Day 48, April 30, 2020
In June of 2018 Karthik Nemmani stepped to the podium and was presented with the final word in the National Spelling Bee competition. Karthik, a 14-year old student from McKinney, Texas had survived the previous round. His opponent stumbled on the word Bewusstseinslage. Karthik advanced by correctly spelling Haecceitas. Now he had only to spell one more word and he would be crowned the champion. After the two previous words, I buckled up my seat belt. How do you find words more difficult than Bewusstseinslage and Haecceitas? (I am sure you are as familiar with those words as I was, but just in case, Bewusstseinslage means a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components, and Haecceitas is a term from medieval scholastic philosophy.) And those were the penultimate words!
As Karthik held his breath, and as I joined him in holding my breath, the judges gave the final word of the competition. Koinonia. Koinonia? Wait a minute, I know that word. I had no clue about Bewusstseinslage and Haecceitas, but Koinonia is a word I know, and it may well be a word you know. Koinonia is the word that is translated “Fellowship” in Acts 2:42. In a printed article about the Spelling Bee the following definition was given for Koinonia: “Intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.”
Koinonia. That word means something to those of us who draw our strength and support from a church community, a church family. When young Karthik correctly spelled the championship word in June of 2018, a group representing churches from Westerly and the surrounding area had just returned from a short-term mission trip doing recovery work in Houston to help ones who suffered devastating loss from Hurricane Harvey. Sleeping in makeshift trailers, using communal bathrooms, sharing meals, and more importantly, working side by side to help others, praying, studying God’s word, and growing in the bond of Christ, our group experienced Koinonia. Our Confirmation class of 18 young people had just stood up to be received into membership on a Sunday in April of 2018. Each young person had an adult mentor, each young person had family and friends surrounding them, each young person was received into a church family. That Confirmation Class experienced Koinonia. Our Bible Study Groups had just completed a 32-week overview of the whole Bible, the Disciple Bible Study. We had studied and wrestled with scripture, wept at heartbreaks that had touched our lives, rejoiced at victories and celebrations, and we had grown close to one another. We had experienced Koinonia.
This past week the National Spelling Bee, scheduled for June 2020, was canceled. Normal summer events throughout our nation and the whole world are being canceled. Yesterday our Governor announced nearly every normal summer gathering in Rhode Island has been canceled for June and July. The music festivals in Newport, canceled. The historic 4th of July Parade in Bristol, canceled. The Washington County Fair announced it has been canceled. To use a phrase that was popular a few years ago, “It just got real.” And for churches, we know summer will look very different for us. Fellowship will be different. The honest truth is fellowship will be difficult. In a real way, there might be a Koinonia Krisis this summer.
Or…the summer of 2020 might be a unique opportunity to explore Koinonia in new ways. There is a saying somewhere that every crisis is also an opportunity. Who says we need more than 50 people together at one time to have Koinonia? Not Jesus. Jesus said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there with you.” Maybe the summer of 2020 will be our “small” summer. Small groups who worship, small groups who study, small groups who pray, small groups who sing, small groups who serve, small groups who hike and bike, small groups who walk the beach, small groups who take kids on field trips and fun outings, small groups who share a meal in a home, a meal at church, a meal together on a picnic.
The Governor canceled large gatherings. That makes sense as there is still a great threat of the virus spreading when large groups are together. But the Governor did not cancel Koinonia. I imagine many here in Rhode Island are reeling from yesterday’s announcement. This will be a different summer. This will be a difficult summer. Let me ask you this morning to take a few moments and read Acts 2:42-47. It is in those verses that we find the word Koinonia, or fellowship. As you read the verses, as you read how the early church joined together in such an intimate bond and such a warm fellowship that they were blessed with glad and sincere hearts, see if God gives you some ideas for how we can experience Koinonia this summer.
I know I am itching to get together with you all. Thankfully, it looks like we will be able to get together this summer. Just not all at once. This summer will be a “small” summer. If we let the Holy Spirit give us creative guidance, I believe this can a rich and full summer filled with many, many times of being together…in small gatherings, in small groups. It will definitely be a small summer, but my hope is that when all is said and done we will be able to look back and say it has been a spiritual summer, a spiritual summer filled with the great blessing of Koinonia, the fellowship of sharing life together as brothers and sisters in faith. Koinonia Krisis? Maybe. Koinonia Opportunity? Definitely!
With the love of Christ,