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Bishop Michael Rinehart

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2015

July 19, 2015 is Pentecost 8B – Pause

2 Samuel 7:1-14a – David wants to build God’s house, but instead God will establish David’s house, his offspring.
OR
Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! The days are coming when I will raise up from David a righteous branch.

Psalm 89:20-37 – I anointed my servant David, and my hand will always be with him.
OR
Psalm 23 – The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)

Ephesians 2:11-22 – You uncircumcised were once strangers to the covenant, without hope, without God. You who were far off have been brought near. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances that he might create one humanity out of two. No longer strangers.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – Jesus to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.”

Hymns: No Longer Strangers (David Haas, from Gather), It is Well With My Soul

Pause

Long ago when I was learning to type, I used to delight in typing letters to my friends without pressing the space bar. Now when you don’t press the space bar you’ve got a real mess and there is much decoding to be done. It is the spaces in between that enable us to understand the message.

Life is very much the same. It is the spaces in between that help us understand life. But some of us keep forgetting to press the space bar. And why do we forget? Well, many of us have the disease that some doctors are calling hurry sickness.
– Macrina Wiederkehr

Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up with you.
– Doug Kling

The Power of PauseA great book to read about the importance of taking time for rest, Sabbath, is The Power of Pause, by Terry Hershey. It might be a good book to read to prime your thinking for preaching on the gospel text this week.

Jesus has a rough go of it in Mark 6. Jesus preaches in his own hometown on the Sabbath. He is not received well. “Is this not the carpenter?” They ask if this isn’t the son of Mary (Mark never mentions Joseph, Mary’s husband, in his gospel), the guy with four brothers and some sisters. (It’s a stretch to hear these brothers and sisters, so we ought to read it as Mark writes it – these are his actual siblings). Jesus is astonished at their unbelief of these people in his hometown.

Following this, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach repentance (like John), to anoint and heal the sick and to cast out demons.

Then Jesus’ forerunner, the prophet John, is beheaded. In Mark’s gospel, the earliest of the four gospels, no familial connection is mentioned between Jesus and John. John is simply a prophet who is baptizing with water and announcing that another, greater prophet will be coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized by John, implying that perhaps Jesus might have, at first, been one of John’s disciples. It is important to note that Jesus does not begin his ministry in Galilee until after John is arrested (Mark 1:9), causing some to conjecture that Jesus’ ministry is, in part, sparked by John’s death. What if Jesus began with the intention of carrying on John’s ministry during his imprisonment? However, differences emerge in their ministries right away. For instance, John’s disciples fast, while Jesus’ disciples do not fast. In any case, the prophet who baptized Jesus is now dead. This must weigh heavily on Jesus and his disciples.

His poor reception in his hometown, the sending of the disciples, and the death of John the Baptist all likely took it out of Jesus. He needed time away, and perhaps the disciples did too, after teaching and healing in the villages of Galilee. We read, therefore, in this Sunday’s gospel: 

He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

When was the last time you went away to a deserted place by yourself to rest for a while? Whether you call this a retreat, a vacation, or continuing education, Jesus invites you to take time away from the rigors of your life and ministry, “and rest a while.” This is an excellent text for this time of year, when kids are out of school and people are taking vacations.

A recent article in Fortune Magazine said most workers in the U.S. don’t take all their vacation time. The U.S. Travel Association found that U.S. workers generally leave five vacation days on the table. A Huffington Post article reported that 42% of U.S. workers took ZERO vacation time in 2014. Is it any wonder stress is the number one killer in the U.S?

Consider this, if we are going to be about the risky business of preaching a prophetic word, it might not always be received with joy. If we are going to be carrying out a healing ministry in the community, where will we go to fill up when our tanks are empty? I am not just talking about pastors. I am talking about the risky ministry of all the baptized. In my book Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy Through an Ancient Practice, I make the case for daily prayer, weekly Sabbath, and annual vacation. We need rest if we are going to do our very best work.

Jesus understood this. The text says that they were coming and going so much they barely had time to even eat. Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with being devoted to what you do. There’s nothing wrong with loving it. It becomes wrong when it starts eating away at you or your relationships. Jesus knew his ministry and that of his disciples would deteriorate if they didn’t find time for renewal. If Jesus needed time away to recharge, isn’t it likely that we too need that?

Does your congregation do an annual spiritual retreat? If so, this might be a great time to promote that event and encourage people to make it a priority. Invite people to think through their year. When are they going to take time for prayer and reflection, fun and play? When are you? Plan it out now. Put it in your calendar. If you don’t, the pressures of daily life and work will come crashing in, crowding out time for respite. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

The crowd sees them leave in the boat and follows them around the lake on foot. When Jesus and his disciples reach the shore, the crowd is are already there. You may feel this happen as well, as people follow you into your vacation, these days perhaps electronically. It would be easy to feel irritation, but Jesus felt compassion for them, sheep without a shepherd.

Our text skips over the feeding of the multitude. We will pick up that story next week, although from John’s gospel (also chapter 6). We pick up the story with another boat landing, and Jesus being mobbed by those in need of healing.

I’ll speculate a bit about two things. First, in a society without hospitals as we know them, itinerant healers were abundant. The line between medicine and religion was blurred. Praying, touching, anointing, bathing, and healing were all tied up together. What makes Jesus stand out is the fact that he is not charging for his services. This is not mentioned in Mark’s gospel, but Matthew makes it clear in his version of the sending (10:8), “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus is giving away freely that for which the Temple authorities require a sacrifice, and the itinerant folks require drachmas. In other words, free healthcare is the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry. We get here a clear picture of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not some hippie living off the land. He is very, very busy. He is mobbed wherever he goes. People are lining up. They’re even climbing the roof, digging holes, and letting down the sick on stretchers. They’re desperate. Jesus and his disciples are working hard.

Second, we must see these events as conditions that lead to the miraculous feeding of the multitude. All of these events create the conditions for the miracle: the rejection in Nazareth, the planning, training, and sending of the disciples, the death of his baptizer, being mobbed by those in need, being exhausted, and needing rest. Perhaps the most amazing things God will do in our lives and ministry will be after the difficult, painful, seemingly impossible things.

So when the storms of life assail us, when the difficult things seem unbearable, when you are at the end of your rope and desperate beyond words, it may be at that very moment that the most powerful stuff will happen. To quote from 2 Corinthians, where we spent much of June…

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
– 2 Corinthians 4:7

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Mother Teresa says, “God cannot fill what is full.” And so we empty ourselves, sometimes by our own choice, other times, not, praying that God will fill us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…
– Philippians 2:5-7a

Come away to a deserted place…

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
– Isaiah 40:29-31

Be still and know that I am God.
– Psalm 46

6.28.15 is Pentecost 5B, 2 Corinthians 8

A Heart for Reconciliation: A Walk Through 2 Corinthians

Background Material and Sermon Help

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – David mourns for Saul, the glory of Israel, and for Jonathan: Your love to me surpassed the love of women.
OR
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24 – God did not make death. God does not delight in death. Death came into the world through the devil.

Psalm 130 – I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up. (Ps. 30:1)
OR
Psalm 30 – God’s anger is for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.
OR
Lamentations 3:23-33 – The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonian’s joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity.

Mark 5:21-43 – Inclusio: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage.

Week 4: Eager Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’

Having concluded his appeal for reconciliation and affirmed his confidence in the Corinthian church, he now risks asking them to show their love, their heart, by taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul reminds them that they made this commitment a year ago. He now exhorts them to make good on this offering that they already began.

Paul begins by boasting about the Macedonian Church, who gave generously in spite of their poverty. In the kingdom of God even the poor give to the poor. They gave beyond their means. Keeping up with the Joneses was clearly a tactic even two thousand years ago.

