Monday, August 2, 2010

Koinonia and Abundance: A Sermon on Mission, Hospitality, and the Cup of Sharing

For audio or video of the sermon below, click here.

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O God,
you are our God;
earnestly we seek you
as thirsty people long for water
in a dry and weary land.

O God,
you have carried us as on eagles’ wings
from the land of scarcity and want.
You have brought us up
in the power of your Spirit
into a land flowing with abundance.

O God,
in your Son, the Messiah,
we have glimpsed your kingdom come:
we have glimpsed a world
where the poor are fed,
where addictions are healed,
where loneliness is finished,
where death itself is dead and no more.

O God,
we confess these things as our hope,
but we see the world you love in agony.
We see children hungry, and not enough to go around;
we see families divided, and wounds yet unhealed;
we see broken hearts, and the anger fear breeds.

O God,
that you would send us out,
that you would send us out
into the world you have already redeemed
with good news for all people—
the incredible good news
that you are on the way,
that the kingdom of welcome for all
has a banquet prepared
whose host has put death behind him forever.

O God,
make us your people
and send us into your beloved world
whose end is not destruction,
but new creation.

And now, God, to that end
I pray that you would pour through me
the gift of preaching,
that these old words would speak afresh to us today,

that the word of God
for the people of God
might call forth thanks to you, O God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Summer Recap: Mission, Cup, Communion

This summer we’ve been talking about one thing: mission. And the way we’ve visualized that together, in connection with the World Cup, is through the image of the “cup” in Scripture. In June we talked about God as missionary, and thus about the cup of salvation given to us freely in Christ. In July we talked about the church as missionary, the church as a missionary community, and about the cup of communion we share together in Christ. And today we begin our final summer month on mission, and we will be focusing on the individual believer as missionary, and the cup of sharing, the cup of sharing Christ with others.

For the past four weeks, we've been walking through the meaning of communion, culminating a couple weeks ago in a service devoted to the Lord's Supper, to sharing the meal together. This notion of communion is crucial for understanding the nature of both the Lord’s Supper and the church. On the one hand, we commune with God in the bread and the cup, and this is Christ’s promised presence to us—but at the very same time, this is communion with one another, as members of the body broken for us.

It is profound mystery: together we are the body of Christ—and we partake of the body of Christ in the Supper—and as we partake, we remember the body of Christ on the cross—looking forward to the return of Christ in his risen body. All at once, past present and future come together in a shared meal, through which God is present to us and by which we are knit together as one people.

Koinonia in the New Testament

But in looking at this notion of “communion,” there is still another side to be explored. In the original language the word we translate for “communion” is koinonia, and at its most basic level, it simply means “sharing.” This word is at the heart of the gospel, but in the New Testament it is used in a variety of contexts with a wide range of meanings. So follow along as we look at some of the different ways the word is used, particularly by Paul.

Sometimes it names believers sharing life together:
Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship—koinonia—to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Sometimes it names sharing life with God:
1 Corinthians 1:9: “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship—koinonia—with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship—koinonia—of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Sometimes it weaves together life with God and life with one another:
1 John 1:3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship—koinonia—with us. And our fellowship—koinonia—is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Other times it names sharing partnership in ministry:
Philippians 1:5: “...I always pray with joy because of your partnership—koinonia—in the gospel from the first day until now...”
As we've seen, it names sharing the meal together:
1 Corinthians 10:16: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a sharing—koinonia—in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a sharing—koinonia—in the body of Christ?”
Finally—and this is where we’ll be focusing—it names sharing of ourselves and of our means with others:
Romans 15:26: “For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution—koinonia—for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem."

2 Corinthians 8:4: “[The Macedonian churches] urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing—koinonia—in this service to the Lord’s people.”

2 Corinthians 9:13: “People will praise God ... for your generosity in sharing—koinonia—with them and with everyone else.”

Hebrews 13:16: “And don’t forget to do good and to share with others—koinonia—for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Eucharist and Abundance: The Meal and the Overflowing Cup

So summing up, we might put it this way: Koinonia is God’s gift to us of sharing in his life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—not alone, but sharing it together in community: through conversation and service, ministry and worship, and especially through the Lord’s Supper. But even then, the sharing is not meant for us alone, as in a closed loop, but rather is an abundance, an overflowing to share with the whole world.

