Happy new year church!
Last fall, I unveiled our mission statement: helping broken people find healing in Christ! In the process, I articulated (I did not come up with; you have valued them for years) our values. Last month, I reminded you of how we value teaching. This month, allow me to remind you that we value fellowship. I love you. I value you. You love one another. You value one another. I have been here for fourteen years; some of you have been here twice as long; others of you have been here for over half a century. Some of us have only been around since the corona virus pandemic. Whether you have experienced brotherhood (or sisterhood) with someone across the Sanctuary for seven decades, or seven months, you understand the importance of having high-quality friends here in this church family.
Fellowship is a sweet and beautiful thing. We have laughed together on trips to the Dan’l Boone Inn; we have sweated alongside one another on a mission trip; we have attended conferences and retreats together. We’ve hidden Easter eggs together; we’ve painted V.B.S. back drops on corrugated cardboard; we’ve set up and taken down tables and chairs for special events; we’ve stirred the chicken stew pot. We’ve sat around the table studying God’s Word together; we’ve shared how it applied within our own lives; we’ve gone to the altar together and prayed over one another, and these are just the times where we’ve had fellowship around corporate or group events! Many of you have shared vacation, your kids have played on the same sports teams, you invite one another over for dinner parties, or get together for coffee just to catch up. We have laughed, swapped stories, poked fun, broken bread, and taxied one another’s children…together. Fellowship is friendship; it’s comradery; it’s also about working together toward a common mission. In doing so, we brighten each other’s life!
Fellowship most notable in the good times we share, but fellowship is most necessary in the bad times. The Greek word κοινωνια is found throughout the New Testament, and it’s this word that typically gets translated into the English “fellowship”. This Greek word (transliterated “koinonia”) has the image of shouldering a load together. When we think of a team of people, or oxen, or any other group pulling or lifting or carrying a load, we can usually think of the ability to work, the whole, being greater than the sum of its parts. This picture of shouldering a load together helps us see more clearly what biblical fellowship entails. Bearing burdens together is what makes fellowship most necessary.
We all go through bad times, but some of us have gone through exceptionally terrible times. Some of us have been abandoned by our spouse, or perhaps worse yet, have our spouse stray into infidelity. When a family is ripped apart in divorce, that is a terrible time. Others of us have lost loved ones; some of us have gone through the most unnatural of events and buried a child. Some of us have lost loved ones at their own hand. Most of us can’t even imagine this tidal wave of grief that just crashes across the lives of these friends. We have had people in the past, and we have people today, that feel like they are going to drown in a flood of grief.
Some of us have had people steal from us, others have received zero return on an investment. Some have had businesses fail, others have had mountains of debt and file bankruptcy. It’s great to have someone mail us a much needed check to help us pay a bill; it’s even better to have someone put their hand on our shoulder, pray with us and give us a word of encouragement. Some of us have opened our homes, served a hot meal, and walked a single mother through the Financial Peace program, helping her to make a budget, and stood by her for months and years as she has struggled to stick to it.
Some of our saintly widows have visited the home of a grieving mother, not to say anything, but simply to hold a hand and offer a hug. One of these precious ladies pulled me aside years ago, just to offer home as a place of refuge if a wife and her children were unsafe. How many of us are thinking even now of a hug, or a hand on our shoulder, or a word of empathy from someone that we knew had walked our road before us? This is fellowship. This is carrying burdens with and for someone, so that they won’t have to do so alone. Just this year, I have had multiple people take me to lunch, not because I was hungry, but because I needed to vent. The smallest act of encouragement can be more of a blessing to a brother or sister in Christ, than we’ll ever know. Who has helped you shoulder your load? Whose burdens have you helped to bear?
Aren’t you thankful for fellowship during your hardest days, or seasons? Aren’t you thankful for those who have come alongside you? When you share dinner with those folks today, isn’t the meal just a little richer? Aren’t the smiles a bit more genuine? Aren’t the laughs even heartier? Biblical fellowship is most necessary in the bad times. When we have experienced the love of a friend in those bad times, it certainly makes the good times better, and the fellowship of joy that much sweeter!
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds