in Catechesis, Sermons

Advent III Midweek – “Koinonia” – Matthew 20:1-16

14. December 2011
Advent III Midweek
Matthew 20:1-16

A preaching series based on and drawn from John Pless’s outline and Al Collver’s Bible study materials. 

Advent is about God drawing near to humanity to save and rescue, to reconcile the world to Himself by the blood of the cross. He gathers into one family, those who were left alone in their sins—suffering alienation from God and estranged from one another. The imagery for life together in Advent is Jerusalem, God’s holy Zion where the redeemed are safely gathered around their Lord. Not forsake and left desolate in their sin, they are brought to rejoice in the marriage feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem. This is not a community that we create by our will to fight loneliness but a communion established by the Triune God who has called us to fellowship with Himself and therefore one another in the Gospel.

Koinonia, fellowship, and life together are perhaps both the easiest and hardest to describe in the Church. Certainly the Church has fellowship and a life together in Jesus. As we have been made part of His Body through Baptism, Jesus shares His divine life with us. This defines how we live together as His people.

Through Jesus, we have fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who creates and maintains fellowship in the church. According to 1 John 1:30, we have fellowship with “the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” We are kept in fellowship with the Trinity by Word and Sacrament.

Gathered together in His name, we hear Him speak and preach His Word to us. Assembled around His Supper, we receive the body and blood. In this intimate communion with our Lord, there is life—the Lord’s own life, which He share with us. From this fellowship and life together with Jesus, the church expands outward into the world carrying Jesus’ own life—the life-bestowing Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

Because of this koinonia, fellowship, and life together in the Holy Trinity, we are joined to all in Christ. The Holy Scriptures describe us as a “priesthood,” “a holy nation,” “a people for His own posession” (1 Peter 2:0). We are joined together both horizontally with the church on earth and vertically with “angels and archangels and … all the company of heaven.

The Bavarian pastor Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872) wrote: “The church of the New Testament is no longer a territorial church but a church of all people, a church which has its children in all lands and gathers them from every nation. It is the one flock of the one shepherd, called out of many folds (John 10:16), the universal—the truly catholic—church which flows through all time and into which all people pour” (Three Books on the Church, 59).

We share a life together, which is thicker and deeper than nationality, ethnicity, or language. We share life together, bound together in Christ by a common redemption mediated by the one Baptism instituted by our Lord. We hear and confess the same apostolic Gospel and we eat and drink of the same body and blood in the sacrament of our Lord’s new and eternal testament.

There is no middle ground when it comes to our life together. A person is either in fellowship and participates with the true and whole Jesus, or he participates with demons. Jesus said, “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). A person who has life together with Jesus and His church cannot be joined to other religions, that is, to other gods (really, demons). Hence, St. Paul writes, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21). This is why Christians do not pray with non-Christians.

What is the Holy Communion and how does Jesus Himself use it to create life together among a common confession? Luther writes: “For just as the bread is made out of many grains ground and mixed together, and out of the bodies of many grains there comes the body of one bread, in which each grains loses its form and body and takes upon itself the common body of the bread; and just as the drops of wine, in losing their own form, become the body of one common wine and drink—so it is and should be with us, if we use the sacrament properly.”

Receiving the Lord’s Supper expresses unity of teaching, as well as sustaining fellowship among us. We only commune with those whom confess the same Christ, from alpha to omega. Your communing is a proclamation or witness to the world.  The verba, that is, the words of institution are not just spoken to remember what Christ did. They are powerful proclamation of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. So also, when we gather together around this altar, we are proclaiming our Lord’s death until he comes. Our life together is our witness. Our witness builds our life together.

Sharing together in this fellowship, makes us many parts of one body. Therefore we care for one another, just as we would our own body. When another Christian harms us, we do not seek to destroy that person. Because Jesus, the head forgives us, his members, so we forgive each other. Even so, we are joined throughout eternity to all those who confess His name.

That is not to stop us from a heavenly homesickness, when a dear spouse, family member, or friend dies in the Lord. Our lives, while we yet remain sinners, are full of heartache, pain, absence, and brokenness. Yet, just as our life together in Christ Jesus is not broken by geography, so it is not by death. There is one church that spans heaven and earth, transcending sickness, pain, and even death.

“There is therefore one eternal church, part to be found here and part to be found in eternity. Here it becomes smaller and smaller; but there it becomes ever larger, for the yearning, struggling band is always being gathered to its people… From it death shall not separate [us], but death will for the first time bring [us] to complete enjoyment of love and fellowship. To it all things draw [us] and nothing hinders [us], whatever it may be. Praise be to God!” (Löhe, 54).

By God’s grace we are part of this church. The church is a long river that constantly moves from its headwaters to the ocean: “Springing up on Pentecost and Calvary, the church flows through the ages like a river, and the same river and no other will flow unchangingly on through the ages until that great day when it will empty completely into the famed sea of eternal blessedness” (Löhe, 55).

Our life together is not based on human preferences or attractions of particular personalities but in Christ Jesus, who has redeemed us by His blood, called us by His Spirit working through the Gospel, and incorporated us into His body with the washing of the water with the Word. Jesus Christ is both the source and the end of our life together.

Hidden under the cross, we live trusting in the forgiveness of sins purchased and won at Calvary and distributed in preaching and the Sacrament. It is this absolution that binds us to Christ. He is the friend of sinners and glues us sinners to one another in that holy community which is the church. We cannot create or engineer our life together—it is a gift, unmerited and undeserved. This is of God’s merciful donation so that sinners are not left utterly alone in their sin.

Life together is jeopardized when it is grounded in anything other than the forgiveness of sins given by Christ Jesus. This is why we confess in the Catechism that the Holy Spirit in this Christian Church “daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.” For the Christian, life is one long Advent season, waiting patiently for the final day. Advent teaches us how to live in this church by repentance and faith, even as we cry out “Come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life together in God’s eternal Zion.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana