Thursday, September 5, 2013

Last Sunday's Sermon@Highlands

“The Resurrection of the Righteous”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
September 1, 2013

Jesus has been invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve mentioned Clarence Jordan to you often. Jordan was a South Georgia Southern Baptist preacher in the 1940s and 50s. He’s widely recognized as a modern day prophet if God who said what needed to be said to those who didn’t like hearing it.

His biographer, Dallas Lee, said Clarence had a streak of magnetism best demonstrated by the contradicting virtues that marked him. He was a gentle man who thundered, a non-violent man who often went toe to tow with members of the Ku Klux Klan. He was genuinely humble and loving but never passed up a chance to challenge those who became wealthy at the expense of others.

One Sunday after church, he was invited to the plantation-like home of a person of affluence. Now…please don’t stop me if I’ve told you this story before because I really like it and want to tell it again.

He walked through the door and spent several minutes examining the original French paintings on the wall, the bronze and marble sculpture in the hallways, the fine silver on the table, the plates with gold leaf and the high ceilings adorned with chandeliers imported from Europe. Then Clarence just couldn’t let it go. He blurted out, “What a fine bunch of plunder you have.”

He was often invited to dinner at the homes of people with standing. But…he wasn’t often invited back. Clarence Jordan’s role model was Jesus. No one could wear out a welcome like Jesus. This morning he walked into the home of a Pharisee. Actually that should not surprise us a great deal. Jesus’ relationship with some of the Jews was deteriorating. Some were already planning how to kill him but a chapter earlier than this morning’s story, it is the Pharisees who come to warn Jesus that Herod wants to have him killed.

There are many Jewish and Christian scholars who believe that Jesus views were not unlike those of the Pharisees. Some have called Jesus a Pharisee. They were non-creedal and not dogmatic.

So maybe it wasn’t such an odd thing that Jesus was invited to dinner. Yet when he arrived, he took notice of how the guests were jockeying for position. It was important to be on the invitation list and once you made that list it became important to be seated in the right place…the closer to the host the better.

Jesus seems amused by all of this. It’s nothing new to him. His disciples were constantly trying to figure out the pecking order…they wanted to be seen on his right hand side. Jesus offered some Ann Landers type of advice.

When you are invited to dinner, don’t assume the best seat in the house has been reserved for you. If you take it, you just might be embarrassed when the host asks you to move to the back row so that someone more important than you can have the better seat. Jesus encourages the guests to humble themselves, sit in the back row…then you will feel better when the host invites you to move up.

Just good manners…but not much theology there, except maybe that stuff about humbling yourself. But then Jesus turns to his host and says, “I get why you do this. I understand how society works. You invite all the important people to your dinner, serve them the best food and wine…and…they are expected to reciprocate, each trying to out do the other. So you all can continue to enjoy feasting and partying on and on.

But, Jesus says, next time don’t invite these stiffs. Forget your rich friends and neighbors. The only reason you invited them in the first place is so they might invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

Invite people who will not repay you, people who might not even know who you are or how important you are. When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the addicts, the homeless, and those who would otherwise never be invited to such a feast.

You might not be repaid but you will be blessed. Jesus is telling us that just who it is we share our feast says something about who we are. Most often we share meals with those with whom we share values.

Which brings us back to Clarence Jordan…and eventually to us. Clarence took Jesus seriously. He didn’t just preach GeeZus…he followed him. Clarence sung the hymn. “Red and yellow black and white, all are precious in God’s sight.” But what he saw was black children hungry, is rags, denied education, healthcare and basic human rights.

So he opened a place called Koinonia Farm. Named after the Greek word for fellowship and based on the early Christian church, Koinonia was a Christian community in which members pooled their resources into a common treasury and treated all persons as equals, regardless of race or class. Socialists!

Clarence invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the addicts, the homeless, and those who would otherwise never be invited to such a feast...including those with black skin.

Neighbors came a’knocking. They warned Clarence he was violating local customs by inviting their black day laborers to share meals with them. Others targeted Koinonia for inviting  conscientious objectors during World War II (1941-45). In 1950 the Baptist Church a few miles north of Koinonia, voted to remove the names of six Koinonians from its membership roll because church members perceived that the Koinonians were trying to integrate their church. because church members perceived that the Koinonians were trying to integrate the church.

The Klan and others didn’t want blacks and peacemakers and white civil rights advocates eating with them or anyone else for that matter.

A decade of boycotts and violence, including several serious attempts to shoot and kill Clarence, all inflicted by the Klan and other racists, dismantled the community. Only two families, including the Jordan and his wife and one other family were courageous enough to remain.

But Clarence trusted Jesus. He continued to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the addicts, the homeless, and those who would otherwise never be invited to a feast...including those with black skin.

In 1969, an Atlanta lawyer named Millard Fuller came to Koinonia. He’d made millions in his career and was ready to give it all away to the poor. He and Koinonia started a housing program to help poor black families become homeowners. That program eventually became Habitat for Humanity.

Then, about what Jesus said…invite to dinner those whom others would never invite…and you will be blessed, if Clarence Jordan had concerned himself only with being on the right invitation lists instead of the right side of God, if Clarence had been given in to the threats and the racism instead of the sermon on the Mount, and if he had gone along to get along…hundreds of thousands of poor families who would likely never been blessed with the opportunity to own their own home because of the work of Habitat for Humanity.

And it all started with one brave soul who took Jesus seriously when he said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

You need to know the local folks never honored Clarence for his work with the poor and the black…they continued to punish Clarence because of his dinner invitations. When Clarence died, not a funeral home within all of the surrounding counties would take the body and prepare it for burial.

So Millard Fuller loaded the dead body in the back of his old station wagon and took it to town where Clarence was placed in an old box that was used to ship coffins. Millard and a few others dug a grave in the red Georgia clay.

As a small group of blacks and whites gathered around for one of the few integrated funeral services in Georgia, Fuller read some of Clarence’s Cotton Patch translations of what he called 1st Rock (or 1st Peter) and 1st Jack (or 1st John).

“Don’t love the old order…everything that’s in the old order such as the hankering for physical comfort, the hankering for material things, the emphasis on status is collapsing…but he who lives by the will of God will see a new age. Don’t be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the old order hates your guts. Loved ones of God, let us love each other.”

And then the box was quietly lowered into the ground. The men shoveled dirt on top of it…and his biographer wrote…””the vital substance of what Clarence Jordan had been trying to say with his life suddenly appeared in the unspeakable simplicity of his death…

And as Jesus said…for inviting the uninvited to the feasts of his life, this humble man who took Jesus seriously was blessed and, as promised, will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. AMEN

1 comment:

  1. Fine sermon, Rodger, and a darn good story. Please keep telling it! I have long admired the work of Clarence Jordan and Millard Fuller.