Caring for the City

Tuesday, Jan 17th, 2012

                Last evening there was a great gathering of the people of God at Friendship Baptist Church to celebrate the life and legacy or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Inspiring music, passionate prayer, and challenging addresses kindled renewed commitment to inclusive justice.  Ministers, politicians, and faithful persons—Jewish and Christian—thought in concrete terms about where Kansas City has failed to realize King’s dream in the urban core.

                Kansas City SkylineKansas City has devoted resources to the Kansas City Power and Light district, the Sprint Center, baseball and football stadiums, and the zoo.  (Entertainment rather than empowerment?)  Indeed, civic efforts to endow the zoo for perpetuity are growing apace.  Revered pastor, Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., spoke about the implications of these allocations:  “It’s not that I have anything against the zoo, but for God’s sake, think about the people!” Amen.

                Thinking about the people will include a slight tax bump (8%) that will benefit the decaying neighborhoods east of Troost in Kansas City, MO.  Over the next thirty years, 7 million a year can be garnered to renew infrastructure, transform blighted buildings, provide economic development, and protect the interests of those too often neglected in the halls of city government.  This can and should be done.  And it is time!

                The little prophetic book of Jonah (only 44 verses long) illumines God’s great compassion for the city of Nineveh.  You recall how reluctant Jonah was to go there, the capital city of Assyria, a long-term oppressor of Israel.  It would be like a Holocaust survivor being compelled to bear witness in Berlin, or Martin King summoned by God to preach to a KKK convention.  Jonah did not want to carry God’s word to this detested people. [I will write more about this next week as we consider the Jonah story more fully in light of the missional pilgrimage beckoned by God.]

                What stands out is God’s sense of urgency about the well-being of “that great city.”  So persistent is God’s care for Nineveh that the word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time, and he goes, but only as a perfunctory prophet, preaching a minimalist sermon of only five words: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  Remarkably, the city repents, and the king leads the people toward appropriate practices of mourning.

                Jonah is burned up by God’s merciful response—no compassion in him for the 120,000 persons and many animals spared by God.  The saga of Jonah ends with the question of the Holy One hanging in the air: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city. . .?”

                God is concerned about Kansas City, more concerned I daresay than many of God’s people.  By voting this tax increase we have the opportunity to participate in its redemption.  I pray that we will do so.

                Molly T. Marshall