Sister Sandra Schneiders tackles our first reading today and points out a different possibility in our translation of “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins, they are retained.” You see, in the second half of the sentence, there is no mention of sin in the original Greek. Additionally, what is possessive and what is objective changes. Therefore, we can also read this as “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you hold close anyone, they are held.”
This fits with John’s theme. This is the Christ who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. The Christ who came to forgive sins and embrace the outcast sends us out to forgive sins and embrace the outcasts.
The Christ who came to call us out of closed doors into communities that are not safe but in need of forgiveness, and being lovingly embraced.
A young couple named Florence and Clarence Jordan read these words of scripture, and those of Acts we heard today, and they believed. They were Georgian farmers, and they looked around and said – we should be one heart and one soul. We should distribute our wealth so no one is needy. When our Lord was resurrected, he came back with his wounds, but the wounds didn’t stop him. No one is so hurt, so poor, so sinful they cannot help another. Indeed, Christ came back with a mission – to go out from the locked doors and embrace the world.
So Clarence and Florence unlocked their doors. They teamed up with Rev. Martin and his wife Mabel English and started Koinonia (coy-a-nee-ah) Farm.
The name Koinonia is an ancient Greek word, used often in the New Testament, meaning deep fellowship. The community was built around four core beliefs:
-treat all human beings with dignity and justice,
-choose love over violence,
-share all possessions and live simply,
-and be stewards of the land.
Koinonia farm was a commune, where the produce and work was held in common. If that was not radical enough, Koinonia farm was integrated with black and white families living side by side, working side by side, eating side by side and being paid the same for their labor. This was 1942; in deep south Georgia; when Jim Crow ruled.
But the Jordan and England families knew the same issues that plagued sharecropping white farmers plagued sharecropping black farmers. They knew raising a farming family is hard with white kids and hard with black kids. They knew – poverty doesn’t care what color your skin is. And far more importantly – God loves the color God made your skin — from bluish ebony to snowy white and every hue on the face of the earth.
Together, the families were able to support one another’s crops so that if one failed, another succeeded, and no one went hungry. Together, they learned about what is was to be white in Georgia in the 1940s. What is was to be black in Georgia in the 1940s.
They did this in the name of Christ.
But also in the name of Christ, the Ku Klux Klan began to attack Koinonia. The placed bombs in their farmer’s stands. They drove by shooting at workers in the fields. They rallied 70 cars to drive through the farms terrifying the families. In the name of Christ, the KKK demanded the farm shut down.
The Koinonia farmers refused to take up firearms and fight back. They believed in their values: treat all humans with dignity and justice. This includes your enemies and those that hate you. Choose love over violence. This includes carrying your cross and not taking up a sword. Share all possessions and live simply. This means also sharing the hate, sharing the danger, sharing the wrath of the KKK. And be stewards of the land. Good farmers. Good caretakers.
So, when they couldn’t sell at their stands without being shot at, or bombed, they began to sell their nuts by mail. Their marketing was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia!” And they did. Lots and lots of pecans. You can still order their nuts to this day.
As the farm learned more about poverty, they realized even housing is outside the ability of many families to own. And so they began to invite families to build houses, and then live in them. The no interest loans the farm gave out allowed the families to have a house when no bank would support them because they were poor, or black, or known to be against the KKK. Out of this grew the program we know as Habitat for Humanity.
Four years into the program, the Fuller family of Koiniona moved to Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to begin the same program there. With them went Rev. Roger Miller, my belated mentor, of the newly created United Church of Christ. And this program was successful, and moved on – and now a half million houses around the world have been built by volunteers and homeowners for families to own with no-interest loans.
You have roots in all of this.
Koinonia. Habitat for Humanity. That Holy Spirit that stood up against accusations and triumphed over violence, over evil, with love, and humor, is still alive. It triumphed in Jerusalem. It triumphed in Georgia and Zaire. It triumphs here.
We live in a community that has rumbles of racism still deep in its core. We live in an America that is hell-bent on forgetting we are a nation of immigrants, a tossed salad of cultures and races mixed together, and we are better for it. We live in a time when Jim Crow laws are coming back and establishing white, male, heterosexual American men as the ideal and all other “deviants” from this are lesser people. Women. Homosexuals. Non-Americans. Anyone with any sort of skin color OR suspected non-White-American ancestors. The KKK and the Alt-Right violent movement groups are growing.
We could be like those early disciples. We could close our doors. Lock them. Gather together and not go out.
But that won’t protect us.
Walls are not security.
Ignorance is not security.
Active here is the Ku Klux Klan. But also the Creativity Movement. The Women of Aryan Unity and Vanguard America. All are Neo-Nazi groups. Add too the Aryan Nations’ Sadistic Sons and the Traditionalists Worker Party. The Daily Stormer, a world-wide known website for Neo-Nazi news, is published out of Worthington. Anti-Muslim groups ACT for America and Soldier of Odin operate here. Mission: America, the Bible Believers Fellowship, and Pass the Salt Ministries work to promote hate crimes against gays and lesbians. In the name of Christ – doing violence!
But we are doing good work. Through education, through refusing these ideologies that take our sacred scripture and turn it into a weapon of harm, of hate, we ARE reducing the number of hate groups.
We’re loving the hate away.
When I first started here at Saint Michael’s, Lancaster had 3 nationally known home-grown hate groups. Now, we do not.
Because we, here in Fairfield, here in Licking, here in Ohio, here in this very room – we will not tolerate abusing the neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner and the alien among us.
To be Christian, to be like Christ, is to go out proclaiming: Peace be with you.
I bring you peace.
The angels told the women to tell the disciples to go on to Galilee to see Jesus. Go on. Keep working. Keep spreading the message of peace.
But here they are, huddled and scared. So Jesus comes to them. And again – tells them – go and spread the word. Forgive sins. Embrace people. Spread the Good News of love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, and the unity of all kindred. All peoples. All nations.
And Jesus comes again the following week to tell them the same, again, and to gather up now Thomas to send him out, too. Spread the peace.
And Jesus comes again and again – here this very day – telling us the same – gathering us up and sending us out – go out to all peoples, all nations, and all kindred LIVING the Gospel. LIVING peace.
Jesus could have been furious with his disciples. They abandoned him. But instead, he gifts peace.
We could be furious with those who are different, physically or socially or culturally. But we are called to live in peace.
Go. Be the peace of Christ.
Go. Speak to relatives and friends. Don’t be quiet when someone tells a racist joke, or complains about “the blacks,” “the Muslims,” “the migrants,” “the immigrants,” or “the Mexicans.” Speak peace for and all people.
Be the peace of Christ.