On this date our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when he spoke to thousands of his dream that one day his children would be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I want to consider the fact that racial reconciliation is rarely described as merely a political goal; but as a transcendent moral and spiritual imperative. For long before King's "I have a dream" speech or President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, there was a man named John who said, "I have a revelation!"
John shares that revelation with us in the fifth and seventh chapters of his inspired vision. It begins as a magnificent hymn to Christ, the Lamb that was slain who "ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation and have made them to be a a kingdom and priests serving our God" (Rev. 5:9).
Then in Rev. 7:9, John describes "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" and "They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
John describes for us the destiny of the human race and the nations of the earth...and that is a destiny in which peoples from every tribe, tongue, and nation are ransomed from evil by God and stand together before his throne in worship and adoration. All who will may come -- whether your skin is of the lighter hue or of the darker hue; whether your hair is black, brown, blonde, or red -- and sit at table in the Kingdom of God. Many refer to MLK Day as "Kingdom Day," which is entirely appropriate -- because it was the "Kingdom of God" that Dr. King was trying to describe on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
John's "Kingdom Day" vision -- like Dr. King's dream -- does more than remind us that the nations and peoples of the earth have value; it establishes the spiritual basis of that value: for it reveals that they were created in God's image and have an essential role to play as priests and servants of the Lamb. Some guess that in God's full world, physical differences like race will be obliterated with the gift of "new and improved" resurrection bodies. Nothing could be further from the truth! John's revelation reveals that the uniqueness of our outward appearance -- including the color of our skin, and our cultural and national identity will by no means be erased, but rather offered up to God in endless praise and creative service! Anticipating that future, Sunday worship should be a foretaste of the heavenly reality that John describes...where people from every nation, tongue, and tribe gather together before the throne. No doubt I have some blindspots when it comes to prejudice or prejudging others...and so it's my prayer that I would be able to more perfectly reflect John's throne room revelation in my own life and relationships.
Tomorrow, January 20, 2009, we inaugurate Barak Obama as President of the United States, the first African American to hold the office -- a gifted and honorable man who deserves and needs our prayers, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents! Aware of the tremendous challenges before him, he quipped in a post-election interview that, "I am not the Messiah; and I don't do miracles!" Though his election is a significant and historic event, it does not neutralize all of the problems surrounding race in our nation or heal all our divisions. Which is why, as the Lord's followers, we continue to be vested with the responsibility to reflect here and now on earth (in our worship and our work) John's revelation of that magnificently variegated multiplicity of peoples and nations who will stand shoulder to shoulder in song, crying, "Now to the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever" (Rev. 5:13)!
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: I invite you to share with me your reflections on worship as it pertains to that ever-expanding circle of cosmic worshipers that John describes. First, what has been the most memorable or significant experience of worship that you have ever had; and what aspect of the ever enlarging circle of peoples and nations around the throne that John describes have you experienced?