“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” wrote George Gershwin, placing those words in the mouth of an African American woman, living in poverty, singing these words to a child. These tune presents as a sort of lullaby, but lumbers along more like a dirge. The words themselves sound as if they were meant for a white child in the arms of their “mammy.” Yet this character, Clara, sings them to her own child, at a time when the living in Charleston was anything but easy. She sings in hopes that this child will spread wings and fly.
There is a deep sadness in these words about summer “ease.” On the face of it summer brings thoughts of beach and play. But then it depends on who you are and where you are. For a person of color in Charleston in the early 1900s, summertime would have meant hard work as usual. And for all the current residents of Charleston, of our entire country in the year 2015, summertime now means grief. And especially if you are black in Charleston, there is no ease in this moment.
Many summers ago, when Dena and I served in the United Methodist church, this period of time on the Christian calendar that followed Pentecost was called “kingdomtide.” This time generally stretched from late May through the heat of the summer into late fall. This time was called “kingdomtide” to encourage in our preaching and teaching an exploration of what this “kingdom” or “reign” of God was supposed to be.
Is the “kingdom” here? Is it an expected heaven? Is it coming? Is it breaking into our present reality? Do we bring it with our work or does God bring it to us through grace? Is it a pearl of great price? Is it like a sower? Is it like a mustard seed? Is it like treasure?
We can imagine that the reign of God is a time when there is leisure and rest from labor, a time of ease, as we imagine summer to be.
Yet the reign of God is also a place of justice and equality, not based on who you are, where you come from, the color of your skin, your physical or mental disability, your sexuality, your age, your understanding, your theology, or anything that might make you different or the same. Jesus shows us a place where he simply invites us to join him, to know that this “kingdom” is among us.
And sometimes this kingdom looks like a church that despite its deep grief and hurt, opens its doors because it is Sunday morning. The good news must still be heard. A church whose name means “God is with us” shows us what God’s presence looks like.
This “kingdom” is among us, but it is also “not yet.” There is still so much work for us to join with, so much that God is already doing that it is our calling to join with, to participate in.
On June 20, as I was present for an ordination service, I was reminded of how much work we all have to do. The reign of God is not here, not yet. There is still hurt and pain, injustice and oppression. And where there are victories, we rejoice. Where there is reconciliation, we see God’s presence. And as new clergy, these who were ordained have much work ahead of them . . . as do we.
But let us focus on God’s work in this place, where we are, in this Kingdomtide. It is a work that is not easy, a work where we join with God in God’s work of reconciliation and healing, of justice and peace. It is the work that we are called to in this place. And let God’s kingdom come.