I have officially gotten myself caught up on posting my Year Of Mark sermons that I missed in the great hard drive crash of 2018 and now I am 7 sermons away from being fully caught up! This is a sermon from June – we were in the middle of our home renovation and it was about a week before my computer crashed! It’s strange to look at a sermon from one of Paul’s letters – I’m so used to preaching out of Mark right now!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
June 24, 2018
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
When It’s Not Easy
I never know how to preach in the middle of a political uprising in our country.
It’s hard, because I love and want to protect the safety of our space here; a nonpartisan space where we invite, welcome and affirm all people and their beliefs. I think it is a beautiful expression of the Gospel to sit and worship among people with whom we might not always agree with; to embrace and break bread with one another, even though we might not share the same viewpoints.
I also believe that the ability I have to stand behind a pulpit every week and preach to a congregation is a privilege; one that comes with great responsibility. I would never want to use my pulpit as a political soapbox that might offend someone or make them feel unsafe or unwelcome.
(And I am not going to this morning, so nobody walk out on me!)
That being said, I – like so many – have been devastated by the heartbreaking images and the videos and the sound bites that have come out of our country’s border facilities over the past two weeks. To not mention what is happening in our country and what so many of us are already thinking about seems inauthentic and irrelevant.
The challenge for me here, today is that I do not have a solution. I do not know enough about immigration policy to speak with any kind of authority on it, nor do I think that would be helpful. I know it is more complicated than my own personal feelings about it. And I also know – based on a “warm” conversation (I won’t quite say, “heated” conversation – I’ll stick with warm) we got into about it at bible study on Tuesday – that people’s thoughts and opinions on this are complicated and all over the place.
But I will say this: We live in a broken world. And that brokenness does not come from any one particular leader or political party or policy; at its core, it comes from who we are, as human beings. It is because of our brokenness that Jesus came into this world 2,000 years ago and it is because of our brokenness that we need to still proclaim the Gospel today. It is because of our brokenness that we needed – and still need – to be redeemed, to be saved. It is because of our brokenness that we need to come together and do church.
But this is not easy. It is not easy for me to stand up here and talk about something that I know people have mixed feelings and opinions on. It was not easy for us to get back on track after our discussion in bible study on Tuesday. As a country, it is not easy for us to wrestle with issues surrounding immigration policies; and it is not easy, then, for us to talk about these issues in our day-to-day lives – with our family and friends, in our communities, at church.
In a way, Paul eluded to this challenge of doing church in trying times in his second letter to the Corinthians, which our scripture reading for this morning comes from. He said:
As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights [and] hunger.
Paul was saying that this call to live out the Christian faith has not been an easy one thus far. They had endured intense hardships and faced challenges along the way.
I do not usually talk about political issues from the pulpit, because I know our congregation is extremely diverse and it is not easy to do that. And here’s the thing, I am not really not offering any solution today or even giving my opinion about it; I am just acknowledging that we are all kind of feeling it right now. And it is not easy for me to do this, but Paul said in this letter that this whole church thing was not necessarily going to be easy.
So I think it is important for us to be together in this space and hold this issue of immigration in God’s light.
Because I think, if we can do that, then we are really starting to get at the kind of church work that Paul is describing in this letter.
This letter is addressed to the church in Corinth, a church that Paul, himself established. There are many different interpretations of 2 Corinthians and theories as to why Paul wrote it in the first place. Some people believe Paul wrote it after receiving some new and troubling information about the church. Some people believe Paul was addressing various issues within the community. Some people believe Paul used this letter to defend himself against his opponents in Corinth. And some people believe this letter was for purposes of fundraising.
Regardless of the “why,” it is clear that Paul felt deeply the true cost and weight of discipleship. He knew that it was not easy to live out Jesus’ call. He knew that it was not easy to come together with other people and do the hard work that is required to proclaim the Gospel to a broken world.
And yet, he still encouraged the church in Corinth to push forward. “Do not accept the grace of God in vain,” he wrote. “Now is the acceptable time … now is the day of salvation!”