As our text begins, Paul butters up the Corinthians by telling them how much they excel in faith, speech, knowledge, and eagerness. He says he is not commanding them, but he makes it clear his is a test of their genuineness. One might interpret this as a test of their integrity. In the second part of his argument, chapter 9, Paul even incorporates a veiled threat that he is going to comes down visit in person to check on them.

This appeal also cements Paul’s argument for reconciliation. If the collection happens, it will solidify the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church.

Then in verse nine he appeals to Christ’s poverty. Ben Witherington III, in Conflict and Community in Corinth, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, says this may even be a hymn or a creedal formula:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor
so that by his poverty you might become rich.

This does indeed sound like the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2.

This offering will create a sense of indebtedness for the Jerusalem church. It will bond the Jewish Christians and Greek Christians together. Witherington points out that patronage is taken very seriously in antiquity.

When Paul says, “… if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.” He means a gift of any size is acceptable. This should not create a hardship for you. Today we would say, “It’s the thought that counts.” He is calling for fairness. Verse 15 says:

As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’

Compare this to Exodus 16:18 to which Paul is referring: “But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”

Generosity to the poor is an ongoing theme through the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. For Paul, generosity is one of the fruits of faith. It is a confirmation that God is at work.

The church always practices generosity. When people say, “The church is always asking for money,” I want to respond, “Yes. Every Sunday. This is who we are.”

What offering is your congregation undertaking on behalf of those in need? How might our generosity test the genuineness of our faith? This might be a good Sunday to launch an appeal for the poor, for world hunger, store for some other cause to benefit others. It is a good week to remember that Christ was rich, but became poor for our sakes.

Tell a story about a time you were surprised or moved by an act of unexpected generosity. Here’s mine.

A few years ago, I booked a flight to Lima, where we work with some partner congregations. I had booked the flight late and ended up having to change planes in Mexico City. I also had a middle seat. I hate the middle seat. I have long legs, but I refuse to foot for a first class seat. I hoped that perhaps one of the folks to my right and left would be absent so I could spread out.

When I got on the plane, there were two huge guys in the window and aisle seats, and they were together. As I made my way down the aisle, I saw that they had soul patches, tats, and piercings. When I arrived at the seat and looked down, they had their arms on the arm rests, and gave me a look that said, “Don’t even think about it.”

I put my stuff in the overhead compartment and squeezed into the middle seat with my hands in my lap. Stuffed between these two big guys I thought, “What would Jesus do?”

So I asked the guy to my left, “Where are you going?” He said, “Me and my buddy work in the Medical Center.” He patted a wad of bills in his pocket. “We’ve been saving up all year to go to Aruba. We’re going to lay on the beach, drink beer, and hunt for women.” Then he asked, “What are you going to do?”

I thought to myself, boy am I going to ruin his day. I said, “Well, I’m going to Lima, Peru with a group of Lutheran Churches from the Houston area. Lima is one of the poorest countries in South America. Half of the people live under the poverty level. We’re going to down to visit with these churches and do a Vacation Bible School for 500 children in the heart of Lima. We’ve been saving up too, and this is one of the best weeks of my year.”

I went on, because I’m passionate about it. You don’t want to sit next to me on an airplane. I’m an extrovert. He didn’t say much. He probably got tired of listening and regretted not purchasing the middle seat.

We finally landed in Mexico City. As I got up to leave, he grabbed my elbow and said, “Wait a minute.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wad of bills. One by one, he started putting large bills into my palm. Then he closed my hand and said, with a sober look on his face, “Please use that for those children in Lima.” I did.

Over the years I have reflected on that brief experience. I don’t recall the guy’s name. I’ll most likely never meet him again. I’ll never know what happened in Aruba. I have landed on two conclusions that have stuck with me.

First, never judge people based on how they look. We tend to group people into two groups: good or bad, nice or not nice. Life is more complex than that of course. We’re all full of mixed motives and conflicting choices. Here is this guy going down to Aruba to do God-knows-what, and yet, something inside him has a heart for the things God cares about: the poor, the children, and the vulnerable. He sensed that this was something that was important, something that mattered. Something touched his heart, the stirrings of the Spirit? Where might this lead?

