Next Stop: The Kingdom of God

About five months ago, I found myself in an airport for the first time since this pandemic began.

I was nervous. Okay, that is an understatement, I was terrified, to step onto a plane. My anxiety was at its peek.

I was Terrified of Traveling— getting on a plane again, something that was a sign of returning back to normalcy — was also anxiety provoking, as this familiar routine was now taking place in a new, unfamiliar reality.

St. Paul’s I was so nervous. Not only was I carrying with me the fear of boarding a flight in a pandemic, but, I also found myself carrying so many questions, and feelings with where I was headed—a place called Westfield to discern a call of joining a faith community.

So there I was, in the fairly crowded, Cleveland Hopkins Airport.  And as I made my way through the airport, triple masked, I glanced around the terminal to find a space with seating that was fairly empty.

I saw a corner at a gate with chairs against the windows with no one sitting on them.

The only people who were around were two, young, white women chatting with one another on one side and an African American Woman, with headphones in sitting on the other side, and a family with two young children running around some distance down.

So I made my way over to the window, sat down and began scrolling through Facebook as I waited to board my flight.

As time passed, it seemed as if more and more people were seen running, or walking down the terminal hall, but, this gate stayed pretty empty.

Breaking through the foot traffic and coming to a pause was a woman wearing these pink headphones over her beautiful, Hijab—which is a head covering worn by some Muslim Women

I could see that she was glancing around for a place to sit.

For a moment it felt like she made eye contact with me, and then began heading my direction towards the window seats.

 

“Do you mind if I sit over here” shes asks.

“of course not”.

And she proceeded to sit two seats away.

“I’m Jasmine” she said.

“I’m Chris” I responded.

She then asked me where I was headed and I responded, New Jersey, and we realized that we were both traveling to the same destination.

“It doesn’t feel real she said”. “it’s been over a year since I’ve been on a plane and reuniting with my family in the city”.

It’s been hard. I have found myself praying daily that this day would come and have been watching from a distance the people in my city suffer.” I had just moved here to Ohio, and haven’t met many people. It has been lonely.”

I responded back sharing my own hardships within this pandemic, and the exhaustion that has come from it as well as walking through what seemed as if it was a rise in the health crisis of racism. A rise of polarization in our nation.

“What do you rely on when things get tough?” she asked.

If only she could see the smile under my mask, “My faith” I responded back.

And I could feel a smile being shared back at me. As we continued on sharing about ourselves, sharing about our faiths, waiting on our flight, we noticed glances coming from our right from the two women.

Eventually one said with a loud voice: “Where are you going?”

“Who me?” I responded.

“No. Not you.” and then she pointed towards Jasmine.

“New York” Jasmine responded with a gentle voice.

Then the other woman spoke with a loud voice: “I never feel safe getting on a flight with people like you”.

Jasmine glanced down, and before I could speak, the African American Woman sitting on the other side of us, removed one of her ear buds and said “excuse me!?”.

And the woman responded back, its bad enough that we have to share this country with the two of you.

“maybe we should go” Jasmine said.

“No” a voice from the distance proclaimed. And the couple with their two children came over and intervened.

Eventually, this led to the two women departing the seating area in the Gate and moving elsewhere.

“I am so sorry” the father of the two children said.

“This is absolutely crazy” his partner followed up.

And Jasmine simply responded back saying:  “happens all of the time”.

It shouldn’t. I responded back.

 

Our spacing was eventually broken.

Love, had entered in.

The conversation shifted to sharing of our experiences of discrimination. judgement, and times when we simply were made to feel like we didn’t belong.

We shared in laughter, we shared in story: our hopes for our world, our nation, our various communities as we journey through this pandemic.

And as our boarding process began, the 7 of us: a Muslim, an Episcopal Priest, a Methodist and a Jewish Family shared in prayer….offering words from all of our various traditions.

Offering words of Love.

Sharing with one another, the beauty of our God.

Before we dispersed, we shared with one another our contact information. Promising that if we ever feel alone, if we ever feel overwhelmed, or hungry for hope, love, and strength to carry us through the hour, day, or week ahead, we would always be one call away.

St. Paul’s, Just 30minutes earlier, I had glanced to a fairly empty seating area, with just a few strangers, filled with anxiety, filled with fear, about flying once again,  but, then it happened. In a place and in a time where I least expected it, love, peace, justice, God, washed over me, and God’s spirit, was so very present around me. Those strangers were now friends.

For a moment, Gods Spirit, and that heavenly Kingdom was brought ever so closer in our midst— At least in that corner of the airport.

Love God with all your heart.

Love God with all your soul.

Love God with all your mind and strength.

And second is like unto it, second, is bound to the first…love your neighbor as yourself.

These are the words that Jesus shared with those gathered after being asked what is the first… what is the greatest commandment.

What I love about todays Gospel lesson, is that we enter the story in a time where Jesus has been teaching. And debate and disagreement is all around him. There is division. There is an uproar.

