In our Advent theme, we are looking at five things that the early Church practices, tabbed “the Five Loaves.” These practices just keep giving and giving from God’s supply to His Church, just like the five loaves multiplied from Jesus’ miraculous hand. For those of you needing an update of this series, let me assist you here. For those already aboard, then you can skip a paragraph.
We take the five good practices the first Church (or five loaves) from Acts 2:42. The verse reads: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.” This is how the Church began, as it first describes Peter in Acts 2 bringing in big numbers via baptism, and then– Acts 2, verse 42 says that A/ They devoted themselves (or they practiced diaconia), which we said in our Thanksgiving homily was a thanksgiving devotion to service. People were so thankful for the Lord’s Hand in their lives, that it led to a devoted life of that thanksgiving as expressed in service to one another. That’s the first of the five loaves. Then B/ that devotion to be serving for one another led them to seek the teachings (or the practice of didache). This is the desire to know what God has passed on to us as His teachings– authentic and true. We need the Bread of God’s teaching, and He has revealed Himself in His Son, the Word made flesh, Who entrusted His ministry to the apostles. So the apostles teachings of Jesus is what we seek, along with how God also spoke to us in the Hebrew Covenant leading up to His coming among us on earth. Last Sunday we reviewed this aspect of Didache in the Church, and how we need to keep seeking to know the Lord in His various avenues to Himself and an experience of Him in us to our minds and hearts. Ongoing faith formation is so important.
We are at today’s word of “koinonia” –which is the third one of the Five Loaves. — Koinonia is a Greek word which means fellowship. Notice it referred to in the middle of Acts 2:42 again: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.” The gathering together of believers in Jesus is also called “community” or communio. We believe that Jesus gave us the experience to live in His Body as believers now, as truly the body of Christ, so to be in communion with Him. We are to begin living and acting as children of God. We are to act that way towards one another. Jesus said: “A new commandment I now give unto you: to love one another.” This is a call to fellowship. For a coming together, a seeking to unite and compliment one another as parts of one whole. Another Greek term for the experience of church was “God’s assembly” or “ecclesia.” Called out of the world to be into Christ, even while in the world, we are to now be “a new creation in Christ Jesus.” It is not so much as an independent, individualistic calling out, but as to be a people set apart. That’s what ecclesia or “koinonia” means.
As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church of these spiritual realities, he said that we must not just live carnal lives anymore, but also ones that are spiritual, for we are more than we were without Christ. We are new people, and part of Christ’ Body now. We are to act in Christ. We are to find fellowship in Christ.
What are these “carnal” problems? It would be our living merely in the flesh, and in the temporal, material world. It is to fall into sins of the former state, which go versus the community life, such as engaging in gossip, backstabbing, having rivalries, making divisions, or going in dissensions– then we are been led by the carnal fallen flesh, not by the Spirit. If we would go on showing poor favoritism, or be forming closed cliques, that could stunt the parish– then we would likely be carnal. If we would be acting very conditional to people in the church, rather than like Christ would, that’s the carnal way. Carnal living is not to be seeking growth in relationship with others. It is being selfish. Such carnal sins versus the koinonia, of the experience of fellowship in the Church, are sins worth confessing. They are sins versus the Holy Spirit, because He has been given to us for koinonia, and our experience of being one with Christ. Today’s Isaiah 11 reading says that the Lord’s Anointed lives in the Spirit, with gifts to be a blessing, not a hurt. Today’s Gospel reminds us that repentance of our sins makes room for the Lord to come and work out His salvation in us.
I haven’t heard many confessions that included the admission that the person was not affording God all His ways of forming community in the Church through them.
A person who taught about community was Thomas Merton. I’d like to read a few things from his works, to give us all a listen about “koinonia”…
Merton reminds us that Jesus died for our sins so to save us. He then asks: Saved us into what? Answer: He saved us into His Body, His life, as to be joined as one recreated people in Him. It begins now, in our rebirth, and it is lived in wholeness in the eternal realm to come. We are being birthed into that new heavens and new earth in our Way of Christ. Merton wants us to know that the Christian life is one where we meet the Cross, so to cross over into new life and the Risen Way of the Lord. He says that all difficulties endured for love, will lead us into love and the risen part of Christ’ mystery. We’ll go from Cross to Freedom.