Since we have been talking about “the cup” this summer, the words of Psalm 23 are especially meaningful here:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
God has prepared us a table, and our host is Christ the Lord. Our meal is nothing short of life itself: the body and blood of Jesus. At this table there is no hoarding, no more for some and less for others, no scarcity to secure ourselves against. Rather, there is abundance, enough for all, and more than enough—for in Christ our cup overflows. But this abundance is not meant for us alone—this overflowing is not just more for us. At this table all are welcome, and no one is excluded, for it is the table of God’s koinonia, the Father’s sharing all of himself with us through Christ and in the Spirit.

Hospitality and Mission: Welcoming to the Table

In this picture, salvation isn’t distant or far away, isn’t disembodied or purely spiritual—salvation is right here and right now, earthy and ordinary—salvation is a meal. Salvation is sitting at the table of the Lord, with the risen Christ as our host. But if salvation is a meal—and if this meal is marked by God’s own koinonia—and if there is more than enough to go around—and if our host is himself the one who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners—what else is there to do but to go out and invite others to this extraordinary meal!

In this way, being sent on God’s mission is not limited to practices like Sending and Supporting Missionaries or Planting Churches—though those things are certainly included. If salvation is sitting at the Lord’s table, mission can be summarized in one word: Hospitality. Mission is nothing more and nothing less than offering to others the hospitality that God has offered to us in Christ. Mission is welcoming others to the table of the Lord.

In the story of Jesus—in his life, death, and resurrection—God has made us an unconditional promise: that his love goes all the way to death, and even in death his love cannot be conquered. The gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on the fulfillment of that promise on the last day, when the kingdom comes in full. As we wait and long for that day, we have one question before us: Will we be people of God’s unconditional promise—and therefore will we live lives of love for others all the way to death? If we will, our task is simple: with the love of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, to welcome others unconditionally as God has welcomed us.

In other words: To be people of the holy hospitality of the triune God.

Matthew 10: Sending of the Twelve

To get a sense of what this looks like concretely, we're going to look at Matthew chapter 10. This is the time when Jesus sent the Twelve disciples out for the very first time, and his words to them are no less words to us, and serve as a kind of filling out of the Great Commission. So hear these words as Christ himself addressing you directly as his disciple:
"Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give...

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved.

"Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master. If the head of the house has been called demonic, how much more the members of his household!

"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

"Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—your enemies will be the members of your own household.'

"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

"Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes someone known to be a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes someone known to be righteous will receive a righteous person's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is known to be my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly be rewarded."
Disciples Sent: Allegiance, Gift, Welcome

There’s a great deal for us to hear in these words from Jesus, but let’s focus on a few key aspects. Ultimately, this passage has to do with three things: discipleship, allegiance, and being sent. We might ask: Who or what is a disciple? How do you know one? The text answers: A disciple is one who is sent by Jesus into the world with good news to share. But what characterizes such disciples in their mission in the world? Giving to others as freely as they have received.

Having seen how to recognize a disciple—what defines, what constitutes discipleship at all? What is discipleship in the first place? Discipleship is utter and complete allegiance to Jesus as Lord—over against all competing claims to the thrones of our lives.

And according to Jesus, what kind of allegiance is this? Allegiance that refuses to defend ourselves against aggressors. Allegiance that stands firm in the face of persecution. Allegiance that calls a crucified Messiah Master—and no other. Allegiance that has no fear of those who can kill the body. Allegiance that openly confesses Christ, no matter the consequences. Allegiance that clings to Christ over father or mother, son or daughter, nation or party, race or class, district or zip code. Allegiance that takes up a cross and walks the road to Golgotha.

That is the allegiance that defines disciples of Jesus Christ.

We may seem a long way off from the warmth of hospitality at the Lord’s table, but in Scripture and in the story of Jesus, you don’t get one without the other. There is simply no kingdom apart from a cross—no Christ apart from a cost—no reconciliation apart from the truth—no resurrection apart from death. We will be and indeed already are citizens of God’s kingdom, members of Christ’s body, welcome guests at the Lord’s table—but the holy hospitality of God’s koinonia is a suffering love that not only goes to the end for us, but calls us to that love as well.

