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What a Fellowship!
a sermon based on 1 John 1-2:1 / Acts 4:32-35
Rev. Tom Hall

Easter is . . . fellowship!" That’s how Luke might describe Easter. He reports to us of early Christians, "They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers . . . and the Lord added to their group those who were being saved." And in today’s second lesson Luke says, "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one even claimed private ownership of any possessions . . ."

Fellowship may well have been the single most important characteristic of the early Christians. What good is doctrine or theology or sermons without community, without commitment, without sharing? And how can we truly pray without being involved enough in one another’s lives so that we know what to pray about? And without fellowship, what is Holy Communion? Just a pile of disconnected thumbs, toes, and fingers. Fellowship is what connects us all together in Holy Communion so that we are pulled together, we are truly one body in Christ and members of each other. That’s what one early Christian--historian Luke--tells us about Easter. Easter is . . . fellowship.

But let’s hear from another early Christian and see what he says about Easter. Our second lesson comes from 1st John. Jerome says that this early Christian writer is none other than the Apostle John-the last surviving disciple. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have seen or heard the violent deaths of all your closest friends. You remember Thomas who has been speared to death by a mob in India; Peter has been crucified upside down by the Emperor Nero in Rome; James has died with a sword in his chest. All had died. Except John. Jerome says that John lived to be an aged man--well into his nineties. And Eusebius tells us that when a feeble old man, the young men would carry him on a pallet into the house churches. And he would arch his bony finger at them and say "Little children, love one another." This aged Christian who had helped the little Christian communities through division, persecution, and growth, was finally about to die. What are his last words to us Christians? Well, he sums up the Christian life with a single word--fellowship. Today’s lesson is John’s how-to manual for beginning a vital relationship with God and with our sisters and brothers. Begins by recovering the word, fellowship.

John uses this word four times in this short chapter. But what does that word really mean? We have a place here called Fellowship Hall and we have a fellowship hour after every service. Fellowship is a cup of coffee, exchanging ideas, talk about the weather, meeting new members or visitors. Fellowship is what we do when we get together before, during, or after worship. Yesterday morning, twenty something of us men enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the elegant Ranck’s Restaurant-a feast for eyes and stomach. I noticed our music leader brought his own take-home bag-one of those black plastic trash bags to haul away all his leftovers. And next Sunday after church, we’ll sit down with men from Teen Challenge-people whose lives have been broken and brutalized by drugs and bad choices, but yet who are now Christians and letting God help them put their lives back together. But is all of this talk about fellowship really fellowship?

Let me answer this question with a story. Story begins in Norway way back in the 8th century. Sven and Ole are two neighbors who want to make it big in the livestock-farming industry. Since the livestock-farming industry won’t kick into for another three centuries, Sven and Ole are on the cutting edge. Sven, who wants to get most of the land in Norway, collects his money, which in those days came in the form sheep, cattle, and goats. So he gives all of his money--sheep, cattle, and goats--to buy most of Norway from Ole.

Now Ole, on the other hand, wants to be the largest rancher in Norway. So he sells all of his land to Sven--and soon gets most of the sheep, cattle, and goats in the land. A deal is struck and Sven is the proud owner of most of the real estate of Norway and Ole is the owner of most of the livestock. But when Sven and Ole get back home they both realize that they have a big problem on their hand. Sven, who is now the largest landowner in Norway has no more livestock--he's spent all his life money--all his sheep, cattle, and goats--to buy the land from Ole. So he's the biggest landowner, but doesn't have so much as a scrawny chicken to put on it.

Ole, of course is a proud rancher! He’s got most of the livestock on Norway. But Ole has not even an acre of land to his name. Sold it all to get the livestock. So he wonders how he can raise 2000 head of sheep, cattle, and goats in his living room. Sven and Ole have a problem.

So after a week or so, Sven and Ole happen to bump into each other at Floyd’s Barbershop. Sven is bored stiff--has been playing checkers every day at the store. What’s to do with all the land in Norway if a man can’t raise anything. Ole, on the other hand, has dark rings under his eyes. Hasn't got any sleep since they struck the deal--due to the excessive noise coming from his living room. So Sven and Ole come to a mutual decision. They decide to form a felagi (fee-la-gi). Felagi means that they partner--they both throw their properties and animals together to form a common purpose--and in this story, the first land and livestock monopoly in Norway is formed.

Felagi means to partner with another. To give something up and to receive something in exchange. It means to share a common life. And so almost a thousand years later a group of learned scholars have been summoned by the king to produce a new translation of the Bible. These men take their job seriously. Eventually they work their way to Acts 2:42: "Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and koinonia, to breaking of bread and the prayers." But how do you translate that second word, koinonia, they wondered. They more they read through Acts and then into 1st John, the more it reminded them of that old Norwegian word felagi. So that's what they did. They translated koinonia with the word felagi, which by now had evolved from felagi to felagiship or fellowship.

Fellowship is to partner with God. Fellowship is giving God your life--handing over to God all of your family, all of your land, all of your resources, all of your cattle, sheep, and goats. Through Jesus Christ we daily hand our lives over to God--our aspirations, our dreams, our fears and failures, the cares that wear us down that form creases on our faces. That's the giving part. Now comes the receiving part of fellowship: we can receive daily the forgiveness of sins, daily the promise of his presence, daily the reassurance of God’s love, daily spiritual sustenance through God’s words in Bible. John says that to claim this partnership with God, yet to hold back or not to give in this relationship is really to walk in darkness--to live in confusion and to live as though you were both the giver and receiver. Vertical relationship. Fellowship with God.

Fellowship is also partnering with other Christians. In Jesus, God calls us to partner wiith other believers in this congregation. When Paul was about to visit the Christians at Rome, he wrote, "I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to you to strengthen you." But in the same breath, Paul hastens to add--"that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11). Paul understood fellowship much like Sven and Ole understood felagi--it is a two-way street, a partnership.

What does fellowship look like at our church? Fellowship is making ourselves a means of grace to others. To become sacramental Christians. Fellowship is giving out of our resources and knowledge so that someone else is strengthened. Fellowship is having somebody pray for you. Fellowship is having someone lend you a car or driver when yours is broken. Fellowship is sharing your experiences of trial or triumph with another who actually listens and supports you. Fellowship is a small group that invites us offer our failings and struggles without fear and in complete trust. Fellowship happens whenever two or more persons get together to know God better, and then seek to share their insights with another person. Fellowship happens in preaching, in prayer together, in private counseling, discussion groups, at meals, between husbands and wives and All Teams. But the result is always the same: the power and presence of the Lord is known afresh and that knowledge comes through another fellow-Christian.

To withhold this partnership is to walk a Christian in solitary confinement. Or in the words of our writer to "walk in darkness." Be encouraged. Hear the Good News that through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can enjoy a partnership of receiving and giving with God and with our brothers and sisters. Let's have fellowship. Amen.