October 13, 2019
Luke 17:11-19, Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
“Did You Forget Something?”
I want to introduce you to a theologian today. His name is Clarence Jordan. He was a Baptist minister with a Doctorate in New Testament Greek and a B.S. in agriculture. Jordan grew up in rural Georgia and returned there in the 1940’s to combine his interest in agriculture with his passion for the gospel of Jesus. He created a place to live out Jesus’ teachings amid the poverty and racism of the rural South.
In the midst of a segregated and racist society, Jordan envisioned a place where blacks and whites could live and work together in a spirit of partnership. Based on a radical call to discipleship, Jordan created a community that was committed to racial integration, nonviolence, a simplified lifestyle, sharing of possessions, and stewardship of the land and its resources.
Jordan called this experiment koinonia, from the Greek word meaning community or fellowship that was used to identify the small community of faith in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus that pooled its economic resources and shared a common life in the spirit of Jesus.
The community grew through the turbulent 1950’s, as the Jordans and their neighbors farmed together, ate meals, and attended Bible studies and summer youth camps. Throughout the 1950s and early 60s, Koinonia Farms withstood threats, property damage, excommunication from churches, Grand Jury investigations, and economic boycotts.
In the mid-50s fences were cut, crops stolen from the fields, and garbage dumped on the property. A truck’s engine was ruined by sugar placed in its gas tank, and nearly 300 fruit trees were chopped to the ground. The farm’s roadside market was bombed several times and eventually destroyed. Nightriders sprayed machine-gun bullets at the houses. Fires were set on the property, and crosses were burned on the lawns of black friends.
Finally, Sumter County residents bolstered their attack with an economic boycott, hoping to choke the farm’s livelihood, since they seemed unable to scare the Koinonians away. It was necessity that forced the community into a mail-order pecan business during the boycott. The United States mail and the open pecan market were two things the local people could not control. Their marketing theme was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.” (https://followingjesus.org/clarence-jordan/)
Jordan wrote a paraphrase of the gospels and epistles called the Cotton Patch Version. His version of the gospel reading today goes like this:
“While he was on his way to Atlanta, he went through the ghetto of Griffin, where he was met by ten winos who stood at a distance and yelled, ‘Mister Jesus, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Okay, go show yourselves to the doctor.’ And as they were going, they were cured. Now one of them, realizing that he was cured, turned around and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Praise God! Praise God!’ Then he got down before Jesus and thanked him. This particular one was a black man. So Jesus said, ‘Weren’t there ten of you that got healed? Where are the other nine? Well, well. So didn’t any of them come back here to praise and thank God except this black man, huh?’ He said to the man, ‘Get up and go. Your trustful action has been the making of you.’” (The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts, p. 66)
Our conversation in text study this week included this reading from the Cotton Patch Gospel of Luke as well as a long conversation about the line in Jeremiah “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
As I remembered Jordan and Koinonia Farm, it seemed that is exactly what they were about – seeking the welfare of a place that was steeped in poverty and racism. Rather than settle for things as they were, Jordan and his community determined to live the kingdom of God here and now. They weren’t hanging around hoping to someday float up to the sky where all is rosy. They decided to live as if Jesus was one of them and they knew that meant living with one another generously rather than going along with the unjust society. And it was hard. But they didn’t give up. In fact, the harder things became, the deeper their commitment to being Christ in the world.
Remember that the text from Jeremiah was written in a time of exile. It had gone on far too long and everyone was practically holding their breath until they could be free to go back home. It is in that place of deep suffering and violence that they get a letter from Jeremiah telling them to make the best of where they are. Doing so will give them grateful hearts.
We wondered together in text study what it meant to seek the welfare of Albuquerque, of New Mexico, of the United States, of our world. That is what faith looks like – investing in a place steeped in suffering and injustice. We are called to do everything we can to heal our world. Jeremiah reminds us that our welfare is directly tied to welfare of the world around us. Or as Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We gather here this morning with a world in peril. Climate Change is wreaking havoc. Our government is in an impeachment process. We have withdrawn support for the Syrian Kurds. Gun violence is at an all-time high in the United States. Racism continues to drive people to violence. Children are victims of abuse and sex trafficking. The news reported the University of New Mexico as one of the most dangerous campuses in the country. We can name just a few broken systems: healthcare, prisons, detention for those seeking asylum, families separated at our borders, the growing gap between wealth and poverty.
With this reality, we are called to seek the welfare of our city. It’s completely overwhelming. Yet, that doesn’t let us off the hook one bit. Where do you find yourself in this world today? What issue keeps you awake at night? Start there. Make a phone call. Write a letter. Show up to protest or to volunteer your time. Write a check. Do something.
Then don’t forget to look to the most vulnerable to teach us how to live. Notice the ten in the reading from Luke are lepers. They were completely outcast in society. We have our several modern versions of that – one is an island in Hawaii called Molokai where lepers were sent to keep them away from everyone else. This forceful seclusion happened over one hundred years until 1969 when it was finally removed from the law books. Modern day lepers might be those in detention for the sin of seeking a better life in the United States. It seems to be human nature to separate ourselves from those whose vulnerability threatens our sensibility. One of the lepers was a Samaritan – a double outcast. It was the Samaritan who praised God with a loud voice and came back to Jesus to thank him.
Over and over in scripture, we are called to pay attention to the ones society has pushed away and cast out. The only one who experienced complete healing was the Samaritan. The others were healed of leprosy, but the Samaritan was made well. We can wonder why the nine didn’t come back to say thank you. The nine represent so many of us who never get around to saying thank you. The message here seems to be that gratitude completes the circle of healing.
You have probably heard the research that says gratitude is good for you. I am always interested how we mumble when I invite us to name what we are grateful for out loud in worship. Notice that the Samaritan praised God with a loud voice. Why are we so embarrassed to name our gratitude? Why are we hesitant to say thank you? What if saying thank you was one small way, perhaps a first step on the way to seeking the welfare of our city? What if we took the time to thank a teacher who works long hours or a City Councilor who is willing to be criticized for sponsoring legislation to make our city better? What if we thanked the person bagging our groceries? Does it make a difference if we thank social service providers who are underpaid and carrying an overwhelming case load?
One of the ways parents teach their children to say thank you is the question, “Did you forget something?” when the child receives a gift and doesn’t say thank you. Perhaps Jesus is asking us if we have forgotten something. If we have, we can do something about that. Saying thank you is an easy fix. There are note cards in the fellowship hall. I encourage you to pick one up after worship today and use it. Write a note to thank someone or encourage someone. Invest in the welfare of our world in this small way and then open your heart to the next thing you can do. This beautiful world is ours to steward and love and heal. Don’t forget.