The Living Koinonia
Sister Joan Chittister wrote, "The death of Jesus left a fledgling faith community bereft ... until they themselves rose out of his grave to begin life over again, wiser for what they knew, stronger for what he was, determined now to finish what had already been begun. All things end so that something else can begin."
Her words make me think about what will arise from this tragic situation we’re in today? For Peter and the other Apostles, the answer was simple. Preach the gospel and practice it daily. As a result of their actions, people followed suite, and the world was forever changed.
Imagine if we followed this blueprint of gospel living to relaunch the world’s economy. Imagine if everyone held to the word of God and lived in accordance with it. How wonderful would it be to live in harmony; lacking in nothing?
The early church had a word for this: koinonia, which in ancient Greek means “fellowship” or participation in a shared life. Think about the changes that could happen if we moved from isolation into intimate communities of care in the Spirit of koinonia?
Although today’s reading gives us a wonderful picture of what the church once was, I believe it gives us a vision of what it can be if we can all come together – with one heart and one soul – giving generously as an expression of Christian unity and love.
To borrow from Paul, we are a community of the Spirit, therefore let us agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends with our neighbors. Let us forget ourselves long enough to lend a helping hand to those in need (c.f. Phil. 2:1-4 MSG).
To be a community of the Spirit means to be united with one heart ... the heart of Christ... and to always treat others in loving and sacrificial ways that honor Christ! Sadly, I fear we’ve become unfamiliar with this concept in our divisive, winner takes all kind of world. We’ve been looking out for ourselves for so long that we forget how to love as God loves us. And to live into that love as Christ did.
It’s also worth pointing out that koinonia is noun. You see the early Christians didn’t occasionally fellowship. They were a fellowship, living a way of life that mirrored the way of Jesus. They didn’t just show up to church once a week to hear a good message. They were the church everyday – living the good news in word and deeds as Jesus did. Even with the fear of death looming over their heads (you see, their way of worship was illegal because it did not honor Caesar as god), they risked their lives for the sake of living out the truth. As a result, God added to their numbers.
Up until the stay at home order, few of us have experienced life together as the early Christians did – as a common, daily, material life of unity and sharing. Sure, most of us were good at reaching out to others on Instagram or texts, but overall we live lives that are very much our own. It’s safer that way. There’s very little risk involved when others aren’t in the mix.
The problem is, we were not meant to be alone but in community, in deep and vulnerable relationships with others. It didn’t surprise me that the one thing people want to keep going once this pandemic has passed is their community of family and friends.
watch message here
I don’t want to go back to the self-isolation that we already had in place before all this happened. Where we travel from our home to our job back to home again with little regard of our neighbors and their wellbeing. Is it wrong for me to think that maybe Covid is God’s way of bringing us together again – moving us from self-isolation to a life that is genuinely inter-dependent like we read in Acts.
One does not have look further than social media to see how a small flame of koinonia is lighting up the world again. Every day stories are being posted of folks pulling out lawn chairs on their driveways to share happy hour with neighbors whom they’ve never really socialized with until now. Like the first church, people are finding new ways to spend time together, sharing meals “with glad and generous hearts.” This is koinonia.
And what about the now infamous impromptu sing-a-long that happened on Italian balconies; inspiring cities around the world to do the same. In New York City, people are applauding medical personal and first responders from their windows as a signal of unity and support. Music and praises lifted up to God’s ears. This is koinonia.
I just saw on TV Subaru is partnering with Feeding America to help people who are struggling during this pandemic. Here in L.A., the Unified School District has vowed to use their resources to make sure their students (and their families) still get fed at least two meals a day. Volunteers have signed up and have served over 15 million meals to date. Pooling resources and working together to help all who are in need. That is koinonia.
In our neighborhood people are sharing fruit from their trees, bread from their ovens, and books from their homes. This is what the world is supposed to be like: sharing life together in harmony and peace. Recalling the words of Brian Tracy who said, "Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others." This echos the ethics of Jesus, who showed us how to truly live by giving his love away freely.
Jesus knew that even the smallest act of kindness is powerful enough to transform people and communities. A conversation with a woman at the well, an dinner invitation for a sinner to sit and share the table with him, a gentle touch of compassion shown to a leper who by law had been excluded from his community. These are just a few signs and wonders of God at work in the world healing our wounds and leaving us in awe.
This is what I want to happen when the country opens up again. I want the entire world to constantly be in awe of the Spirit of God working in us and through us and all around us. I want love to be the power that drives our world’s economies and treaties. And I believe it can.
In this flicker of koinonia, I see hope growing and fears fading. I see bridges connecting people and walls disappearing. But who will stoke its flame with me? It’s not like hunger, poverty or health care needs will disappear once the pandemic has passed.
In giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus empowers all of us to take these threads of good will and weave them into a new social order. As the church, the very body of Christ himself, we must be the positive jolt that moves the world towards new social habits that care to the wellbeing of all people. (Marty, 2020) By practicing koinonia the church can lead the way making positive changes in the world.
But in order to be the agents of change, we must be willing to first change ourselves. For far too long Christians have pushed people away instead of inviting them in. We spend more time playing church than actually being the church. We need to take a risk and be the gospel and good news in the world for transformation to happen.
We must set aside the church doctrines and political differences that separate us and live in unity and awe of the risen Christ who holds us all together in God’s grace and love. In Christ, we are the very heartbeat of God’s love that not only revives the soul of the world, but resurrects it to new life.
In closing, I want to leave you with a familiar saying of mine. I want you to know that: You are loved. And you are love. Go and be both – and you will be ready to truly embrace whatever today and tomorrow brings.
Marty, Peter W. "The Coronavirus Pandemic is Nurturing Neighborliness." christiancentury.org. April 24, 2020. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/editorpublisher/coronavirus-pandemic-nurturing-neighborliness (accessed May 1, 2020).
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”