2 Corinthians 1:1-11
July 12, 2020
We will be spending some time with the Apostle Paul and the Corinthians during the coming weeks.
Last week, we finished our time with Job … following his journey from prosperity to ruin and suffering and, finally, to restoration.
Throughout the journey, Job remained faithful to God and rebuked his friends who tried to say that Job was to blame for his own misfortunes.
In the end, God comes to Job and then instructs the friends to make an offering and ask Job to pray for them. Job forgives them … prays for them … and his life is restored.
While we think of patience and unshakeable faith when we think of Job… his story is one of relationships … Job’s relationship with his wife (who questioned his faith) … with his friends who were at first supportive and then who became accusatory … and Job’s relationship with God. It’s a relationship that evolved over the course of the journey.
Relationships are at the heart of Paul’s letter to the congregations in Corinth.
Even though the book is called 2 Corinthians, it is thought to be Paul’s fourth letter to the church in Corinth. Like the earlier letters, 2 Corinthians is a letter intended to mend damaged relationships … console the people who are suffering under Roman persecution … and to remind the members of the congregation of what brings them together.
The letter was intended to be read in a series of home churches in that region of Greece.
Apparently, this letter is in response to frayed relationship caused by something that probably could have been phrased better. The letter is also a response to challenges to his apostolic leadership from some in the congregational leaders.
Paul is speaking to a context of frayed and damaged relationships … a place where there is a deep sense of being wounded.
In today’s brief passage, Paul offers the listeners in the congregation grace and peace. Such peace is the peace of welcome … of belonging … of forgiveness … and of love.
Paul offers blessings to God … whom he calls the father of mercy and God of all consolation.
God consoles the people so that they can … in turn … console others … and it is through such consolation that the people can enjoy peace and harmony.
In discussing Paul’s letter, Lutheran scholar Lois Malcom wrote:
“At the center of all this are the sufferings and consolations of Christ, which overflow within and through us. Christ’s sufferings for all not only become a means of abundant consolation and grace amid our own suffering, but they so unite us with Christ that we too share in both his suffering for others and in the abundant overflow of his consolation that spills over through him and within us, and now on to others.”
Through his words of encouragement, Paul strives to overcome the strains that have been placed on relationships.
Paul’s words of encouragement affirms the Gospel message – a refusal to let human conflicts set the terms of relationships with one another.
Just as Job’s suffering informed … shaped … his relationship with God and with those around him, so too does Paul’s sufferings and life experiences inform how he presents the message of the Gospel to others.
To Paul, an apostle is a person sent with a message.
And his message to the congregations is that the salvation that we receive through Jesus’ suffering on the cross, his death and resurrection is not intended to solely comfort us in our own pain and suffering … but rather because this abundant grace flows within and through us and is intended to be shared with those around us.
To Paul, Christ’s suffering and consolation forms the basis of an authentic communion … or koinonia … between him and the members of the Corinthian congregations. It also provides the basis for the relationships between the members themselves. In these relationships, they … and we … are called to share in each other’s pain and in each other’s joy … and to work to heal deep wounds that may be present.
Paul reminds the people that Jesus’ death is what brought them together and that through the mercy and grace they … and we … have received, it calls them to view life and relationships differently … to place others at the centre and seek consolation in the fact that … as a community … we share in the good and bad.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the challenges … the problems … that Paul writes to in Corinth … still exist in one form or another in congregations today.
Words are misspoken … motivations are questioned … relationships are strained … pain and anger pull people apart. So, how do we deal with these challenging relationships?
Do we shrug it off? Do we say it’s the other person’s issue? Rationalize it by saying it’s always been this way and it will never change? Or do we reflect on the conflict and seek to heal and keep Christ at the centre of our life and at the centre of the life of the faith community?
If Paul were to write to such contemporary situations, would his words be much different than they were centuries ago?
Perhaps, as we worship apart … in pandemic-induced isolation … we can consider if our own words or actions have led to similar strains or led to people feeling diminished and marginalized. And, just as importantly, if we recognize our words or our acts as being hurtful or divisive, what are we going to do about it?
As Paul reminds the Corinthians, we are encouraged to reconcile our differences… that we are called to heal and mend relationships. That we are called to love and … in non-pandemic times … embrace one another.
The pandemic is a shared experience … we all feel disconnected from the community … uncertain of the future … uncertain if the next wave will hit as hard as predicted. But it is also a shared pause button where we can discern what parts of the old normal can be discarded and how we can move forward as a community into a new normal life of worship and ministry.
I pray that you remain safe and healthy in the days ahead.