Everything in common
There are no audio or video file uploads at this time
Who has ever heard the Greek word Koinonia? At a CBM gathering for STEP churches a couple of months ago, CBM’s Terry Smith talked about how the church he grew up in had a Koinonia meal every Wednesday night. It’s a word we often translate as “fellowship.” Sometimes we translate it as participation, or sharing. Sharing became my word of the conference that day in Calgary, and this summer during the four Sundays I’ll be preaching here, I want us to look together at four NT passages meant to the early church in which the word Koinonia appears. I want us to look together at what these passages meant to the early churches and what this word might mean to us here at Blythwood, as we seek God’s will in our lives and in the life of His church here. Let us pray…
When we come to our passage this morning, Luke has described the day of Pentecost and what happened then. The Holy Spirit descending on Christ’s followers, just as Christ had promised the Holy Spirit would. We have Peter getting up in front of the crowd, many of whom are saying “They’re drunk!”, and Peter explains what’s going on. He gets up in front of the crowd and says that what the prophet Joel had said would happen, had happened – “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Peter speaks of how God raised Jesus up after he was crucified, having freed him from death, how Jesus has been exalted and sits at the right hand of God the Father who has made him Lord and Messiah.
And the people are cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles “What should we do?” and Peter answers “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” and those that welcomed the message, Luke tells us, were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. Wow. How exciting was that?!
And the passage we’re looking at this morning talks about what happens when the excitement has died down. What happens after the big 3,000-people-converted day? What happens after the big evangelistic meeting has left the Rogers Centre? What happens after two weeks of summer camp in which you saw God at work? What happens after the mission trip? What is the church called to be, what is the church called to do?
The passage that we read this morning will be familiar to many of us. It seems to provide a template, doesn’t it, for what church should look like. And this is what it is, an example. A model. It’s doubtful that the early church Luke describes here was perfect. I don’t think we’re looking at some idealized picture of a community that had it all down. Luke tells plenty of stories later in Acts to let us know otherwise. It’s kind of like our annual report isn’t it? We’re going to talk about what a great day the church picnic was, and so we should! We’re not going to talk about who was mad at the pastor or who the pastor was mad at. What Luke is showing here is what the gospel looks like when it is embodied in community. So what does this look like?
Luke starts with what must always be our starting point. God. The nature of who God is, what God has done, is doing, will do. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. What was the apostles’ teaching? It’s what Peter went over earlier in chapter 2 – how the promises God had made to Abraham about how he would be the father of a great nation through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus – God made flesh, God pitching his tent among us – and how Jesus’ death and resurrection has reconciled us to God. How the Spirit has been poured out and dwells in Christ’s followers and how Christ’s followers are called and enabled and empowered by the same Spirit that was in Christ to continue his reconciling work – to be caught up in and a part of God’s great salvation plan. We need to teach this stuff. We need to proclaim it. We need to sit together and figure out with the help of this same Spirit what it means in our lives. This is where we start. This is where we need to start. I often say that the church is not, and should not be thought of as some kind of club for people with like-minded interests, or as a group of people who like to get together and listen to someone talk on a topic they’re interested in. I’m not doing a ‘Ted’ talk up here! It starts with God my friends. With who God is, with what God does. The invitation to follow Christ has been made, the invitation to be part of this great salvific work has been extended. Have you accepted the invitation? If so we should want to learn more about what it means. It’s why we’re here on this lovely summer morning. It should be why we’re here.
And it’s good to be here isn’t it? There’s something unseen going on when we get together. There’s something that might not be readily apparent to the casual observer. Something that starts with who God is. We’re thinking of Koinonia during these four weeks – of fellowship, of sharing, or participation. I would never stand up here and simply say “Go have more Koinonia together! Go be more fellowshippish. Share more!” I would never do that first, because we start with who God is. The thing about our triune God is that God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exists in a state of fellowship, or sharing, or participation. It’s impossible to fully get our minds around the concept of God as three in one, but there are ways that we have come to think of this that I think are helpful. One of my favourite ways of thinking of the Holy Spirit is as the “bond of love” that exists between God the father and Jesus the son. When we have taken the decision to follow Christ, to make Christ Lord of our lives, we become caught up in this relationship of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. The same Spirit that was in Christ lives in us and enables us to participate in this divine circle of love.
And the wonderful thing is we’re caught up in this thing together. Driving through the States recently I heard a commentator talking about rugged individualism, what that means and the benefits thereof. This is not the time to get into what either the benefits or drawbacks of an espousal of rugged individualism might be, but I don’t believe that there is any such thing in Christianity. Of course there are times when we crave solitude and being alone with God, so did Jesus. We were never called to do this on our own. Jesus surrounded himself with 12 close followers, and 3 of these that were even closer. We weren’t called to do this on our own. We weren’t called to live this life and get together once or twice a week and nod politely to the people around us and go home and forget about it all and everyone until next week. Jesus didn’t send his followers out alone. It’s good to have someone along with us isn’t it? I remember one morning being at Horizons For Youth. I’d be going on my own for a week of two and that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong that. But this morning Josh was along with me and as we were leaving I told him “It’s good to have you here.” He said to me “I think that’s why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two.” I loved that. There’s a bond we share that goes beyond just taking part in a shared task. When we are caught up in this circle of love and fellowship and sharing between Father, Son, and Spirit. Stanley Grenz described it this way – “…the community of love which the church is called to be is no ordinary reality. The fellowship we share with each other is not merely that of a common experience or narrative, as important as those are. Our fellowship is nothing less than our common participation in the divine communion between the Father and the Son, mediated by the Holy Spirit.”
