God Dwells with His Peoples.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Recently we led a group of friends to explore and support ministry to people enslaved in sex and human trafficking in a European nation. Bravely we went on a humanitarian and spiritual mission to an industrial area where women sit on street corners for sale. They earn 5 or 10 euros with each client toward their 700 euro weekly rent. We were a car-full of privileged women giving out hot chocolate and goodie bags to 40-50 ladies on street corners where our dear friend has brought the light of good news for six years. Some of them have been on the same corner those six years, working in the sex trade, unwilling slaves of injustice. We hugged, we prayed, we offered momentary light in a very dark place in the city. We were overwhelmed by the response of one woman from a West African nation, who although dressed in her heels and scanty dress, quickly kneeled on the street to be prayed over with her hands lifted to the Lord. We have nothing in common with her but our trust in the day the Lord will bring freedom to the captives and dwell among all peoples. She, along with people of all races, ethnicities, orientations, classes and cultures will “become MY people” declares the Lord.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people* (laos), and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:3 ESV
*ESV footnote: Some manuscripts “peoples” (plural—laoi)
People or Peoples. What’s the purpose digging into the Greek and pointing out the use of people vs peoples in this verse? Biblical scholars do have a preference for the plural, laoi. And “peoples” does make a big difference. Many missiologists have focused on the Gospel of Matthew’s use of “ethnē” or peoples in Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” (ethnē), which are not geo-political states but groups of people united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, or commonly referred to as “people groups.”
However many biblical texts looking to the future speak of God’s people in the singular, not peoples in the plural. Take Zechariah 2:10-11 for example: “‘Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people.’” “People” in this verse is singular. But notice that God’s one people will be composed, not only of Israel, but also of “many nations.” (See Mark D. Roberts, The People(s) of God, Fuller De Pree Center for full discussion.)
It may be that John, describing his vision of the future, used the plural “peoples” to convey something similar to Zechariah’s prophecy. When God comes to live among his chosen people, many nations outside of Israel will be included in this people, or, as John puts it, peoples. Peoples: “a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” They will be as one, “sheltered in the presence of God.” HOME.
Why is this a big deal to use the plural in referring to the “peoples of God” and what difference does in make to us today? Our culture and world press us hard towards nationalism, one nation, one people…our kind of people. And we need to be reminded that God is at home with the diversity of the many different people groups of the world. These peoples may not look like you or live around you.
Practice. Seek to have your Christian community look more like the diversity of God’s idea of home. Seek to make your workplace and city be just and inclusive. For those in positions of influence, address systemic problems. Intentionally treat all humans and especially those who are not like us in earthly ways with justice and grace.
Listen to leaders and voices who speak for the other, the marginalized, the enslaved. This week I listened to Lecrae, a Christian hip hop artist, speak a difficult word about nationalism on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast:
“Once we begin to marry nationalism with faith, we begin to lose the essence of faith and love and the tenets of what we believed because now we are concerned with winning by any means necessary. So you stop considering the immigrant or anyone who gets in the way of what you believe is the best interest of the nation and forget what God says is the best interest of us as humanity. Looking through a narrow lens you step on people.”
Slavery in our American past and slavery today in sex clubs and urban poverty is beneficial to those in power who at all human cost, want to win. This impulse of privilege over people remains in us and keeps us broken and divided. As believers in Jesus, we need to take seriously the command of Christ to include all peoples in the family of God, to dwell with the Divine now and in our future heavenly home. In order to do this, we should examine our practices, programs, politics, and privilege. This is the hard work of joining Jesus in proclaiming good news to the poor and liberty to captives. May we put action to these words.
Reflection. A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
May the following story by Joe Heim in the Washington Post, help you understand ways you may practice the new commandment of love in your own sphere of influence:
Sister Mary Berchmans, president emerita of Washington’s prestigious Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, wrote the letter that has provoked so many reactions. In her carefully worded missive that emphasized following “the Gospel commandment of love,” Berchmans said the 220-year-old Catholic girls academy will publish announcements of same-sex unions in its alumnae magazine.
“As a professed Sister of the Visitation for 67 years, I have devoted my life in service to the Catholic Church,” she wrote. “The Church is clear in its teaching on same-sex marriages. But, it is equally clear in its teaching that we are all children of God, that we each have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.
“As I have prayed over this contradiction, I keep returning to this choice: we can focus on Church teaching on gay marriage or we can focus on Church teaching on the Gospel commandment of love. We know from history — including very recent history — that the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes. Yet, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it learns and grows. And so, we choose the Gospel commandment of love.”
Pray. Ask God to show you contradictions in what you believe and what you practice. As you look at Atanur Dogan’s amazing art, pray for grace, mercy, and humility to live out the Gospel commandment of love to ALL GOD’S PEOPLES.