And So Paul Wrote A Letter…

bags of joyPentecost 3B

2 Corinthians 5: 6-10, 14-17

June 14, 2015

We continue to look at the book of 2nd Corinthians…

I’ll remind you that in the year 50,

about 20 years after the time of Jesus,

the apostle Paul lived in a city in Greece called Corinth.

He preached and taught in Corinth

and established a church in the city.

(By “church” I mean that there was a group of people in Corinth

who regularly met together

in the home of whoever had the most space.

They ate together and talked about Jesus,

encouraging each other to live a life like his.

That was “church.” )

After living in Corinth for about a year and a half,

Paul moved on.

Now between the time that Paul had lived in Corinth

and the time that Paul writes this letter,

other preachers have come into town.

A number of people in Corinth have begun

to think that maybe these new preachers

are the ones they should be following –

they seem a lot more successful than Paul.

It’s lost to us exactly what these new preachers were saying and doing,

but from how Paul responds,

we know the criticism he was receiving…and it was very personal.

They criticized Paul’s appearance.

Paul was physically weak.

His body was visibly scarred.

They criticized Paul’s preaching.

Paul’s writing is bold and confident,

but he wasn’t a good speaker!

They questioned Paul’s resume –

the new preachers had better credentials, better training, they knew people in higher places.

The Corinthians look and listen to these new preachers,

and in comparison, Paul seems weak and vulnerable.

And they’re not so sure they want to pay attention to him any longer.

So Paul does what Paul does best –

he writes them a letter.

And in today’s passage from that letter he says,

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

 

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view…

As Elisabeth Johnson says,

This might have been written today.

“We are obsessed with externals –

with youth and beauty,

accomplishments and credentials,

productivity and profit.

We are constantly tempted to judge our own worth and that of others according to “a human point of view.”

We are tempted to view worldly success as a sign of God’s favor,

and conversely, to view weakness and suffering

as a sign of God’s absence or even God’s punishment.

Paul reminds us that human standards of judgment

count for nothing in God’s eyes.

The scandal of the cross is that God chooses

vulnerability, weakness, suffering, and death in order to bring new life.”[i]

We are a new creation!

We see things differently.

We regard no one from a human point of view…

not ourselves…and not others.

The youth group is helping us regard those who are homeless

as new creations too –

they are helping us see others through the lens of Jesus.

Later today they’ll be assembling 200 ‘bags of joy’ –

plastic bags with items meant to provide comfort and dignity:

toiletries and

Most of us feel a bit uncomfortable when we run into those who are homeless

on the sidewalk.

We want to do the right thing,

but we’re unsure of ourselves or in a hurry or even fearful,

so we don’t tend to spend much time in these encounters.

We toss some money into their containers

and move along without saying much of anything.

We can’t just toss a plastic bag at those who are homeless

and move along.

In order to share the bag,

we’ll need to engage these men and women;

we’ll need to talk to them;

tell them what we have to give them …

In that interaction, in that conversation we’ll have to have,

we’ll be meeting the other through the lens of Jesus.

I believe that the encounter with those who are homeless

will do more to live our faith

than the items the bags contain.

The encounters we have will change us.

Some people will be grateful for the gift we have to offer;

others won’t see them as bags of joy –

they would have preferred that we toss money into the containers and move on.

But Paul says, we can’t ever just move on.

We no longer see anyone from a human point of view…

We are a new creation.

They are too.

The externals may be different from ours;

and our human point of view is obsessed with externals:

youth and beauty;

accomplishments and credentials;

productivity and profit.

The individuals who will receive bags

don’t have most of those externals.

The scandal of the cross is that Jesus doesn’t care about them.

Jesus prefers to be in the midst of weakness and vulnerability.

The Corinthians had a hard time accepting that.

And so Paul wrote a letter…

[i] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=324

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