Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Life Together Koinonia
Life together is perhaps the most misunderstood of the three foci we have considered this Advent. It is too often confused with the stuff of coffee and donuts and is made trivial and even peripheral to what it means to be a Christian and to be the Church.
Life together is the life Christ won and gave to us – it is life in the Spirit. We do not create this family or relationship but recognize the family and relationship established by God by the death and resurrection of His Son. It is this community that flows from God's baptismal gift and our common life born of baptism and faith. We recognize what God has done.
This life together is not what we think of fellowship. It is not primarily or even secondarily meals in common. Rather this community represents lives that have intersected as Christ came to us as one of us that we might be saved through Him and brought into a relationship of blood all those whom He has redeemed. Our common life together is the fruit of what Christ has done. It is not a choice we make to live in fellowship with people. It is a given that proceeds from our lives and our relationships given birth and shaped by His saving action.
We speak much of community, especially in the light of national tragedies like the shootings in Newtown. Though it is surely true a tragedy like this that brings a community and a nation together and galvanizes our common life and responsibility to each other, tragedy does not create community. Community makes tragedy bearable.
As Christians we sense this in the deepest form of community that there is – a diverse and different people whom God has made one in the common death of baptism and the common life of the baptized who rise up new creatures in Christ. We cannot be brothers of Christ and not be brothers and sisters in Christ to one another.
This life together is a life of confession and forgiveness. What do we pray? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. You cannot forgive others until you have been forgiven. It is precisely out of our encounter of grace that forgives our sins that we recognize our life together and show it forth in the forgiveness we ask of and offer to one another.
This is manifested in the way we confess together our common sins and our individual sins in the common words of the Sunday confession. With one voice we come as the sinners for whom Christ died and in His one voice we are made one in the absolution that releases us from sin's captivity and the heavy burden of guilt. What keeps us apart from one another is not likes or dislikes but sin. The unity we share as Christian people is established when sin and its barriers are torn down. This is what Christ did on the cross and this is what the cross does for us when we are baptized into Christ's death and rise in His new life. Sharing a cup of coffee in the place we call a fellowship hall is nice enough but it has no power to bind us to one another as the blood of Christ has done in our baptism and in our baptismal life of confession and forgiveness.
Life together is not finding common bonds to connect us but building upon the common bond Christ has accomplished for us. While it is a good thing that we share common interests and have common likes and dislikes, fears and joys. These things are powerless to bind us as one. Only the blood of Christ establishes our fellowship and makes this fellowship stronger than every gender, race, ethnic, and economic division.
Life together means loving and living together as imperfect sinful people whom Christ has forgiven. The homogeneous principle says that people who are like each other have the greatest community and common bond. This may be good sociology but it is poor theology. The church connects us in a community in which the different and diverse are bonded together in the most profound and deepest connection of all – the cross of Christ and our common life in that cross by baptism and faith.
Life together does not presume to judge (or we will be so judged). God is the judge and His judgement is His and His alone. We live our life together not with those whom we judge to be worthy or deserving or like us against others less so. We live our life together as the sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ recognizing in the face of others Christ Himself. We are all under the judgment of God and that judgment is relieved of fear only because we stand in Christ... together.
Life together is born of the font but is gathered by the Word around the Table of the Lord. Fellowship is not food shared at a pot luck – as much as that has become an important part of church culture. The food fellowship that binds us is His table, our participation in the body and blood of Christ here where the Lord comes to us as He has promised. This unity is not trivial but profound. It expects that we share the common faith of the creed and Scripture. It binds us in the most solemn unity of all. It leads us forth strengthened and renewed by the food that is only Christ's to give and for only those who know Christ and are known as His own. It is the recognition of Christ's life for us, His gifts to us in the means of grace, and His life through us to others in His name.
We too often forget this. We let petty divisions tear down what Christ has built up. We focus on personalities and personal characteristics instead of our common life in Christ. We talk uncharitably about each other as if this unity were something trivial or non-essential. We side up against one another and take personally when our opinions differ. We act as children who threaten to take our toys and go home if we do not get our way.
Our life together is to be marked by the willingness to put others before self, to serve before being served, to give without counting the cost or expecting return. Is this not how Christ has created us a place in the fellowship of His blood and is this not how Christ has valued and set us apart as His own. Our life together is a gift but with that gift comes responsibility. We meet together at the foot of the cross, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us. We wash one another's feet and share each other's burdens and joys as if they were our own. We eat together regularly at His table. Can there be anything less or anything more than this to the fellowship we call the Church?
I began by saying that life together may be the most misunderstood of the three foci of this Advent. Yet it connects witness and mercy works. The witness of the early church was reflected in their life together – “See how they love one another...” From their life together shaped by the love the Father has for the Son and the Son has for us, their witness was marked not merely by words that faithfully told the story but by works of mercy in service to others – love demonstrated, yes, first for those within the household of God but not only so. Tonight we come under the banner of love that welcomes us to prayer, that receives our praise, and that creates and nurtures our life together... that our witness may be faithful and that our works of mercy in service to others may be fruitful. Amen.