Tony & Katie Sundermeier: Stay With Us - Companionship and Christian Discipleship

Loving God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Katie: The etymology of the word “companion” finds its origin in Latin. Companion literally means, “with bread.” With bread. A companion is someone you share bread with. A companion is someone you share that which is necessary for survival and that which is required for the flourishing of life.

Tony: When Cleopas and their companion were on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus and were intercepted by Christ, Luke tells us that these companions were kept from recognizing him. It is only after they invite Jesus to stay with them, it is only after Jesus breaks the bread, that their “eyes are opened.” Only when the bread was shared did they recognize that it was the resurrected Christ in their midst. It was only when companionship happened - literal companionship, the sharing of bread - only then were their eyes opened. It took companionship - it took the sacramental act of shared bread - for them to see Christ.

Katie: Now, we are not sure if these two sojourners from Luke 24 were a married couple or spiritual friends or biologically related in some way. What we do know is that they traveled together. They grieved the death of their rabbi and teacher, together. And they offered hospitality to the stranger-Christ, together.

Tony: And they said to the stranger-Christ, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening, and the day is nearly over.” Without this gesture, without this invitation, they wouldn’t have been at the table with Christ. And it was at the table where the bread was broken and shared. Without their hospitality, without welcoming the stranger, without expanding the circle, their eyes wouldn’t have been opened.

Katie: So, in this sermon, we will talk about companionship.

Tony: More specifically, we want to reflect on companionship - whether it’s experienced in the context of marriage or spiritual friendship or familial relationships or within the community of faith - we want to reflect on companionship as a platform for Christian discipleship.

Katie: For we believe that companionship, by God’s grace, has the potential to deepen our discipleship. In other words, companionship helps us to be better friends of God and better followers of Jesus Christ.

Tony: Katie and I would like to share three ways companionship deepens our discipleship.

Katie: First, companionship guarantees that we do not walk difficult or uncertain roads alone.

Tony: Second, companionship reminds us that Christ is revealed in what is shared between us.

Katie: And, finally, companionship empowers us to share the Good News of the Gospel.

Tony: First, companionship within the context of Christian discipleship guarantees that we do not walk difficult or uncertain roads alone. The Emmaus companions had left Jerusalem and Luke tells us that they were discussing and contemplating with one another the things that had happened concerning Jesus. Of course, these were not pleasant things. In fact, these were dark and difficult matters they were discussing. Their rabbi - the one they had hoped who would redeem Israel - was betrayed, tortured, and executed. He was killed and his body was sealed in a stone-cold tomb. Can you imagine their shared pain? Can you imagine their shared grief? Can you imagine the uncertainty and insecurity they would have been feeling as they walked along together? But they didn’t walk the long and difficult road alone. They were for each other amid confusion and disappointment.

Katie and I had only been married for nine years when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I was 34 and our boys were 6 and 1. The news of my illness landed as you might imagine: we were shocked, we were grieved, and we were scared. From the time of my diagnosis to the time of my surgery to remove the tumor, Katie was my constant companion. We prayed together, we worried together, cried together, and hoped together. Every CT scan, every doctor’s appointment, she was there by my side. We walked that road together. We walked into our unknown future together. But what we also did was expand the circle. We invited other companions to walk the road with us. And what a gift we received that people were willing to walk this uncertain road with us. On the night before my surgery, about a dozen Elders from the church we were serving at the time came to our home to lay hands on me and to pray. It was an experience I will never forget.

When I think of those Elders and how they joined Katie and me on our journey, making it their journey too, I think about a song we used to sing at my boyhood church. It was called, “We Are Companions on the Journey.”

We are companions on the journey,

breaking bread and sharing life;

and in the love we bear is the hope we share

for we believe in the love of our God,

yes, we believe in the love of our God.

No longer strangers to each other,

no longer strangers in God’s house;

we are fed and we are nourished

by the strength of those who care,

by the strength of those who care.

We need companions. We are fed and we are nourished by the strength of those who care. Allow those who care to walk with you. Allow them to be your companion. And be a companion to those who are walking long and hard and challenging roads even now. These relationships give us the opportunity to be more faithful disciples and give us the opportunity to work out and practice our faith. We can embody in these relationships what the writer of Colossians called us to: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, long-suffering, and of course, love.

