Based on Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
In 1942, in a small farming community in southwest Georgia, two couples began a new kind of Christian community. The Jordan and England families came to Americus, Georgia, to explore an idea of koinonia – of a place where all God’s children would be welcomed and lives and all resources would be shared equitably. They had a vision of returning to what is now referred to as an “Acts 2” or “Ten Commandments” lifestyle, to the way that the early Christian and post-exodus communities lived according to what we read in scripture. In Acts 2 beginning at verse 44, the Bible says this, “…All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved….” They committed themselves to loving God first and building up neighbor and neighborhood second.
Life a Koinonia Farm was both simple and profound and God blessed their work and sustained them through the troubling time of life in the Jim Crow South and the turbulent 1960’s. In 1965, the Fuller family came to Koinonia, searching for meaning, purpose and a new start. Millard Fuller had made a million dollars by age 29 but found that money couldn’t buy him what he needed in his soul. So, he and his family came for a visit and stayed for a lifetime. While at Koinonia, God planted the vision in the Fullers of a way to combat the scourge of substandard housing for those who were impoverished. In 1969 they began what would eventually become Habitat for Humanity International in 1976, out of their love for Jesus and their search for a more equitable, just and loving world. The loving community they discovered at Koinonia Farm became a love that builds.
Our scripture readings today reinforce the biblical message that love is a verb, it is an action in which we participate. Moses is being loving to the Israelites as he expounds on the Ten Commandments and speaks of prophets who will hold Israel accountable for her vows. Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth about how to be good neighbors to all by being lovingly empathic to their needs and weaknesses. Finally, Jesus puts love into action as He uses His authority to return someone to community and to educate the man’s neighbors. Before we go farther, let us go to our loving God in prayer and thanksgiving that we are called to build up each other in love…
Our 1st Testament reading today comes mid-way through an exposition by Moses on the meaning of the Ten Commandments. Chapters 12 through 25 of Deuteronomy contain the practical teachings of how the Israelites (and all who follow God) are called to live. Here we have Moses speaking of how God will raise up prophets from among the people – from their own community, to hold them accountable for following God’s imperatives. Moses will soon be leaving his leadership position and the people need to know that they will be in good hands so that they will not become anxious and turn to following worldly gods.
Jesus came to the city of Capernaum, and since it was the sabbath, he went to the synagogue to worship and to teach. Like Moses before Him, Jesus expounded on the meaning of the text, not just on the literal reading. Those that heard Him were “astonished” at His level of understanding and the authority with which He spoke. He then enacted scripture in front of them and lovingly exorcised a demon from among the worshippers. Here was the Word of God made flesh in front of them and they were amazed at this powerful “new teaching”. Jesus built up a following by putting God’s love to work in the world building up His neighbor and neighborhood.
Paul is continuing his letter to the believers in Corinth. He reminds them that they have a lot of worldly knowledge and that the danger of that is that they can be “puffed up” and self-interested. This attitude does not build community – it fosters division. However, the act of loving God and knowing they are loved by God, builds them and the whole community. By loving all in their community, they will look out for those who are not as knowledgeable and who can be misled. By modeling righteous and loving behavior towards all, they will participate in the building up of the kingdom of God and the Body of Christ.
In this season of Epiphany, our scriptures have been calling to us to pick up our heads and look around; to get a larger or more expansive view of what is happening in our lives and our world in relationship with and to God’s love. From the first week of January when we discussed how God’s love came down to be human and inaugurate the reign of God, to God speaking love and bringing order out of chaos and all that there is into being, to God’s love creating in us a desire for deep and abiding friendships which open in us the breadth and depth of God, to God’s love calling us to be accountable and repentant, we have been focused on how God’s love is at work in our world and how we as beloved children of God are to be at work with it.
You have heard me preach time and again about the two great commandments cited by Jesus, our call to love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To follow these commandments means that we have to act on them – we can’t just nod our heads and go about life as usual. Being a loving disciple means that we are actively engaged with God and with our world to continue to discover how our gifts are to be used to improve the lives of all. Otherwise, we are those knowledgeable, “puffed up” and unloving people to whom Paul refers. Putting our love for God and neighbor into action will mean that our love will be used to build up and to improve our collective lives.
Right after Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to the people, he gave them an abridged version that they could remember and refer to…the Shema. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells the people that the core of their faith is to “…Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might….” This is a style of love of God and creation which calls us to action. This call of Torah is one that engages the whole of the community. Walter Brueggemann, in his latest book, “Truth and Hope” has this to say, “…Unlike the commands that are given in a priestly manual in Leviticus, the Torah commands of Deuteronomy are addressed to the whole community and concern the infrastructure of the political economy, that is, the neighborhood. Israel is to love God by loving the neighborhood and the neighbor. Israel is to love God whom it has not seen by loving the neighbor whom it has seen and the neighborhood in which it lives….” Likewise, we who have seen God in the form of Emmanuel, are called to actively love by building a community with God that seeks justice for all.
The love of God and neighbor builds in us the desire to seek after justice. Moses tells the people that God will raise up prophets to remind them of this performative act of love. Micah puts it this way to all of us: “…He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God….” Walking humbly with our God acknowledges that God alone is in control and that we are NOT God. When we forget this truth, we become anxious because we cannot control what God has made. Walter Brueggemann weighs in on this, “…Anxiety about self-securing the world is the root cause of aggressive injustice against which prophetic faith testifies. This anxiety is a feverish attempt at more production, more consumption, and more accumulation at the expense of the neighbor, all the way from personal eagerness to the global chase for more oil. The outcome is that the entire globe is kept in turmoil. Being un-anxious is the taproot of justice, for being un-anxious is to break the grip of production and consumption….”
The people of Koinonia Farm got off the anxiety bus of life and allowed the love of God, neighbor and neighborhood build a beloved community. It continues to live out its love in community dedicated to the equitable sharing of all things with all people. Out of that un-anxious and loving witness came the mandate to relieve the suffering of others through building millions of safe and affordable houses all over the world. That truth got me wondering…if we were to actively love God and neighbor in our community in this way – what would our love build? In this season of Epiphany, it is a very good time for us to discern about this and see what God’s almighty love will create…amen and amen!