As many of you know, I’ve been on Pilgrimage the last two weeks, in Scotland and England walking the Way of St. Cuthbert. Beverley Buston and Cindy Barnes from our congregation, and 17 other people, mostly Episcopalians from around the diocese, also went. We started in Iona, then walked 100 kilometers, or a little over 62 miles, from Melrose to Lindisfarne, the Holy Isle. We ended the trip in Edinburgh. We spent our days walking, conversing, and quietly contemplating whatever it was that God put on our hearts. Evenings meant hot showers and fellowship, (maybe a pint or two!) good food, and an early bedtime. With maybe a Facebook post or two when connected to wifi.
I didn’t turn on a television or listen to the radio once the whole time I was away.
So except for the big news of the royal wedding and our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry’s sermon for that wedding, which was a major topic of conversation with all we met, I’ve been pretty much out of the news cycle.
As I made my way home to Richmond and looked to see what had been happening in the news, to my delight, a parishioner sent me a link to a news article that the National Scripps Spelling Bee was won when a 14 year old, who correctly spelled “Koinonia”!
That’s really cool, because, of course, here at St. Michael’s, we are celebrating a year of Koinonia.
The definition given of Koinonia at the Spelling Bee was “Intimate spiritual communion, and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.”
So Koinonia means community, deep fellowship, and although not an actual part of the definition, it implies love, brotherly, or sisterly, love, on based on our shared faith in God.
It’s kind of cool that was the winning word was Koinonia, although, in watching the video of those last minutes, I discovered that the word that was missed right before Koinonia was Bewusstseinslage . (buhvust zine shlaguh)
Bewusstseinslage! Any of you ever heard of it? Except for you German speakers? Bewusstseinslage is defined as “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.” The sentence given was, “Dr. Deter described his son’s attitude toward academic matters as an apathetic Bewussteinslage.”
Koinonia may be a little hard to spell, but nothing like Bewusstseinslage!
So, Koinonia is community, tied together in fellowship and love. A warm connectedness.
Bewussteinslage is no feeling at all.
I don’t think you could label any of the people in any of the scriptures we just heard as having Bewussteinslage. No lack of feeling or sensory components in these stories. But there are examples of Koinonia, and especially where Koinonia was broken.
In 1 Samuel, we hear the story of God calling the boy Samuel, to be a prophet and proclaim his word. We actually got to hear that Old Testament lesson of Samuel’s call, and the same portion of Psalm 139 that we read today, back on January 14th. There we focused on how God calls all of us, we each have a calling, a vocation, and that calling is based on how God knows us inside and out. “Lord, you have searched me out and known me;…. I thank you, because I am marvelously made.”
Today, however, I want us to look at the last part of that reading. After Samuel realizes through Eli’s mentorship that it is The Lord speaking to him, and says, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” We get to actually hear what the Lord says, and it’s not very happy news for Eli and his Sons.
Eli’s sons were priests, charged with caring for the community of God’s people, and carrying out worship with integrity, but they abused their office, taking advantage of their power. Among other things, they took more than their fair share of the offerings, and slept with the women serving the meeting house. Eli had heard about their behavior and had tried, at least once, to get them to change their ways, but he had not exercised his fatherly role to discipline them, or have them removed from office. So God announces judgement.
It was no so much that they broke some the rules that governed how they were to act, it was that they broke Koinonia, they broke covenant with God and God’s People.
In the Gospels we hear about how those gathered at the synagogue are not inviting Jesus and his disciples in as part of the worshipping community, they are watching him, trying to catch him breaking the law.
The law in question here is the Sabbath. Just before the story of Jesus in the synagogue, we hear the story of Jesus and his disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath, plucking grain and eating it. It was technically work. But Jesus defends the action, referencing Scripture, by pointing out that Sabbath is meant not to be a rule-bound straightjacket,… Sabbath is not just one more duty to be fulfilled,… Sabbath is a gift from God for God’s people – to give them restoration and rest. It’s a chance to enjoy God and one another,… to enjoy communion with God and koinonia with each other.
As Jesus and his disciples show up at the synagogue, a man with a withered hand is there. Will Jesus heal him, saving him from a deformity that put him on the margins of that community, or would he refrain because Sabbath rules prevent work.
When Jesus poses the question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”, even Jewish scholars of Jesus’ day would have said that saving life, helping another human being, would take precedence.
In one of the rare places in the bible where Jesus’ anger is explicit, Jesus is looks at the silent crowd in anger. None of them willing to side with Jesus or the man with the withered hand.
While not literally saving the man’s life, restoring the man’s withered hand probably meant that he would receive back his ability to work in the local economy, and the ability to provide for his family. This miracle represents a restoration to wholeness and dignity. It promotes life and human flourishing.
That’s the sort of thing we should all be doing all the time, especially on the Sabbath…
Where Christian Community is at its best, we are places where wholeness and dignity is afforded to everyone, and restored to those who come into the community wounded or marginalized. Where Koinonia is present, where people live together in fellowship and love, living out our faith with each other life flourishes.
Where people take advantage of others, accuse and try to find fault, seek their own gain, or make excuses not to help, that’s where God’s judgment is made known. That’s where Jesus gets angry.
Practicing Koininia is not always easy. For Samuel, it meant speaking an uncomfortable truth – calling to account leaders abusing the community. For Jesus, it meant facing the opposition and hard hearts around him. It meant trying to teach and show them the right way.
Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, basically says, “We are not trying to promote ourselves, we are your servants sharing the message of Good News about Jesus, who brings us light; But we carry around the awesome message of God’s glory and power in simple, everyday, clay pots…. We have this treasure in ordinary clay jars.
In other words, we have been given the privilege of sharing the Good News of God’s love with others, and we need to do so in humility. We do that best when we are rooted in community, practicing koinonia, knowing that mutual love and respect undergirds the way we interact with each other. Because we are just clay jars, our efforts to share the Good News may not look all that extraordinary.
In fact, sometimes, it’s the cracks and flaws in our own clay jar that allow God’s love and Grace to flow from us to another.
On my flight home from Heathrow, after my plane had delayed 8 hours, and we didn’t take off until after midnight, I ended up sitting next to a woman close to my age, and her boyfriend. I hadn’t thought I’d be up to talking to anyone at that point, but she and I seemed to click, and the conversation moved beyond pleasantries to real life. She talked about how she felt lost, trying to figure out who she was. Without revealing too much of her story, she shared some family of origin stories that resonated with some of my own. Out of a crack in my own clay pot, we were able to connect, and I had the opportunity to share with her that being a beloved child of God is our deepest identity, and puts us in a family beyond blood-ties or legal documents. As our psalm said, God knit her together, and knows her well, and she is marvelously made. There’s no where she can go that could take her apart from God’s knowing.
There in the airplane at 2:00 in the morning, somewhere over the Atlantic, we had created a little slice of Koinonia.
I hope that if you are part of this congregation, you experience true Koinonia here at St. Michael’s …I know many of you do. I would love to see everyone have the opportunity to really share who they are with others, and to hear God’s love and grace as its shared through others’ clay jars. To have the opportunity to love and serve each other, and simply to have fun together.
Beyond St. Michael’s, how might God be calling you and me to take our Clay Jars, broken and chipped as they sometimes are, and let God’s redemptive love build Koinonia relationships in other areas of our lives. Koinonia isn’t just for Spelling Bees. For God’s People, It’s is always going to be a winning word. AMEN.