Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighbourhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us.
Movements throughout church history have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places on earth to follow Jesus. For some of us that means remaining in difficult neighbourhoods that we were born into even though folks may think we are crazy for not moving out. For others it means returning to a difficult neighbourhood after heading off to college or job training to acquire skills – choosing to bring those skills back to where we came from to help restore the broken streets. And for others it may mean relocating our lives from places of so-called privilege to an abandoned place to offer our gifts for God’s kingdom.
Wherever we come from, Jesus teaches us that good can happen where we are, even if real-estate agents and politicians aren’t interested in our neighbourhoods. Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which folks said nothing good could come. He knew suffering from the moment he entered the world as a baby refugee born in in the middle of a genocide. Jesus knew poverty and pain until he was tortured and executed on a Roman cross. The is the Jesus we are called to follow. With his coming we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the sufferings of others. Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly.
One of the best stories of community in the United States comes from the backwoods of Georgia. In the 1940s, long before the civil rights movement had begun to question the racial divisions in the South, white folks and black folks came together to start Koinonia Farm – a “demonstration plot”for the kingdom of God, as they called it. Koinonia survived attacks from the Ku Klux Klan in the ’50s and ’60s, tilling the soil and sowing seeds for God’s movement in the least likely of places.