(Homily for Gayton Road Christian Church's Worship on October 22, 2017, Proper 24)
A Meal—And So Much More
Some of you may have already heard or read this story. Over a month ago, Jeff and Rebecca helped Lu move a few things from her house to the church for the yard sale. Then, just a couple Sundays ago, Lu found herself in the position to return the help. After we had broken bread and shared a meal at Deep Run Park, Jeff needed a ride home. He and Rebecca had come together, but she had to leave the park early to go to work, leaving Jeff without a car.
Lu offered to give Jeff a ride. The way she tells it, this was just to return the favor. But I know better. I know that the ride that Lu offered was not part of some exchange. It was a gift. Just as Jeff and Rebecca had done a month before, Lu was simply sharing what she could share in a moment of need. She would have done what she did whether or not there was a favor to return.
In any case, Jeff got in Lu’s Prius and they turned onto Ridgefield, headed home. Almost immediately, though, the car had what Lu called “a bout of hiccups”: “the right rear tire was bouncing and veering off.” Now, if you know Lu, you know she’s a fighter and not to be deterred by a little bump here or there. It’s my understanding that she had planned to keep driving. Lucky for her that Jeff was in the car, because his mechanical sixth-sense told him that the tire was about to blow. I don’t know how Jeff convinced Lu of this, but somehow he did, and just after they crossed Pump Road, they turned into a parking lot.
Jeff immediately got to work. He found the little temporary tire and began to install it. Just then, a truck pulled into the parking lot. Lu was fearing the worst—that it would be someone telling them they could not park here—but in fact it was a stranger who had worked for AAA for years and wanted to offer his help. He could tell that the temporary tire was low on air, so he ran it down to the nearest station to refill it. Some time later the faulty tire was replaced, and Lu and Jeff completed their journey down Ridgefield to Jeff’s home.
What a Sunday for Jeff and Lu! Little did they know what they were getting into when they came to church. A meal, yes—but so much more.
Pentecost: The Modern Church Poster Child?
In the verses that precede today’s scripture, we have the roar and the rumble of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God rushes upon the crowd of Christ-followers and they make quite a scene, speaking in all sorts of languages and declaring the glory of God. Peter then raises his voice and gives a rousing, revival-worthy sermon, and three thousand people are baptized, committing their lives to the way of Christ.
I’ll be honest. Hearing about Pentecost Sunday when the church was born, reminds me a little bit of the glitz and glam of the contemporary religious scene, of mega-churches and feel-good conferences, where the volume is turned up and everyone leaves on a high. In our modern world, where many churches promise spectacle and self-gain, Pentecost can be distorted into the perfect piece of propaganda. Here’s what church is. Here’s what Sunday is: a great, spirited performance and everyone leaves happy.
The Commonness of Church
But in scripture, the story does not end with Pentecost. After the spectacle, the real life of the church begins. That’s what we see in today’s passage. Church is more than a single event. Sunday is more than a show. It’s no coincidence that the first followers of Christ were often called members of “the Way.” They were identified not by a single event of salvation, but rather by their commitment to a way of life.
What did that way look like? Today’s scripture says that the early Christ-followers were committed to koinonia, a Greek work that our Bible translates as “fellowship.” But koinonia is a much richer word than “fellowship” would suggest. Some people propose the alternative translation “community” or “communion,” but I believe a better translation would be “commonness.” The word koinonia comes from the Greek word, koinos, which means something like “common.” It contains both senses of that word: “common” as something that is shared in common, and “common” as something that is mundane, or commonplace.
So when the early Christ-followers committed themselves to koinonia, or commonness, they were committing themselves to sharing the mundane. And that’s exactly what we see in today’s scripture. We see them daily breaking bread together, gathering in their homes together, praying together, joining their resources together. Come to think of it, this is the same stuff Jesus did.
Everyday, the early Christ-followers shared the mundane parts of their lives together: food, words, things, homes. Church wasn’t a one-time event in the week. It was a way of life. Scholars speculate that at this stage in church history, Christ-followers would not have distinguished between the Lord’s Supper and “just a meal”: every meal together was eaten in remembrance and anticipation of the Lord. Likewise giving was not an offering enclosed in an envelope; it was what they did whenever someone was in need.
All this to say: long before the long robes arrived on the scene, installing their pulpits and ordaining their ministers and prescribing the elements of worship, the church was already alive and well. Not in a spectacular way, but rather in a very common, everyday way—in the way of Jesus. The church committed itself to koinonia, “commonness.” The church shared the mundane.
When Does Church End? Begin?
I think back to two weeks ago. Like the early church, we broke bread together at Deep Run. And a little bit later, we left. Was that the end of church? Was that the conclusion to Sunday?
It wasn’t for Lu and Jeff. For Lu and Jeff, I’d dare say, church was just getting started. They were about to share a rather mundane, headache-inducing experience together. Lu would share her car. Jeff would share his mechanical know-how. A stranger would share his truck.
Koinonia. Commonness. The church shares the mundane. After the sound system is unplugged and the spectators leave satisfied, that’s when church really begins.
Common and Sacred
A little bit later today, we will enter into this koinonia, this commonness, as we break bread together. Traditionally we take communion all together. This is a good and meaningful practice. It represents our oneness as a church, our integrity with the body of Christ. In my experience, though, there are occasionally side effects. At some larger churches, communion has felt to me like a spectator sport, where I watch from my seat in the audience as the clergy perform. Or sometimes it has felt like simply another shopping transaction in my week, a private little pick-me-up not unlike a Starbucks coffee. Or sometimes it has felt like nothing at all.
As our Visioning Team learned this last year, Gayton Road feels called to share the life of faith in small groups, where two or three are gathered—and with good reason. The blessing of small groups is that they encourage koinonia, commonness, sharing the mundane.
I remember the first time I took communion with only a handful of Christ-followers. We sat in a small circle. We read, prayed, and blessed the bread and cup together. Our hands touched as we broke the bread for each other. We looked into each other’s eyes as we served each other the cup. These were the most common of elements and most common of human interactions. And yet here, bread and cup and touch and gaze were more than throwaway gestures. Here they became the body of Christ. I trembled. In that circle, I felt a holiness that I had not often felt in a sanctuary, as I received and shared the love of Christ in a very bodily, tangible, matter-of-fact way. How common that experience was—and yet how sacred!
Today we sit in small groups of six or seven. At communion, each small group will be invited to share the bread and the cup and the prayers together. Like the early followers of Christ, we will share the mundane: bread, words, hands. It may feel unremarkable. I don’t know, it might even feel tedious—not unlike changing a tire! That’s okay. In fact, that may be a good thing. The church is not a spectacle or a gathering for self-gain. If today’s scripture is any indication, the church is much more profound than that—so profound, in fact, that it shares and sanctifies even the most mundane.
Shared among all
In the mundane parts of life:
Bread, prayers, tires, trucks—
Draw us out of our self-seeking
Into the sacred commonness
Of life together,
Where we are embraced
By your love. Amen.