Jesus was just teaching about resurrection, and the people gathered were troubled by what Jesus was saying. The message that Jesus was sharing went against all of what they understood about their faith, it went against all of the ways how they understood life and saw the world around them.

And then among them, one of the scribes, one of their theologians, one of their religious authorities came forward and asked Jesus in the mix of them disputing “Which is the first of all commandments”:

He asks this question not to argue with Jesus, but he asks this question because he seems to be curious he seems to be intrigued of what Jesus has to say.

And when Jesus gives this answer, that LOVE is the greatest commandment!

That loving GOD is the greatest commandment!

That loving the OTHER is the greatest commandment!

The scribe says to him “You are right”.

Now my friends, The scribe has heard about Jesus, the scribe has heard how Jesus is turning the world upside down, and he may not be convinced of all that of what Jesus is teaching is Truth or the only way, but when Jesus says that that the only way is LOVE. When Jesus says: “LOVE is THE WAY”, LOVE is our Foundation, THAT LOVE is what GOD is all about, that LOVE is what it means to live out your faith…

the scribe realizes, that indeed, before anything else—before any ritual, or doctrine or political or social school of thought, that LOVE does surpass it all.

Love God with all your heart.

Love God with all your soul.

Love God with all your mind and strength.

And second is like unto it, second, is bound to the first…love your neighbor as yourself.

St. Paul’s we are living in a complicated world

We are living amid a society that is polarized, that is divided, that fails to see the other, that fails to see one another as a neighbor, that struggles to see, feel and hear our God living among us.

We are living in a world that is hungering for a message of change—that is looking for a way that will guide our hearts, our feet and minds in a new, life-giving direction: to create a world, where hope lives, peace reigns and justice prevails.

We are living in a world that is hungering for love. A world that needs the Kingdom to be brought from this distant, far off thing  to our doorstep.

St. Paul’s this world is looking for disciples, followers of a God whose foundation is LOVE.

St. Paul’s this world is seeking faith communities, seeking a Church…who truly believed that Love is the way! That truly believes that Love can change the world…that truly believes that LOVE comes first.

St. Paul’s LOVE—is One of the perfect gifts that we are reminded of that has been given to us in this stewardship season,

LOVE is one of the perfect gifts that we are charged to share to others as we strive to be good stewards of our church and of our world.

LOVE is the mission that we are called to keep alive when we gather in this place—It is why we gather, it is why we sing, it is why we share of our time, talent, resources, ourselves in this place. So that we can go and do the same, when we leave this place.

St. Paul’s This world is looking for people, this world is looking for such stewards to go and share and live out the faith that Jesus has taught us

A faith—where God is rooted in all that we do and in all the places that we go—a faith that believes that God is present beyond Sunday morning,  A god who dwells beyond the doors of St. Paul’s, and The Episcopal Church, but a God who wanders into the theater, the football field and the airport.

As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said “If it is not about Love then it is not about God”…so make everything you do, and all of who you are about LOVE, make it all about God.

St. Paul’s

This world is looking for people (like you and me)  to go and share and live out the faith that Jesus has taught us—where we love our neighbors…the neighbors who we like, the neighbors who we don’t like,

the neighbors who look like us, the neighbors who don’t look like us,

the neighbors who vote like us, the neighbors who don’t

—the neighbors who love, live and pray the way we do—and the neighbors that don’t.

St. Paul’s this world is looking for people to go and share and live out the faith that Jesus has taught us—where, we love ourselves.

Yes. You.

The way how God has made you.

With all of your questions and doubts, the wrongs that have been done, dreams, and hopes and prayers that live in your heart. With all of your strengths and weaknesses.

This is hard to do.

My friends, we hear this scripture often, we quote it, but, today, this world is waiting for us to live it. It’s honestly, relying on it.

Let us receive this Gospel proclamation, and respond as the scribe and those gathered did, as if we were hearing it for the first time.

Let us digest how life-changing this message is.

Oh, what a different world it would be

That experience where love broke through in that airport terminal would become our classrooms, our workplaces, our homes, our churches, our political stages, our sidewalks—if only we choose to live it.

Just this week, I received a text from Jasmine. She bridged together in a group chat all of us, the strangers from the airport, to simply ‘check in’. We reminisced about that moment in the airport, and how that experience encompassed the shared dream, the shared message, the shared work that ALL of us have a role in. No matter where we find ourselves, and who we find ourselves with.

Just before our conversation came to an end, Jasmine asked me one final question: SO, Chris, where have you ended up in this world?

In response, I sent the group a selfie from outside of the Church. And said “I am here, with your neighbors in Westfield”

Jasmine responded back: Share with them the power of the airport terminal.

So, to you, wherever you find yourself in life and on your Spiritual journey. I share with you the power which is the message of Jesus, which is the message of our God of love.

Know that you are loved by neighbors—-look around, there are plenty here today, and some who you have yet to meet.

My neighbors, YOU are not far from the Kingdom of God, So together, let’s love God, Love our Neighbor, Love ourselves while we are at it, and ultimately, change this world– build that kingdom, one terminal at a time. Amen.

About Theresa Wright