Today, we will hear from Carol Howard Merritt:
I’m pregnant and living in South Louisiana where I serve as a pastor in a tiny, rural congregation. And, as many expectant moms do, I have a craving. A particular, powerful yearning for a ripe piece of fruit. The taste of it is almost in my mouth, it’s so strong that it even wakes me from deep sleep and haunts me the next morning.
I want something with a thin layer of taught skin, with meat that’ll burst with deep sweetness and shallow tartness all at the same time. The longing grows because my body knows that it needs something, some sort of vitamin that can only be found there. In that fruit.
I scour the grocery store, but it’s sparse. There are no rows of rolling produce, set up in beautiful patterned piles, like there were in the city I moved from, that vegetarian heaven in Austin. I used to wander through a maze of fruits and vegetables, getting lost for hours and making new discoveries on each visit. Now I search through tabletops of scattered remains, which are haphazardly thrown together under harsh, buzzing fluorescents. Picking through the store’s meager offerings, I look for the right hue, press gently, and smell for that distinct flavor. I can almost taste it.
Yet, when I bring the produce home, it turns out hard, colorless, and bland. A pathetic replica of what my body yearned for and needed.
I always think about that time when I read that passage where someone asks Jesus about the Kingdom of God. The man wants to know when it’s coming, and Jesus responds mysteriously:
“The Kingdom of God isn’t coming with things that can be observed. They won’t say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God’s among you.” (Or did he say “within” you? It’s hard to translate. Maybe he meant both.)
They’re strange words. You can’t point to it and somehow it’s among us. It’s as if we intimately know the reign of God by its absence. By our communal and personal longings. We understand what it is because there’s something within us that needs it and craves it. We can almost taste it.
Walter Rauschenbusch, a pastor who worked in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City during the turn of the 20th century—a time when the neighborhood’s title was apt—became impassioned by he saw. A hunger grew up inside of him, and so he wrote that the Kingdom of God reminds us that Christianity is “a great revolutionary movement, pledged to change the world as-it-is into the world as-it-ought-to-be.”
Rauschenbusch was part of a chorus that cries out with pregnant longing. He stands alongside John the Baptist, who wildly calls for repentance. He preaches with Martin Luther King, Jr., who tells of his dream at the march for jobs. He joins with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker in the house of hospitality. And he gives voice to that hunger within us—a craving to be fed as well as to feed one another.
We look at our communities, and we yearn for the moment when the homeless will obtain shelter and the abused will find sanctuary. We see our nation, and we dream of a day when the sick will receive care. We look at the world, and we ache for the era when wars will cease. We long to see the time when the brutal economic forces that push certain nations into more and more debt will be held back. We pray “on earth as it is in heaven” until that hunger grows up within us, and it becomes so strong that nothing will stop us from working to that end.
And there it is. The reign of God. We can’t point to it, but we know it so intimately that its sweetness is almost on our tongues. When we’re consumed by the world-as-it-ought-to-be, that great revolutionary movement, when the presence of God’s kingdom becomes powerful in its absence, then we know that the reign of God is somehow within us and among us.
Carol Howard Merritt (tribalchurch.org) has been a Pastor in South Louisiana and Rhode Island. Currently, she serves at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., where Miriam’s Kitchen resides. Miriam’s Kitchen is a feeding program which a provides hot, nutritious meal to over 200 homeless men and women each weekday morning. She’s the author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation.