Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sermon: August 23

Sermon given at MCC Sunday morning at 9 AM.

Help us Lord:
to live in your light
to act in your might
to think in your wisdom
to walk in your kingdom
to abide in your love. Amen. (David Adam)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" and many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go?”

"Lord, to whom can we go?”

On Twitter this week there was a hashtag that people were using. A Twitter hashtag is simply a keyword phrase with a pound sign (#) in front of it. The phrase that was trending was #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.

There were some good tweets being offered, of things Jesus never said. I also added one:

“Your life will be easy. And you will make lots of money. If you follow me.”

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, the life and teaching of Jesus was tough. It challenged his followers. Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with Jesus. But there were those who continued to walk with him, like St. Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.”

In every time, there are those who have found in the words of Jesus eternal life even as following him challenged their very lives.

I think of Clarence Jordan and his wife Florence who read what Jesus asked of his followers, and they were determined not to walk away and to live as faithfully as Jesus asked.

So in 1942, the Jordans along with Martin and Mable England, bought a 440-acre farm, in Americus, Georgia, that they named Koinonia Farm (Koinonia is greek for our understanding of community & fellowship). Their idea was to create a Christian community on that farm for reconciliation between races (esp. blacks & whites) and between rich and poor. The farm’s purpose was to teach agriculture to poor rural farmers and to demonstrate brotherhood and peace through community and they did this by working with local African-American families and inviting some to live with them. It was "a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God."

The community that farmed together had whites and African Americans sharing work & meals together. For many in the nearby community, such a community was seen as a threat. They suffered property damage, shootings and bombings. The Jordans and Koinonians were thrown out of the local Baptist church they attended, and crosses were burned on the Farm by the KKK.

The Americus community decided it no longer wanted Koinonia Farms in the area, and every local business began to boycott the farm. The Farm survived the boycott largely due to Clarence’s writings and a mail order pecan business. It also became the spiritual birthplace of what we know today as Habitat for Humanity, when it began to look at ways to help the poor build their own homes.

Clarence Jordan once said that what he hoped to achieve in life was “to have been faithful.” In that he and the community excelled, they did the hard work, followed the teachings of Jesus.

Today, the Nuba Mountain valley in South Sudan is a war zone. Every day Sudanese government forces bomb the region as part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat the armed rebellion based there.

More than a half-million civilians live in the Nuba; one of their refuges is the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital. Dr. Tom Catena is the only doctor at the hospital, on call 24/7. Besides delivering babies and removing appendixes, Dr. Tom (as he is known) practice includes prying out shrapnel from women's flesh and amputating the limbs of children. He does all of this off the electric grid, without running water, a telephone or so much as an X-ray machine, while under the constant threat of bombing. The hospital is surrounded by foxholes in which patients and staff crouch when military aircraft approach.

Dr. Tom, a volunteer with the Catholic Medical Mission Board, continues his exhausting work despite the fact that most world leaders and humanitarians have pretty much abandoned the people of the Nuba Mountains. What drives him, he says, is his faith. "I've been given benefits from the day I was born. A loving family. A great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help."

The people of the Nuba valley - Christian and Muslim - pray that Dr. Tom never dies. One Muslim tribal chief offers this unusual tribute. "He's Jesus Christ," the chief believes, explaining that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk - and that is what Dr. Tom does every day.

Dr. Tom has served in Africa for the past 15 years & says that in spite of the hardship, he is exactly where he wants to be. [The New York Times, June 27, 2015; TIME, April 16, 2015.]
Dr. Tom's dedication to the forgotten people of Sudan is inspired by the hope and optimism that is the heart of today's Gospel. Like the Jordans and the families of the Koinonia Farm, that hope is to be faithful to Jesus’ call, to be his disciples.

Many find his teaching difficult and they are unable to follow & emulate Jesus in their lives.

"Lord, to whom can we go?” – Will we answer like St. Peter – “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

May our faith in the Gospel of Jesus continue to inspire us to the demanding work of compassion, reconciliation and justice, even when the bombs fall, even as others fall away - may we hear the words of Jesus for each of us today & live out his call, his love in our lives. Amen.

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