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

Quinquagesima 2011 – LIFE TOGETHER

06. March 2011
Quinquagesima
Luke 18:31-43

Life together. Κοινονια. Κοινονια is the word the New Testament uses to describe the Christian community. It is a fellowship, participating in what is in common, LIFE TOGETHER. It is our Lord’s mercy, testified to by his witnesses, that joins us together into a common body.

This is quite difficult to believe. Look around. We have people from many different ancestries, of different bloodlines. We share the same, common faith with Christians on every continent. We are part of the same family, participants in the same gifts. We have our LIFE TOGETHER.

Its unbelievable. Just like mercy and witness, our LIFE TOGETHER is contrary to our reason, our expectation, and our view of the world. We see black skin and we can’t imagine that we share in the same blood. We see other features and doubt we have a common ancestry. Clothing, hair, and even the way we carry each other differs. Yet, from the Scriptures, we are common. We are even brothers and sisters.

Our egocentrism often gets in the way. Your greed leads to a poor use of what God has so generously given you. Your wicked thoughts or commit the sinful deeds leech out into your daily life, infecting the rest of the day and the week. Your common flesh union in marriage is weakened through power grabs and pity parties. You carry shame and guilt through your daily walk like a terrible wooden cross.

Repent. Your life isn’t your own. It was given to you to be lived in community. It was given to serve the neighbor. It was given for your spouse and children. Your life was given to serve the Lord in all your callings in family, church, and world. You have been given a LIFE TOGETHER.

This LIFE TOGETHER is most obvious in the church. At its inception at Pentecost, Peter exhorted his hearers to repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). All told, some three thousand were baptized. These three thousand souls were joined together in Christ’s name and lived in fellowship. This was a new family, not by bloodline or circumcision, but with joined in the blood of Christ. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, [that is,] to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

Too often, we think of our fellowship in worldly terms. For some, church is a place to hang out with folks “like us.” We get together regularly because we’re friends or because we like each other’s company. The fellowship centers around the music we like to sing or the traditions we received from our parents. Maybe for you, church is best entertainment available on Sunday morning. Or maybe, you like the free donuts and coffee?

As our strategic planners helpfully pointed out, we have two kinds of fellowship. The real fellowship happens here, in the sanctuary, around Christ and his gifts. The forgiveness given in His holy Word, the blessed water, and the body given and blood poured out are what truly join us together. St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9) Our LIFE TOGETHER is in Christ, our brother and Lord.

The other fellowship, what we might call donut fellowship, around conversation, coffee, and cake, is secondary and a fruit or result of the fellowship of the Son. Because we have been joined to Christ in a LIFE TOGETHER, we share in each other’s joys and sufferings (Phil. 4:14; 1:7). Because we are brothers and sisters, we share with all in need, with prayer, and in service. Our goods, our wealth, our talents, and even our lives are given to each other for our mutual benefit.

LIFE TOGETHER means no one in church is alone. There is no distinction between white or black, German or Polish, rich or poor, generous or needy. Some have voices for singing, some have hands for work, some the gift of teaching, and others the time for prayer. We are many members of a common body. Therefore we each have a unique role but a common share in the inheritance of Christ. What joins us together is not treats, or service, or even history. Our fellowship is in Christ’s shed blood for our common and shared forgiveness.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives his third passion prediction. Already twice in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has told these disciples what he must do for their sake. Now, for a third and final time he tells them, “See we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

The fellowship of the disciples is incomplete without the culmination of Christ’s death and resurrection. So the same, we grieve for a time as we travel through Lent towards the cross. But our shared travels do not end there. We share together in the blessings of Easter!

The  Lord of life is the Lord of our fellowship. We understand these things. We know what was said and our eyes are open to understand. We know that the fellowship of the church is fellowship with Christ. We live with Christ and we suffer with him. We die with him and we will rise with him. We inherit heaven with Him and we will reign in glory with him. Our LIFE TOGETHER is in Christ and in our Lord’s common gifts of forgiveness.

We know what Christianity is all about. We know that the church is more than another club, community organization, or charitable foundation. The fellowship of the church is the fellowship of Jesus. It is the LIFE TOGETHER of the baptized in Christ, who hear Christ, and received Christ to eat and drink.

We rejoice in this LIFE TOGETHER. We give thanks for our LIFE TOGETHER. We seek others to join us in this LIFE TOGETHER. Our witness is to Christ’s mercy given in this fellowship. As St. John writes, “… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Rejoice dear Christians! You are Christ’s, purchased through his blood, joined to his death and resurrection, and coheirs of eternal life in heaven. Rejoice and share together in this gift! “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3). Rejoice and share together in this fellowship now and into eternity.

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

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