And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:42-47

Our Scripture today is much more than the words we have recorded here in this brief passage.  Certainly, it connects to everything President Harrison had to say on Tuesday and to what President Stoterau was saying yesterday, about the Pentecost proclamation of Peter [Both preached on earlier portions of Acts 2].  It connects also to the proclamation in the chapters to come, as Peter would preach in Acts 3: “Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be washed away, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (3:19-20).

But what is it that we have here, really?  That they were holding everything in common?  Distributing to everyone as he had need?  Is this an experiment in “proto-communism” that was destined to fail?  An impossible ideal?  Inspirational to be sure, but impossible nonetheless?

Yet the language here is very nitty gritty – down to earth, incarnational, even.  Full of present participles, periphrastic constructions and imperfect verbs, it’s describing ongoing actions, videos, if you will, not snap shots.   This is what they were continually doing, those 3000 who were baptized on Pentecost, to whom the Lord was adding every day. 

They were devoting themselves – proskarterountes – meaning, to be firm, to persevere, to be faithful to a person. We might best say – “They were completely given over to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Next verse: Literally, “fear was happening with every soul” and “signs and wonder were happening through the apostles.”  “They were selling their property and possessions and distributing them.”  “They were devoting themselves to the temple together,” same word – proskarterountes – and the Lord was adding to their number daily.  None of this could be human work, but it was the Lord Jesus Himself alive in their midst working by His Spirit.

But that also begs the question!  To what are we devoting ourselves?  To what are we completely given over?  What or whom do we fear?  What signs are at work among us?  What reputation do we have?

Maybe what really makes us feel uncomfortable with this passage is the contrast… The contrast between our life together and the koinonia, the life together, of these 3000, growing daily.  I guess, when we really consider it, the contrast makes us feel, even at our best, like nothing more than sinful frauds.

Yet therein also lies a trap, a deceptive trap laid by Satan himself.  For when we talk about this contrast, it is so easy to think of the sins of others against the koinonia, and much harder for me to consider my own, to consider how often I have been the obstacle to koinonia, how my actions and attitudes have hindered the Lord’s way among us.  And the same is true for you.

But when the Spirit thereby leads us to repentance, He also shows us the truly incarnational side of koinonia, the incarnational nature of this word, koinonia, the act of holding things in common.

These baptized believers were led to hold everything in common.  But before that could ever happen, the Lord Jesus came to hold everything in common with us. St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).  

What does it mean to have fellowship with Jesus?  It means we have everything in common with Jesus.  Well, what do I have to give to Jesus?  Nothing He hasn’t first given to me… except for my sin, my death.  But that is exactly what He has come to take!  In this wonderful great exchange Jesus takes my sin, my death and gives me His righteousness, His life, His peace, His presence for ever.

This is the truly incarnational meaning of koinonia.  Jesus identified with us.  He took on our flesh. He carried all our sins. He held them in common with us on the cross.  He took them along into His grave where they are buried forever because He rose from the dead.

That’s why the real koinonia begins as a fellowship of sinners, sinners who know they are dead without Jesus.  Sinners who know it is true: what the Pharisees in Luke 15 meant as the ultimate putdown, is actually the ultimate good news, for sinners, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!” (Luke 15:2).

Not only that, He feeds them with Himself!  The ultimate fellowship or koinonia here on earth is what Paul describes in chapter 10 of 1st Corinthians: “The cup we bless, is it not a participation [a koinonia] in the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  (1 Corinthians 10:16).

And this koinonia, this holding in common, goes both ways. Bread and wine share in the body and blood of Christ placed on our lips, so that we who share in His body and blood also have koinonia with one another even as Christ gives Himself to us.

So “they were devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The apostles teaching and fellowship… this is the teaching about a real Savior, for real sinners.  Who actually took on our flesh, who took our sin into Himself, who suffered the full wrath of God for our sin on His cross, in our place.  Who rose again and is alive today.

He does not leave us as sinful frauds, but He unites Himself with us.  He sits down to have a meal with us, a meal where He feeds us with Himself, where He has fellowship with us, where He brings us into the Father’s house, and restores us to the Father’s table.

As you may know, we are developing what we are calling “The Koinonia Project,” a means by which we pray our Synod can be drawn closer together in its life together by means of helping each other hear God’s Word clearly.  For more information, the concept paper is on the Synod’s website on the President’s page.

But the heart of the real koinonia is this: that we have Jesus in common, and that Jesus receives us, that Jesus takes everything we have, even our sin and death.  And that Jesus gives us everything He has, everything good, now and forever.

Then what John writes about koinonia becomes true for us as well:

“If we say we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another [koinonia] and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-8).

          “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[Sermon preached by LCMS Vice-President Herbert Mueller on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the National Mission Conference of members of the COP, District Mission Execs and others, for opening devotion.]