I can almost hear Paul saying: We need you. We are broken, but the church can heal our brokenness. We can be saved. And I know that it is not easy, but keep going, because this is all worth fighting for.
And I think these words are SO very relevant today as we seek unity within our country – and even within our smaller communities. Now is the time to come together. Now is the time to do the hard work that is required to build communities in God’s love and to proclaim the Gospel to a world that is broken. Now is the time to not only talk about our faith, but to live it out, as well; to not only talk about Jesus and his life and ministry, but emulate him in our own lives, as well. Now is the time to find similarities that unite us so that we can come together and do the work God is calling us to do. And I know it is not easy, but Paul believed in the church then and I believe in the church today.
I was selling some furniture this weekend that we are not taking with us to the new house and one of the pieces that we got rid of was an old curio cabinet. When I listed it (I put everything on Facebook Marketplace), I searched for other curio cabinets to see what the market was and I was initially discouraged by the number of other listings there were for cabinets that were similar. By the end of the night, I had not gotten any messages about it and I thought to myself, “Okay, I might have to find another way to get rid of this piece.”
However, the next day I received a message from a woman asking if it was still available and if I could call her if it was. I called her that night and we made arrangements for her and her husband to pick it up the next day. She said to me, “I am so excited; I have a beautiful collection of Jesus figurines that have been in storage for two years and I have been looking for something that I can display them in.
First of all, what are the odds that this woman happened to find the one minister that was selling a curio cabinet in the area?
But anyway, she and her husband came to the parsonage yesterday to pick up the cabinet. She was telling me about the collection she was going to put in it, which led us into a conversation about what it means to put up visual reminders of Jesus in our homes and how we try to live out our faith versus just talking about it. As they were getting ready to leave, her husband turned to me and said, “Thank you! Jesus has a place again!”
I laughed at the time, because it was such a funny way to put it, but I also think he was onto something perhaps a little bit deeper than a collection of figurines. I think in our world today, we do not often create a space for Jesus, we do not look deeply and boldly at what the Gospel is calling us to do. We are not willing to make sacrifices or give up some of what we have. We like a church and a faith that is easy and that serves us; not one that challenges us to our very core and pushes us to try harder.
But see, that is what Paul was getting at. That is the type of church Paul established and wanted to see thrive: The kind of church that existed not to make the world an easy place to live, but to make the world a better place to live. The kind of church that pushed people to the boundaries of their comfort levels and stretched those boundaries just a little bit more each time. The kind of church that would search the depths of their communities to find people in their darkest moments and shine God’s light into their world so that everyone – no matter who they are or where they are on their journey through life – would know that they are loved and cherished by God.
But this kind of church is not easy. And Paul said it himself – they endured calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and more.
But Paul did not end there when he described what they had been experience. Paul kept writing after he talked about the challenges they faced:
As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights [and] hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.
It is so important to remember that in Paul’s eyes, the adversities he faced were inextricably linked with the virtues that he also held onto, virtues that he believed were gifts of God. No, it was not easy, but yes, God’s grace was still woven through the fabric of their movements as they did the work God was calling them to do.
So no; this whole church thing was (is) not easy – it was never supposed to be. But within the challenges we face – as a community, as a church, as a nation, as a world, even within our own family units and circles of friends – we also must hold fast to purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.
Because I think then – and only then, when we allow adversities to work alongside the virtues given to us by God – is when we really start to do church and transform the world.
Friends, today I think we need to pray for our country, we need to pray for our world and we need to pray for our church and what God is calling us to do, whatever that may be. We need to pray for one another and prayerfully discern how we can help to positively impact the lives of the people that are sitting around us right now. I truly believe that even when there are big things happening that we cannot change, we can make a difference right here in our midst.
So let us journey forward and do the hard work to create this type of church that Paul so desperately believed was possible. Let’s make a place for Jesus again.
Thanks be to God!