It’s hard to see things decline around you and not enter the cycle of doom with everyone else. Just as destructive can be our tendency to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is going okay. Well folks, the bishop asked me to come to Kinston and stand alongside the saints and sinners of Queen Street United Methodist Church as they transitioned to another century of ministry. Now Kinston is a city that is facing serious issues. Fifty years ago Queen Street, the main street, was known as “the Magic Mile” and for many in eastern North Carolina we were the center of the universe. Times have changed … tobacco is no longer king (hardly even a pawn) and the other cities around us have landed economic engines that mean that folks have no need for a “Magic Mile” somewhere else. As ministry unfolded I turned to the following passage from Jeremiah for continued hope and inspiration:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
We feel like exiles in the city because it no longer looks like it used to look. But the LORD says to us live here, eat here, find husband for daughters and wives for sons, and multiply and do not decrease. We can understand that impulse and hope that it might work, but for many of us our sons and daughters have married and moved elsewhere to live, eat, and multiply. The LORD is not leaving us hanging … the LORD adds “seek the welfare of the city” and pray on its behalf for “in its welfare you will find your welfare” … the LORD says your future is tied together with the broader welfare and prosperity of the whole community. Do not settle for less than everyone’s welfare and your welfare will never be in doubt. That is the lesson God has been teaching me these days.
On Sunday afternoon, the folks of Kinston will gather in Grainger Stadium to celebrate our being named one of ten All-America Cities this past year. The following are the words that I will offer as an invocation to that celebration:
O God, our help in ages past when names like Caswell, Gordon, Bright, McLewean, Shrine, Dobbs, Herritage came to the intersection of King and Queen in 1762 to form a city; Who knew then the plans that you laid out for them as they moved out to the north, south, and east with the Neuse at their backs to the west? You gave our fathers and mothers wisdom to know that a city for a king depended only on you for its greatness and its citizens for its support when they changed our name from Kingston to Kinston. You saw us through years of growth and periods of decline, times of war and times of peace, moments of laughter and seasons of mourning, gathered us in Granger Stadium and Grand Theater, churches and synagogues, and even drew us to the Magic Mile.
O God, our hope for years to come we come at a time of great celebration and come praying and seeking for the welfare and prosperity of the city where we live. Give Kinston not only the pure water of the artesian well, but the purity of drink derived from our human efforts; give Kinston not only the little by little efforts for our children we make, but the greater by greater dreams you have for each one of them; give Kinston not only the rejection of the gang life, but the acceptance of a citizen’s life seeking your broader good.
O God, be thou our guide while life shall last we come anticipating a day when the young shall see visions and the old shall dream dreams. We come seeking the wisdom of the one who created us in your self-image so that we might live as your sons and daughters, as sisters and brothers in your soon-coming kingdom. Teach us your wisdom and guard our paths so that we might come to follow in the Way, the Truth, and the Life that you hold before each of us.
O God, our eternal home; In moments like these we give thanks that you put lifetime-sized dreams before us knowing that those things worth accomplishing might or might not be completed in our time, but in your time all things are possible O LORD of HOPE. In moments like these we give thanks for the true, the beautiful, and the good to which you have called us, O LORD of FAITH. In moments like these we give thanks that we cannot accomplish virtuous tasks alone and we need each other and especially you, O LORD of LOVE. In moments like these we remember that we are not all that, we are not always leaning in the right direction, we are not always pointed to your preferred future for us, we are not always aligned as friends, we far too often see one another as foes and for that we come now seeking forgiveness and trusting in the faith, hope, and love of our mothers and fathers, O LORD of FORGIVENESS.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.
Now hear our prayer lifted in the Name of the One Who Is, the One Who Was, and the One Who Is to Come! Amen.
For the very discerning you will hear in the above invocation the following words that have traveled the globe with me and sustain the core of my prayer life with the Living God of our mothers and fathers.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by HOPE.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by FAITH.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we are saved by LOVE.
No virtuous act is as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is FORGIVENESS.