Thursday, October 9, 2014

The trivializing of fellowship. . .

I am one of the offenders.  I call that part of the building the "Fellowship Hall".  It should better be named the "Parish Hall".  Fellowship is too important a word to be diminished by assigning a space to it and giving it an agenda defined by coffee, donuts, an occasional pot luck, and the other kinds of things that usually come to mind when we think "fellowship".

The real fellowship hall is where the people of God gather around the Word and Table of the Lord.  We enter this fellowship through the initiation of baptism, the death that raises us to life and the water that makes clean what we cannot.  The real fellowship hall is the one where fellowship is not a friendly hello but a common life forged for us through the death of Christ and raised up for our eternal future by His resurrection.  The real fellowship of this hall is not a decision or desire from us but the eternal saving will of the Father expressed in the incarnation of His one and only Son.  The real fellowship of this hall is not nicety or politeness or even a smiles (though these are too often in short supply among Christians) but the Word that calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the Church from among those who have no right or expectation of being there or belonging to Him whose love bids us come.  The real fellowship of this hall is not simply conversation (though I do not diminish conversation in the least) but the living out of a common life amid the uncommon means of grace that rescues the sinner, restores, the fallen, renews the weary, resuscitates the dead, and provides the essential repast of the table to feed and sustain the life this grace has created.

I think it is great that we are friendly and we ought to be.  But the friendship of the Lord and the nature of our friendship as the baptized children of God is defined not by common likes or dislikes but by the blood thicker than water and by the familial ties that bind when the paths of preference divide.  The friendship of the people is shaped by the friendship of the Lord who took our flesh not because we asked but because we needed.  The friendship of the people is defined by the friendship of the Lord who laid down His life for those whom He loved and came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.  The friendship of the people is marked by the friendship of the Lord who came to bear our burden of sin and its death even though it meant His suffering and His death in our place and shows itself in the people who bear one another's burdens in the sacrificial act of love and who refuse to stand apart from the wounded in their pain or the joyful in their celebration.

One of the real implications of church architecture and signage is designating a space for fellowship that somehow has surrendered to sentiment what the Lord did to make us His own that we might live under Him in His kingdom and do the good works of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light.  It is not that God expects too much from this fellowship but we are content with too little -- with a trivialized version of our life together that gives lip service at the cross but shies away from taking it up and bearing it for the sake of the Lord, His kingdom, and our neighbor.

In our fragmented world in which loneliness and disconnect have left us exceptionally vulnerable and our faith hanging in the balance, we cannot allow fellowship to  become the shallow and weak domain of coffee and conversation alone.  It begins not at the coffee pot but in the Lord's House.  What we do in the fellowship hall does not define our life together in the sanctuary but the other way around.  The more we value the entrance into God's kingdom which came to us in the waters of the font, the more we confess our sins and are absolved in the daily repentance that marks our baptismal lives, the more we listen together to the living voice of the Lord who speaks and acts through this speaking to grow us in grace, the more we meet at His bidding and table where He has set us the place as host and food... the more our lives will intersect precisely on the plane of faith and grace and mercy and hope.  And this fellowship will engender and encourage what happens elsewhere in the building and in the shape of our lives lived in but not of the world.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I was recently pondering 1 John 1:5, and amazed how right in the middle of statements about God being light and the blood of Christ cleansing us, we have this beautiful statement about fellowship with one another.
We do a pretty poor job of fellowship!