How many times have you heard preachers and teachers and elders and congregational members say that you need, or they need, or everyone needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus? How many times have your heard this on the radio or television or on your smart phone?
Are they right?
Jesus said, “Go.”
He said, “Follow me.”
He said, “Love.”
He said, “Teach.”
He said, “Baptize.”
Can we find anywhere that Jesus says, “I call you to have a personal relationship with me?”
I don’t think that you will find those words.
Jesus did call us “friend.”
He did tell his disciples that as he and the Father were one, so too were the disciples and Jesus one. That sounds like a personal relationship.
In fact, much of the Farewell Discourse that we find in John’s Gospel deals with relationships. Jesus met with his disciples for a special meal and one of the first things he did was to blow their minds by washing their feet. That sure blurred the lines between leader and servant. Jesus redefined traditional relationships.
Jesus gave his followers a “new command.” It sure sounded a lot like the old commandments, but after 3 years of leading these men whom he had called out of the world, he told them:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Are we called to a personal relationship with Jesus?
Absolutely! But to leave it at that is to ignore what Jesus is telling us. For if we have a relationship with him, we must also have a relationship with each other.
To say that I have a personal relationship with Jesus but just like to keep to myself is not to have a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus ascended into heaven. Some angels told those who witnessed it, “He will come back the same way.”
Jesus told his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit. He did. We too have received the Spirit.
Jesus did not say, “Once you have accepted me into your heart, you can tune out the world.”
He didn’t say, “Let Paul Simon guide you from now on: I am a rock. I am an Island. And an island feels no pain.”
To be in relationship with Jesus is to be in relationship with each other.
So what does this mean?
It means that we share the grace that we know through Christ.
It means that we bear one another’s burdens.
It means that we reach out to all other persons, but at the same time have a special relationship with those in our local family of faith.
We call this Christian Communion. Too often when we think of communion, we think only of the Lord’s Supper, but Christian Communion is more. Two thousand years ago, it would have been called Koinonia. In that time the followers of Jesus committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and to prayer.
Following Christ meant having an intimate relationship with others who followed him. You were part of a community. Today, we call it the covenant community but it is still rooted in genuine relationship.
We may be rich or poor, educated or uneducated, old or young, well connected or poorly connected, computer literate or computer phobic, English speaking or fluent in another language, parents or orphans, little or much pigment in our skin, tall or short, skinny or fat, a believer for just one day or one who has followed Christ for nearly a century—we are all in genuine relationship with each other.
There is no option B.
This is it. When you begin your personal relationship with Christ, so too do you begin your relationship with each other. For we all are brothers and sisters because of God’s grace that we know through Jesus.
And not only do we share God’s grace, but we share each other’s burdens. Consider Paul’s words as he wrote to the churches in Galatia.
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.
Galatians 6:1-10 New Living Translation (NLT)
We are to carry our own load and to carry each other’s load. So much as we are able, we should make our own way. But where we are not able, we should ask for and expect help from our brothers and sisters. Likewise, we should be on the lookout for those in the family of faith who need our help.
You can’t trick this system. God knows our hearts and will not be mocked. For all who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, we should accept as genuine both their offerings and their needs.
I would like to briefly take you on a 25 mile hike. It’s not the kind of hike you go on when you are on vacation and want to see the sights. It’s the kind that Marines go on with full combat gear.
The 25 mile hike with full gear is a recurring evaluation that combat units are required to complete.
By gear, that means helmet, flak vest, equipment belt, a pack full of prescribed equipment, and usually a meal for lunch. This also includes canteens of water. Water is heavy but essential to being able to complete the task. And every Marine has his weapon. For some that is a pistol, or a rifle, or part of a mortar or heavy machinegun.
The march begins. The pace is between 3 and 4 miles an hour. Most Marines keep up without much difficulty. About every 50 minutes, there is a 10 minute break. At every other break, Marines change their socks. Wet socks make for blisters.
The entire 25 miles is to be completed in 8 hours and that includes a longer break near the middle of the hike for lunch and refilling canteens.
The last couple hours of these hikes are always the toughest. Some Marines could go on for another 25 miles. Most will be tested to just finish the march. Some will start falling back.
Now these are Marines. They have earned their title and are expected to carry their load. But before Marines let one of their own fall out, someone will take his pack. Then someone will take his rifle. Then someone will take his equipment belt. Then someone will take one arm and another Marine will take the other and they will take part of his own weight off of him as they walk side by side.
And when they get to the end. The Marine is reconstituted with his pack and rifle and other equipment and sometimes even an IV full of saline solution to rehydrate him more quickly. And the dignity of this family member is maintained.
Likewise we are to bear one another’s burdens. Being a part of the covenant community is not, “Let’s all start together and see who finishes.” We give and take with each other as needed and preserve each other’s dignity in the process.
