Koinonia Community in Georgia is a Christian farm community founded seventy years ago by Clarence & Florence Jordan. It is the home of the Cotton Patch Gospel, birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, Jubilee Partners, Prison Jail Project, Fuller Center for Housing and other ministries. There is nothing like their chocolate pecan bark. As they say, they are “Still growing pecans and peanuts, welcoming visitors, and living the ‘demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God’.” They could be simply an east coast version of Harry and David’s, making and selling peanut brittle, but their vision is to bring the life of God to others through ministry and service.
Matthew 4: 18-22
18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.
Jean Vanier began his chapter on Mission in his book Community and Growth describing Jesus’ work with his followers. First he chose men and women and then told them to leave all and come and follow him. He loved them and he invited them to become his friends. That in itself upset the traditional balance of power, for the teacher to call his students friends. That’s how it all began, in a personal relationship with Jesus, being in communion with him.
Walking in intimate communion with Jesus they learned of God’s love, God’s patience and God’s promises. They explored the fundamental questions of humanity bound up in love and hate, guilt and forgiveness, war and peace, lies and truth and the meaning of life and of death.
These friends of Jesus started to live together in community. As we read the story it is clear that that was not easy. It’s what Kenneth Gibble in his book of communion meditations describes as the Feast of Enemies. Jesus could not have picked a more diverse group of people. They had very little in common. One was a mercurial fisherman, unpredictable and erratic, one held prejudicial views of people from Nazareth. There was a fanatic Jewish nationalist and a despised Roman collaborator and tax-collector. There was a pessimistic skeptic and two “Sons of Thunder” with delusions of entitlement. And of course there was an accountant who was also a covetous betrayer. Despite Jesus trying to teach them they quarreled among themselves. Living in community revealed all sorts of jealousies and fears in them.
Instead of keeping them with him Jesus sent them off to accomplish a mission: to announce good news to the poor, to heal the sick and to liberate by casting out demons. This was like an internship. He sent them out so that they would experience life flowing out from them; an experience of giving life to people and an experience of their own beauty and capacities as they let his power act in and through them.
The pains of community insinuate themselves between the joy of this intimate communion and friendship with Jesus and the joy of giving life to others – the mission! They didn’t come together to care for each other or to care for those in the villages around them. Jesus chose them and called them to himself from their lives as business people, tax collectors, public accountants, priests and politicians. “Come”, Jesus said, “…follow me.” And they did, little knowing that Jesus would unite them into a world changing endeavor.
The most fundamental need of every person is to be in communion with those who gave them life. We first know what it feels like to belong within our family. The child that is loved sees itself as precious, listened to, reverently touched and knows peace. It is held, protected and safe. Such a child opens up without fear and becomes much more vulnerable. Such a child never gains street smart survival skills. However, should that thirst for communion within family go unsatisfied the pain of guilt, anger and hate rise up. And should a child feel it does not belong – to anyone- it suffers terrible loneliness and anguish.
When we were first married and living in a pretty rough section of Indianapolis there was a two story garage turned into low rent apartments across the alley from the parsonage. Still in my heart I recall when that child left unattended in it’s baby bed in that upstairs apartment gave up crying. A child that feels unloved knows it is not lovable; thinks itself not good. The pain becomes so unbearable that it is stuffed down in the deepest recesses of the heart, hidden away so that the child can get on with living, achieving, being admired, becoming independent. The desire for being admired is substituted for being loved. Some children fall into depression and revolt. Still others act out their anger on their parents or on the world in general. Some seek out companions with whom their anti-social ways seem normal. But as the child becomes an adult it is driven by those unacknowledged forces buried deep within themselves.
Each of our paths is unique. Your history or mine of being accepted or rejected, our personal pasts of inner pain and difficulties in familial relationships is different. But in each of us there abides a yearning for communion and belonging, but at the same time a fear of it. Love is what we want most. It is also what we fear most. Love makes us open and vulnerable and we already know that we can be hurt through rejection and separation. We crave to be loved but we fear that it could steal from us our liberty and creativity. We want to belong to a group but fear possible demands for dependence and commitment. We don’t want to be used, manipulated, smothered or spoiled! Some however want to belong regardless of the price. They feel so alone that they will sacrifice personal consciousness and growth to stay within a group. Others fear that belonging will stifle and crush what is most precious in them. They opt to live as individuals and to avoid relationships that might impede their climb to success. They steel their hearts from others and develop capacities to do things and in this way become self sufficient.
Jesus knows all about our brokenness. You can’t read the Gospels without hearing the voices of the neighbors in Nazareth questioning his paternity. And what, might you imagine, would have been Jesus’ take on his own birth narrative? Unlike others what little we have of his childhood portrays him as religious savant. Jesus knows us, just as we are. And Jesus calls to us and says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “Come”, he says, “leave all and follow me.” Jesus’ whole message is one of giving life. He came to give life and to give it abundantly. He came to dissolve the clots in our spiritual arteries that impede the flow of life. In the second century Irenaeus wrote that the glory of God is people fully alive, fully living. Jesus came to announce such good news to the poor, freedom from the oppressed and imprisoned and to offer sight to the blind. He came to liberate, to take away our anger, shame and guilt to heal and make whole.
As a community of faith we can choose to do all sorts of things. Koinonia Community in Georgia is a Christian farm community founded seventy years ago by Clarence & Florence Jordan. It is the home of the Cotton Patch Gospel, birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, Jubilee Partners, Prison Jail Project, Fuller Center for Housing and other ministries. There is nothing like their chocolate pecan bark. As they say, they are “Still growing pecans and peanuts, welcoming visitors, and living the ‘demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God’.” They could be simply an east coast version of Harry and David’s, making and selling peanut brittle, but their vision is to bring the life of God to others through ministry and service.
Communities of faith can build hospitals and provide shelter for the homeless and provide opportunities for getting an education. Communities can enhance culture and provide access to clean water. But these things do not necessarily bring the life of God to others, that is to transmit new hope and new meaning to those who are served. Mission is revealing to others their own fundamental beauty, value and importance, exposing them to their capacity to love and mature and to meet God. Mission is unlocking the doors of their being and taking off their shoulders the terrible yoke of fear and guilt. To give life to people is to reveal to them that they are loved by God just as they are – with their unique mix of good and evil, light and darkness, loneliness and fear.
Jesus wants each of us to bear fruit. He calls us in our loneliness, fear and brokenness to follow and learn from him and then shapes us into community so that our lives together become a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God. When Jesus sent his disciples out on mission he told them to be poor, to take nothing. He asks us, his disciples today, to continue this mission of life-giving and liberation. Jesus told those first followers to go and do things that were impossible for them to do all by themselves. The call is no different today – communities, not individuals, are commissioned to be unfettered by this world’s goods and do impossible things. And, like those earliest missionaries we are called to build communities of healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and wholeness. Mission is to bring the life of God to others.