Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Coming and Going

Worship, for Christians, begins when, in answer to God’s call, we come together. It’s as simple as that: God calls, we gather. And we become the church. Remember that the New Testament word for church means “called out”—we are called out from the general population to be God’s special people in the world.

The nature of that newly-formed community of God’s people is described by the Greek word, “koinonia.” It is one of those exasperating Greek words that defies translation by any one word in English. “Community” works, but has other connotations as well. “Fellowship” is okay, but has sexist overtones, so it’s not used very often these days. “Brother-Sister-hood,” is close, but terribly cumbersome. “Congregation” is accurate, but has no feeling to it. “Religious association” has even less pizzazz and sounds like it could be clubby. And so forth.

So we fall back on the Greek word. Koinonia describes that unique community, a fellowship of men and women (and children too) gathered by God as a family of faith in a congregation to worship and serve God, associated by virtue of their common call and mission.

Of course, Christians are not just gathered. We are also sent. God calls us out from the world to be the church, and in a short while we are sent out again into the world to be the church still.

Now the worshipping Christian is facing out, going forth into the world on a mission, and this mission is captured in another Greek word, “diakonia.” You recognize the word “deacon,” so there’s a clue. In New Testament Greek a “deacon” was one who waited on tables—the humble servant of other people. So we are sent into the world to be deacon-servants, waiting on the needs of others. Here is the evangelical thrust of the Gospel, welcoming others with a Christ-like example.

Koinonia and diakonia are, in a way, opposites, or at least at opposite ends of the same polarity. We are gathered into a kononia and sent out to participate in diakonia. The first is exclusive—we are not like other people, there is something that makes us different from everyone else in the world, our call to be God’s people. The other word is, by definition, inclusive—as servants of God we are servants of everyone.

We are gathered by God into the church, into this worshipping fellowship to serve God, and then thrust out to worship God still by serving others. It’s an agreeable turn of phrase, a happy ambiguity of the words “worship” and “service.”

There is also a good tension between kononia and diakonia. I’m convinced that we Christians are healthiest when we recognize and appreciate that tension. When we are gathered, we are looking forward to being sent. The worship we experience challenges us and shoves us out the door to follow our risen Lord. When engaged in worldly work with our spiritual sleeves rolled up, we remember the songs and prayers and words that empower and strengthen our service, and recognize our need to go back and worship more.

It has been described as the “heartbeat of the church,” this back-and-forth pumping of the Spirit, so like the diastole and systole of our hearts that brings the blood in and sends it out. Without this “pulse-beat,” the church cannot survive. It takes both coming and going to be a Christian.

Where in your gathered worship do you find nudges to send you out on God’s mission?

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