April 8, 2018

THE ABUNDANCE IN FELLOWSHIP

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 133
Acts 4:32-35

1 John 4:7-21

REFLECTION

Psalm 133, which is one of our readings today, was a song that pilgrims used to sing as they journeyed uphill to a religious festival in the city of Jerusalem. The Psalm is infused with excitement and joy as the pilgrims were looking forward to having fellowship with other Jewish people from around the world. It’s a bit like the excitement of going to uncle’s and aunt’s house when we were kids, knowing that we’ll be having fun with our cousins. Psalm 133 thus uses different images to describe the kind of blessing that would flow from this fellowship.

First it uses the image of oil. In ancient Israel, oil was a sign of hospitality. Hosts would anoint their guests with oil to show that they were welcomed in their houses...

But oil also meant blessing.[1] Kings and High Priests were anointed into their roles in religious ceremony with oil poured onto their heads. This is the meaning that is meant in the Psalm. The Psalm likens the blessing that comes from the fellowship of God’s people with the anointing oil that was poured on Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel. But, in this image, the oil given was not just a dab of oil; the oil was poured extravagantly, just like the perfume that the sinful women poured on Jesus’ head.[2] The blessing that will flow from the fellowship of God’s people will also be extravagant. It will flow abundantly to bring healing and blessing to all people.

The second image used in Psalm 133 is dew. The blessing that comes from the fellowship of God’s people will be like dew from Mount Hermon that falls on Mount Zion. Now, this doesn’t sound like something special. Well, it actually is if you know that Mount Hermon is hundreds of kilometers away from Mount Zion. This means that the dew that falls on Mount Hermon is so abundant that it also reaches Mount Zion, hundreds of kilometers away. Likewise, the blessing that flows when God’s people gather in harmony knows no limits: it will go on and on and on until the whole earth is soaked with its blessing.

But what kind of blessing is this? The blessing that is promised in the Psalm is life, an abundant of life, a life that knows no end.

Here we can see the link between Psalm 133 and Easter. In Psalm 133, God promises life when people live in communal harmony; in Easter, God promises life through Jesus Christ.

But this is nothing new. New Testament authors knew that the power of God that raised Jesus from the death manifested itself in the life of the Church, the community of Jesus’ followers.

Luke, the author of Luke’s Gospel and Acts, knew that the power that filled Jesus in his life and ministry continued in the life and ministry of his followers. We hear again and again, in the book of Acts, similarities between Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of his followers. Just like Jesus began his ministry after he received the Spirit during his baptism, the community of his followers began their ministry after they received the Spirit.[3] Just like Jesus healed the sick and the lame and raised people from death, Peter and Paul – the most prominent Apostles - also healed the lepers and the lame, and brought dead people to life. Just like Jesus had to stand trial before the authorities, Peter, Paul, and other believers also had to face their own trials. Just like Jesus forgave those who were responsible for his crucifixion Stephen, one of the disciples, also asked for forgiveness for those who stoned him. And just like Jesus surrendered his spirit to God before he died, Stephen surrendered his spirit to God when he was dying.[4]

So, it is obvious that the community of believers continued Jesus’ ministry on earth. The power in Jesus, which brought healing and wholeness and new life, now resided in them. This power manifested itself abundantly when the believers lived in harmony with one another, supporting one another with what each other needed.

Unfortunately, many modern people have accused the early Christians for being Communists or Marxists because they shared their possessions with one another, like what our reading from the book of Acts testifies. But Communism and Marxism had nothing to do with the early Church; those ideologies were born more than a thousand years after the Church was born. The early followers of Jesus were merely channeling the power of the resurrection through the way they lived their day to day life as a community. By looking after one another, they proclaimed that Christ was indeed alive in their midst and his power was manifested in them.

Abraham Maslow, one of the most prominent psychologists in 20th century, divided human needs into seven different stages. At the very bottom are physiological needs. These are the basic things that our bodies need to survive. We all need food to eat, water to drink, air to breathe, and a place where we can sleep and find shelter. We also need to live in an environment that is safe and secure.

