The Rich Are NOT Invited
He (Jesus) said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
In the 1960’s Clarence Jordan started Koinonia in Americas, Georgia. Koinonia is a transliterated form of a Greek word, which means communion or community, and it identifies the state of fellowship and unity and sharing that should exist within the Christian church. Emphasis on “should exist.”
Koinonia was a fitting name for the interracial Christian farming community in Americus, Georgia, being that it was an interracial community. You can imagine, I’m sure, how an interracial community went over in rural Georgia in 1960. Like a lead balloon. Let’s just say the KKK made several visits.
Being an interracial community, however, was not the only prophetic aspect of the community. Another radical practice of Koinonia was that its members voluntary rid themselves of their possessions upon entering the community.
Once a visitor drove up to Koinonia in an old black jalopy. The 40 year-old woman thoughtfully observed and absorbed life at Koinonia, and then she approached Clarence Jordan about joining up. He encouraged her, explaining in detail what Koinionia was striving to be, how one must surrender totally to Jesus, including all her or his earthly possessions. At Koinonia, Jordan instructed, this is achieved by asking everyone to enter the fellowship in a common condition known as “flat broke.”
The woman’s eyebrows jerked upward a fraction of an inch in alarm, and quite cautiously she began to ask questions.
Clarence was perplexed. She had driven up in an old jalopy. She was not particularly well dressed. And besides, surely, she knew that Jesus said it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Koinonia, in fact, had never had a rich person apply. But this woman was quite agitated.
Clarence out of curiosity asked her what difficulty there would be with her relinquishing possessions. As it turned out, she had a fair-size difficulty, somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000 difference which in 2014 money would be equal to $700,000 counting inflation.
Clarence upon hearing the large amount swallowed two or three times and then reasserted that she would have to dispose of the money to become a part of Koinonia.
“How?” she asked.
“Well, give it to the poor. Give it to your relatives. Throw it over a bridge.”
The woman said, “Why can’t I give it to Koinonia Farm?”
Clarence grinned and replied: “No, if you put that money in here several things would happen. First of all, we’d quit growing peanuts and start discussing theology. That wouldn’t be a healthy condition for us. And in the next place, unless I miss my guess, you are a very lonely person, and you are lonely because you think every friend you ever had is after your money.”
The woman confirmed that condition.
Clarence continued, “if you put that money in here you would think we courted you for your money, that we loved you for your money. And in the next place, if you put that money in here you would get the idea you were God’s guardian angel, that you endowed the rest of us, and that all of us ought to be grateful to you for your beneficence.
The women was speechless.
“For your sake and for our sakes, get rid of that money and come walk the way of Jesus with us.”
Tearfully, the woman replied, “I can’t do it. And she packed her old care and left. (Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence: The Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (1942-1970)
Anybody interested in starting this practice at Wedewood? We’ve started talking about stewardship well me might as well really talk about it.
At Koinonia they knew that while the Old Testament required a tithe, the New Testament required everything.
At Koinonia they knew that rich people have trouble understanding the kingdom of God.
At Koinonia they knew that when the invitation to the banquet was extended Jesus said, “Don’t invite your friends. Don’t invite your relatives. And whatever you do, don’t invite the rich.”
Now churches in Charlotte seem to have forgotten that the Jesus who requires everything talked about a banquet in which the the money bags, the well-to-do, the rich, the affluent don’t even get an invite. Imagine that, no invite. “No,” Jesus said, “go out into the streets and get those who don’t have a penny to their name. Invite them.” But what have churches in Charlotte done?
For those of you who are new to Charlotte, Highway 51 used to be way out. Years ago Calvary Church and Carmel Baptist raced out to Highway 51, and I mean raced, so they could invite the rich to church. Yep. They relocated – not to a property where the homeless would flock into the steeples. No, they picked up and plopped down right smack dab in the middle of prosperity. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all who want to wine and dine and shine.” Yes, wine and dine and shine (and can fill up the church’s offering plates).
Gustavo Guitterrez, one of the leading voices of liberation theology says that the church is not to help the poor. The church is to be poor.
Allow me to talk out of the other side of my liberal mouth. I feel guilty for being the luckiest pastor in the world. I feel guilty for asking people to put anything in the plate because I get paid with gets put in the plate. As a pastor, I know how hard some Wedgewoodians have it when it comes to paying the bills and putting food on the table and raising the kids.
The way I have handled my guilt in the past is to say if you can’t put anything in the plate don’t put anything in. I’ve gone on to apologize for the church not being able to do more for such people. And then I’ve said, those of you who have more need to give more so the important mission of Wedgewood can continue and we can be a church where poor people aren’t pressured to put money in the offering plate. Shame on those churches who have abused their poor members. Shame on them.
