July 19, 2020
2 Corinthians 2:1-10
Marge Piercy is a feminist writer and activist.
Piercy has written 17 novels, including bestsellers Gone to Soldiers, Braided Lives and The Longings of Women, and 19 volumes of poetry.
She is considered among the most significant feminist voices during the past half century. I’d like to share an excerpt from her poem, The Low Road.
What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
… Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse …
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob …
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction…
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
It starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We…
Last week, we heard the beginning of Paul’s fourth letter to the congregations in Corinth … even though these pages are known as Second Corinthians.
The congregations … a collection of home churches really … have had a checkered existence since Paul first helped get them established.
Since his first visit, Paul has had to write to them on a number of occasions … he has had to visit the community more than once and now, in today’s passage, we get a sense of what the latest controversy has been about.
A member of the congregation … one of its prominent members, we can assume … has challenged Paul in some way … either his teaching or his authority as an apostle. We aren’t told exactly what he said or did, but it did cause Paul some pain and, we can be sure, some pain to the congregation. Whatever it was, it was bad enough to drive Paul out of the city and to direct his energies on other communities.
Paul, in his letter, makes it clear that he knows that the person who was stirring up trouble was in the minority of the congregational community and that the person has been disciplined … something Paul asked for in an earlier letter.
Such discipline could have been a public rebuke of the person’s actions or words … the person could have been censured by the majority of the members of the congregation. The person may have been publicly prayed for.
Whatever the punishment, it had been applied by the majority of the congregational community’s members, and Paul is concerned it might be too much.
It’s time to step back he tells them.
In today’s passage, Paul writes:
“This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”
Paul is concerned that the punishment might push the person deeply into grief or result in the person leaving the congregation … returning to pagan worship or even to commit suicide from a sense of public shame that might be nurtured through the congregational punishment.
Paul recognizes that pain is shared all around. He has felt it … the offending member of the community has felt it and … Paul is sure … the congregation has felt it.
When one part of the body of Christ is in pain … it affects the rest of the body.
Paul tells the congregations that he won’t make an in-person visit because it could cause more pain for them. So, he writes them some instructions for healing.
He calls on the congregation to forgive the person … not just forgive … but to love the person.
Through such acts, the community is restored and made well.
The members of the congregation … and we, as well … can forgive because we, ourselves, have already received forgiveness through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.
What Paul endured in Corinth … the conflict and its basis … isn’t something that is relegated to Paul’s time.
Contentious issues arise all the time in congregations and in other family systems.
Such conflicts can bring fundamental questions regarding congregational communities and their leadership to the surface.
In discussing the theme of forgiveness found in today’s passage, Biblical scholar Ernest Best once wrote that “The community that is unwilling to forgive will not merely impair its own effectiveness as a genuine community in Christ, but may even destroy itself.”
The gospels stories share with us the concept that forgiveness brings healing to relationships … brings restoration to outcasts and those marginalized by society … and reconciles people. In other words, forgiveness is essential if a community is to survive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the words were not spoken or that the actions did not happen … it just means that they no longer have a grip on our hearts and no longer informs our own actions.
Piercy’s poem that I read a few moments ago, captures the spirit … with a lower-case S … of Paul’s sense of community … of what marks it as a true community of faith … and of what that community can accomplish when we view the world and our ministry in the context of “we” rather than “I.”
We can feel angry or hurt by someone else’s words or actions … we can feel anger or sadness because events or actions cause separation. The act of forgiving means that these feelings do not control our lives or influence our own words and actions.
The act of forgiveness … the sharing of love for one another … holds a community of faith together … and leads it to be a true community … and makes it possible to view the world differently and to model a new way of life.
It starts when you say “we.”