An old professor of mine was fond of saying that any given fellowship is only worth that which it fellowships around. That is, it is what is at the heart of any gathering that gives it its meaning and value. If a gathering is founded upon good conversation and a glass of wine, then the quality of that fellowship is one how good the wine and conversation turn out to be. If your fellowship is rooted in playing a game of ball on a weekend, then the worth of that fellowship is the worth of that game and the comradery had while playing it. This then ought to cause us to reflect upon the nature and value of this fellowship gathered here on this holy night. On this night when our Lord was betrayed, what is it that stands at the heart of our fellowship? Well, St. Paul answer it in 1 Corinthians 10 by saying, “The cup that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:16-17)
Our fellowship here is rooted in our participation it the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a participation then in all that that he gives; hope, endurance, and even eternal life. It is the gifts of Christ the defines our fellowship tonight.
When my daughter Naomi was just a little girl, around 2 years old, she was terrified of being left out of anything that her older siblings were up to. If the others were going to go out into the back yard to play, she would come running up shouting, “Me too, me too!” Now this was long before the modern day “Me Too” movement and was filled with joy and excitement rather than sadness and hurt. If a big sister got a treat from the fridge you could bet she was right there shouting, “Me too!” If one was going to accompany mom to the store, she would voice her desire to go by saying, “Me too!” She wanted to be a part of things, she wanted to participate, to belong, and no much has changed over the years.
Now the fellowship that our Lord has created is a truly unique thing. All of history bears out that our God is a God who calls together a people for himself, a unique and peculiar group that he gathers around his gifts. Think of the ancient Israelites travelling through the wilderness wherever they set up their camp, the tabernacle of God was the focus. This tent of meeting literally stood at the center of their life and their life flowed from it. When they set up in the Promised Land and built the temple, that became the heart of the city. When our Lord gathered with his disciples in the upper room, he took the role of changing a ritual meal or remembrance into a meal of continued presence and participation. When the feast of Pentecost was being celebrated the Word of God was spoken in tongues so that all might gather near to him and on the story goes.
The fellowship of our God is a special place. When we celebrate a baptism in the church we usually pray a common old prayer where we petition our God about the newly baptized and say, “Grant that they be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope.” It is a prayer that recognizes that the baptized are part of a new fellowship, one that is distinct from the world of unbelievers. And we pray that they are kept secure there. Because that is where hope spring eternal and we find the strength to endure each and every day. To participate in such a fellowship is to be truly blessed here and now.
Yet you must confess that there are times, perhaps a lot of times, where you rightly doubt that you are a part of this eternal and holy fellowship of God. Such a fellowship, that is called out from this world, separated from the foolishness of our age, would certainly demand that you stay equally as clean from sin and shame. You are to let go and let God, to give up your worldly lusts and sinful desires and turn attention to a more holy way of life. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. This becomes proof that you are truly part of the fellowship, that you are indeed on the inside separated from the world of unbelief. So, when you do sin, what happens? When you fail to live as a child of God, when there are those in your life that you have hurt and those that you have failed to help, what then? If your thoughts and desires become soiled with sin, how then can you be sure that you are part of the fellowship of the saints?
Isn’t more than likely that you are on the outside looking in? More than likely that perhaps you are just and imposter? What then do you do? Well, you could get to work fixing the problem. If you sin, then stop it and clean up your act, get back on the straight and narrow. Perhaps with the right amount of effort, the dutiful amount of penance on your part you can once again find yourself on the inside looking out. You need to not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Can you be good enough, faithful enough, righteous enough to be welcomed back into the good graces of God fellowship? How deep might you have to go, if you were to pull it off, if you were to remove any doubt? Would you have to be sin free, or just better than you currently are now, or perhaps better than the person sitting next to you? But can you do it? Can you ever be sure, really sure, that you’ve done enough? Or will you always have that lingering doubt? Will you grow frustrated with the sin that so easily entangles and find yourself on the outside looking in. Looking in at the fellowship of our Lord’s creating, a place of hope and love and assurance. Will you find yourself crying out in earnest longing, like my two-year-old saying, “Me too!”
But here’s the thing, your Lord didn’t take on your flesh and bear your sins and suffer in your place and die your death so that you would be left on the outside looking in. And he knew that you would never be able to be good enough, faithful enough, sinless enough to ear your way into his fellowship. So, he himself provides the means by which you find welcome and inclusion into his fellowship. These means are the things in this age that connect you to his eternal promises, they are gifts through and through, they are not earned or bought by you but only and always freely given.
To be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is to be clothed in righteousness, to be called a saint of the most high God. It is the means by which you are connect to the death of your Lord, where he exchanges all your sin and shame for his holiness and faithfulness. And as the baptize continue to gather in a fellowship you gather around the same Lord who washed you and loves you. You sin may make you feel ashamed and unworthy and so you are, but his love never fades and his call for you never ceases. But he doesn’t direct you toward your work or your heart’s desire or your emotional state but to his gifts again. This time bread and wine and a word that promises the forgiveness of all, forgiveness for you today.
“The cup that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”