing, and teach me to forgive myself. Thy Will be done. Amen.