2 Corinthians 5:1-21
July 26, 2020
Almost 50 years ago, I attended a week-long Boy Scout camp with scouts from across the state of Connecticut.
One of the activities that we did one afternoon came to mind when I read today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
One afternoon, the Scout leaders separated the members of our two tents into pairs. One member was blindfolded and the other member was to lead them through an obstacle course … better known as a forest. This was a trust-building exercise.
The sighted person was expected to lead the blindfolded member through the woods and warn them of any potential hazards on the way to the beach. For some, it went well. For others, there were roots and rocks to trip over and for one future pastor … there was a tree for his nose to encounter.
When everyone arrived at the beach, the blindfolds came off and … rather than change roles for the return trip … where I could enjoy a tree-filled journey of revenge … we hopped into canoes for some time on the lake.
There were no apologies … no forced hand-shaking … just a quick talk about trust and having faith in others. The handful of bruised and battered Scouts were left feeling angry, hurt and humiliated.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians recognizes the struggles that that church faced … and it speaks to the struggles congregations still encounter.
There are conflicts present within the congregations in the Greek community of Corinth.
A prominent church member has said some things that have caused pain both to Paul and to members of the congregation … at Paul’s request, the offending person was punished by the majority of the congregation.
Still, there are divisions that have threatened to become set in stone … the collection of house churches that made up the church community could shatter at a time when unity is essential to living in an oppressive, threatening society.
Throughout Paul’s letter, he is dealing with a single question, if we are confronted with relationships that we might not be happy with, how do we deal with them?
The person who said the painful things … isn’t happy with Paul or what Paul was preaching.
A minority in the congregation … the ones who sided with the offending person … obviously also aren’t happy with Paul and his teachings either.
And, we can assume, the majority of the congregation … the ones who sided with Paul and punished the man … probably aren’t happy with those who are in the minority.
So, there are a lot of strained relationships in Corinth that require healing … reconciliation … if the congregations are to grow and effectively share the promise of the gospel.
In today’s portion of the letter, Paul deals with the troubled relationships by offering words of encouragement … words that affirms the gospel message …
“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
Paul calls on the congregations to mend the wounds that they have inflicted upon themselves and to live into the promise … the gift … that they received through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
This promise is one to be shared … through words and actions … through what has become known as ministry or outreach … through love and service … through faith.
In his preface to his translation to the Book of Romans, Martin Luther wrote:
“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew in God … Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performed in faith.
“Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything out of love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. Thus, it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.”
We walk by faith… we walk in confidence of the promise that has been made to us … in confidence of the grace we have received. Through this faith, we are called to reconcile with one another … AND to be a means for others to experience peace and love through reconciliation.
That was Paul’s point to the Corinthians in today’s portion of the letter.
In a podcast discussing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Lutheran scholar Craig Koester said, “God’s message of resurrection is a refusal to let human conflict set the terms for the future … that the resurrection stands over and against the damage that humans have done to one another.”
… the resurrection stands over and against the damage humans have done.
Walking by faith leads to reconciliation because we can recognize that we are flawed human beings … we bicker … we can place ourselves at the centre of the universe … we can place our wants over the needs of others … we can leave others battered and bruised … but we can be confident that we are forgiven just as we are called to forgive.
It is through this forgiveness that we are reconciled with one another.
In Christ, God reconciled us to God and therefore reconciled us to each another.
The ongoing work of ministry is to be reconciled constantly to God and to one another and to the world. This means that we are continually called to be in relationship with those around us.
God creates new relationships again and again … Divine action brings about these new forms of relationships … relationships marked by reconciliation … that are truly transformative.
Such relationships bring new life to the world… as God works in and through people … through us.
Reconciliation then … is a transformative word … reconciling calls communities to be beyond what they are … to move beyond the status quo … by inviting people into new relationships … and by doing so … to bring new life to their world and the world around us.