Now that I’m over the hill, as in over 50, I’m thinking about the next pastor of this church. And now that I’m over 50, I’ve figured out I’ve made more than a few mistakes. And now that I’m over 50, I get confused about what was the correct thing to preach and what was a mistake. And being a liberal, I know truth is multi-dimensional and relative and contextual. Which is a fancy way of saying you and I need to live in the tension of keeping Wedgewood a poor church and keeping Wedgewood financially equipped to do its mission. I wish it were simple, but it’s not. I’m counting on you to figure it out and make it happen.
Last Sunday I shared with you that some scholarship on Luke from Greg Carey, a former Wedgewoodian, who is a New Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary. I’d like to add one his insights on Luke and economics. In Luke, the Pharisees are described as “lovers of money.” (16:14) The overall impact of the passage about the poor widow who contributes two coins to the temple treasury is to demonstrate her victimization. After Jesus’ birth, Joe and Mary go to the temple and their sacrifice is of two turtle doves. Leviticus specifies that those who cannot afford to sacrifice a sheep may instead offer two turtle doves. Joe and Mary were poor. Furthermore, explicitly rich characters do not fare well in Luke. The rich farmer is, well, he is a fool.
But – and all you radicals, listen to this. Whenever Jesus attends a public meal, and he does this very often, we may assume a fairly prosperous host. And even though Luke has Zaachaeus repenting even after Zach gave half of his possessions to the poor; paid those he had defrauded four times as much Zach was still a wealthy person. And lest you forget, there were some wealthy women who traveled with Jesus and financed his gospel.
Yes, it’s all rather confusing.
At Wedgewood we do not ask people to rid themselves of their possessions when they enter the community. What we do ask, though, is that everyone help us figure out what it means to be a poor church, as opposed to just helping the poor, and we ask people to keep that in tension with having enough financial resources to do all we feel led to do.
The world does not need a bunch of liberal Christians who talk but don’t act. And the world does not need liberal, do-gooder Christians who offer the world a toxic charity. The world does need a poor church that has figured out how to be poor while at the same time challenging the rich and the non-poor and provides for a ministry today, tomorrow and into the future.
As we stumble,
Fears may envelope us
Self criticism may blanket us
We may focus on the stumbles of others to feel better about ourselves, but once we turn our attention back to self
A pattern of stumbles will emerge. We will be able to connect some dots. Curiosity will heal our soul.
Truths, important for the rest of our life, will tumble out of the stumbles.
Let us be freed for new life by our stumbles. And may compassionate hearts be born for all who stumble, which is everybody.
We must be careful when we speak of Jesus. There are four canonical gospels and they present four different Jesuses. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note, as Chris Keith does in Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict that Jesus was aware of discrepancies in Israel’s scripture and used such discrepancies to his advantage.
In light of Torah’s significance for first-century Judaism, it can hardly be a surprise that Jesus and the scribal elite often argue over Moses and the law in the Gospels. For example, in Mark 10:2, the Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is legal. Jesus asks in response, “What did Moses command yo?” He then exploits a discrepancy from within the law. According to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, divorces is legal, but according to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, which Jesus cites in Mark 10:6-8, man and woman are joined in such a fashion that divorce is prohibited. In the Matthean parallel of this text (Matthew 19:3-010), Jesus answers straight from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, with the Pharisees asking about the Mosaic exceptions inDeuteronomy 24:1-4 (Matthew 19:7).
The main task of liberal Christianity is to love the world as God loves the world, however, part of our mission also is to point out discrepancies within scripture to keep the Christians honest about the nature of the church’s book and the complexity of the interpretation.
The author of Ecclesiastes was not the most optimistic chap on the block. The author of Ecclesiastes wrote:
The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun? (1:1-3)
I’m not willing to say all is vanity but I have (in a fun way) informed my wife that she has a bleak future. After I die, one day she will end up in a nursing home and, not having me to assist her, will not be able to find the remote. She will be yelling, “Where’s the remote? Where’s the remote? Somebody get in here and help me find a remote!”
Have you ever been in an assisted living center and heard a senior (out of their mind) yelling for help? If so, that’s the scenario I have in my mind. My wife is of sound mind now but when the remote can’t be located she – she is not happy. I can only imagine her at 95.
Let us remember that life is hard and life is stressful. At a minimum, let us try not to make life more difficult or stressful for people. Hopefully, like Jesus we can participate in the healing of people and the easing of their burdens. And, by all means, we can help the love of our life find the remote until we breathe our last.