I helped bury a friend and colleague last week in Detroit, an amazingly joyous sendoff for a man who lived a big and long life.
He was a retired Episcopal priest. As a young man he rushed to join the brave throng crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge a second time in Selma, Alabama in 1965. It was just three weeks after Bloody Sunday, that cruel riot of police brutality that mercilessly attacked unarmed demonstrators.
Later, he was fired from a wealthy suburban congregation for his civil rights witness, which included him and his wife bundling up their small children to be part of the massive Poor People’s March in 1968. I should mention, because it is relevant, he was neither poor nor African-American.
His memorial service was a big-hearted, musically lavish celebration of love, and the love of God that blooms in small acts of love that accumulate in abundance and eventually turn the tide and change the world. Though it is hiding in plain sight, that is the wisdom rooted in Jesus who prayed for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.” That prayer wasn’t unique to Jesus, he learned it or some version of it, in the Jewish religious milieu in which he was thoroughly enmeshed.
Our task, according to that old prayer, is to make this kingdom here on earth as good as the kingdom of God in heaven. It is not about some narcissistic wave toward the next life, it is about living our lives now to make this “kingdom” eternal along with the other one. (Kingdom here can be translated as reign, existence, human community, etc.) That is what we do if we are serious about practicing that first century sacred wisdom.
So, like my friend and colleague, it is about seeking to make this world better, to make God’s kingdom come on earth as we imagine it is in heaven. We get tough about it when necessary, and we get tender with it when called for. We don’t put the planet on our shoulders as if it is all on our one little life. We recognize that it is one small act of love on top of one small act of love on top of another small act of love — an accumulation of small acts across our entire lives, no matter whether we are given a few years or an abundance of years.
One small act of love at a time with one small life at a time added to all those other small lives doing their small acts of love — a miraculous abundance of love that sooner or later shifts the tide, moves the mountain, moderates the wrongs, softens the hatreds, pierces the indifference, takes back the reigns, overcomes the SOBs, and helps bring about the kingdom on earth.
That’s how it works. While we get to rest along the way, we do not get to give up along the way — not if we are serious practitioners of that ancient wisdom. Standing at the edge of my friend Rollin’s life, it was so clear how it all adds up. The math works if we will trust it.