Sunday Gathered Worship–Matthew 13:24-43
July 23, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
A few years ago, two little girls named Ida and Kellan lived here at Koinonia Farm with their parents. I spent a lot of time with them in childcare and school. There was never a dull moment.
I read an article in “National Geographic” which reported that redheads feel pain more acutely than other people. This was definitely the case for Ida and Kellan. There was a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
When we started school together, I had a rule: No Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth. If they were playing too wildly, I’d warn them, “Somebody’s going to get hurt and then there’ll be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and you know how much I don’t like that.” Or if they were teasing each other, I’d say, “OK, time to stop before there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” I’m sure they got tired of hearing me say it, and maybe that’s why it was an effective way to get them to settle down.
I don’t know about you, but at the end of the age, I don’t want to be collected out of the kingdom and thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. I value my teeth too much. And you already know how much I don’t like weeping and wailing.
So how is it that we will be counted among the righteous who shine like the sun. Jesus tells us that we need to listen carefully.
What does the Gospel tell us? In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus speaks plainly about the righteous and the unrighteous. At the end of the age, all the nations will be gathered together, and they will be separated as sheep and goats.
The goats are the ones who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and the prisoner. They will go away to eternal punishment, presumably the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The righteous ones are the sheep. Without knowing that they were serving the Lord, they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothes to the needy, and visited the sick and the prisoner. The righteous will go to eternal life.
I often wonder how I’m measuring up. I feel like I have a long way to go, not for lack of opportunity. It’s that I’m shy and scared of the stranger. Before I lived and worked at the Open Door Community, I used to go out of my way to avoid homeless people. In Boston, I would cross to the other side of the street just so I wouldn’t have to look a homeless person in the eye. My friend Mary would force me to stay on the sidewalk and make eye contact, give a dollar, or say hello. She was just a natural at the Gospel life.
I still have to work at it. Even here at Koinonia, where we welcome the stranger every day, I find myself sticking to the familiar, sitting at the table with Craig, and avoiding new people.
It’s not necessarily easy to shine like the sun. But the light is infinitely preferable to the darkness. And the cool of eternal life is infinitely preferable to the fiery furnace.
So let’s wake up every morning, ready for a new day. Look for an opportunity to give food to the hungry. Share water with a thirsty person. Give clothes to the needy. Visit someone who is sick or in prison. Let me tell you, those things are infinitely preferable to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Sunday Gathered Worship, July 16, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
The parable of the Sower and the Seed might very well be the most well-known of Jesus’ stories. I remember learning the parable in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. It’s not a parable that makes us wonder about its meaning like the one about the overseer who has been cooking the books. What did Jesus mean when he praised that man and said, “Make for yourselves friends with unrighteous Mammon?” In the parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus even gives an explanation to his disciples so that there cannot be any confusion.
Sometimes Jesus’ parables are just downright confusing, and we might say that the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” is a good one. Why did Jesus use parables?
Well, there are some easy answers: the parables use images that are familiar. Here at Koinonia in rural Southwest Georgia, we understand about seeds falling on hard clay that are there for the birds to gobble up. We know about the scorching sun that burns up little seedlings. We see kudzu grow even while we’re standing there watching. We know about weeds.
Sometimes, though the parables are confusing. No matter how straightforward the parable of the mustard seed seems to be, I’m still not sure about it. Mustard seeds are just not the smallest of seeds, and mustard plants are not the tallest of trees. So that imagery just doesn’t work for me.
Is it possible that Jesus meant for his words to have some meaning that would be known only to those who were given the gift of understanding? I think so.
You can just listen to the parable of the Sower and the Seed as a nice agrarian tale. But you have to have ears to hear if you want to know what Jesus is talking about. And that’s the message of the parable.
If you’re hard of hearing, then the Word will just fall on the hard path where it gets snatched away by other things that make more noise. If you’re looking for the smooth and easy way, then the Word won’t be able to establish roots because there is no easy way to follow Jesus. If you get all tangled up in the worries of life, then the Word will be choked off by concerns other than life with Jesus. But if you have an open and well-nourished heart, then the Word will spring up, take root, and flourish in your life.
We are blessed to live with this Word so open to us. We can hear these stories with the gift and understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection told to us by the Gospel writers, by the Apostles, by the early Christians, and by all the faithful down through the ages.