So what does that mean for us? Are we happy to see each other when we see each other? How should we be asking God through the power of God’s Spirit to change the way we view another. To see each other as co-participants in this eternal bond of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. We need to teach this. We need to put this out there don’t we? This is exciting stuff!
So they continued in the apostle’s teaching, and in fellowship. Koinonia is translated fellowship in our NRSV. “Sharing in common” is one way the word’s been translated. I like the sharing bit. I think that’s helpful. There is so much more to Koinonia than sharing a meal, though that’s part of it, as we read in this passage. Something was going on that was causing people to notice. This Koinonia was shaking things up! “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” This is what Jesus promised would happen wasn’t it? “All who believed were together and had all things in common (in koina – the same root), they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Now some will say that this commonality of goods was because they thought Jesus was coming back right away and goods didn’t matter and it’s different for us and that’s fine I’m not saying this is prescriptive and it wasn’t the practice of every group of believers in Acts. The point though is that taking care of one another super-ceded concerns about their stuff. Material needs here were being met to the point that people were noticing. The social order was being shaken up. Where is God calling us to shake the social order up? Someone has said that “the real miracle of Pentecost is to be found here – that from so diverse an assemblage of people ‘from every nation under heaven’ (2:5) a unified body of believers is formed.” At our prayer retreat last fall this was one of the things that we prayed for – unity. Fellowship. Sharing. Here Luke writes of how material needs were being met. Paul writes to the Galatians “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”(6:2) Material burdens, health burdens, spiritual burdens, emotional burdens. It’s easy to ignore them when we see them in others. We’re not meant to do this alone. We’re not meant to let others do this alone. We need to be getting this right here before we can expect to be getting it right out there. People will notice one way or the other. In Acts 2 the people were noticing. They were in awe. We need to ask God to enable this burden sharing within us, within our family here. God doesn’t command what he doesn’t enable.
They broke bread together, Luke tells us. This might have included the Eucharist meal and it might have included any meal – Luke doesn’t make the distinction. God’s hospitality to humankind is often thought of in terms of meeting together at the table isn’t it? Jesus was known for sitting down at tables with people whom his society thought one shouldn’t sit down at tables with. Sitting down at a table with someone is a mark of social inclusion. Barriers have been broken down in this community. Day by day we read in v 46 as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home. They worshipped together. It’s important to be together worshipping. Someone told me recently that once they heard God was everywhere they felt they didn’t have to go to church anymore. What are we doing here exactly? Maybe you ask yourself that every week – What am I doing here?!? Sure God is everywhere but we don’t follow Christ on our own – we follow Christ together. There’s no such thing as rugged individualism when it comes to this life. We get together to praise and to pray and to hear God’s word and to proclaim it and to attest to God’s saving acts and to gather around the Lord’s table and remember and celebrate and look forward to the day we gather around that wedding banquet table! We’ll talk more about this next week when we look at the bread and the cup and how it’s our participation – our Koinonia in the body and blood of Christ! This is why we do this! This activity was not confined to the temple of course, it spilled over to their homes – they broke bread at home, Luke tells us. We need to be getting together in our homes – invite me anytime! I should be inviting you too!
The last thing that Luke mentions is his list of the activities of this fellowshipping community is prayer. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” I said that the foundation of this community was God. In who God is, in what God had done, was doing, would do. The community needs to stay connected with God in prayer. It is in prayer that we recognize our dependence on God, our need for God. The fact that this koinonia is not simply our project, it is God’s. Staying connected to God through our individual prayer lives. Through prayer that we engage in together. How are we doing with that?
The apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. The well rounded example of this early church for us, for the church of any time. And look at what happens. People notice. Awe came upon everyone. They had the goodwill of all the people. I often say that our opportunities to present the Gospel in word, our opportunities for proclamation often come about as a result of God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s Koinonia being shown in our deeds, in our demonstration. More precisely in how God shows himself in and through us. Here we’re looking at how this happened in community. People noticed! It was the same thing at Pentecost wasn’t it? Action happened. The Holy Spirit came on them and they started speaking in different languages. This prompted people to say “What is going on here?” What is going on here? This is our witness. This community we’re reading about serves as our example, as our model. A community founded on the apostle’s teaching, a community caught up in the eternal fellowship that exists between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a community practicing this fellowship, this mutual care, this sharing, a community that spends time together within and without formal worship, a community that is on its knees in prayer, connected to the God, the one in whom their fellowship is based.
Don’t we want that for our community here? What might that look like? As we go forward I need to be asking that question. We need to be dreaming dreams, seeing visions. Holy Ghost inspired visions of what our community might look like. What a community caught up in the eternal love existing in our triune God might look like. What might caring for one another to the point that people notice look like? I’ve spoken about how I’d love to see 30 or 40 of us going in and out of hospital rooms visiting the sick. More practically minded people than I have answered we’d need to make sure we scheduled that! What might that look like? What might it look like to ensure that material needs, spiritual needs, emotional needs were being met here to such an extent that people noticed? Would we consider that success? This passage is bracketed by talk of numbers – 3,000 believers baptized, day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. That’s what God will do. We trust him to do that. Let our success be measured by how well we live up to this example, this model. When we think of Koinonia, of sharing, of fellowship, of participation, may we ask God to work in and among us in such a way that people notice, that people will be drawn to him.