Aston Presbyterian Church
June 11, 2023
Rev. Christine Callaway
John 1:14-16 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
1 John 1:1-4 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
The Meaning of Fellowship
For our first sermon series of the summer we are going to spend four weeks on the book of 1st John. It is a letter written by the Apostle John who also wrote the gospel of John. 1 John is a letter about love. God’s love for us demonstrated in Jesus Christ who gave His life to save us and now invites us into fellowship with Him. That’s right; the Lord of the universe wants us to be in communion with Him. Amazing, isn’t it? What grace, what love! Not only are we set free from our sins but Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. The best invitation we could ever get!
Let me start with some background on the letter. John is believed to have written this letter around 70AD while he was probably in his eighties near the end of his life. After he died there wouldn’t be many people left who had actually seen, heard and touched Jesus in the flesh. John wanted to make it very clear that Jesus was a real, physical person; He had walked this earth, talked with John and his fellow disciples. John wanted to make sure he left a clear testimony to the physical existence of Jesus. At the same time, John wants us to know that Jesus is divine. Jesus is the divine Son of God the Father, Jesus was from the beginning. In the beginning of 1 John we hear echoes of the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2) The difference in this letter as opposed to the gospel is John’s emphasis on the physical reality of Jesus. Most of the Christians around John are second and third generation ones. They never knew Jesus as a physical person; they don’t have the memories that John does. He wants them to know that Jesus was a living and breathing human being. John says, “I saw Him, I talked with Him, I listened to Him teach, I touched Him, He was real!”
John affirms the reality of Jesus eternally, historically and experientially. He tells us three truths about Jesus. Jesus was from the beginning, He has been from all eternity; He is the only begotten one, He is God in human flesh, the second member of the Trinity.
Second, John tells us that Jesus is a real person in history. He came to earth and walked among us and John testifies to that reality.
Third, Jesus can be known by us. We can experience fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus wants to have fellowship with us. In the final verse of our scripture today we learn the result of fellowship. John says he writes this so his joy can be complete. Complete joy is shared joy. John wants to, even yearns to share his good news with us because it gives him joy to share Jesus with others. We too will experience this joy when we share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
The title of this sermon is “The Meaning of Fellowship” and that is what we will discuss next. The definition of fellowship is association, communion, a close relationship. companionship; camaraderie, and shared interests.
There are many kinds of fellowship in the world. Sports teams, bowling leagues, book clubs and quilting groups. These are all good but they are all missing one thing. Jesus!
There is a difference Christian fellowship that isn’t found in any other type of fellowship. The mystery and privilege that is Christian fellowship is that it exists because God has enabled it by His grace. Those who believe the gospel are united in the Spirit through Christ to the Father, and that unity is the basis of fellowship. This relationship is described by Jesus in His high-priestly prayer for His followers: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”. The “complete unity” He refers to is the oneness that Christians experience in true fellowship, oneness with one another, with Christ and with the Father. Just as the Father is in Jesus, so is Jesus in us, and we have unity with one another because of the uniqueness of that relationship.
This relationship must be the basis of Christian fellowship. We can have friendships and relationships with unbelievers, but true Christian fellowship can only occur within the body of Christ. We are united to one another by common beliefs, purposes, and goals. Our hearts and minds are “other-worldly” because we follow Jesus Christ, who said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). We know that we are strangers in this world, and we long for the time when we will be in our true home, heaven.
The importance of true Christian fellowship is that it reinforces these things in our mind and helps us to focus on Christ and His desires and goals for us. As iron sharpens iron, in true Christian fellowship Christians sharpen one another’s faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works, all to God’s glory. It includes the chance to learn and grow in our faith. It demonstrates to us why we believe and sometimes is the excellent food for our souls.
Let’s talk some about fellowship here in our church. During most of the year we have what we call Fellowship Time or Coffee Hour both before and after the service. There’s coffee or tea. Usually there’s some kind of cookies or pastry to eat. We hang around in Heibeck Hall together and catch up with each other. There is also the St. Andrew’s group for the men and Presbyterian Women for the women. I have seen the close relationships here that have developed through the years. I have seen the ways you have supported each other and listened to each other. Christian fellowship is far more than time shared with others. It is the sense of unity, community, and participation in the lives of others that emerges among Christians and in the church from the common experience of faith in Jesus Christ. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that brings us together and keeps us together.
So, how is fellowship developed? Fellowship is not built just by sitting in the same building and singing the same songs. It is forged in the fires of life. When we know each other deeply—the good, the bad, and the ugly—fellowship is experienced. It grows when we learn to rejoice with one another, celebrating life. It deepens when we grieve with each other, mourning losses. Roots grow deep when we know we are loved by others and are free to extend love to them as well. Fellowship deepens and is built when we commit to serve each other and let others serve us. Fellowship is a genuine spiritual connection with God and with other believers.
Fellowship needs to grow deep. Unless we are exchanging deeply committed levels of love with at least a few people, we will die slowly on the inside. This is precisely why so many people complain they feel almost nothing at all inside. If we don’t learn to exchange love with family and friends, we will eventually grow numb and no longer believe love is even a possibility. This is not God’s plan. He hungers for us to be loved and to give love to others. He wants this for us even more than we want it for ourselves.
I think we all learned about the importance of fellowship during the pandemic. We were forced to be alone. There weren’t any church services, we couldn’t get together with friends or family. Movies, restaurants and sporting events were all closed. We were forced to maintain distance from each other, all while going through varying levels of stress, fear, and anxiety. We were lonely, isolated and fearful of getting COVID. What a joy it is to now be together again.
Let me close with an illustration about the importance of fellowship. The story is told of a member of a certain church, who previously had been attending Services regularly, but stopped going. After a few weeks, the preacher decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The preacher found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his preacher’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited… The preacher made himself at home, but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. And after some minutes, the preacher took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The preacher glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the preacher reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday…” The man learned the meaning of fellowship from this silent sermon. On our own we cannot have fellowship, separated from the body of Christ our flame will go out. Only when we are joined together by our love of God and Christ can we experience fellowship with God and with each other. It takes Christians gathered together in unity to have fellowship.
Our hope, ability to trust, faith, knowledge that our sins are forgiven, and direction for life all begin and end with the love of God. John calls us back to the basics of faith. God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for one another. John invites us to walk in this love, to enter into the loving fellowship of the Trinity. This is an invitation each one of us needs to hear over and over again. My prayer this morning is that you will not only hear this invitation, but that you will accept it. If you do, your life will never be the same.