We have received such love, freely—will we also freely give it to others?

The Cup of Cold Water: Surprise on the Way

Notice the way Jesus’ commissioning concludes. Initially we had planned for this month’s theme to be the “cup of cold water,” meaning, “the cup of cold water given to others in Jesus’ name.” It had a nice symmetry to it, it's a biblical phrase. But you may have caught why we didn’t do that. Because at the end of the passage, who is the one welcoming? Who is the one giving the cup of cold water? It is not the disciple who welcomes or gives—it is the disciple who receives!

Here Jesus surprises us—he is not calling us as disciples to these things, though they are certainly worthwhile. Rather, Jesus is telling us that when we go out in mission, there will already be people eager to welcome us and provide for us—just because we are his disciples! This is Jesus’ promise the other direction: that those who offer hospitality to his disciples will not lose their reward.

What does this mean for mission? It means that this is no human work—this is God’s action! It means that we are joining in what God is already doing in the world he loves. It means that we do not set out fearfully or expecting rejection—according to Jesus, he already has friends ready to welcome us on the way! It means, finally, that God is going to surprise us—we go to share abundance with others, but sometimes just these others will share God’s abundance with us.

On “Home” and the Mission Field

At this point you might be wondering: In all this talk of mission and sending and discipleship, nobody’s sending me to, say, Yekaterinburg, Russia—nobody’s calling me a missionary. Fortunately, Jesus addresses this very thing in his instructions to the Twelve.

First and foremost, he was sending Israelites into Israelite towns and cities—in other words, Jesus was sending his disciples back home. So apparently, to be in mission is not limited to going halfway around the world—though that too is part of the call.

Put simply: To be in mission is to be sent by Jesus. And if a disciple is one who is sent by Jesus into the world with good news to share, then to be in mission is to be a disciple, and to be a disciple is to be in mission. To be in mission is to be sent by Jesus.

Now in this case, it might be our language that trips us up; so let’s try some new vocabulary. In ordinary conversation, you might call your neighborhood, city, or country “home”—or at the very least, you probably don’t refer to is as a mission field. But one step into missional language might be to call these places in which we find ourselves, not first “home” or “where we work” or “where we live,” but instead: the places to which God has sent us—or better, the people to whom God has sent us.

Of course, if we believe it’s an accident that we are where we are, or that God is not a God with a mission, or that God has not sent each of us as part of his mission—none of that language really makes any sense at all. But if we do believe that God reigns, if we do believe that God has a mission and the church is his missionary people, if we do believe that each and every disciple is sent by Christ in the power of the Spirit—then there is nothing else to say than that, wherever we are, the living God has sent us there.

A Commission of Koinonia

In that spirit, I want to conclude this morning with what we'll call a commission of koinonia, a commission of sharing:

Go—go from here to your homes and jobs, to your families and friends, in the name and the love of the One who gave himself for all the world.

Go—go into the world which God made good, which God sustains at every moment, which God has redeemed in Christ, and which God will make new on the last day.

Go—go into the world for which Christ died, for which you are also called to give your own life, as the few called to suffering servanthood on behalf of the many.

Go—go into the world that is not your home, but is the place to which God has sent you, the people to whom Christ has sent you in the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit.

Go—go into the world that is your home, for though you may be just a-passin’ through, at one time God himself came a-passin’ through—and we wait not to leave, but for him to return.

Go—go in the sure hope that a day is coming when all will be well, when God will be all in all, when the kingdom of God’s love will triumph, once and for all.

Go—go into the highways and byways, into the dark corners and hungry homes, and share from the abundance you yourself have received at the Lord’s own table.

Go—go into this hurting, suffering, aching world and welcome others with the holy hospitality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—remembering that at this table, all are invited.

Go. Go in love, go in peace, go in joy. Go with God, go with haste, go in song.

Go as disciples of the risen and coming Lord.

And go in faith that you will not be alone.

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