Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
April 8, 2018
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There are many bright spots in the ministries of Good Shepherd Church, and one of them is the EfM group. Karisse and I have a standard little interchange. I ask her, “How as EfM?” She replies, “EfM was amazing today.” She is very good at keeping the confidentiality of that group, but in those few words, and the look on her face, I can tell you a lot. The EfM group is one that enjoys what the New Testament writers called “koinonia,” normally translated “fellowship.”
We normally think of “fellowship” as hanging out together and having a good time, but the biblical meaning of the term is much deeper and broader. It means a communion of spirit by the Spirit, sharing the very life of God, and it results in common action for the Kingdom.
The lessons today all describe “koinonia” in different ways. In the afterglow of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples saw themselves as completely interdependent. They shared equally among all. Frankly speaking, the communist ideal was a reality among them. It didn’t last long, by the records we have, but for a time, the mutual self-giving love of God was lived out among them: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in a perfect dance of mutual self-giving love. The Trinity is the ideal of Christian fellowship.
The Epistle of John takes the concept in a theological direction. To live in the light is to love Jesus, and to love Jesus means to have fellowship with those who live in the light. Jesus is the center-point of a group of people who have a common goal of living in the light. Fellowship means to be in full communion with Jesus and with the others that are in communion with Jesus. Again, you can see echoes of the life of the Trinity there.
In the Gospel, Jesus, just risen from the dead, comes to visit the disciples. Now, they aren’t where they will be after Pentecost. They’re scared. They’re hiding, and I’m not sure they’re having a good time. I can just hear the bickering start.
“I never trusted Judas from the start! I can’t see why Jesus did!”
“Yeah, he did seem a bit sleazy, but if Jesus trusted him, why shouldn’t we?”
“But look where it got us? They got Jesus, and you all know we’re next!”
“At least Judas got what was coming to him!”
“Shhhhh! We don’t want to let anyone hear us talking about Jesus!”
Into this mess comes Jesus. Pow! Right there, inexplicably inside their defenses, right in the middle of their little squabble, is the one who wasn’t supposed to be there, rendering all their little backbiting completely pointless, and saying the one thing needed and least expected, “Peace be with you.”
No wonder they were scared!
At once they are undone, and at the same instant restored—but not as they were before. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Wow, the third person of the Trinity (though the doctrine hadn’t been worked out quite yet,) bringing them into peace and harmony with the Second Person of the Trinity, the very one who said, “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” Suddenly they are invited into the dance of mutual self-giving love of the Trinity itself. They are invited into fellowship.
And then he says, “As I have been sent, so I send you.” As I have drawn you into fellowship with me, now draw others into fellowship with yourselves and me. As I have made the life of the Trinity available to you, now you take it to others. In other words, live in mutual self-giving love—and all this out of the mouth of the Risen Christ. Koinonia is the result of Easter. Fellowship is a resurrection thing. By dying to the rule of our egos and rising to the life of the Spirit, we build a different view of community, one built on the ideal of the Trinity rather than selfishness.
The world is full of selfishness and self-promotion. A recent National Geographic article on telling the truth showed that we are generally more concerned with how we are perceived rather than what the real truth is about us. We have somehow figured out that a certain amount of deception can be self-serving, and we begin to master it at a very young age. Humility, as defined by Anthony Bloom, is quite a different thing. Humility is being exactly who you are and what you are, no needless tooting of one’s horn, just honest presence in the fullness of who you are. Now when you get a bunch of folks living together in this kind of humility, you’ve got a very different community than what is in the world. Nobody is threatened by what someone might come to know about them, and they can give themselves fully, not only to one another, but in service to the world.
The world is full of division and strife. I have a book called, The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. The author argues that we are mostly bees. We live in groups, and we think of ourselves as members of groups, and we compete—between groups. We have a bee-hive mentality. But we’re also part chimpanzee. Now chimps also live in groups, but once in a while a chimp will take advantage of the rules and sell out on the rest of them for his or her own benefit. They go rogue, so to speak, because just often enough—it works. It’s a bit of a depressing book to read, because in the end he just says, “Try to get along!” He’s got no real answer. He’s also an atheist!
What he misses, of course, is the true Righteous Mind. The mind of God isn’t part bee and part chimp. The mind of God is perfect community in mutual self-giving love. What the author of this book has described is not what is most profoundly natural, but what is broken about us. We were built for a different kind of community. “Try to get along,” just isn’t going to work. Death to the rule of the ego, and rising to the life of the spirit, is what does it. Dying to whatever pretenses we might have as a religious community of having a right to be heard Is the only way to earn the right to show the world a different way of being in community.
Easter is about resurrection after death, and the launching of a different way of being human.
I go back to the words of the Epistle.
We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If…we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.
Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to become The Beloved Community, where race, wealth, history, gender, or any of those other things that usually divide us just don’t count any longer. We are all beloved children of God, caught up in the dance of self-giving love of the Trinity, finding expression in the life of the Church. The Beloved Community is not Bishop Curry’s idea, it is Jesus’ idea.
And, Jesus’ words to the disciples,
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
Our Presiding Bishop is also calling us to be part of The Jesus Movement. Jesus started something in the world and handed it over to us to carry on. It has been handed down through the centuries, and it is this: We can still meet the Easter Christ in the community of the faithful, and we can still be Christ in the world, living that new humanity by the power of the spirit of Jesus, Loving as Christ loved by serving as Christ served.