Like Simeon, many longed to see the face of Jesus before they died. Simeon saw the salvation of the Lord, but many didn’t. They longed to see and hear, but they didn’t.
So let us be thankful for the words of the Gospel. Let us listen to them attentively each day. Let us see them at work in the lives of people all around us. And let us work hard to put them into practice.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Gathered Worship Lesson, Matthew 10:37-42
By Elizabeth Dede
Just in case you haven’t noticed, it is really hot in Georgia right now. So what does that have to do with today’s Gospel lesson?
When I lived at the Open Door Community, we constantly faced the suffering of homeless people and the city of Atlanta’s indifference to it. In those days, there was one public water fountain in the whole city, and there were no public toilets. Most shops and businesses had taken the handles off their outdoor water spigots, and no homeless person was welcome to come inside to use the restroom. It was a hard life for people without homes in that city.
In protest of those conditions, and even though it made our neighbors angry, we had two water fountains (one inside, and one outside), lots of public toilets (both inside and outside), and a water spigot outside. There was plenty of water available to the poorest of the poor at our house.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that to give a drink to the thirsty is to give a drink to Jesus. Here at Koinonia, we, too, give a drink to the thirsty.
We serve each other by putting food and drink on the table every day. And often we serve a stranger that way. Matthew also wrote that to welcome a stranger into your home is to welcome Jesus. Providing for the physical needs of people is clearly a Gospel call, and it brings us into relationship with Jesus.
From this Gospel reading, we learn that this relationship with Jesus is more important than any other relationship we can have. We have to love Jesus more than our mothers and fathers, more than our daughters and sons.
I think Matthew tells us pretty clearly how to love Jesus. But it isn’t easy to lose your life.
I’ve just got back to Koinonia from a trip to visit my mom and dad. For a long time, while I lived at the Open Door, I neglected my relationship with my mom and dad. I felt strongly called to serve the physically poor, and I truly believed that meant that I, in the strong words of Jesus, had to hate my mother and father. I didn’t actually hate them, but I didn’t pay much attention to them either. I felt that giving up my old life and ideas of how I should live it was finding my life in Jesus. And I suppose that for that time in my life it was true.
On this visit to Florida, though, I found myself regretting that neglect. Those years while I was at the Open Door were probably my mom and dad’s best years. They were still relatively young and full of energy, and they were mostly free of the weight of caring for children. Now I wish that I had not been so focused on a literal understanding of Matthew 25. I wish that I had enjoyed my Mom and Dad more.
But I don’t want to wallow in regret. Now that they are old, I can care for them, and lose my life in that. It is in those relationships with my mom and dad that I find my life in Jesus.
So give a drink of cold water to a child of Jesus. You will find your life.
Geraldine (Jeri) Abbott speaks briefly at devotions about Florence Jordan and Koinonia, March 2006
“We arrived in ’76 and spent eight years here. We had two daughters; they took care of the goats. My youngest daughter misses Koinonia. My son had a house in Koinonia village, and my grandson still lives there. From 2001 onwards, I took on the Koinonia archives, and I work there when I’m in town. I enjoy that work.
“When we came to Koinonia, it was very open. There was only one commitment that you made at the time: that you believed in Jesus as Lord. Once Koinonia got to having a handbook and all, it was too structured for my husband, so when that happened we left. But regardless, there is a spirit here: the spirit of Clarence and Florence, or of others. We worshipped together as a church, and there’s a great spirit in that.
“Florence [Jordan] was a very fine woman. She didn’t ever say “I’ve got to leave,” like so many others; she stayed on at Koinonia until she died. She had all of the history within her. So in a meeting, somebody would suggest something and she’d say, “We tried that and it didn’t work.”
“She was a wonderful hostess. She’d sit in the corner of the dining hall and invite all the guests over for coffee. She liked to talk with the parents of the younger people because, as she said, she was “just a regular lady,” and would calm their fears.
Recorded/transcribed by Ann Karp
Joe Jones visited Koinonia as a pre-teen and youth, often with his cousin, Collins McGee. Collins McGee was an African-American friend of Koinonia. You may recognize his name as the man who, along with Clarence Jordan and five others, accepted an open invitation to attend a mass meeting at the white Baptist church of Americus in 1965. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, their integrated group was unceremoniously tossed out of that church, but not before Clarence “put in a parting shot: ‘Well, everything in Americus is integrated now except the churches and the jails. And I have hope for the jails.’ (Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence, p. 202).
