Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cause or Kingdom?

I have been reading quite a bit about and from Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm in rural Georgia. He wrote the Cotton Patch version of the New Testament. He was trained as a Southern Baptist preacher, and when he would guest preach he would only have a few notes on a small piece of paper and the original Greek New Testament that he would translate as he preached. Jordon was a dynamic individual. He was on the forefront of the battle against segregation and developed a unique model for communal living. However, he didn't start Koinonia in the early 1940s to create a prophetic call against the evils of segregation. Nor did he begin with the idealistic notion of starting a monastic commune in rural Georgia. He didn't reject the nationalism of World War II and register as a Conscientious Objector, which, in patriotic Dixie was almost unheard of, because he wanted to make a statement against war. He did all of this because he felt that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7) were "marching orders" for God's people. The words of Jesus, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount, were the framework for God's Kingdom. As Jordan said, he wanted Koinonia to be "a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God." He wasn't a civil rights leader, a monastic leader, or anti-war protest leader. Jordan simply believed that these concepts were clearly Jesus' instructions for us. As Joe Maendel, a friend of Jordan and a devout Hutterite, recalled:
I had been trained to think that Jesus' words were in the Bible from one end to the other, that the whole book from the first page to the last contained God's words on law and order. Clarence just put his arm around me and said, 'Joe, you don't know how to read the Bible.' And then he took me home and showed me.

He showed me where some of the Bible is just history, where some of it is just telling how so-and-so applied what Jesus said, and how some of it just sets the stage for what Jesus did or said. he told me there is only one place where Jesus starts giving orders and that was in Matthew five, six and seven. He showed me how Jesus didn't talk about community or how to be a Christian -- he talked about love, and mercy, and humbleness -- and Clarence said if you have these, you have community automatically. Clarence said you can argue about the rest of the Bible if you want to, but there is no argument about Matthew five, six, and seven.
Clarence Jordan had only one cause, his singular desire was to enter deeper into God's Kingdom. We have visited several churches over the past few years, and we have attended several conferences. In many instances, opportunities are presented for people to get involved with different "causes." The opportunity to support those digging wells in impoverished nations, or the chance to work with those involved in distributing the Gospel to communist nations. While I whole-heatedly support the efforts of these organizations and individuals who are tangibly loving their neighbors, I also know first hand that when we become about a cause we can quickly get burnt out. One week our hearts are impacted by a video we watched and so we give a little to help build a well in India. The next week we hear about a friend who is helping an organization to end human trafficking. Drawn into the heart-wrenching stories, we try to get more involved. We wonder how we can become involved in so many different "causes," and with the typical American's busy life, the only solution is to give financially. That subdues our conscience -- for a while. The well has been dug, people in the village now have water . . . . what's next? Homelessness? Hunger? Orphans?

Once again, many founders, workers and donors to these causes are centered in the middle of God's Kingdom, but many times it feels like some Christian circles can become a trendy social justice À la carte. Our faith becomes schizophrenic, scattering our time, energy and finances over logo ladened t-shirts, bumper stickers and self-righteous pats on the back.

Jordan advocated for Jesus followers to give. He quoted Augustine in his letter to supporters in 1968:
"'He who possesses a surplus possesses the goods of others.' That's a polite way of saying that anybody who has too much is a thief. If you are a 'thief,' perhaps you should set a reasonable living standard for your family and restore the 'stolen goods' to humanity."
But the giving wasn't sparked by a cause, it was sparked by the Kingdom. Jordan didn't try to convince others to live communally, fight racism, or become pacifists, in other words, he wasn't looking for a cause to fight. Instead, he was trying to convince folks that we must enter into God's Kingdom. Furthermore, Jordan believed that the Sermon on the Mount was the summary of Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom. By putting the ideals laid out in the Sermon on the Mount into action in our daily lives, justice, which is God's "cause," will naturally (and supernaturally), become our "cause."