Come to the Table

May 6, 2018

Series: May 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

John 15:8-17 – My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in God’s love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 Come to the Table

Many of you have heard me talk before about the church camp I went to as a child – Camp Caz. Several years ago, when I was a teenager, a new cabin was built at Camp Caz.  My church raised quite a bit of money to help fund the cabin, so we were given the honor of getting to name the cabin.  All of the other cabins had been named for people who were influential in the founding of Camp Caz – Grey, Reynolds, Swanson, Sherman.  I thought certainly we should name the cabin Nelson.  Not after me, mind you, but after my dad, who was the pastor of our church at the time.  However, this decision was not up to me.  This was a church decision … we needed a committee!  There were surveys and interviews, and even a contest at one point, and then the time came for the name to be revealed.  What would it be?  The new name of the cabin was … Koinonia.  You can imagine the puzzled looks on peoples’ faces when that name was revealed.  Who is Mr. or Mrs. Koinonia?  I certainly had never met them before!

It was quickly explained to the befuddled crowd that the Koinonia cabin was not, in fact, named for a person. Koinonia is a Greek word that means, in a simple translation, community.  But it means more than community.  There is a spiritual connotation to Koinonia – it describes when people are gathered together in mutual love and respect, in fellowship, in communion.  This kind of community – this Koinonia – was often present at Camp Caz, and the committee wanted to honor this way of being together when naming the cabin.

I think about Koinonia when I hear this passage from John’s Gospel, because that is the kind of community that Jesus describes. The actual word “Koinonia” does not appear in the New Testament until the book of Acts, when the first Christian community is described – but Jesus is certainly laying the groundwork in the passage we heard this morning.  Abide in my love, love one another as I have loved you, go and bear fruit that will last – that all describes Koinonia, living and loving together in fellowship and community.

But Koinonia didn’t just happen in Biblical times, and it doesn’t just happen at summer camp. For example, I have heard stories of Koinonia every week for the last 26 weeks as we have hosted guests from the REST program here at Westminster every Sunday night.  Each Sunday, about 40 men who are experiencing homelessness have come here to eat dinner and to spend the night.  I have been told that one of the many issues people who are homeless face is invisibility.  People tend to walk right by, or look right past someone who is experiencing homelessness, as if there is not even a person – a human being – right in front of them.  REST could have been a nameless, faceless undertaking.  Provide some food, provide a floor – in and out every week.  But, from the very beginning when the REST program started 10 years ago, we knew that was not how Jesus was calling us to be and to act in the world.  Jesus calls us into loving relationship with each other.  Jesus calls us to bear fruit, to be a living example of God’s love in the world.  Jesus calls us into Koinonia.

And that is exactly what happened in our REST program. When our guests arrive each week, they are given name tags.  Because they are not invisible.  They are beloved children of God with names and faces and stories.  Those who volunteer each week are encouraged to not simply stand behind the buffet line wordlessly scooping food onto plates.  They are encouraged to talk with our guests, to sit at table with them, to hear their stories and share their own.  That is Koinonia. Soul sharing with each other.

This past Sunday, our own Michael Hatfield and Barbara Kessell played music while our guests dined. Michael reflected on this time saying, “Barbara and I have played many, many places for Bread & Roses (a local non-profit organization) - drug rehab centers, places for kids, senior centers - but this event on Sunday night was holy, and Westminster became a sanctuary.” That is Koinonia. Holy community created when we come to the table together.

Unfortunately, the REST program has come to an end. There are many people working on next steps – trying to make sure that come winter, these men will have a warm place to stay and food to eat.  Even more importantly, there are many people working on next steps for permanent housing, so our guests do not have to go from shelter to shelter anymore.  It will be a long road, and the way ahead is not yet clear.  In this process of deciding next steps for shelter and permanent housing, it is my hope and prayer that we do not lose the Koinonia – the loving, heartfelt fellowship and community that has occurred every Sunday night.  Though the logistics of finding housing are so important, also important is the love we have for one another, the ways that we abide together in God’s love with our REST guests. 

Joan Brown has been here most Sunday nights, and on Mondays she sends out an email with a recap of what happened the night before. This past Monday, after the final REST gathering, she ended her email by saying, “My biggest concern is how we stay connected to our guests as we move forward.” That is Koinonia. The connection we have with one another.

There are so many of you that have helped to make the REST program the beautiful Koinonia that it has been for the last 10 years. From cooking to volunteering to organizing to buying supplies to cleaning.  So much time and effort and love to make sure we are truly following Jesus’ commandment to love one another.  If you have been involved in REST in any way, would you please stand?  Thank you.  Thank you for showing us what Koinonia looks like.

This is also what Koinonia looks like. (indicate Communion table) Coming to the table to share in the Lord’s Supper together.  What makes it Koinonia rather than just an ordinary meal?  Lots of things, but I think the most important is that everyone is welcome here at the table.  No one is turned away.  Whatever your background, wherever you live, whatever your story, you are welcome to come to the table. If you have participated in Communion here at Westminster before, you have heard that invitation.  Likely, if you have participated in Communion at any Protestant church, you have heard that invitation.  I know that I have been changed by that invitation – that invitation to come to the table just as I am.  I am loved unconditionally at this table.  I am set free at this table. 

Our REST guests were welcome at the table when they were here on Sunday nights. The tables in Findlay Hall didn’t look like this table, but they were certainly tables of Koinonia – of community, of fellowship, of communion.  Our REST guests would be welcome at this table on Sunday mornings. At least I hope and pray that we as a community would let them – and anyone – know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are welcome. I wonder, though, how often those experiencing homelessness hear the invitation to come to the table.  To come just as you are.  I’m guessing not that often.  I’m guessing they are more frequently avoided than invited. 

How might we better extend that invitation to the table for those who are not sitting in this room right now? For that is what Jesus calls us to do.  To go and bear fruit.  To go and share God’s love with others.  Not just with our friends.  Not just with those who make us comfortable.  With everyone.  Come to the table.