A Year of Koinonia: Kick-off!

The journey begins! I preached about Koinonia today, introducing the idea of A Year of Koinonia to the congregation. The way this is dovetailing so nicely with the Beatitudes sermons, the way it coincides with the Koinonia celebration next year, the way it will help us–as a community–think about how to live the kin-dom of God NOW? It’s feeling like a God-moment!

Okay. Here’s the sermon…

July 17, 2011 “Meek Inheritance”
Matthew 5:5 (Philippians 2:1-5)

In the first Beatitude, we learned that the first step of becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom is acknowledging our need of God: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The second step is mourning—that is, becoming deeply concerned to the point of action—about the suffering of the world: “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The third step of becoming a citizen of God’s Kingdom involves becoming meek. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This Beatitude has long amused quipsters.

The meek shall inherit the earth—they are too weak to refuse.

Let the meek inherit the earth—they have it coming to them.

It’s going to be fun to watch and see how long the meek can keep the earth once they inherit it.

The meek may inherit the earth, but the other kind inherits the mortgage.

The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights. J. Paul Getty

Welcome to the most puzzling of the Beatitudes. Like the comedian said: Why should the meek inherit the earth? They don’t even want it!

So, who are these “meek” to whom Jesus refers? In common usage, meek usually means weak, harmless, spiritless. The quotes I just read are funny because they assume that shrinking-violet definition of meek. But I don’t think Jesus is talking about the weak meek here. I think he’s talking about something stronger, something more like a healthy humility.

Are you humble? I’m not talking about the false humility we’re so good at here in the South. “That’s a beautiful dress!” we might be told. “Oh, this old thing?” I’m not talking about false humility. When I ask if you’re humble, I’m asking if you have a true and accurate understanding of who you are. Are you realistic about who you are and what your gifts are? Or do you feel a need to inflate—or deflate—your actual gifts? Joan Chittister suggests that “humility is reality to the full;” it “comes from understanding our place in the universe,” (Wisdom Distillled from the Daily, 53). Do you understand your place in the universe? Or do you feel the need to occupy a larger place than others…or maybe a smaller place? The humble life is a mama Bear life—it’s lived in a “just-right” perspective.

Have you ever been around a truly humble person, someone who seemed to have a realistic grasp of their standing in the world? They’re kind of different from most folks, aren’t they? They seem so comfortable in their own skin. They’re satisfied with what they have; they aren’t always wishing for what they don’t have. And while seeming to be confident, they don’t seem to need to impose their will on others. Have you ever met someone like that? Kind of spooky, isn’t it?

This thing about not needing to impose their will on others…Clarence Jordan, he of Cotton Patch Gospel fame, says that the meek Jesus is talking about here no longer feel the need to impose their will on others because they have surrendered their will completely to God. Jordan wrote: “Right there is the secret to the power of the meek. They surrender their will to God so completely that God’s will becomes their will.” That means that “whoever fights them is fighting against God, for a surrendered human will is the agency through which God’s power is released upon the earth.” “Through [the meek] God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven; through them the kingdom of heaven comes to earth.” (25)

Jordan sums up this meek inheritance business about as well as anyone. The meek are those who have willingly surrendered their wills to God. Their desire is no longer to build themselves up or to control others. Their desire has become one with God’s desire. They hope God’s hopes; they dream God’s dreams. And not only do they hope and dream what God hopes and dreams, the meek also have the hands and feet to make those dreams reality…
…which is exactly why it is the meek who inherit the earth, right? If God’s dream is for the divine will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and if “a surrendered human will is the agency through which God’s power is released upon the earth,” then who better to receive the earth than those who are best equipped to claim it for heaven?

All this defining and discussing the meek and their inheritance is fine, but what does it look like? What does it look like when the meek come into their earthly inheritance?

It probably looks a lot like Koinonia Farm, the interracial Christian community Clarence Jordan established in 1942 in Sumter County, Georgia, down near Americus. If you read my blog this week, you saw a description of the theme I’m suggesting for Pilgrimage this year: A Year of Koinonia. In September 2012, Koinonia Farm will mark its 70th anniversary. There’s going to be a big celebration, including a production of the “Cotton Patch Gospel” with Tom Key. I thought it might be fun for some of us to go down there for that celebration.

Then I thought it might be fun to learn about Koinonia before we went. Then I thought it might be fun to study some of Jordan’s Cotton Patch translations of the Bible. Then I thought it might be fun to reflect on what it means to live koinonia, Christian community. Then I thought it might be fun to get involved in Habitat for Humanity, an idea that was inspired by Koinonia. Then I thought—It might take a year to do all of this! Thus was born the idea for this year’s theme: A Year of Koinonia.

Here’s the thing about the Sermon on the Mount—it’s impossible to study it without at least thinking about changing your life. I just don’t think Jesus said all this stuff simply to hear himself talk. Why talk about fulfilling God’s dreams on earth as they are in heaven unless you wanted people to try to do it, right? I think Jesus’ dream was that we would take God’s dream seriously and do everything we can to make it reality.

If we’re looking for a model of that, we need look no further than Clarence Jordan himself. Clarence grew up a child of privilege in Talbotton, Georgia. The disparity between all he had and the poverty of many of those around him bothered him, even as a child. After high school, he attended UGA, where he got a degree in Agriculture—he planned to work with poor farmers to improve their farming techniques.

