Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Steps of Discipleship: Connect (Christ means community)

Sunday, September 17, 2006



Acts 2: 41-47
Philippians 2: 1-8

Rev. Dean Snyder


There are five components to the life of Acts 2 congregations: Three are internal: 1) study and learning, 2) community and fellowship; 3) worship and prayer. Two are outward looking: 4) mission and service, and 5) evangelism and sharing.


We are looking at these five components of the life of an Acts 2 church this fall. They are a helpful way of thinking about our life together as a congregation, but they are also helpful in our thinking about our personal lives as disciples.


Acts 2 disciples include these five things in their faith journey: learning, fellowship, worship, mission and evangelism…maybe not all at the same time but over the course of time. It might be interesting for any one of us to ask if there is any one of these that has been missing from our lives.


This morning I’d like us to focus on the theme of community and fellowship. The New Testament in its original Greek calls it koinonia. Acts 2:42 says of the first generation of Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and [to] koinonia.”


Koinonia is not an easy word to translate from the Greek. We have no exact equivalent in the English language. The word koinonia or a form of the word appears 17 times in the New Testament, and is translated differently in different contexts. It is sometimes translated fellowship, sometimes sharing, sometimes communion, sometimes participation, sometimes contribution, depending on the context and the particular translation.


If you check out this sermon on the web when it is posted this week, you will find a link to a website where you can see all 17 times the word koinonia is used.[i]


If this were a Bible study, we would get out our Bibles and we would read together some of the different places in the New Testament where koinonia is used. I wish we had time for that this morning.


Let me just give you a few examples: Koinonia is used to refer to our relationship with God. I John 1 Talks about koinonia (fellowship) with God and with Jesus Christ (1:3) and with one another (1:7).   


Philippians 3: 10 talks about koinonia  as a sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul writes: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing (koinonian) of his sufferings by becoming like him in death.”


Second Corinthians ends with the words: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:!3) In the Greek it is the koinonia of the Holy Spirit.


And throughout Second Corinthians, when the Apostle Paul is encouraging the Christians of this affluent city to send money to help the impoverished Christians of Jerusalem, Paul calls the contributions they are sending a koinonia. II Corinthians 9:13 says: “You glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your kononia with them and with all others.” Their gifts were an expression of koinonia – community, fellowship – even with people they would never physically meet.


Koinonia is a sense of belonging together.  The New Testament would say that it is more than a sense of belonging together…that it is a reality whether we sense it or not. If we belong to God, then we belong to one another. In the New Testament writings koinonia exists ontologically – it is – and what the church does is to operationalize it…to incarnate it…to make it flesh…to make it overt.


This is not always easy for all of us…especially not type A, Washingtonian types. When we get together we want to know what the agenda is. What our goals are. What are we here to accomplish? We are busy people.


Koinonia is not something we can engineer. Not really. Not quite. Koinonia happens. We can create conditions hospitable to koinonia but we can not make koinonia happen. We have to let it happen. 


You get people in the same room…a potluck maybe, a retreat…and you try not to fill the time with agenda and tasks…and you trust that koinonia will happen. People will begin to share themselves and find connections beneath the surface of things. They will begin to discover that they belong to one another. Koinonia.


In a lot of our other activities, koinonia is a byproduct if we will let it be. Disciple Bible study is as much about discovering we are community and belong to each other – koinonia – as it is learning the content of the Bible. One of the great byproducts of doing mission is that in the process of trying to transform the world, we discover community and belonging…koinonia.


Koinonia is especially important for diverse churches, like the New Testament church was and like Foundry is. If you are part of a church where everyone is pretty much like everyone else in terms of cultural background and economic resources and physical abilities and age and sexual orientation and political leaning, it is easy to feel connected because there are a lot of things that connect you.


But, as Gil Rendle, who has consulted with hundreds of churches, reminds me almost every time I call him, diversity is hard. Diversity adds complexity to everything. It takes time and real relationships to know each other well enough to discover that beneath our differences – which by the way are real – but beneath our real differences, there is a profound place where we belong to one another.


This is what Paul is trying to get at in the passage from Philippians 2 we heard read this morning.


“If there is any encouragement in Christ, and consolation from love, any koinonia in the Spirit…make my joy complete, be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (2: 1-2)


In any diverse community there will be distrust. It happened in the Acts church.


Acts 2 is an idealized portrayal of the church. It is the way the church should be if it were perfect. But the rest of Acts often shows the church the way it is in the real world. Acts 6 is about culturally-based division and conflict in the church.


The Greek-speaking Jewish Christians began complaining that the Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians were showing favoritism in the daily distribution of food to the widows. The Hebrew-speaking widows were being treated better than the Greek-speaking widows, or at least that is what the Greek-speaking Christians felt.


So while the Acts church starts out in chapter 2 in this idyllic way, by chapter 6 there are problems, and conflict and mistrust, and it forms around the places in the congregation where there is diversity.


In any diverse community there will be tension and distrust.


But koinonia also exists. Beneath the distrust we discover that we have a profound bond and that we belong together, but it takes being together and staying at the table with one another to discover the koinonia.


Paul writes to the Philippians: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, and consolation from love, any koinonia in the Spirit…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (2: 1-2)


Koinonia is the path to accord and having a common mind and even love.


So koinonia is important to congregations, especially diverse congregations that do not find their unity in external things like ethnicity or class or culture.


But it is also important for us as individuals. Paul, in Philippians, goes on to say: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (2: 5-8)


It is through koinonia that we find two essential things – we find our humanity and we find Christ.


So much in life that we carry as individual burdens is really part of our humanity, but we carry them as though they were our unique burden. One of the things 12-step groups do is to bring together people who think they are struggling with unique addictions and help them to see the addiction as part of their humanity through what the New Testament calls koinonia.


Part of the reason we have affinity fellowship groups in church – GLBT, young adults, couples, parents – is because in the same circumstances of life we are much more alike, we face the same issues and problems, than we realize unless we are connecting in a koinonia way.


Socrates said “Know thyself.” It was inscribed on the entryway to the Temple of Apollo, the highest god, at Delphi. “Know thyself.”


The New Testament says that I cannot know myself, unless I know you. It is in koinonia that we discover our humanity.


And it is in koinonia that we discover Christ. Christ is koinonia. Christ is the name for people truly meeting one another. It means that God is present whenever people truly meet one another.


Toyoko Kagawa was a Japanese Christian pacifist and poet who lived during one of the most militaristic times in Japan’s history. He died in 1960. After being in prison he moved with his wife to one of the worst urban slums in Japan where he opened his home to the diseased and the homeless.


He wrote a poem about finding a little girl in the gutter of the slum one night. It was a time when parents might throw a baby away if it were born female.


He took the baby home with him and named her Isha, which means little stone, because she was so hard, gray, and cold. In the poem he talks about working through the night to revive Isha. By early morning he came to believe that nothing would help. He sat down in a chair and held her in his arms.


He felt her pain, and his own pain, and the pain of all humanity. She was dying. He remembered all those whom he had loved who had died. He remembered that he would die someday.


Instead of someone he was trying to help and save, Isha became humanity. He and she became humanity together.


He began to weep, and the force of his tears falling on Isha so shocked her that she began to cry. The crying pulled air into her little lungs and life began to return to her nearly dead body, and she lived to become a little girl and a women.


Kagawa entitled his poem: “When Tears Are Mingled.”


This is the source of life. This is Christ. When our tears are mingled. When our joys are mingled. When our pains and hopes are mingled. This is koinonia. This is Christ.