As an African-American, Joe had to take the back roads to ensure that he would not be persecuted by hostile whites for his trips to Koinonia. “I had to get back before sundown or I’d be in trouble. I was about 15 years old at the time.” He also became involved in the civil rights movement in Americus. He spoke of various places the Americus movement attempted to integrate. “There was a redneck restaurant called B & B, and we tried to integrate it. A lot of people got beaten doing that.
“We prayed before those marches that nobody would have a penknife in their pocket, because if the police found anybody with any kind of knife, you were finished. They beat you some in the street, but that was nothing compared to what would happen once they got you back to the jail where nobody was watching.
“They [segregationists and law enforcement] wanted you to retaliate. Retaliation would feed the fire. There were no laws to protect or help you. People would not openly help you. There was a lawyer, Frank J. Meyers, who ran Americus. He sat and talked with Clarence Jordan—he wanted them to move. In later years, he saw things differently. He repented; several other powerful ones did. But the damage was done.
“The ones in power were the most prejudiced, and the others followed them. The White Citizens Council and the KKK were organized and dangerous, they created a lot of fear. Once the KKK had a cavalcade on Highway 30, over 70 cars long. They rode all the way to Koinonia in plain sight, but no law enforcement stopped them. Anything to drive these people away, they figured. A lady [Margaret Wittkamper] at Koinonia was watching them drive up and she asked, “Whose funeral is this?” They made some remark like, “It may be yours.”
“Now it’s no big thing to eat together, walk together. But then, it was unheard of. You could really get in trouble for it.”
What Did Jesus Really Mean?
Sunday, June 18, 2017, Gathered Worship
by Elizabeth Dede
Today is Father’s Day. So happy Father’s Day to every father. I include in this every father: my biological father; my nephews’ adoptive father; my grandfather; my godfather; my priest. I call them all father. Happy Father’s Day.
So what in the world did Jesus mean when he said, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven?” (Matt 23:9) He must have meant something other than a literal interpretation of his words. No one would prohibit me from calling my dad father, even though he is a man on earth. Also, there are verses all over the Bible, which use the word father to describe a man on earth: Joseph speaks of a fatherly relationship God gave to him with the king of Egypt (Gen 45:8). Job says, “I was a father to the poor” (Job 29:16). Elisha calls out to Elijah, “My father, my father!” as Elijah is being taken up into heaven.
And it doesn’t work to say that all of that changed with the New Testament. References to earthly fathers are all over the place in the New Testament. Paul regularly talks about Timothy as his son. (1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 2:1; Phil 2:22). He called Onesimus his child, and says, “I have become his father.” (Philem 10)
Paul calls himself a father very clearly in his letter to the Corinthians: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:14-15).
So what did Jesus really mean? You have to look at the Bible in its context. Jesus says, “But you are not to be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ.” (Matt 23:8-10) Jesus also prohibits the use of the title teacher, but then he appoints teachers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) Paul calls himself a teacher: “For this I was appointed a . . . teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Tim 2:7). He reminds us that God calls teachers, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” ( 1 Cor 12:28)
It simply doesn’t work to take Jesus’ words here literally. Jesus was criticizing Jewish leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places and being called ‘rabbi’ by men.” (Matt 23:6-7) Jesus was exaggerating (an oft-used figure of speech) to show the scribes and Pharisees that they needed to look to God in humility as the source of all authority, fatherhood, and teaching. They, in their pride, saw themselves as the ultimate authorities. Jesus is saying no to that way of thinking.
So Happy Father’s Day to fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, priests, and every other man you would call father on earth.
On Friday, I did a brief devotion on Matthew 5:27-30. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” I humorously said that I found it hard to reflect on these words so early in the morning. I’m a bit too squeamish to talk about plucking out eyeballs and cutting off body parts. If Jesus was being literal then we would all be missing eyes and hands. What did he really mean? He was once again using exaggeration to make a point. Lust is a sin. Adultery is a sin. They are serious sins. They have serious consequences. They destroy relationships here on earth. They ruin our relationship with God. The pain they cause are like plucking out an eye, or cutting off a hand. Jesus really means, “Don’t commit adultery. Don’t lust after each other.”
So what did Jesus really mean in today’s Gospel? “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” When we take communion, are we really eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus? Should the bread and the wine (or juice for us) be treated with the respect due the body and blood of Jesus?