Toward the end of college, he felt a strong call to ministry and ended up at my alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While there, he distinguished himself as a Greek scholar and biblical interpreter.

I think seminary might also be the place where Clarence became meek in the way he describes in his Sermon on the Mount commentary. In his study, the words of Jesus had become so real to him, God’s hopes for humanity had become so compelling, that Clarence completely surrendered his will to God. God’s hopes and dreams were now his hopes and dreams. His mind and heart were completely aligned with God. As Paul says so well in his letter to the Philippians, Clarence Jordan now had the mind of Christ…

…he also had the hands, feet, courage, and agriculture degree it would take to try to fulfil God’s dreams here on earth…which is why he went in with another family to buy a run- down farm in Sumter County, Georgia, in 1942.

For the longest time—eight years—the folks in Sumter County left Koinonia alone. Koinonia might have seemed a little weird, but mostly it seemed harmless. Some neighboring farmers grew concerned when they learned that white and black workers were paid the same wage at Koinonia; that forced them to have to raise their pay as well. But mostly, they just left Koinonia alone…until the Jordans took a dark-skinned student from India to a worship service at Rehoboth Baptist Church. That was when things got tense. The next Sunday, the deacons of Rehoboth voted to exclude all Koinonians from their church.

Things started getting really bad in 1954, with the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision. At that point, the terrorism started—drive-by shootings, bombings, cross burnings, an economic boycott. Many Koinonia families eventually had to be relocated to New Jersey because things were just too dangerous.
Eventually, as the Civil Rights Movement effected change all over the country, things simmered down in Sumter County. By the time Clarence Jordan died in 1969, membership in the community was on the rise again. The terrorism had stopped. There’s no doubt, though, that the Koinonia community—meek though its leader was—claimed at least one small piece of earth in southwest Georgia for the kin-dom of God.

Over the years, the emphasis of Koinonia has changed. It has been involved in the peace movement and is now focusing on renewable agricultural techniques. Jubilee Partners, an offshoot of Koinonia, has on ongoing ministry to refugees. That’s the thing about the kingdom of heaven—each generation has to re-interpret for the current times.

Which brings us to today’s “So what?” question: How will we help God’s kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven? If we allow ourselves to become meek, if we allow our wills to become one with God’s, if we dare to dream God’s dreams, how will we help those dreams become a reality? What will we do with the earth once we receive our inheritance?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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3 Responses to A Year of Koinonia: Kick-off!

  1. Diane says:

    I’m glad to see your sermon posted here. Thank you. Can you keep doing that?
    One concern, though: “if we allow our wills to become one with God’s”– Those deacons of Rehoboth probably argued that they were carrying out God’s will. I’d like to hear your thoughts on discerning God’s will.

    • Diane,

      First, I’m happy to post my sermons. No problem.

      And the question you ask is the one we wrestled with some in Sunday school–What happens when the ways two people imagine God’s dreams clash? We didn’t really settle anything (we rarely do!)…but I can give you a few thoughts about how I try to discern God’s hopes…

      The first thing to do (I think) is what you suggest–each one of us has to discern God’s dreams (God’s will) for ourselves. I think we do that in part, by reading things like the Sermon on the Mount. This summer is the first time I’ve spent any real time with the SOM. The more I read, the more commentators I read, the more I come to believe that Jesus was radically on the side of the poor and the oppressed. You read Matthew 5-7 and it’s like one long commentary on power–who wields it, how it’s used, how to “use it for good.” In my own process of discerning what is of God and what isn’t, I’m beginning to look at where power lies, who benefits from power dynamics in any given situation…that says a lot (to me, anyway) about God’s dreams and who is trying to realize them.

      The two commentators I’ve been really drawn to this summer are Richard Rohr and Clarence Jordan. Richard Rohr’s Sermon on the Mount retreat is available at audible.com I think you’d really like the way he thinks.

      Another thing we talked about today was listening for God in our own desires, gifts, that sort of thing. Frederick Buechner has a great quote. He defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” So, a part of discerning God’s hopes/dreams is listening to our own gifts, our own desires, our own hopes for the world around us. A friend of mine once said, “God speaks to me through my personality.” I think that’s true. The biggest hint of God’s hopes come to us by reflecting on our own.

      On the clashing visions of God’s hopes thing…that’ s a hard one. I’m tempted to say that if we all focused on discering God’s hopes for our own lives, there’d be no need to worry about anybody else’s discernment process. The trouble comes, though, when some people use religion not to free people from oppression, but to oppress them. What does the thoughtful person of faith do when religious people and systems oppress the powerless and perpetuate poverty?

      I don’t have a clear answer for myself yet on that. At this point I’m looking at people like Clarence Jordan, Martin Luther King, Jr., maybe Dorothy Day (I need to learn more about her) to see how they handle the issue.

      Do you have thoughts?

  2. Diane says:

    Thanks for mentioning Richard Rohr. I’ve read his Enneagram books, but don’t know his other work. I’ve downloaded Sermon on the Mount, and look forward to listening to that.

    As to my thoughts: they’re undefined, worrisome things. I simply cannot understand, CANNOT, how as sincere individuals we come to such opposed conclusions. In my lifetime, I don’t expect an answer, but, you know, occasional glimmers are nice.

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