Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 15, 2014

the kingdom of God is like…

On this specific day in the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, all those who were within earshot went to school.  From the early morning lesson involving the fig tree that Jesus and the disciples passed leaving Bethany until the last lesson of the day centering on a fig tree and His coming again, Jesus is in full-on teaching mode.  And with precious few exceptions, He teaches with story.

Last year on this day, I shared my love for Jesus’ kingdom stories.  You know … the ones that start out, “the kingdom of God is like…” or “the kingdom of Heaven is like…”  In my post, I shared a story I had heard a couple of years earlier that painted a beautiful picture of what I have come to believe the kingdom of God looks like. After writing that post last year, I admit to thinking I wanted to include that story every year.  But how good is God that only a few days later He would gift me my own kingdom story to tell.  It’s a story that I may struggle to tell coherently, because it’s so wide and deep that I might be tempted to run down rabbit holes and lose you.  But it was a gift from Him, so it’s more than worth it to try.

Last year on March 26th, I was copied on an email from a two-week old friend.  No, my friend was not two weeks old, but rather I had just met him two weeks earlier 🙂  Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone new because you both shared a person in common?  And you happened to both show up at the same place on the same day because of that person, and within minutes of randomly being paired together, you felt and acted like life-long friends?  Yes, well … that was (and still is) my friend Scott and me.

Scott’s email was an invitation prompted by an emotional phone call he had received from a dear friend.  The invitation was to attend a memorial service for a homeless veteran, Sam, at an inner-city Detroit church/mission.  That inner-city Detroit church/mission? … It just happened to be the site of my “same day, same place” meeting with my new friend Scott just two weeks earlier.

Scott provided a link in his email that told Sam’s story, and the desperate search for anyone that might have known him.  The article began like this…

If you knew Sanderious Crocker, please read this.

He died.

He was 67. Folks called him Sam. He was living in poverty in downtown Detroit. A Vietnam veteran who was seriously wounded, he’d been homeless for a while. He struggled with alcohol. Maybe you know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you lost touch. Maybe you wanted to.

Whatever the case, you should know that Sam’s body had been sitting at a Detroit morgue for a week before a friend called me and asked whether there was a way to find his family — any family — because a soldier shouldn’t die alone and neglected.

My fifteen year-old son joined me that Friday, and we met up with Scott and a couple of his friends in the parking lot of a local restaurant to share a ride together.  I cannot possibly share all the sacred details of that day, but there is one more important detail to share before I go any further.

I met another new friend in the parking lot that day.  His name was John, our driver for the day.  John, like Scott, was a Vietnam veteran, and I would later learn of the amazing things he was doing to heal both his wounds and those of others via service projects in Vietnam through the D.O.V.E Fund.  John had brought a personal memento from his time in Vietnam, which he felt had significance to where Sam had fought.  He intended to give it to Sam’s family, a very small measure of which had been found as a result of the newspaper article and the power of the internet.  I learned a forever lesson about the power of healing in simple acts of selfless love from John that afternoon.

The trip to the church was short.  As we exited the highway and turned the corner on the street where the church stood, I was completely overwhelmed with what I saw.  Something close to a hundred motorcycles lined the street next to the church, all with American Flags proudly flowing in the breeze behind them.  There was also what seemed like hundreds of people milling around in the street.  I was so moved, I couldn’t speak.

It was an amazing service, with all the ceremony of a military funeral.  I fought back tears as scores of veterans paid their respects walking past Sam’s casket.  There was music, moving words from people who served at the church/mission, and a beautiful message delivered by the current pastor of the church.  Sam was a close friend of the founding pastor and had been a resident at the mission several times over the years.  From the stories that were told, it was apparent that Sam was well-loved, had a happy childhood, a bright future, and fell completely off the grid in returning from Vietnam with a body, mind and life that had been ravaged by his experience in war.

In the couple of days preceding it, I began to feel a prompt to prepare words for the service.  I fought the prompts and struggled with their source and reason.  I didn’t know Sam, and had no earthly idea why I should be prepared to say something at his memorial service.  Yet, in the most ordinary of activities (like mowing the lawn), words began forming in my mind.  Those words found their context and resonance when we turned the corner that afternoon.

What I saw in that formation of motorcycles, and continued to see in the sacred souls who had gathered for that hallowed occasion, was a vivid image of the kingdom of God.  Nameless people from every corner of life simply showed up because a soldier shouldn’t die neglected and alone.

In finding an appropriate spot in the order of service, I chose to be obedient to the prompting of the past few days.  “Sanderious never knew my name, and I was only introduced to his a few days ago.  This section of the service reads, ‘Remarks …. Family and Friends.’  You might be wondering what right I have to be standing here right now.  What I was thinking that motivated me to stand and speak.  I would quickly and confidently answer that although we did not know each other in life, I stand up for Sanderious today because we are brothers in the kingdom of God.  Sam believed in Jesus, and that makes him my brother.”  I went on to share how the images of that day were a loud and clear reminder to me of how we should all act as members of the kingdom in the here and now.  The simple act of showing up for one of our brothers or sisters … it isn’t any more complicated than that.  And with my last few words, I shared how I thought it was divinely fitting that we were all gathered together on Good Friday.  To remember a precious child of God, and what Christ did for him, and us all, in dying on the cross.

I apologize if my narration of this story sounded disjointed, or carried on too long.  I wish you could have experienced it with me!  And I’ll be quick to draw attention away from my own words and actions, because they are not included for the purpose of inserting myself into God’s story.  All the attention and glory goes to the One who made it all possible, and who gifted that day to me, my son and all my brothers and sisters who attended.  All I hope to say, is …

The kingdom of God is like … the memorial service of Sanderious Crocker.


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