These are the most basic needs. But these are not the only things that we need to find fulfillment in our life. Once our basic needs are met, there are other needs that we need to meet. Maslow believed that to find fulfillment, we need to feel loved and belonged, have a healthy self-esteem, be able to realize our potential, and transcend ourselves.

I believe that we can meet all these needs in a loving and caring community, like the Church. Unfortunately, this kind of community is often the one thing that is missing in a Western society like ours. But, at its best, a community like the Church can become the place where individuals in it can meet their needs and find fulfillment in their life.

The life of the early believers in Jerusalem was a testimony of this potential. The reading that we have today is the second testimony in the book of Acts on how they lived their life. Let me read to you their first testimony:

“They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing
in the fellowship meals and the prayers.

Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.”
(Acts 2:42-47 – GNT)

Indeed, by sharing their possessions and subjecting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and committing themselves to the fellowship, the power that raised Christ from death was made real in their life. So, let’s not underestimate the power of community.

Let me tell you a story from my own life. Before I came to Rockingham, I was placed in Bunbury, a small town about 150 kilometers south of Rockingham (you know where Bunbury is). I was responsible to look after the congregation in Bunbury and four others in the surrounding rural towns like Collie, Waterloo, Harvey, and Donnybrook. But I wasn’t doing it alone; there was another Minister with me.

Now, as much as I love the region and its people, it was a challenging experience. I’m a city boy and living and serving people in small rural areas was a struggle. I felt isolated and lonely and, not long after I arrived, I fell into depression. I sought medical help and the doctor prescribed me some medicines to alleviate my feeling. But the medicines they didn’t help much. I still had the depression and the only thing I could do was to put up a brave face and pretended as if everything was ok.

The healing came unexpectedly. It came in the form of two young people from South Korea who visited our congregation one Sunday. They were on working holiday visa and they were looking not only for a place to worship, but also for a place to stay in Bunbury. They had just been accepted to work as meat slicers in Harvey, about half an hour drive from Bunbury. So, I offered them to stay in the manse where I lived. They only had to pay half the price of what they were paying then to rent two rooms.

Soon they moved into my house and we became housemates and friends. And, not long after that, I found myself freed from the debilitating depression. The close fellowship and friendship that my two Korean housemates brought into my life had healed me. It was then that I realized how powerful a caring and loving community can be in our life.

A wise woman says that one of the greatest gifts that we can give to someone is time and one of the most neglected gifts is the gift of invitation. Often, what people truly need is not counselling or deep conversation, but just time spent together, having fun.[5]

But we may have doubts. After all, any community, including the Church, is made of sinful and broken men and women. As such, the Church is bound to be sinful and broken too. People in the Church are bound to make mistakes and do wrong things that hurt one another. And the pain and the wound that result from broken relationships in the Church can last a lifetime.

But all these weaknesses do not mean that God has stopped delivering God’s blessing through the community of believers. One day, God will separate the ‘weeds’ from the ‘grass’. But today, we are to be satisfied with living like the sheep in the field where the ‘weeds’ and the ‘grass’ grow together. Yes, the sheep can get hurt by the weeds, but they still can get the nourishment that they need from the grass in the field.

Friends, the first letter of John (4:12) reminds us that whenever we love one another, God lives in union with us. And when God lives in union with us it means that we have received the Spirit of the living God (1 John 4:13). The first letter of John indeed reiterates the testimonies that other parts of the New Testament have made; that the power of God is made real when the community of believers live in love and harmony with one another.

So friends, let us cherish and nurture this community that God has created and given to all of us. Christ is here with us in our fellowship. He promises that whenever two or more people gather in his name, he will be here with us.[6] And he is here with us in this community to bring us the gift of healing and wholeness, indeed the gift of life, abundant life that will not end.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Snauna Hannan, Commentary on Psalm 133, on www.workingpreacher.org, April 8, 2018

[2] Mark 14:3-9

[3] Luke 3:21-23, Acts 2:1-4

[4] Greg Carey, Commentary on Acts 4:32-35, on www.workingpreacher.org, April 8, 2018

[5] Hillary Brand, Christ and Chocolaterie – A Lent Course, London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. (2002), p. 22

[6] Matthew 18:20