Second, whenever God touches your heart, God also touches your wallet. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The two often track one another. Once this guy’s heart was touched, he instinctively responded with his wallet. No one had to teach him the ten principles of stewardship. He knew what to do. When something matters, you want to be a part of it. Giving is one way we can participate. When the Spirit begins to stir, there is always generosity. Alternately, when there is extravagant generosity, you can be pretty sure the Spirit is as work.

Texts and Themes

Pentecost 2B: June 7 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – Don’t Lose Heart. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

Pentecost 3B: June 142 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17New Creation. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Pentecost 4B: June 212 Corinthians 6:1-13Open Heart. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Pentecost 5B: June 282 Corinthians 8:7-15Eager Generosity. The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Pentecost 6B: July 52 Corinthians 12:2-10Powerful Weakness. Paul’s out of body experience and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

More Information on the Study of 2 Corinthians

 

6.7.15 is Pentecost 2B, 2 Corinthians 4

A Heart for Reconciliation: A Walk Through 2 Corinthians

Background Material and Sermon Help

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) – The people ask for a king to succeed Samuel, despite his warnings.
OR
Genesis 3:8-15 – The curse of Adam and Eve.

Psalm 138 – I will give thanks to you O Lord with my whole heart.
OR
Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry to you. Lord, hear my voice.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

Mark 3:20-35 – The crowd was so large, they couldn’t eat. His family came out to restrain him, for the people said he was out of his mind. Can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided cannot stand. All sins forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those who do God’s will are my brother, sister and mother.

Week 1: Don’t Lose Heart

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 4

For the next five Sundays we are in 2 Corinthians. This series consists of three things:

  1. Daily devotional readings for participants, in a book called A Heart for Reconciliation, found at Amazon in paperback or in digital format.
  2. Weekly Bible studies for Group Gatherings, which can be found in the back of the above devotional book, and also on my blog.
  3. Weekly background material and sermon helps, found on my blog.

Invite people to do a daily devotion for the next five weeks, attend worship and join a study group. Recruit a group of hosts, so that there are a lot of groups at different times of the week and places in your community. All hosts have to do is open their homes and read the questions. You’ll be surprised at how much people grow, and what gets stirred up in the life of your congregation.

Many thanks to Megan Dosher for writing the devotions. I prepared the group gathering questions. Another useful group study tool you may want to check out is 2 Corinthians (N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides).

Texts and Themes

Pentecost 2B: June 72 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – Don’t Lose Heart. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

Pentecost 3B: June 142 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17New Creation. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Pentecost 4B: June 212 Corinthians 6:1-13Open Heart. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Pentecost 5B: June 282 Corinthians 8:7-15Eager Generosity. The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Pentecost 6B: July 52 Corinthians 12:2-10Powerful Weakness. Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Corinth

Corinth was a city about half way between Sparta and Athens, on the isthmus between northern and southern Greece. Ships could be dragged across the isthmus, if one had enough slaves. It was at one time the second city of Greece and one of the major Roman centers, along with Ephesus.

Here stood the temple to Poseidon, god of the Mediterranean, whose anger kept Odysseus from returning to Ithaca from the Trojan wars. Here were held the Isthmian games, which happened biennially and attracted huge crowds. Nero attended on November 28, of 66 A.D., and he proclaimed freedom to all Greeks.

Corinth probably had a population of 130,000, though some estimate at a lower population of 90,000. It was perched 1,800 feet above the harbor on a mountain called the Acrocorinth. It was a worldly city. The verb “to Corinth” (Korinthiazesthai) meant to fornicate. The temple of Aphrodite (goddess of love) crowned the high mountain on which the city stood. The temple was staffed by a thousand female slaves, which probably lended to its great popularity with the sailors (according to Strabo, who was a famous Greek geographer from the late first century BC).

