“κοινωνία – Koinonia: Christian fellowship or communion, with God and with fellow Christians.”
Rev. James Rausch
Four times, the writer of 1 John mentions fellowship in the first seven verses of his letter. Fellowship with God and fellowship with the community of believers. The word in Greek is koinonia, and it holds a special place in my heart. The church I served in Kansas is a great gray stone structure with a very high ceiling sanctuary and decorative wooden support trusses. At the back of the sanctuary there was a wall of large wooden roll-up doors, each larger than a garage door.
After service I would lift one of them up, and people would move into the attached room for fellowship. It was called “The Koinonia Room.” As I mentioned, today’s lesson emphasizes koinonia, or fellowship, mentioning it 4 times in the first 7 verses. So, what’s the big deal about fellowship? We’re going to find out!
But first, I need to thank you all for contributing to my overall health and well-being. I did some research and found out that being with you and interacting with you is good for me! It boosts my immune system! It even relieves my anxiety and depression. Don’t believe me? Studies have shown that meaningful social connections are not only good for you emotionally, they are excellent for our mental and physical health.
According to Stanford Medicine, the stronger and more numerous your social ties, the better your chances are for improved health and longevity, by as much as 50%. It helps lower inflammation and speed up recovery times from illnesses and injuries. Quote, “One landmark study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.” Doctors At Ohio State University’s College of Medicine have reported that a person’s immune response to vaccines increases with the strength of his or her social support.
So, thanks again to all of you for showing up on Sundays and Wednesdays and on Prayer call each night. Thanks to you my doctor is very pleased with all of my numbers. I’m doing so well I told her I might just start smoking and drinking.
Seriously, though, I appreciate very much that Chris and I were able to move here in August of last year, and within a few short months, discover we had a family here waiting to welcome us home. That’s been true of all of our moves, thanks to the koinonia of the church, the fellowship that we have with our brothers and sisters in the church all over the world. The Bible has long stated a truth of human well-being. Psalm 133 says, “How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in harmony.” The Bible and science agree, living in koinonia is good for what ails you!
If good social connection is good for us as individuals and as a church, surely it is good for our nation as well. Sadly, at times in our history, our nation’s health has suffered as our population has fallen into pettiness and disputes that have strained or severed our needed network of interaction and interdependence. We are living in such a time when neighbors can be worlds apart, preferring to ignore one another or worse. Those times of unity spoken of in the Bible do come, however. I’ve experienced them at times, as have you.
Sometimes a common crisis reveals unity in ways that surprise us. Today we commemorate the awful attacks of 9-11, and it would not be exaggerating to say that the world we live in has not been the same since that tragic day. For a brief time, much of our nation felt unified in our grief and concern. A feeling of shock and sympathy was genuinely felt around the world in many places, giving rise to a sense of unity that is all too rare.
The pandemic forced us to give up the health benefits of many of our social interactions, keeping us distanced and out of touch to limit the spread of Covid. We wonder sometimes if the treatment was more harmful than the disease. But the church found ways to commune anyway. The establishment of the prayer conference call was a marvelous development in those trying circumstances. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus, who gives us koinonia, fellowship with God and with the family of believers.
Participating in a church family does a body good. So, keep showing up and rubbing elbows with all these folks, even the weird ones. People on the East side of the sanctuary, go talk to the South-Siders once in a while. Getting together here like we do each week is just as important as eating your fruits and vegetables! It’s good for you! Think of Barbara as a peach. Dot’s a strawberry. Pam is sweet corn, and Larry is a nasty old Brussels sprout. Turns out all of them are good for you! You probably didn’t know that Hyunmi’s name translated into English is “Brown Rice.” We are one nutritious congregation! So, if you know what’s good for you… um, I mean if you care about your health, you’ll keep participating in the life of the church!
Even maintaining our connections via Zoom, and phone, and email, and postal mail is an important way to stay aware that we have been given the gift of fellowship with God and with one another. That’s why God gave us the Sacrament of commUNION. I capitalized the word union in communion on my sermon script, because we need to be reminded that it is our sign and seal of unity from God. We have koinonia at the table with God and with all believers of every time and place.
You and Chris and I were brothers and sisters in Christ for years before we ever knew each other. We would be astounded if we understood just how many family members we have in Christ. And as the writer of 1 John says, sharing our love of Christ with one another makes us a family of fellowship and makes our joy complete.
The church needs to be good at, and stay good at, maintaining strong community, koinonia, fellowship. Some of us are naturally better at this, so we need the cherries, Pineapple, and green beans among us to keep doing what you do so well in order to give people time to acquire a taste for the Brussels sprouts, spinach, and eggplants who really do grow on you over time.
Do you get the point? Or do I need to continue? Well, I figured you’d get it, so the sermon’s only two and a quarter pages today instead of the usual three and a half! (Pause for applause die down.)
Several years ago, I heard a pastor say that there was one song which had become popular in our culture that he wished the church would have written first, because he thought it described so well the kind of community, the kind of fellowship that would be the model for a healthy church. Sadly, when our Glory to God hymnal was published nine years ago this month, the song was not included. But we can sing it anyway. (Sing the theme from the old television show, “Cheers!”.)
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name.”
So, it’s a song about a bar – big deal. Half of the early church hymns of the Reformation were drinking songs that were sung with new words. Years ago, I decided to put some new words to an old traditional hymn tune – back when I was in Kansas at the church with the Koinonia Room. I wanted to help them remember the meaning of that Greek word, so this is what I wrote. (Sing “The Gift of Koinonia”.)
“Lord, we gather here to worship; In Your presence we’re at home. For You give us Koinonia, fellowship in Christ, Your Son. But this grace in which we gather is not meant for us alone. Here accepted, loved and welcomed, we must pass this kind-ness on.
It was at Your invitation through a faithful Christian soul, that I first joined with Your people, learning how You make us whole. Now they’re my extended family, and I feel that I belong. That’s the gift of Koinonia, found in Jesus Christ, Your Son.
Are there others unaware that they are welcome in this place? At the table Jesus bids us, ‘Go and fill each empty space.’ Now at home here, we’re the ones who must go out and share Your call. And we’ll grow Your Koinonia sharing love with one and all.”