Katie: Christian discipleship guarantees that we do not walk difficult or uncertain roads alone. In addition to that, companionship deepens our discipleship as it reminds us that Christ is revealed in what is shared between us. Turning our attention back to the origins of the word “companion” and the literal meaning of shared bread, we remember that Christ was revealed to the Emmaus travelers in the breaking and sharing of the bread. Christ was seen through generosity. Christ was seen in the giving. Christ was revealed when he embodied companionship by sharing the bread.

Christ is indeed revealed in what is shared between us. Most mornings, Tony and I get to have a cup of coffee together, our sort of shared bread, and we share a short devotional after the boys head to school. It’s usually 7:30 to 7:45 in the morning. It’s a time where I have come to listen for the Holy Spirit, and I often can sense the Spirit’s movement through Tony. It might be a question he asks. A different perspective that he brings to the scripture or reflection from our devotional. Or Tony shares a part of what is on his heart or what is required of him in the day ahead, and I have better perspective myself on what matters for the day ahead. I learn more about ways that I can be faithful in the choices that I make in the day ahead through Christ revealed in our time together.

Christ is also revealed through our relationship when Christ makes a way in the midst of where we are stuck or hurt or struggling and sometimes feel like there is no way. In our commitment to each other, through our mistakes and brokenness, Christ is at work in our midst.

I believe that forgiveness is a divine gift. I believe the more we tap into God’s love and compassion, the more we encounter these gifts of companionship with one another.

When we fall short in our companionship, which we both have done in our 21 years of marriage, we return to Christ. We rely on God’s forgiveness and love and compassion to flow through us to one another. One of the most important roles for us as parents is to try to model this for our children. In the midst of all our shortcomings, all things hold together in Christ. He is our companion, a constant friend in need. And his grace is sufficient for the mending and renewal of the relationships that we share with our companions.

Before Tony offers our third reflection of Companionship for Christian Discipleship, I want to expand the point of seeing Christ revealed in relationships. Earlier this year, I finished working with a therapist on some things I was working through, and I decided the next step for me was to choose a few friends who were spiritual sisters to walk with me. One is a member of our church who I worship with and are in ministry together, and we are spending now one hour every month in companionship to see how Christ is revealed. One is a best friend from Philadelphia and one is another friend who I rely on to help me tap into Christ revealed in relationship.

Tony: We need companions. We are fed and we are nourished by the strength of those who care. Allow those who care to walk with you. Allow them to be your companion.

Finally, companionship empowers us to share the Good News of the Gospel. After Christ had been revealed to these companions and after Jesus vanished from their sight, these two did not go their separate ways. They actually went back to Jerusalem - together - and shared what they had seen and heard. They shared that they had seen the risen Christ! They shared the Good News of the Gospel.

When we think of witness, when we think of evangelism, when we think of ministry, we often think of it in terms of the individual, the individual sharing or serving from their experience of God’s faithfulness or call on their lives. Perhaps we think of individual testimony. But let us not miss the opportunity or the call to share in this work together. What would it mean for companions to share in this witness and see it as a team or communal endeavor? What would it mean for you and your Christian companions to embrace this call of witness and, in the words of Jesus, to “go on your way” but to do it together?

What if, instead of visiting that sick friend or church member or family member by yourself, you invited someone along to share in that ministry? What if, instead of hosting a Bible study or fellowship gathering at your home by yourself, what if you invited someone else to help you plan and help you lead and help you carry out that hospitality? I know this sounds simple, but what if we were more intentional about ministering from the perspective of companionship? What if ministry became not so much something you did but something we did?

This is ministry at its best. This is ministry the way it was intended to be: together as spiritual companions standing together, praying together, loving together, and witnessing together the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the words of my mentor, John Galloway Jr., “Ministry loves company.” Ministry loves companionship. So, find your companions and know you don’t walk the hard road alone. Find your companions and remember that Christ is revealed through sharing our lives and sharing the gifts that God has given us with one another. Find your companions and remember that ministry loves company, and that we truly are better together.