It should come as no surprise to us that Paul’s letters to the Corinthians deal extensively with issues of marriage, misconduct and sexual morality. Shortly after Paul left, one of the church members had an affair with his stepmother. Paul is offended: even the Gentiles don’t even speak of such things. It was against Roman law and against Jewish law as well.

Paul is suspicious of carnal relations, though not the prude that his contemporary Seneca is. “You and I who are still far from wise, must not commit the error of falling into a stormy passion which enslaves us to someone else.” —Seneca. Many chose celibacy as a “higher calling.” Paul probably would have agreed, but said it’s better to be married than afire with lust. Paul would say, though, that it would be better to remain single so as to do the Lord’s work. (I Cor. 7:32). He did not, however, advocate divorce, saying that couples should never refuse one another sexually.

Priscilla and Aquila

In Corinth, Paul meets up with two business associates, also tentmakers, Priscilla (a diminutive for Prisca, “ancient”) and Aquila (“eagle”), who have been expelled from Rome in Claudius’ purge of the Jews. In Priscilla we encounter another tradeswoman, like Lydia. Tradespeople belonged to business associations. If Paul was making and selling tents to earn his way, it would have been natural for him to link up with others similarly engaged. Think of the freemason’s lodge or Kiwanis Club, which provide business contacts and support as well as a shared social fellowship. The words, club, association, and church are all the same word in Greek: ecclesia. It is quite possible the church started this way, as it did with Lydia in Philippi. Juvenal blamed much of the immorality and superstition of the age on the fact that women had found emancipation through these clubs. Paul said Priscilla and Aquila had “risked their necks” for his life. (Romans 16:3-4)

Titius Justus

After living with Prisca and Aquila for a couple of years, Paul moved in with Titius Justus, who, perhaps significantly, lived next door to the synagogue. There is a white marble lintel inscribed SYNAGOGE HEBRAION and an impost decorated with the seven-branched candlesticks on Lechaeum Road. Paul reminds the Corinthians after moving on to Ephesus that rich men supported their ministry and provided them with a meeting place.

Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I passed on to you,” this is my body, this is my blood of the new covenant… In those days, when the number of followers of Christ were so small they could fit in one house; communion was a piece of cake (if you’ll pardon the pun) — clearly a social meal, held at the home of the person with the most square-footage. But shortly after Paul leaves, he hears of problems: divisions among believers, drunkenness, and gluttony. Here’s the problem. Most Roman dining rooms would only have space for a few diners. The rich would probably eat first, as was the custom. The poor would arrive after work and wait around in the atrium until there was space. In addition, while waiting for the plebes to arrive, the rich were getting drunk. Paul saw this as an affront to the gospel. It is not, in his view, the Lord’s Supper at all. In addition, it could be that there would be manifestations of the Spirit that could be taken for drunkenness (e.g. tongues as in Acts 2), further clouding the issue. Which raised another divisive issue: those who spoke in tongues and those who did not.

Eating food sacrificed to idols

In most ancient cities, the butchers were the priests and the priests were the butchers. Should one be a vegetarian to avoid eating meat dedicated or sacrificed to some pagan idol? Many believed that the gods were devils. Is it proper to eat food that has been sacrificed to a devil?

Paul takes a liberal approach. Just because some priest mumbled some mumbo-jumbo over the animal does not make it evil. These gods are not gods anyway. For Paul, the important thing is that Christ made us free. Some practiced vegetarianism to avoid eating pagan meat. Others did not. Paul’s message: Live with one another. There were those who practiced celibacy and those who did not. Respect one another. There were those who were Jewish Christians and those who were Pagan Christians. Many divisions. One faith, one Lord, one baptism.

All their spirituality is worth nothing if there is not love, according to Paul in I Corinthians 13. Love is the subject of Paul’s most famous hymn, “words which, if he had written nothing else, would have guaranteed that subsequent generations would have revered Paul, seeing him as one the most stupendous religious poets and visionaries whom the world has ever known.” (A. N. Wilson, Paul, p. 173)

How many letters?