I watched the movie, “Romero,” with our interns not too long ago. Romero was a priest and archbishop who served the poor in El Salvador during the 1980s at the time of the Death Squads. In one scene in the movie, Romero is in a church that has been taken over by the army. Romero tells the commanding officer that he has no right to be in the church. In response, the commander shoots up the altar, spraying the bread and wine with bullets, and splattering and scattering it all over the floor. Romero drops to his knees, carefully picking up the wafers, the Host. For Romero, that bread was the true body of Jesus. It cannot and should not be blown off the altar by a soldier with a gun. I grew up Lutheran, and my dad is a pastor. That scene has stuck with me each time I have seen the movie. Recently, I asked my dad what Luther would have said about this scene. Without even stopping to ponder his reply, my dad said, “Luther would have said that soldier is damned to hell.” Jesus body and blood are really present in the bread and wine. We dare not think of them just as some symbol.
So what did Jesus really mean? He really meant, “This is my body. This is my blood.” We can look to other places in the Bible. For example, Paul says, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord. . . for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” ( 1 Cor 11:27, 29) How is bread and wine (or juice) really Jesus’ body and blood? It’s a mystery that requires faith like the Resurrection, like the Incarnation.
It is a great thing to understand Jesus to really mean “This is my body; this is my blood.” The body and blood are food. They give us strength for our life with the presence of Jesus. They give us a personal relationship with Jesus: we are nourished by his body and blood.
So Happy Father’s Day! Confess your sins, try to live a good and decent life, and hold on to your eyeballs and hands. And take in the Body and Blood of Jesus to give you strength in your relationships with earthly people and with God. Amen.
Jesus Comes Home With Us
Sunday, June 11, 2017, Gathered Worship
by Elizabeth Dede
God gave his only Son that we might have eternal life. So we have the question, What does this mean for us today?
I’ve been reading the “Cotton Patch Evidence,” with our new Intern, Drew, and right now we are in the chapter, “According to Clarence.” The Cotton Patch translations were a way to bring Jesus to us. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we hear that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. For Clarence, when the Word became flesh, Jesus was, in fact, “plain, sweaty, down-to-earth flesh.” God loved us so much that he took on a physical body in Jesus and gave him to us.
Jesus died for us, but he was also raised that we might, too, be raised. So what does the resurrection mean? For Clarence, “the essence of the incarnation and the resurrection. . . was that man has to deal with God in the flesh.” Some of us have wondered what Clarence would think about the cross on the chapel here at Koinonia. “He saw crosses on steeples not as glorious testimony to the humanity of God but as offensive reflection of the church’s persistent deification of Jesus. He once said to a pastor who had just proudly pointed out the modern $10,000 cross atop a new church that he had been cheated on that price. ‘Time was,’ Clarence said, ‘when Christians could get those crosses for free.’” Maybe Clarence would have been OK with ours since it is plain, old wood, most likely recycled from some other project.
Jesus came in “plain, sweaty, down-to-earth flesh,” and then he died a very physical death, with much physical pain and suffering, It was a humiliating death, but Jesus took it on for us that we might have eternal life.
What is the resurrection? “Clarence viewed the resurrection as God’s refusal to stay on the other side of the grave. ‘He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that He himself has now established permanent residence on earth,’ Clarence said. ‘The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of this life. The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him, but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him.’”
So in eternal life, Jesus will be with us always. Where do we find Jesus now? We see Jesus whenever we are hungry and sit down to eat with each other. We see Jesus in communion when the bread and juice become the body and blood. We see Jesus at Harvest of Hope, the food pantry, when hungry people come simply to get food. We see Jesus in the men in prison who need a bag of clothes. On and on, Jesus is present to us in plain old flesh, here on earth. He was raised that we also might be raised. He is present with us that we might be present with him. And as we know the presence of Jesus we begin to know the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
Thank you God for your love that was in the beginning with the Word; for your love that became flesh and dwelt among us; for your love that is your only begotten Son that you gave. Help us to believe. Thank you for everlasting life. Amen.
But They Doubted
Sunday, May 28, 17
Lesson on Matthew 28:16-20
By Elizabeth Dede
That little clause, “but they doubted,” is amazing to me. How could they possibly doubt?
