July 8th, 2018

Sharing the Food of Fellowship
Acts 2:42-47

Have you ever noticed how we tend to associate certain foods with certain events or ideas? Let me illustrate.

What food do you most often associate with a celebration of one’s birthday? (A birthday cake).

What food do you associate with seeing a movie at a theater? (Buttered popcorn).

What food do you associate with Thanksgiving? (Turkey).

Last of all, what food do you associate with a feeling of togetherness at church? The answer should be “bread and juice” or simply "communion.” You see, that’s what communion is. The bread and juice are the foods of fellowship. It’s the meal we share that celebrates those things we share in common.

That was the meaning of communion for the early church. It was their way of saying “Jesus died for us and we take these symbols of body and blood to show that we’re together in this.” Communion for them was celebrating what they shared in common. For them, the bread and wine was The Food of Fellowship. Listen to Luke as he tries to convey this sense of togetherness in today’s text found in Acts 2:42-47.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Did you hear the theme of togetherness Luke weaves throughout his description? In verse 42, Luke states that they devoted themselves to fellowship. In verse 44 Luke says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” In verse 46 he states that “Every day they continued to meet together.” Then he tells us that “They broke bread in their homes and ate together.” Words like “together,” “common” and “fellowship” formed the basis for everything the early church did.

That word “fellowship” is interesting. It's the Greek work, kononia. Kononia, describes “an intimate sharing of commonness.” Sometimes kononia is translated “communion;” and in verse 42, where Luke talks about “breaking bread,” I think “observing communion” might be the better translation. The root word for koinonia is the Greek word koinos, a word that means “in common.” That’s why the words “communion” and “common” are so much alike. They both come from the same root, a word that means, “in common.”

Communion is always a celebration of those things believers share “in common.” That’s why, today, I am calling the bread and wine of communion the Food of Fellowship. It's the meal that celebrates what we share in common.

What are those things we share in common? We all share a common forgiveness, the forgiveness we find in Jesus Christ. We all share a common love, the love modeled for us by Christ. We all share a common goal, the goal of proclaiming the gospel of Christ. We all share a common task, a ministry of love and grace; and we all share a common hope, the hope of eternal life with Jesus Christ. So when we come to the communion table it’s a celebration of those things we share in common.

Obviously, there are many things that could divide us, many things we do not commonly hold. Some of us like one type of music. Some like another. Some like one kind of worship. Some like another. Some think the church should have one type of ministry. Some prefer a different ministry. Indeed, there are many areas where we differ, but when we come to the Lord’s Table, it’s a time to set our differences aside and celebrate what we share in common through Christ, because what we share in common is so much more important than those things that cause us to differ. Communion, for the early church and for us, is a time when Christians look each other straight in the eye and say, “We may differ, but if you believe in Jesus you belong with me.”

Have you ever noticed what happens at Neyland Stadium on a Saturday afternoon in the fall? Without being told, over 100,000 people start acting as one. When the team wearing orange and white runs on to the field, over 100,000 people cheer together. When the first kickoff occurs, over 100,000 people simultaneously stand. When the referee makes a questionable call, over 100,000 people show their common displeasure. When the team wins, over 100,000 people ecstatically celebrate together; and on those days when the team loses, over 100,000 people collectively weep.

Now, examine more closely those people who are acting as one. They’re a hodgepodge of diversity. Within that group are staunch Republicans and Yellow Dog Democrats. Catholics are cheering along with Buddhists and Baptists are applauding with Muslims. In that group, lawyers sit next to garbage collectors and PhD’s sit next to those who can barely read. But still they come together as one. Why? Because it’s Game Day and on Game Day fans aren’t interested in what separates them. Their focus is on their common love for the team in the orange and white.

In the New Testament Church, Communion was Game Day for the early Christians and the bread and wine was game day food. It was the Food of Fellowship. When the church celebrated communion it came together, not to remember differences, but to celebrate their common love for Jesus Christ.

Quickly, let’s look again at last verse of today’s text. Verse 47 states that the early church “enjoyed favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I like William Barclay’s comment on this verse. He writes that when Jerusalem saw the unity of people, “they couldn’t help but like them.”

I believe there’s a lesson here. A church’s greatest tool for attracting people is not its building, its pastor or its programs. A church’s greatest tool for attracting people is its sense of loving harmony. When the people of a community realize that church is a place where the people truly love each other, they can’t help but be attracted. But the opposite is also true. When the people of a community hear about a church that’s fussing and fighting, they avoid that church like the plague.

Just this week I was talking to a Knoxville pastor about a church in turmoil. He told me that over a hundred people had left that church. When I asked him why, his answer was simple. He said, “Most of the folks just got tired of dealing with the fuss.” Yes, when a church’s fellowship is sweet, people are drawn into that fellowship, but when fellowship is broken, the church declines.

Several years ago, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. It's a huge church constructed over the place where early Christians believed Jesus was crucified and buried.

As we walked through the elaborate, massive building, our guide explained that the church continues to be a place of constant battling and bickering among the three different Christians traditions that consider themselves as custodians of the church: the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church. Sadly, the tensions between these three Christian groups regularly erupt in ugly skirmishes.

On a hot summer day in 2002, a Greek monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Armenians and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.

In 2004, during a Greek Orthodox celebration, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the other two groups and a fistfight broke out.

On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out when a Greek monk was ejected from the building by a rival faction. Police were called to the scene to break up the fight.

As I stood in the place where the Prince of Peace died for you and me, I couldn't help but think how grieved he must be, knowing that his followers spend more time arguing over the place of his death than following his example of peace.

Of course, the Romans, Greeks and Armenians are not the only ones guilty of fighting over religious differences. We Baptists have had our share of ugly, religious fights. And unless I’m mistaken, even this church has, at times, been marked by ugly disagreements, skirmishes that have impaired our testimony to our neighbors here in Grainger County. Surely, our Lord must be grieved whenever the Christian testimony is marked, not by our love for each other, but by bickering.

That's why the act of communion is so important for us. It regularly reminds us that, despite our differences, what we hold in common is so much more important. Communion reminds us that we must set aside our differences and focus on those things we share in common. It’s not a day to reflect on who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not a day to focus on our diverse opinions. It’s a day to taste the flavor of koinonia, the Food of Fellowship.

Singer Russ Taft once wrote these profound lyrics. He writes,
Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand, why we pull away from each other so easily;
Even though we are walking the same road, we build dividing walls between our brothers and ourselves.
But I, I don’t care what label you may wear, for if you believe in Jesus you belong with me.
Oh, the bond we share is all I care to see, for we can change the world together if you’ll join with me, join and sing;
You’re my brother, you’re my sister; so take me by the hand; together we will work until he comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us, when we’re walking side by side, as long as there is love, we will stand.

“As long as there is love, we will stand.” That’s the cry of koinonia. That’s the heartbeat of communion. At the table of Jesus Christ we do not stand face to face, confronting each other about our differences. We stand side by side saying to each other, “We may be different but if you believe in Jesus you belong with me.”