While there is little doubt among scholars that Paul is the author of 2 Corinthians, there is quite a bit of discussion over whether the Epistle was originally one letter or whether it is a composite of two or more of Paul’s letters.

Although the New Testament only contains two letters to the Corinthians, the evidence from the letters themselves is that he wrote four, at the very least:

  1. The Early Letter. 1 Corinthians 5:9 says, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons”). Paul is clearly referring to an earlier letter that predates 1 Corinthians. This is sometimes called the “warning letter”.
  2. 1 Corinthians. Refers to the Early Letter.
  3. The Severe Letter. Paul refers to an earlier “letter of tears” in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4 and 7:8. 1 Corinthians clearly does not match that description; so this “letter of tears” may have been written between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
  4. 2 Corinthians. Refers to the Severe Letter and mends fences.

The tone of the first part (chapters 1-9) of 2 Corinthians is harmonius. Then there is an abrupt change of tone; 2 Corinthians 10–13 has a bitter tone. This has led some to speculate that chapters 10–13 form part of the “letter of tears” referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9. Those who disagree with this assessment usually say that the “letter of tears” no longer exists. It may be lost to history, as are most of Paul’s letters.

Outline

There are several ways to outline 2 Corinthians. Here is one possible way:

  1. 1:1-11 – Greeting
  2. 1:12-7:16 – Paul defends his actions and apostleship, affirming his affection for the Corinthians. (Our first three readings.)
  3. 8:1-9:14 – Instructions for the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church.
  4. 10:1-13:10 – A polemic defense of his apostleship
  5. 13:11-13 – Closing greetings

Reading schedule

It is our recommendation that participants in this study read one half of a chapter of 2 Corinthians each day. At this rate, you will progress through 2 Corinthians in less than a month (26 days). It may be advisable to read the entire letter in one sitting at first, to get a feel for the whole of the letter.

2 Corinthians 4

This week’s text comes from 2 Corinthians 4. Chapter 1 proceeds like a typical Pauline letter. He identifies himself as the author, along with his travelling companion, Timothy, who with Silvanus helped Paul proclaim the gospel to the Corinthians. Paul gives his standard greeting and then a blessing that evokes images of his own suffering for the sake of the gospel.

Chapter 2 begins with the words, “I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit.” And “I wrote as I did…” Paul must have written a scathing letter to them, the “Severe Letter” mentioned above. With a hint of defensiveness, Paul insists on his sincerity saying, “We are not peddlers of God’s word like so many.” (2:17)

In chapter 3, Paul goes on to share his love for the Corinthians. They are Paul’s letter of recommendation, written on his heart not on stone tablets, like the law. Here he hints at what may be part of the conflict. As in Galatians, the Judaizers may also be working with the Corinthians, demanding they be circumcised, follow Jewish customs and abstain from eating meat and anything not kosher. “We are ministers of a new covenant, not chiseled on stone. Paul rehearses a common theme of frustration that his Jewish colleagues do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They are “veiled” as Moses was on the mountain.

When we arrive at our chapter for today, Paul says, “we do not lose heart.” The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this world has blinded them. Paul says he and his colleagues proclaim “Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” The God who said “Let there be light,” has shined in our hearts. We have this gospel in clay jars, to show the glory is from God, not us.

Our text begins at verse 13. We have the same Spirit. And God, who raised Jesus will also raise us, and bring us all into God’s presence. Here we arrive at the heart of Paul’s faith. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (4:16) The suffering of this world is a “slight momentary affliction” in light of eternity. It is preparing us for something greater. We look beyond what can be seen to what cannot be seen. We look beyond the temporal to the eternal. The punch line comes in the first verse of chapter 5: If this earthly tent in which we live is destroyed, we know we have a house not made with hands in heaven.

