Given that it is Good Friday, I thought I would deviate from my short story reviews and instead review a section of a sermon from The Substance of Faith and other Cotton Patch Sermons by Clarence Jordan.
For those of you unfamiliar with Clarence Jordan, he was a Bible scholar trained at the Baptist seminary in Louisville. In 1942, he helped found (with his wife Florence and a missionary couple – the Englands) a farm in Americus, Georgia, called Koinonia. There they worked the land and set about doing “incarnational evangelism” – living out the Gospel through hard work and faithful relationships. This included treating his “Negro” neighbors as brothers and sisters in Christ – which got him into a great deal of trouble.
(For more information on Jordan and Koinonia, click here.)
In addition to working the land, building relationships with neighbors and forming a Christian community, Jordan set about to translate the New Testament in the Cotton Patch translations. While his commitments at the farm occupied a great deal of his time, he did travel some and preach for various churches and other organizations (who would have him).
Jordan took Scripture very seriously. Though not a literalist, he believed we should strive to discover its true meaning and live according to its inspiration. He did not “explain away” the Word doing with interpretive gymnastics, but he also didn’t accept conventional orthodoxy as God’s authoritative word.
Take, for instance, the section from his sermon God’s Destination for Man entitled “The Death of Jesus”. Jordan opens with the rather bold statement-
I don’t believe the crucifixion was the will of God.
These 10 words cut to the heart of much orthodox Christianity as expressed in hymns, sermons, and books. Of more concern to me is, it seems to ignore countless Scripture passages which describe the death of Christ as a “propitiation” (an atoning sacrifice).
So, if he doesn’t believe the crucifixion was God’s will, what does Jordan believe? He expresses it this way –
…it was God’s will that his son should be on this earth, that he should be in a crucifiable situation. I think the kind of life he lived was inevitably a life in the shadow of crucifixion. It was a life in such tension with the world — it was in mortal combat with the world — that either the world had to die or Jesus had to die. It was a fight unto death. And I think that God’s way of love here is being a sin-bearer, of saying, “Sure, put on me your sin… let me be your scapegoat, let me be your lamb.”
The distinction between God willing the crucifixion and simply sending Jesus into a “crucifiable situation” (knowing human will enough to know they would opt for crucifixion) may seem like a thin line. What difference does it make? Jordan goes on to reveal the essential difference as he applies it to modern life –
The reason that the world is so terribly neurotic today is that it no longer has a sin-bearer. The Church doesn’t want to bear the sins of the world. We don’t want to be anybody’s dumping ground. We don’t want to have them throwing their dirty dishwater on us. And the world has no scapegoat; it has no sin-bearer. The body of Christ is unwilling to bear the sins of the world. But God was willing to bear. And so we throw on him our sins. Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away in his own body, bearing our sins in his body up to the cross.
Did God put our sins on the back of his son of the cross? No. He made him available and we put our sins on his back. Now, in the sense that God made Jesus available and expendable, God was a party to the crucifixion. Love makes itself available, love makes itself expendable.
Jordan’s works challenge those of us with the view that God has everything in control. More than this, however, his words challenge a world demanding “rights” (for everything under the sun) and fighting for them by asserting economic and political control.
Jordan lived and worked among his African-American neighbors and treated them as equals long before the “Civil Rights” movement was even conceived. His life was threatened for it. His livelihood was cut off. Still, he kept loving his neighbors – regardless of their skin color.
Jordan was asked many times in the early 1960s why he wasn’t marching and speaking out for “Civil Rights”. His response was always the same –
Love has no rights but the right to give itself away.