Six hundred burgers and dogs, one-hundred water balloons, seventy-five butterfly houses, forty-five kites, and two bounce houses added up to one really great night for the Central church and our Plemons area neighbors at Ellwood Park. I don’t know how many people showed up last night — it was too busy and too fun and too impossible to even try to count. But people kept coming even after the food was gone to participate in the crafts and activities and visiting that was taking place under the shade trees.
Once our cooks passed the dreaded and feared city inspection (Whew! Way to go, Scott!) we laughed and prayed and untangled kite string and passed out water and moved tables and chairs and met and got to know dozens of our neighbors. We met folks who’ve lived here for more than sixty years and those who have been recently forced here by terrible circumstances. We got to know people who work in the nursing homes around our building and people who are living at the Salvation Army. Senior citizens and tiny babies. Old Church of Christ-ers and those who’ve never confessed Jesus as Lord.
What a great night.
I believe part of the Church’s task is to paint a picture for the world of what the Kingdom of God looks like. It’s not enough to just proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. It’s not enough to merely preach and teach salvation from God in Christ. It’s not enough to talk about it. How will people know unless they see it?!? They’ve got to see it. How is the Kingdom of God any different from the Empire of America? How is it better? How is it more than just an abstract concept or unattainable ideal?
That’s why the Church has to live it. We have to cast the vision with living color, high definition illustrations that come out of our own lives as witnesses to this already arrived and still coming Kingdom. What’s it like to eat and drink in the Kingdom of God in a place where there are no more social divides, no more language barriers, no more walls between races and cultures, where money and prestige and nationality and status don’t matter — what’s it like to be there? We have to show them. The world has to experience this around us and with us if they’re ever going to go for it in faith.
No, last night wasn’t perfect. Not by any stretch. The man and his three kids, the oldest of whom is twelve-years-old and suffering from cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, still walked back to the Salvation Army last night while I drove my air-conditioned pickup down I-40 to my house on the other end of town. The one-armed man stuck around until the very last table was loaded onto the trailers and then went right back to his alcohol and cigarettes and cardboard home down by the work house. I could go on and on with the people and the stories. No, it’s not perfect.
But one day it will be. Perfect.
Until that glorious day of our Lord, his Church keeps painting the picture, keeps casting the vision with living, breathing, real-life experiences of what it’s going to be like. With picnics in the park, we lean into the future state of his beautiful creation. With free laundry and car washes and oil changes we provide the world with a glimpse.