By William Reilly
One of Jesus’ favorite teaching topics was the Kingdom of God. Throughout the gospels, he uses parables and examples to describe the Kingdom of God as exceedingly valuable. He said that it is something we must be prepared and wait in anticipation for. He taught that it is open to all, if they are willing to show up.
Jesus regularly describes the Kingdom of God as a party, a time of celebration feasting. Throughout it all, Jesus showed that the Kingdom of God is both now and yet to come. It is our future hope, but also our present strength. I experienced this strengthening a few nights ago when I encountered an example of what I imagine the Kingdom of God is like.
Last Tuesday, citizens all over the country participated in the longstanding act of nonviolent revolution known as voting.
I love politics, but lately, even the mention of something political creates in me a deep uncontrollable sigh. Everywhere I turn our country’s divisiveness stares back at me.
I am a native Texan currently living in Georgia, so for the past several months, television ads, social media, billboards, the mail and overheard conversations have screamed about Cruz/Beto or Abrams/Kemp. Often the rhetoric was full of vile animosity and true dehumanization of the other side. It has been like sandpaper to the joy in my soul.
I carried this weary apprehension with me on Tuesday evening, when after a full day of classes, I went to my local polling place to cast my ballot. As I walked toward the community center, I was relieved that the campaigning would finally end, but fearful that the anger and hate would not.
As I turned the corner to enter our community center, I was greeted with a most unexpected sight.
I did not see the gloom and despair of a divided nation, I saw a party. Right outside the door to the polling place, a local church had set up a BBQ and was passing out hamburgers and hot dogs. What? Was I in the right place? Upon entering the building, I encountered room full of people passing out food and drinks and laughing with each other. What was going on?
I got in line and began to ask those around me what was going on. They anticipated our wait time was four hours, so I had some time to figure out what this out of place party was. Apparently, some voting machines had malfunctioned, so all day lines had been crazy. Earlier in the day, people began bringing their friends in line snacks and water to help them wait.
Soon more people, and even organizations, started getting involved. By the time I got there, aside from the cookout, hundreds of boxes of pizza had been donated by various restaurants. A local business sent an employee with dozens of boxes of Krispy Kreme. People were all over the place distributing water, snacks, food, and conversations, all so that their neighbors could be more comfortable while they waited in line to vote.
At one point, a group of waiting musicians started an impromptu jazz sesh. It truly was a party, and it seems like the whole neighborhood had shown up. As a woman and her small son walked past distributing water, I asked her what organization she was with. She said, “None. I just heard people were in line and needed water. I had some water so I figured I’d come down.”
Since when is voting fun? Since when is voting so fun that people who are not even voting show up to wait in line with those who are?
Standing in line, I realized that I was in the midst of a Jesus-like parable about the Kingdom of God. There was joy, love, celebration, dancing, a feast, music, and most of all a diverse family of neighbors loving each other as God loves us. Despite the subject of our assembly, there was no fighting and anger. No one asked me whom I was voting for before giving me a slice of pizza. No one in line fought about immigration, terrorism, guns, deficits, the economy, or any other hot button topic. We merely had face-to-face conversations with each other about each other. We discovered commonality, not division. For three hours, standing in line to vote, my soul was renewed with the hope for the Kingdom of God both present and yet to come.
Despite what Facebook, news outlets, or grumpy uncles at Thanksgiving might say, no matter who wins the election, we are going to be okay.
We are not as irreparably divided as some might suggest. Our country is full of incredible people, able to do incredible things—people that transform a polling place into a party. Instead of only seeing at the bad all day, look for some good in the world and I guarantee you will find it.
Our hope is in the coming of Christ, but Christ is also already here and at work in our lives. Christ is in our churches, jobs, and even a small community center in a poor Atlanta neighborhood on election night. We must be aware of that because we never know when we will encounter the Kingdom of God, and we definitely want to be ready.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss the party.
William Reilly is a CBF Vestal Scholar attending Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. He also serves as a Pastoral Resident at Edgewood Church in Atlanta.