Monday, March 28, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent - Growing through Fellowship

Third Sunday of Lent “So… Why?” Series, Part III Growing Through Fellowship 1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Paul, the apostle, here asks several pointed questions of his favorite church. Questions that ring down through the centuries to us and echo through our own lives and relationships in the Body of Christ. That IS what you are, you know. The Body of Christ. By virtue of your baptism, you have been knit into a MYSTERY. It’s called the MYSTICAL Body of Christ in our prayerbook. We say it in the prayer after communion. “You have graciously accepted us as living members of Your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ “ OR “And for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son.” Or my favorite and the favorite of many I think: Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; We are partakers of a mystery – members of one another, Paul says - “members incorporate” – “living members” we say. But what does all that mean? KOINONIA Many of you here know of my long time fascination with the Greek word KOINONIA, mostly translated “fellowship” in scripture. And so it is our subject this morning as we explore how we grow through fellowship with one another. One of the wonderful things about the Greek language of the Bible is that many of the words have several, varied shades of meaning. Some find that disconcerting at first, especially when they get the feeling that some preachers give that there is a kind of “secret” knowledge that can be gained from the study of the Bible in its original language. Let me assure you that what is in the Bible in English is enough to challenge you to the core for the rest of your life!! BUT, let me also challenge you, and I hope this morning to illustrate the fact, that there are depths in this WORD OFGOD that we don’t plumb, because we don’t have the tools to do it. One of those tools is how to look up words and their meanings and to see how they are used across an array of verses. And a perfect example is this word, “KOINONIA.” KOINONIA is translated with a variety of English words: “Fellowship”; “Sharing”; “Participation”; “Community”; “Communion”; “Intimacy”; even to the “hand shake” as a sign of welcome or pledge of friendship/fellowship; and finally, the collection of money or goods that is jointly contributed, that exhibits an embodiment and proof of fellowship. Our offering each week is a KOINONIA; our communion service is a KOINONIA. In fact this is where we will pick up with Paul in his 1st letter to Corinth, in the 10th chapter where he is discussing the eating of meat sacrificed to idols in comparison with our Eucharist: 14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar? The word “sharing” that Paul uses is a verb form of the word koinonia. This sharing is our active participation and the actual eating of the sacramental elements – the bread and the wine, that is offered on this Table. One of my favorite posters is a picture of a TV with a Eucharist set up on top of it. It simply asks “When was the last time you received communion from your Sony?” We live in an age that trivializes and marginalizes our participation in the worship of the Church – it has become a kind of take it or leave it proposition for many. “If I come at Christmas and Easter, I’m good for the year.” Right? But the sense of the word that we translate “fellowship” is so much more comprehensive, that even attendance weekly, barely gets at the depth of the meaning of true fellowship. Our tendency is toward the instant, but koinonia tends toward the long term; our tendency is toward the shallow, but koinonia tends toward the deep; our tendency is toward the easy, but koinonia tends toward the hard. This kind of “fellowship” is what is in view in Acts 2:42 where we have read that the early church “devoted themselves to fellowship” among other things. And the verses just after 42 are a logistical summary of how that looks in a living community of believers: 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity[j]—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Listen to the key words: Deep Sense of Awe; Together in One place; Shared everything; Sold property & possessions; Shared with those in need; worshiped together each day; met in homes for Eucharist; shared meals; praising God; enjoying favor in the community; each day the Lord added to the fellowship. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something like this? I’m there!! I’m sooooo there!!! This is how you spell REAL CHURCH!! Our twentieth century manifestation is pretty anemic by comparison: Its often not awe-filled, its sometimes aweful! Its together in one place, once in a while, at controversial town meetings or at Christmas eve or Easter morning services. Its… well, all that selling property and possessions stuff … you know they didn’t have a lot anyway. Its nice to share, but lets not go overboard. I’m too busy to do any more than Sunday morning. And… every Sunday? Really? Communion in my home? Am I sick or dying? I just can’t bring myself to do that monthly supper deal? Some of those people get on my nerves! And these are just things I’ve heard around here!! And we wonder why “the Lord” doesn’t “add each day” to our numbers!! Hmmmm? LIFE TOGETHER In a book by the name LIFE TOGETHER, the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, explored the meaning of the fellowship of the Church. It is a short book that you can find in libraries and book stores to this day. He compares and contrasts our tendency to substitute what I call “an inch deep and a mile wide” fellowship for the real thing. He warns that this substitution will eventually result in the dissolution of the whole enterprise, as it looses its meaning and power in our lives, through sheer lack of commitment and vitality. Paul addresses this tendency in his letters quite often. He calls his hearers to the deeper aspects of a life together – what we saw in the Acts passage. He reminded them, and continually reminds us of our place “in Christ” and of our “fellowship” in the Spirit. It is the Spirit who ushers us into the Body of Christ, through repentance and baptism, through a constant “in-filling” of His presence and power. It is the Spirit who gives gifts to each of us, for the fulfilling of our part in the Body of Christ – gifts that are given for the “common” good, the root word for koinonia. It is the Spirit who guides us into all TRUTH and Truth that binds us together in a common vision. The clearest challenge that Paul puts before us is found in our opening verses from Philippians 2. Let’s review: Paul begins with some pointed questions: Any encouragement among you? Any tenderheartedness or compassion? Consolation of love? Fellowship of the Spirit? Any genuine affection? I love the Message here: If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Paul paints a picture in his words that is similar to what we read in Acts 2. Though I think Paul’s is more inwardly and emotionally focused, he give us clear marks for the “feelings” of community that are to be among us. And the marks are the same as what he lays out in the Galatian letter, that we know and recognize as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control. Listen again to the way that Peterson puts it in the message: But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Friends, this is the type of KOINONIA that God is prepared to deliver to us, by His Spirit! This KOINONIA is a gift of the Spirit to the Whole Body of Christ, but the gift requires us to SHARE in it – to PARTICIPATE in it. The Body of Christ is a dynamic mix of His Spirit – His Presence and OUR PRESENCE – OUR PARTICIPATION in Him with others who are similarly called. Look around you… smile … say, “That means YOU.” Paul’s charge to the Philippians was to “Have this Mind in You which was also in Christ Jesus.” Jesus prayer to His Father the night before His death was that we might be ONE – as He and the Father are ONE. This is the direction that the Spirit is constantly moving us, if we are willing, available and obedient. ONE doesn’t mean similarly inclined, nor does it mean we even think alike or look alike. God forbid. The sense that ONE has in the NT, especially in the case of the Body of Christ is the same sense you get when an orchestra comes together, under ONE director, with ONE piece of music, but MANY individual instruments all in TUNE with one another. Ever been to a great symphony? The greek there is SUM PHONEO – to Sound Together as Many with ONE SOUND. SYMPHONY! This is the sense of the word in Acts 2:46 that is translated “with one accord” or “with one mind.” This is what the commentators in the Blue Letter Bible say about the word HOMOTHUMADON: A unique Greek word, used 10 of its 12 New Testament occurrences in the Book of Acts, helps us understand the uniqueness of the Christian community. Homothumadon is a compound of two words meaning to "rush along" and "in unison". The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. As the instruments of a great concert under the direction of a concert master, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ's church. (Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for homothymadon (Strong's 3661)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 27 Mar 2011. < http:// Strongs=G3661&t=NASB >) Friends, this is my prayer for us, that we may become ONE as Jesus prayed, through the Gift of KOINONIA, given by the Spirit of Jesus among us, and that we may share in His Kingdom and Power, under the Spirit’s Direction, as we bring our gifts to bear alongside one another, for the sake of His Kingdom and for the fame of His Name. Amen

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