Koinonia. It’s a Greek word that occurs in today’s Scripture lesson and describes the community created by the first followers of Jesus…a community characterized by devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, and breaking bread and praying together. For those first century believers, community also meant “having all things in common, selling their possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need, spending much time in the temple and having the goodwill of all the people.” Doesn’t that just sound great?
Doesn’t that just sound impossible?
Baptist preacher Clarence Jordan and a few other brave souls tried living as an Acts 2 community. They even called themselves Koinonia. An intentional interracial Christian farming community—Koinonia was established in southwest Georgia in 1942.
Interracial, southwest Georgia, 1942…What were they thinking, right? But Clarence, a New Testament scholar, believed in the ideal of community described in Acts. Clarence believed that if a community really could “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” if they could “break bread and pray together,” if they could live and work together and have all things in common, selling their possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need; if they could—as a community—seek the good of all the people….If the ideal of community presented in Acts 2 could be lived, Clarence thought, then “God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The world would be transformed.
If you read the history of Koinonia Farm, you’ll see that living the ideal of Christian community described in Acts 2 isn’t easy. At all. As committed as Clarence and the rest of the Koinonians were to living in true community, where everyone worked and worshiped and lived out the Gospel together, they never really achieved it. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Those Koinonians met…and met and met… They prayed together and made decisions together and tried as best they could to live out the Gospel, but there seemed always to be dissension in the group, some kind of conflict among the members. The turn-over rate at Koinonia was high.
It’s true that the persecution Koinonia experienced for its views of racial equality in the 40s, 50s, and 60s put undue stress on the community. But I suspect that many of the difficulties of living in community are inherent to the beast. Trying to get people on the same page with ideas, work, money, relationships…theology? That’s not easy. Not even Jesus’ disciples achieved that, and there were only 12 of them…and they were in community with Jesus!
I don’t know. Maybe Acts 2:42-47 is one of those scripture passages we’re supposed to read metaphorically, not literally. Maybe Koinonia is something to think about more than it’s something actually to do.
Except….What if we did? What if we did seek in whatever communities we are a part to devote ourselves to the teachings of spiritual leaders and to extending hospitality to each other? What if we did break bread and pray together? What if we did sell our possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need? What if we did seek the “goodwill of all the people?” What might happen if we did all these things in this community of Pilgrimage? In the communities of our neighborhoods, our cities, our counties, our state? What might happen if our countrycommitted itself to seeking the well-being of all its citizens?
What might happen if we lived the ideal of community described in Acts 2 globally?
Now that’s just going too far. Global koinonia? That’s just loony. And, as radical as the image of community described in Acts 2 is, even it doesn’t go that far. Obviously, the koinonia described in Acts 2 is about ideal Christian community…communities like Koinonia in south Georgia, or the monastery I visit in Indiana. The author of Acts wasn’t talking about global koinonia….In the first century, no one even knew the world WAS a globe!
But…what if? What if we took this ideal of Christian community described in Acts 2 and applied it globally? What might happen if we practiced global koinonia?
In the last year of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote a book called Where Do We Go from Here? In it, he chronicled the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement and envisioned the next steps for the movement. The next steps of the Civil Rights Movement, the only way to ensure that all people are free, Dr. King believed, was working for economic justice.
The last chapter of Where Do We Go from Here?is titled “The World House.” In it, King writes: “Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, [including this one]: ‘A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.’ This is the great new problem of [humankind]. We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
“However deeply American Negroes are caught in the struggle to be at last at home in our homeland of the United States, we cannot ignore the larger world house in which we [also dwell]. Equality with whites will not solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a world society stricken by poverty and in a universe doomed to extinction by war. All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.”
“All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.” What if we lived that way? What if we lived as if all earth’s people inhabited one really big house, a World House? What if all 7 billion of us devoted ourselves to the teachings of whatever faith we follow and sought out opportunities to fellowship with people who dwell in even the far rooms of our World House? What if we all welcomed each other to the table in our large World House Kitchen, keeping our brothers’ and sisters’ dietary laws in mind? What if all people of faith committed to pray to whatever gods they worship? What if all inhabitants of World House sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to those who needed them? What if every inhabitant of World House sought the goodwill of every other inhabitant?
If we lived as if all earth’s people inhabit the same house—that is, that we are all part of the same family—might we look differently at what’s happening in Ukraine right now or Syria? Might we care more and do more to address issues of deprivation in developing countries? Might we actively seek the well-being of the girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped and are now being sold? Might we also actively seek the well-being of their captors and government officials who have been slow to respond? If all earth’s people lived as if we inhabited a single house, might we also do a better job of seeking the goodwill of the house?
What might happen to this world if we Christians lived out the ideal of community offered in our Scriptures? What might happen to this world if people of all faiths lived out the ideals of community in their traditions?
I know. It’s hard to help people locally, much less trying to help them globally. How do we act all earth’s inhabitants into well-being? For the well-meaning among us, thinking about acting the world into well-being can be overwhelming. If you get overwhelmed by all that needs to be done, it might help to remember the bumper sticker: “Think globally, act locally.” Here’s a great story that illustrates thinking globally and acting locally. Delicious Peace. [Show video.]
“On September 11, 2001, J. J. Keki, a Jewish Ugandan coffee farmer and musician, was visiting NewYork City. He was walking up to theWorld Trade Center as the planeshit the towers. When he returned toUganda, he felt compelled to bring differentreligions together in peace. He walkedfrom village to village, asking his Jewish,Christian, and Muslim neighbors if theywould be willing to form a Fair Tradecoffee cooperative. To date, more than 1,000farmers have joined Peace Kawomera (Delicious Peace). These coffee farmerswrite songs and sing about interfaithcooperation and the economic benefits ofFair Trade. J. J. says, “Use whatever youhave to create peace. If you have a body,use your body to bring peace, not to causechaos. If you have music, use your music tocreate peace. For us, we have coffee. We areusing coffee to bring peace to the world.” (Jeffrey A. Summit, http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW50417.pdf)
As the song “Get Up and Grow Coffee” from the Delicious Peace CD plays—J. J. Keki is the lead singer–I invite you to think about using whatever YOU have to create peace. How might you act the fellow inhabitants of our World House into well-being?(Play: “Get Up and Grow Coffee!”)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for the wholeness of our World House. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day 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, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.