One possible theme for the preaching might be perspective. Paul puts his momentary suffering in perspective. He takes the long view. In his book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey says to “begin with the end in mind.” Perhaps this is a Sunday to have people write their obituaries. There is something about this practice that puts things in perspective. It helps people get out of the tunnel vision of the moment and think about the broad arc of life. Our lives are atomized. What is the sum of the parts? What do our current priorities say about who we are? How will they be perceived by those who come after us?

Another theme might be spiritual growth – the outer nature and inner nature. Is your outer nature wasting away? If you’re over 25, probably so. It begins slowly at first, and becomes pronounced after 50. More importantly, is your inner nature being renewed daily? As our bodies deteriorate, is our spirit becoming more rich? Are you growing spiritually? How would you know?

Galatians 5:22 says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are you growing in these fruits of the spirit? Are you a more loving person than you were at this time last year? Do you have more joy? More peace? Are you becoming more kind, generous, and faithful? As our bodies wear out, the Spirit grows our inner nature.

As we become more loving and patient, more Christ-centered, we find we have more resources for the momentary sufferings we encounter. They don’t go away, but we put them in perspective and find that joy helps us in our sorrow.

Invite people to make a commitment to their spiritual lives. Take time for prayer this week, and trust that the Spirit will grow their inner nature. Take time each day to read a little Scripture (half a chapter of 2 Corinthians). Make time for prayer, worship, and study, then trust that the Holy Spirit will grow their spiritual lives.

A third approach might be found in the phrase, “So we do not lose heart…” In the midst of all the ups and downs, Christ is our hope. We might draw upon a couple of verses earlier in chapter 4, prior to our reading (4:8-10):

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

It is faith that gives us hope in the midst of any trials that come our way. Our joy does not come from our circumstances, but from our ability to see beyond our circumstances. As Nehemiah said (8:10), “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

More Information on the Study of 2 Corinthians

March 22, 2015 is Lent 5B

March 25, 2012

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – I will make a new covenant. I will write the law on their hearts. They will all know me. I will remember their sins no more.

Psalm 51:1-12 – Create in me a clean heart O God…

OR

Psalm 119:9-16 – Happy are those whose way is blameless…

Hebrews 5:5-10 – High priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He learned obedience through suffering.

John 12:20-33 – Gospel: Greeks: Sir we wish to see Jesus. Grain of wheat dies. If you love your life, you will lose it. Save me from this hour? When I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself. The light is with you a little while longer. While you are in the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.

The New Covenant

Jeremiah: The new covenant. We went from the Noahic Covenant in Lent 1, to the Abrahamic Covenant in Lent 2, to the Mosaic Covenant Lent 3 and 4. After weeks of wading through various covenants, we come to Lent 5, the week before Passion/Palm Sunday, in which Jeremiah promises a new covenant. The problem with the Mosaic Covenant is that the people could not keep it. Their infidelity to God and this covenant is why Judah is in exile in Babylon.

After many harsh words, the prophet delivers a word of hope. One day a new covenant will come, not like the Mosaic Covenant. “I will write the law on their hearts.” All will know the Lord. Their sins will be remembered no more. The days are coming, says the Lord.

Christians see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by Pentecost. Jesus transforms the water of human religion into the wine of the spirit. The new law, the new covenant, is written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone. In the Eucharistic Words of Institution we remember Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people…”

Hebrews: Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק, malchi zedek, “my king is righteousness”) is mentioned 12 times in the Bible, twice in Genesis 14, once in Psalm 110 and nine times in Hebrews. In Genesis 14, he is the King of Salem and a priest of “God most high” who blesses Abraham. In Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand and I will make your enemies your footstool… You are an eternal priest like Melchizedek.” In the cryptic theology of Hebrews, Jesus is identified as this priest. This is probably the author’s way of saying that Jesus is now the high priest to God most high. The Temple is no longer necessary. In some ways this is a similar message to the Cleansing of the Temple in John 2 (Lent 3B).

