Essentials: Fellowship

Good morning – we hope you all had an enjoyable Thanksgiving this week.  Fellowshipping with your family and friends.  That’s the topic of the morning today.  Today we are in our fourth of five weeks – and we’re talking about the essentials of a strong and growing faith.  We’re talking about how to pray and how to study the word and how to worship – and today we’re talking about the importance and value of fellowship.

That term can be tricky because we really Americanized the idea of fellowship.  The first time I heard this term used was when I started going to church.  I learned that donuts and coffee are being served in the fellowship hall downstairs.  Hmm?  Fellowship Hall, eh?

I venture downstairs to find this “fellowship hall.”  I eventually make my way into a large room, with a hole cut into the side of the wall, covered with a metal shade.  It looked exactly like this.

We teenagers would gather near the shade because we’d hear all kinds of noise going on in the other side, right?  What was going on was there was a bunch of church ladies in there getting ready to feed the hounds.

We’re all jockeying for position – and suddenly, the shade goes up, and the donut lady starts passing through trays of donuts that are placed on tables.

Even today, the sound of metal shade rattling and I start drooling.  Like Pavlov’s dog’s I can’t help it.

Is that fellowship?  It’s not supposed to be – biblical fellowship is supposed to look like much more than donuts and coffee.

I’d say it’s supposed to look like this!  Remember the movie Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbit and the dwarf and the elf and the man are united by a common cause, Together we’re going to get this ring into that there volcano!

This is much more akin to fellowship than a donut and a coffee.  Biblical fellowship is people united by a cause.  United by a mission.  Willing to risk life and limb to accomplish it.  To be there for one another at all costs.

We too, come from different backgrounds. (Some of you are hobbits and others of you elves) We too have different origin stories.  And yet – we are untied by the mission placed in front of us.  We are united by the cross. We are united by Jesus.

And what is this cause?  We are united with God and with one another to repair this broken world.  We are called by God to conspire with Him on a great adventure to repair what is broken in this sin-corrupted world.

Primarily – we are working with God to repair relationships.  Our relationship with God – broken by sin.  Our relationship to one another – broken by sin.  The cause that unites our fellowship is the work of repairing broken relationships.

When sin entered the world our relationship with God was damaged.  Adam and Eve walked with God like friends in a garden.  But sin created an insurmountable barrier that cut off our fellowship with God.  Our friendship with Him was broken.  We had decided to go our own way, leaving God behind as we decided to fend for ourselves.

Now we spent quote a bit of time talking about how the cross repairs our ability to have a relationship with God.

Today I want to talk about how the work of Jesus repairs community itself.  It repairs fellowship with one another.  Not only did Jesus die to create a new kind of humanity – Jesus died to create a new kind of community.

And oh, how we need it!   One of the results of sin is damaged community at every level.  Damaged fellowship – at even those levels that should be the strongest.

Theoretically – there is no greater love than a mother has for her child.  Or a father has for his child.  Why do I have to say theoretically?  Because some of you are thinking – you wouldn’t say that if you saw MY thanksgiving.

Sadly – even those bonds of fellowship that should be strongest – the ties tha bond a family – have been mercilessly shredded by selfishness and sin.

Even our family relationships have been torn apart by sin.  You know what’s interesting?  If you were to read through the bible and begin to notice how broken families become – immediately after sin enters the scene.

You might not be familiar with all of these examples – but if you read through the Bible you will learn about how sin has broken even the fellowship of a family.

Adam and Eve’s first two sons – Cain kills Abel in a jealous rage.  Joseph is about to be killed by his brothers – but is instead only sold into slavery by them?  Rachel and Leah are sisters who are fighting.  Jacob and Esau – King David is driven out of the palace by his son – Absalom.   In the New Testament we have Mary and Martha fighting.

And let’s not miss this either – at one point in Jesus life his brothers come to bring him home.  Mark 3 – And the crowd says – Your brothers and your mother are here – and do you know what Jesus says to them?

33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

What is Jesus saying?  He is saying that – don’t miss this – faith in Jesus brings us into a relationship that is stronger than family ties.  Jesus is saying that the fellowship that comes through faith is stronger than the fellowship that comes from blood.

Family is no guarantee of true community.  In fact it’s often the place where it’s most broken.  But faith in Jesus brings us into a community headed by our Heavenly father who says He loves us better than our own mother can.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

Isaiah 49 NIV

What am I saying?  Sin has not only wrecked our bodies with disease – our heats with lust and anger, it’s not only wrecked creation – but it’s wrecked community.  It’s wrecked fellowship.

Of course, it’s more than just a family.  All of our relationships are prone to decay.  Our romantic relationships – the community of a husband and wife? Can we admit that it’s easily chipped and requires constant maintenance?

Our community with friends?  Sin has made that just as tenuous.  Just ask Peter and Jesus.  Jesus too has felt the painful sting of an unfaithful friend.

Sin has ravaged all of our deepest bonds of fellowship – where can we turn to find true community?

Now – it’s at this point I’d love to be able to stand up and say – you can find it at the church!  It’s here!  But many of you are here today after a long time away from the church because you felt the abandoned or abused or forced out of a church.  I’d like to say that here at Journey you’ve found a church that is united by the work of Jesus on the cross – united by our common need for salvation and united by the thrill of grace.

But it’s up to you all to determine whether we will be that kind of church.  And I have hopes.  Because the cross Jesus not only reconciles our relationship with God, but he also repairs and reclaims fellowship.  Jesus rescues community – and says – I am going to create – not only a new kind of human – but I am going to create a new kind of community.  A new kind of fellowship.