We’ve spent seven weeks since Easter hearing stories of Jesus’ appearing to his disciples. He came to them while they were hiding out, miraculously appearing in the room without even knocking on the locked door. Jesus showed himself to the two disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus. He came again to the room so that Thomas could see him. He ate fish so that they would believe. But they doubted.
The week after Easter Sunday we read about Thomas. For him only seeing was believing. For most of us, though, we come to believe when we’re told about something, or when we read about it, or when we hear it on the radio, or see it on TV. Thomas had the eyewitness accounts of the disciples, but he refused to believe. When Jesus did appear to Thomas and said to him, “Touch my hand and side,” he gave Thomas tangible proof that he had been raised from the dead. He did that in front of the other disciples, and Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.” But they doubted.
In this story, Jesus wasn’t disappointed in their doubting. He seemed to expect it by this time. In fact, rather than upbraid them, Jesus gave them a very important charge. He told them that he had all power, presumably especially to send them out. And the truth about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection would be shared all over the world. That’s some power. I wonder if the disciples doubted then. Apparently they did not, because the Gospel has spread everywhere.
Although Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend to be with the Father, he promised again that he would not leave them alone. He told them that he will always be with them. Here again, Jesus promised the ever-present Holy Spirit, who remains even with us.
So, we have received the charge: Go out and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded.
The Holy Spirit helps us to love one another and to love God—what Jesus commanded. That is how we will make disciples. We show our love and other people want that for their lives. They come to believe.
So go, therefore to all nations, to all people everywhere, and teach them to love one another. Then we will have peace and justice and freedom. Then wars will cease and all people will have what they need. Then Jesus will be with us always.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
Every Sunday here at Koinonia, we hear the familiar words of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. This is what Jesus did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And when they saw him take up the bread, heard that blessing, watched him break it, their eyes were suddenly opened, and they recognized Jesus.
So we see the bread taken up, we hear that Jesus offered thanks, the bread is broken, and we each take a piece. We participate in that same meal as the first disciples. We could very well be on the road to Emmaus. Are our eyes opened? Do we recognize Jesus?
If our eyes are opened, who does Jesus look like? At the Open Door Community we had a beautiful piece of art with a poem called “Christ Comes in the Stranger’s Guise.” It was hand written in exquisite calligraphy and had Fritz Eichenberg’s “Christ of the Breadline” at the top.
We often mangled the quote and said, “Christ Comes in a Stranger Guise,” and saw plenty of strange Jesuses there. But here, too, Christ comes in the stranger’s guise. We have lots of opportunities to have our eyes opened.
Sunday Gathered Worship, April 2, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
This Gospel story is one of my favorites. I have always loved the King James Version when Martha says to Jesus, “Lo, he stinketh.” I once had a cat, whom I named Lazarus, so that I could open the door, say, “Lazarus, come out!” and feel very Christ-like.
I’m especially fond of Martha’s role in this story. In the other Mary and Martha story, Martha works herself into a dither while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and Martha complains about this division of labor, Martha seems to get the bad rap. In this story, Martha is sort of a hero, who makes the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. She is also shown to be a woman of great faith. I love the reversal in roles here. Martha goes out to meet Jesus, while Mary sits at home. People had come to mourn with them, and from the other story, you would more imagine Martha staying at home to serve all the guests.
In addition, every Sunday School student who had to memorize Bible verses loves this story because it has the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” But it is so good to see the humanity of Jesus in this story. He truly loves Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He weeps for Mary and Martha at their loss; he weeps with sadness over the death of Lazarus; he weeps for his own loss; he weeps because once again his followers don’t understand. Jesus shows real emotion.
I love this story because doubting Thomas is such a strong character. While the other disciples want to keep Jesus from going to Bethany because his life has been threatened, Thomas says, “Let’s go. I am ready to die with him.” He is not afraid; he’s not cringing, locked away in a room. He is raring to go. I love Thomas. He’s another one who is so truly human.
I laugh every time I read this story over the image of Lazarus coming out of the tomb, all wrapped up in grave cloths. I have this picture in my mind of a living mummy, walking heavily with his arms stretched out. He wants those bands to be loosed. He wants to jump up and down for joy at being alive.
But most of all I love this story for the hope it gives to all of us who read and hear it. There are those in this story who may have been ready to kill Jesus, but after Lazarus is raised, they come to believe. From this story, any of us who have doubted Jesus’ power over death can come to believe as well. We can be comforted by Jesus’ words that are so well known to us: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” With Martha, we can say, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”