The theology is complex. Jesus “learned obedience through suffering.” This is likely encouragement to a church that is under persecution. Christ’s followers are to learn obedience through suffering as Christ did.

John: Greeks want to see Jesus. Some Greeks wish to see Jesus. Jesus has already said he has other sheep “not of this fold.” There has been much speculation about the meaning of this enigmatic statement of Jesus throughout history. My take: Jesus is telling his Jewish followers that there are Gentile followers out there. Clearly, the mission to the Gentiles is in full swing long before John writes his gospel.

For the first part of this gospel reading, Jesus has been saying his hour has not yet come. Remember the Wedding at Cana, “Woman, why are you involving me? … My hour has not yet come.” It’s not time yet. After the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, the decision to kill Jesus is made. Jesus ignores Philip and the Greeks. Now is the time: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Discursus: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. If it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate it will keep it. John12:5-26 are a parallel to Mark 8 text we had Lent 2. This passage appears in all four gospels. To die is to live. Jesus is now to fulfill this; hearkening back to John 3 from last week, Jesus is to be glorified and lifted up.

This passage touches upon something that we have seen several times during Lent, the mystery of the cross: The only way to find life is to lose it. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up.” “If any would follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The preacher must know his or her community well to find creative ways to convey this counterintuitive message with conviction. The power of God is most perfect in our weakness. Life grows when we let it go.

The story of the Greeks wanting to see Jesus gives an excellent opportunity to preach a message of witness. People may be turned off by the church, but they are still very, very interested in Jesus. If we show that we are more interested in people’s spiritual lives than the institutional survival of our religious clubs, we still have the ability to see the power of the gospel at work in the lives of seekers.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be lifted up. Jesus approaches his “hour” with open fear, and also resignation. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (12:27) This could be a model of how we as Christians might approach our own deaths. It is natural to be worried, but as a people of the resurrection, confident of God’s saving grace, we know that our lives are in God’s hands.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (12:32) Though it is homiletical allegory, the preacher might ask the congregation to consider the ways in which Christ is being lifted up in their community. Is Christ lifted up in our speech? In our lives? Is the Son of Man being lifted up in our congregation’s presence in the community? Do people talk about our congregation? If so, what do they say? If not, what does that say?What do they see? How are we known? How is Christ known through us? The good news here is that when Christ is lifted up, people will be drawn to him.

Learning to Pray Again

This will be the last entry in the Lenten series “Learning to Pray Again.” Those trying out new prayer practices are likely on the last few chapters, 36-40.

These chapters encourage you to pray for your pastor, and any who are part of your spiritual formation. They also introduce the tradition called “The Stations of the Cross.” These stations are listed, along with a Scripture passage and prayer for each. The point of the stations, though, is to meditate on the images. This is a right-brained prayer form. Meditating on artwork has long been a devotional practice. Different artistic renderings are available in Google images. Here is a photo of the stations we have in our office:

Stations of the Cross, Office

Can eating and drinking be prayer? The central act of worship for most Christians is precisely this. We “commune” with God through the simple act of eating bread and drinking wine together.

The last two chapters return us to the point where we began: silence. Prayer is listening at least as much as it is talking. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength…” Listening in prayer is recognizing that God is the principal actor in prayer. We are empty vessels, open to receive. God pours love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The various forms of prayer in this book are really tools to help us get to that place of silence, of contemplation. They refocus our attention from ourselves, our tasks and our worries back onto divine things. They help us set our minds on heavenly things, rather than earthly things.

Perhaps the way forward as you finish this series is to spend some time reading back through your prayer journal if you made one, or thinking back through the various forms of prayer you tried out these forty days. What worked for you? Write two or three forms of prayer that were most helpful. Pick one and make it a daily prayer pattern for a while. Trust that God will show up, often in unexpected ways. And keep in mind the words of Mother Teresa and Meister Eckhardt:

If the only prayer you ever say… is “Thank you,” it will be enough.
Meister Eckhardt

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
Mother Teresa

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