A Tale of Two Cities & A Tale of Two Lives

My pastor, Tory Campbell, has alluded to “A Tale of Two Cities” in recent weeks on Sunday mornings at Irvington Covenant Church. You may have read Charles Dickens’ classic tale of sacrificial love by that same title set against the backdrop of two cities—Paris and London—during the French Revolution. Pastor Campbell has not been talking about Paris and London during the French Revolution, but about the need for a revolution of love that would move the church to engage the city of Portland. According to Pastor Campbell, Portland’s tale is one of two cities—of haves and have nots. Some people experience the beautiful side of Portland, whereas others, many of them recent refugees and long-standing ethnic minority residents, experience the other side through various forms of structural evil that keep them outside, excluded from the mainstream. My pastor’s reflections are timely, to the point, and powerful. I encourage you to listen to his talks in recent weeks where he addresses many of these pressing issues that make Portland’s story a tale of two cities. Listen at irvingtoncov.org.

Dickens’ own story, A Tale of Two Cities, is also the tale of two lives. One of the characters, Sydney Carton, wasted much of his life, and now he seeks to redeem it by sacrificing his life for others by cunningly substituting himself for an innocent man, Charles Darnay. Darnay is condemned to die by the blade of the guillotine. Pondering what awaits him, Carton repeats to himself the words of Jesus, “”I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”

The only way we will move Portland to being a single city of haves rather than two cities of haves and have nots in one is for us to live single lives. Instead of spending our lives on self-indulgence as Carton had done before his decision to sacrifice himself for this man and the woman he held dear (Darnay’s faithful wife), we must become like Carton as he became a new man, and spend ourselves for others. I for one must be single-minded and not go back and forth between two lives, but rather live only the one to which Christ calls us.

Of course, many people inside and outside Portland’s churches seek to live single-minded lives whereby they spend themselves for others. In fact, Pastor Campbell has encouraged our church to take note of how we are already seeking to live into the reality of a single city church as people come together from very different ethnic and economic backgrounds with the aim to be one in Christ. But what will inspire us to keep pressing on for the long haul? I believe Tory spoke to it on Easter and after Easter Sunday—the resurrection.

We can spend ourselves for others rather than spend lavishly on ourselves because of the love that Jesus lavishes on us by dying and rising from the dead to bring us new life. A few weeks removed from Easter, may we live in view of our Easter resurrection hope, which sustains Sydney Cartons old and new . And may we take to heart the words recorded in Isaiah 58:10: “and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Only as we live in view of these biblical realities and promises will we have sufficient reason and strength to live one life rather than two and make our cities’ stories the tale of one city, not two.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at Consuming Jesus.

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