By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
The words of the first verse of Psalm 24 are words that are deep in my soul and they come back to me over and over again. In the The Poverty and Justice Bible, which is in the Contemporary English translation these are the words:
The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord.
The world and its people belong to him.
This idea, this profound notion that our earth, our planet, our home and everything on it and about it belong to God is an idea that I have thought about through the last few months. The profound notion that the world and all the people of the world belong to God is one that I think about in some fashion every single day as I watch the news, as I talk to people, as I listen to the struggles that our neighbors bring to us, and as I pray.
What does it mean for us, as followers of Christ, to say that the earth and everything on it belongs to God? What does it mean for us, as followers of Christ, to proclaim that the world and its people belong to God? I believe, deep in my soul I believe, that for us to proclaim these ideas that the psalmist wrote about, means more than just being nice and kind. It means that we must examine our lives and our beliefs, over and over, to make sure that our understanding and our lives reflect that all people in all the lands of this earth belong to God and that God’s love is for all people—all people, whether they think like we do or not.
This understanding, this examination is not easy for us. It challenges us. It challenges the way we relate to people. It challenges us to grow and learn and see people as Christ sees people—to love people as Christ loves people and to forgive people as Christ forgives people. We fall way short of these challenges, don’t we?
I suppose that it is no wonder that these words of the psalmist come to me at the time when, once again, I have the opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the most profound memories of my childhood was that April day when Dr. King was killed. I have written about this before, but once again as we observe Dr. King’s birthday, that memory and others surface for me.
I was 7 years old, in the spring of my first grade year. I remember the sadness that came over my father, a Methodist pastor struggling with how to preach in the rural south during that time of civil unrest. I remember my own feelings that night, a child of the south, as I tried to understand what was wrong, what had happened, and why those that I loved and trusted most were so sad.
I remember watching the news and seeing the pictures and reports of Dr. King’s death. I remember the faces of those who mourned him—black faces and white faces. I remember my mother trying to get me out of the room and my dad saying: “no, let her stay. She needs to see this. She needs to know.”
And I did. The strife was far from over and my understanding of how God’s people could be mistreated began that night. I learned how communities were torn apart as the next year NC experienced the pain of integrating schools. I remember riots and tension and wondering why people couldn’t just get along, why others couldn’t see the beauty and grace in all of God’s people.
I remember when the first African American bishop came to our Western NC Annual Conference. Bishop L. Scott Allen caused quite a bit of controversy, but I was fascinated by his preaching and how he always wore a white tie. As I grew older and sat through Annual Conference I would wonder what his life had been like growing up. Now I wonder about the pain that he must of experienced during those troubled times as he became bishop in 1968.
In my adult years, I have learned my own family history concerning the treatment of others and, I must confess, I have taken that pain on myself. I grieve for a young woman named Myra, who had the misfortune of being my fourth great grandfather’s slave during the 1830’s. I grieve for the treatment she must have received. I grieve for her murder at the hands of my fourth great grandfather and I grieve for her unborn child. As long as I live this family story will remind me of the words of the psalmist: that all of the people of world are God’s people. Myra was a beloved child of God who didn’t deserve the pain that she experienced in life and death.
All of the people of the world are beloved by God, even if we are all different, even if we think differently, even if we do not understand each other. In all of the pain in this world–the reality that racism, poverty, war, hatred, anger, and most of all fear are still so prominent—we must seek to love and forgive and accept all people as God’s beloved people. It is a challenging assignment, but it comes with the wisdom and grace of Christ. We must try, over and over because we will fail over and over, but we cannot, we must not give up.
And the challenge is more than just accepting all people, it is also about working toward making this world fair and just, loving and life-giving. Dr. King said,
“A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. . . the Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is changed. Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.” (from The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. selected by Coretta Scott King, 1983)
We have much to do. Let us pray for the depth of Christ’s love to settle in our souls and help us to make a difference in this troubled world.
To God alone be glory!