He says: “Our Lord’s victory over death, the victory of love over death on the cross, seeks to be manifested in a very concrete form on earth in the creation of community. The work of creating community in and by the grace of Christ is the place where this struggle goes on and where he manifests his victory over death. . .I do want to emphasize the fact that, in himself, on the cross, Christ destroyed the hostility that was created by all these [religious, ethnic and national] divisions. There again is what community means for us, it is our destroying division by the Cross. In other words, we must be bigger than divisions. There will still remain ethnic differences, but they no longer make any difference in Christ. I think that where the real trouble comes is that we have a tendency – it’s a sort of American myth – to think that this is all very simple and natural. All you have to do is follow your natural good tendencies and it is all taken care of. It isn’t. It isn’t automatic, it has to be done by God. It is a work of God.
…we really do experience in ourselves, at the same time as the power of Christ, the power of the cross to create community. Yet we also find in ourselves everything that goes against community, and we have to be completely aware of this fact. We are and we are not communal people. It is taken for granted that we are all really sociable. But we are and we aren’t. We are also weak and selfish, and there is in us this struggle between trust and mistrust, where we all believe and don’t believe. We trust some people and we distrust other people. We are, in other words, full of ambivalence, and we must take this into account. Things are in reality so much more complicated. We assume that we are perfectly open and trusting, and then suddenly we discover that we aren’t… What we tend to do is to deny this, repress it; we don’t like to face it. But we just have to face the fact that sometimes we get darned mad at people, we get worked up about it and we do our best not to show it, but there it is. You cannot possibly live a religious life realistically unless you realize that this is going on all the time.
The reason we repress our feelings is that they cause anxiety. If I admit to myself that I feel mad and angry, then right away I think what will this lead to? We will be fighting like cats and dogs for months to come, if I show my real feelings. What are you to do? Where are you going to go for help? You go to God. In other words, instead of basing our confidence on our ability to repress these feelings, and keep them out of sight, what we have to do is to take a whole new attitude and say, “All right, I have these feelings and I know they are there. I am sorry about them, but the grace of Christ can fix it, the grace of Christ in me and the grace of Christ in my brother and sister.” It isn’t just that I have the grace – the point is that the community has the grace. There is sufficient grace to solve all your problems in the ordinary human way – at least deal with them – though not to be without them. You have to work at it all the time, but there is this solution. So rejoice; but realize that you do have some work to do…
God is the source of life. On him and through him our common life is built up and led time and again through cataclysmic struggles to final victory. It is an exceedingly dangerous way, a way of deep suffering. It is a way that leads straight into the struggle for existence and the reality of a life of work, into all the difficulties created by the human character. And yet, just this is our deepest joy: to see clearly the eternal struggle – the indescribable tension between life and death, man’s position between heaven and hell – and still to believe in the overwhelming power of life, the power of love to overcome, and the triumph of truth, because we believe in God.
I think that is a pretty inspiring statement. We must believe in community and believe that in God all this is possible. This faith is not a theory for us; neither is it a dogma, a system of ideas, or a fabric of words, nor a cult or an organization. Faith means receiving God himself – it means being overwhelmed by God. (This is what community is.) Faith is the strength that enables us to go this way (for unity in Jesus as His own body). It helps us to find trust again and again when, from a human point of view, the foundations of trust have been destroyed.
This whole question of believing in God, of trusting in one another and yet knowing that trust can fall and can be rebuilt, all this is part of our life…. We must know that forgiveness and mercy can help us through our weaknesses. We can go to the Cross with them and then find the Risen Life. Herein is found community–the getting to the new life. And the only power that can build true community is faith in that ultimate mystery of the Good, faith in God.”
. . . Often very incompatible people are thrown together. . . . It is a test of faith.
The ultimate thing is that we build community not on our love but on God’s love, because we do not really have that much love ourselves, and that is the real challenge of the religious life we have here. It puts us in a position where sometimes natural community is very difficult. People are sent here and there, and often very incompatible people are thrown together. Groups of people who would never have chosen to be together in an ordinary human way find themselves living together. It is a test of faith. It puts God’s love to the test and it is meant to. It is what Saint Paul means. It isn’t just a question of whether you are building community with people that you naturally like, it is also a question of building community with people that God has brought together. And God has chosen His own. Be glad to be called, and so respond to be one with those whom He has also called.