If we look at the early apostles, doing things together, eating together, and praying together were just a way of life. Today, we should never have someone eating alone at a fellowship meal. Anyone who goes to the hospital for more than a day or so should have a few visitors. Those who have been blessed with abundance should be sharing with those who have little. This is more than money. It is gifts, talents, skills, and time. Yes, some people just seem to have a lot of time on their hands. They have an abundance of time. Whatever we have been given, we should look to use it for the benefit of the body of Christ.
We are counseled not to forsake the coming together to worship, but we must also consider that we are in communion with each other when we leave this building as well. If someone is not coming and enjoying the fellowship of the family, we should be checking to see what is going on.
But we don’t like to pry into other people’s business…
These are not “other people.” They are family. If you took your family of 6 to the movies one night, you would not be content to come home with just 5. Someone would be asking, “Where’s John, where’s Sue, where’s Mom.”
In the family of faith, we are all brothers and sisters and we are not intruding when we miss someone and check to see how they are doing.
We don’t buy into this individualism that the world seems to promote. If you are in relationship with Christ, then you are in relationship with me, and you, and the other people in the covenant community.
Now do we need some private time with God? Absolutely! Jesus said, “Go into your closet or private space when you pray.” Jesus often sought refuge from the crowds. He needed time to just commune with his Father.
And so also do we, but most of the time we are meant to live in relationship with each other, giving and taking, teaching and learning, talking and listening, helping and being helped.
This is Christian Communion.
This is Koinonia.
And we experience it most in our own congregation, but it must not be limited to that one body for we are “the church” and should also enjoy this relationship with all other believers.
But as we share our joy of Christian Communion, Koinonia, and being a part of the family of faith that we call the Covenant Community, we must not forget that we are to reach out to all others.
We previously looked at God creating the church for mission and know that we are commissioned to go into the world and make disciples.
And so God has given us two seasons as believers. In the world, seasons are consectutive: Spring, summer, fall, and winter. In the family of faith they run concurrently. We have two seasons: Sent and Home.
We reach out to all people and at the same time enjoy those who have come to intimate relationship with Christ and therefore also with us. We are sent and yet we are always home with family.
We are sent into the world, but enjoy so many reunions when we come back to the family.
We are the feet that carry good news, but also the hearts that comfort each other.
We minister to those in the world and see Jesus as we feed and clothe and visit in prison those that the world would call the least of these; but we are ministered to by each other and preserve each one’s dignity.
We are challenged to fulfill our commission; yet comforted when we take time to enjoy each other.
Our trials bring us closer to God and to each other.
Our prayers seek God’s will and are filled with petitions for each other.
In fact, when we are in personal relationship with Jesus, we can’t help but care for each other.
When our hearts really long to know Jesus, they lead us to each other.
Over the past few years we have changed the way we do ministry. We still give out food, and coats, and school supplies; but we know that there is a big difference in giving a food basket and walking with someone to help them back on their feet.
Giving food is transactional.
You show up. We give you a bag or box of food. They leave. You leave. Transaction completed.
These days we stretch out the process. We are not looking for efficiency as much as we are relationships. We want to not only get people’s information; we want to begin a relationship.
We want to begin a relationship that will lead people to professing that Jesus is Lord and enjoying the communion that we have. We want them to be a part of the Koinonia we enjoy.
One day we will fully enjoy the communion of saints. We say we believe these words when we say the Apostle’s Creed. For this time now, we enjoy the communion of the saints currently living, but one day we will enjoy the communion of saints from all time.
Today, we enjoy the communion of our congregations and sometimes our denominations. Today, we enjoy the communion of believers in our community.
One day, we will enjoy the communion of every believer without boundaries of geography or time.
This is the special relationship God made us to live in.
This is Koinonia.
Let us live fully in Christian Communion.
Christian Communion (Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith)
5.10 All who are united to Christ by faith are also united to one another in love. In this communion they are to share the grace of Christ with one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to reach out to all other persons.
5.11 The communion of believers has special meaning for members of the same organized body. Beyond this particular community believers have special relationship with other organized bodies who embrace similar creeds, historical heritage, and forms of the covenant community.
A Prayer for Koinonia
Lord we pray,
That we seek service over selfishness.
That you open our eyes to the trust you have placed in us.
That we surrender our God-given talents and Spiritual Gifts to produce fruit.
That you open our hearts so you may fill them with love.
That we become your love during this special time.
That when we are poured out and have no more, you fill us.
That when we feel exhausted, you refresh us.
That when we hold on to personal preferences, you extract them from us.
That when we see no other options, you ignite the creative spirit in us.
That when we gravitate to those we know the best, you lead us to those we know the least.
That this mission never be a burden,
In our minds,
To our bodies,
For our spirit,
Or in our heart that we have given to you.
That we find your joy as we serve,
Through our sacrifice,
Through our suffering,
Through our humbleness,
And by being love as you are love.