That means what’s going on in here has to be more than what happens at a club.  This has to be more than a religious club.

See a club – a club is a place where people get together and make a connection over one particular thing.  If you join a gun club – you talk about guns.  You aren’t going to say – in the middle of changing clips – hey how’s things with your marriage?  How are you guys.  Like – the gun friend is going to say – we’re here to shoot guns.

But when we come to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with our lives – the connections we make are at the deepest soul level – my life and your life were both spared and saved by Jesus laying down his life.  The result, as the bible says -there is now no longer those distinctions – there isn’t any rich or poor, slave or free, jew or gentile, Barbarian or Scythian.

Now – if true – chew on the implications.  It means we will be closer to and have more in common with a believer from Iran than we will with a next door neighbor who does not believe in God.

You will have more in common with a brother or sister in Jesus who lives in Beijing – than you will with a non-believing person who happens to share all of your exact views on politics.

If we’re struggling with this idea, and I imagine many of us are, it’s likely because we haven’t yet tasted anything close to what the bible considers “fellowship.”

And we have to ask ourselves whether we are part of the church or just joined a religious club.

It is God’s desire to reclaim community.  To restore community to it’s original condition – through the fellowship of believers in the church.

Jesus has announced this from day one of his ministry.  If you read the Sermon on the Mount in Mattthew 5,6,7 – it’s right there in front of us.  But it’s tough to see sometimes because of our limited language.  It’s because most of America doesn’t have a word for the second person plural.

Thankfully – for those of us who lived in the south a few years?  Or maybe seen the dukes of Hazard?  We learned a word that’s very southern but also quite useful.  It’s the word Y’all.  Second person plural.  What’s Ya’ll doing tonight.  We’re fixing to go bowling and then to waffle house for some grits.  Now cut off that light and let’s go.

Now my friends in Georgia would see that it’s always been Jesus desire to create a new kind of community.  And that’s because they understand that Jesus was really saying here…

13 “Ya’ll are the salt of the earth.

14 “Ya’ll are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

Do you know the minimum size of a church?  Jesus tells us – wherever two or three are gathered in my name – there I’ll be too.  Why two?  Because we weren’t created to go alone.  We need one another.

What are we supposed to do together?  If Frodo and the gang had a great mission – throw the ring in the fire!  What is the mission of our fellowship together?

Let me look at one passage of scripture in Romans 12 – and I want us to note the two aspects of fellowship – there is an internal aspect of fellowship as well as an external one.

Romans 12

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

Love each other with genuine affection, and

take delight in honoring each other.

13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.

Always be eager to practice hospitality.

15 Be happy with those who are happy,

and weep with those who weep.

16 Live in harmony with each other.

Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.

And don’t think you know it all!

Would you just take a moment to imagine with me that Journey would be this kind of church both now and forever more?  That we would love one another deeply.  What has to happen in here for this to be the case?  And what has to happen in here for me to be able to contribute to this new kind of community?

But true fellowship goes beyond the walls of the church.

Now let’s read the portions of this passage that describe how we are to interact with a world that doesn’t believe in Jesus yet?  How does the community of Jesus interact with the world?

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them;

pray that God will bless them.

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. 

20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

Is this how we are presently operating – are we the kind of people – am I the kind of person – who is operating like this when it comes to people I see as against me?

Frankly – I can’t help but wonder if the church in general hasn’t blundered our opportunity to be a blessing in 2020.  God has given us an opportunity to be the kinds of people in this kind of world – the kind of people who demonstrate grace and poise and love and charity – and I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t fumbled the chance.

The fellowship to which we are called – the fellowship and community that Jesus seeks to recreate – that he died to create – 1. Loves and respects one  another deeply – and 2.  Blesses an unbelieving world.

Thankfully – we serve the God of a second chance.  2020 is not yet over – and 2021 lurks right around the corner.    And we have the chance to rise to the occasion as people who love one another and bless the world.

Now let’s talk very practically – how can we at Journey go about strengthening our community and our fellowship.

When I was a kid and we were bored we’d play a game with a bunch of dots and you would connect lines and then if you finished the box you put your initial in the box.

You know what we don’t want a Journey?  We don’t want to have a church filled with people who feel like they are unconnected dots. We want our church to be connected – or to find it easy to get connected when they desire it.

But how?

I think the only way is to intentionally – relentlessly pursue biblical friendships. biblical fellowship, biblical community.  As much as I’d like to say it’s easy to get connected at Journey – the reality is it always takes effort – intentional, sometimes relentless pursuit.

I remember sitting last year with a couple who said – we’re having a difficult time getting connected at Journey – but we aren’t giving up.  We know the value of it.  And to their credit they pursued until the found a group that they are connecting with.  It took intentional pursuit.

Be committed to the cost of it.  The cost is usually – the risk of putting yourself out there – Anytime you love someone you are taking a risk.  And it’s worth it to find a place – to create a group of spiritual friends – who know you and love you anyway.

How do we get it?  There are some starting points – Here at Journey – we have small groups.  We’d love to start new ones up – if you can lead a group will you please use your gifts to make our church healthier and stronger?  Send us your name.  Or write it on your communication card – or email me at philhuman@gmail.com.  We’d love to talk about how we can find a community for you.

Another way is to join a service team.  Getting to know people – spending time with others – shoulder to shoulder ministering alongside – opens the doors to spiritual friendships.

Relentlessly pursue community.  Donuts and coffee are great but there is much more to be gained when we relentlessly pursue true biblical community.