2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
July 5, 2015
Today we come to our last section of 2 Corinthians.
As you remember, Paul is writing back to the people in Corinth – in Greece.
After Paul had left Corinth,
other preachers have come to town.
They’re better speakers than Paul;
they’re better looking than Paul;
and the people are also thinking that they’re perhaps closer to God than Paul.
These new preachers have been talking about
miraculous, spiritual experiences.
Paul never talked about any such things!
Well, Paul says, these “super-apostles” can brag
about how spiritual they are all they want.
He says, “I too have had mystical experiences,
I was caught up into paradise
and heard and saw things that no one – not even these super-apostles – has ever seen and heard!”
But Paul says, the Christian life isn’t a competition
to see who has the most miraculous spiritual experience to tell.
The Christian life isn’t lived in these ‘out-of-body’ experiences,
but very much ‘in-body,’ in the flesh,
one-to-one: feeding people, embracing people, connecting with people, touching people.
It’s hard to imagine living a Christian life alone.
The Christian life is one which follows Jesus who became flesh –
God who chose to be “in-body” with people.
Well, Paul’s body changed over time.
Paul says that he was given a “thorn in the flesh.”
What was that “thorn in the flesh”?
No one really knows.
Some think it was some sort of a physical ailment –
perhaps an eye problem ( he talks in another of his letters about needing large print in order to see).
Others think that maybe it was some sort of a moral sin
that he couldn’t get rid of.
Paul says that he prayed for this thorn in the flesh to be removed.
Three times he prayed!
And God answered, but not in the way he wanted.
His thorn in the flesh was never removed.
He remained broken – broken in whatever way that was.
But the good news of the gospel, Paul says,
is that God was able to use that brokenness and work with it.
The fact that we are reading this letter today
shows that God’s power was shown
not through the tall, dark, handsome, articulate,
who looked and sounded like they had it all together…
God’s power was shown in a short, balding, stuttering, scarred, battered
and really quite feeble man by the name of Paul.
God’s prophets don’t always look like we expect them to!
Not all prophets have the charisma of a Martin Luther King Jr.
Not all prophets have the eloquence of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Not all prophets are gentle…or even nice!
A friend of mine served as a missionary in India
for over 40 years and did some work with Mother Teresa.
He discovered that she was a difficult person to get along with!
Some prophets are hard to listen to…
and even harder to like!
(Hint: this includes most of the Old Testament prophets!)
Even Jesus whom we like to think of
as a kind of guy we’d like to hang around with…
well apparently he wasn’t always.
He was not the guy that people were looking forward
to seeing at the Nazareth High School reunions.
Even – especially – his family wasn’t thrilled he was around.
In Mark’s gospel, he’s been followed around by crowds of people,
thronging about him to listen to him and see his miracles of healing…
and then he gets home,
and preaches in his home synagogue.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit,
he preaches powerfully and boldly and confidently…
but perhaps it’s too powerful…too bold…too confident.
His hometown friends and family,
aren’t able to hear him.
They take offense…
how dare this young man whom we know is just one of us –
he’s just a carpenter’s son –
how dare he speak those words?
We don’t know exactly what Jesus said in his home synagogue.
But he had a habit of making the people who knew him best,
think that he might be a little bit …well a little bit crazy!
Earlier in Mark’s gospel, (in chapter 3),
Jesus’ family comes to restrain him
because they think he’s gone out of his mind.
I’ve been following the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
this past week and some wonderful things have happened.
One of them is that they elected as their presiding bishop,
Bishop Michael Curry, the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Curry is a terrific preacher and writer.
One of his sermons which comes from this passage in the 3rd chapter of Mark
is called, “We Need Some Crazy Christians.”
His premise is that what the church needs…
what the world needs..
are Christians who are as crazy as Jesus…
Crazy enough to love like Jesus,
to give like Jesus,
to forgive like Jesus,
to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God – like Jesus.
He writes, that if one wants to follow Jesus,
“sometimes that means marching to the beat of a different drummer.
Sometimes that means caring more when we are tempted to care less.
Sometimes that means standing up when others are sitting down.
Sometimes that means speaking up when others are shutting up.
Sometimes that means being different.
Sometimes that even means following Jesus, and being crazy.”[i]
We have had no shortage of prophets of late…
They haven’t been of the contemplative variety.
In fact, they’ve been more of the crazy, offensive kind:
Could Bree Newsome be a prophet?
Crazy enough to learn to climb a pole and then two days later
take down a flag that signifies hate to so many.
Could the Girl Scouts be prophets?
Crazy enough to return a $100,000 donation
when it comes on condition of excluding transgender girls.
How about ouur youth group – could they be prophets?
Crazy enough to think that a ziploc “bag of joy” will make a difference in someone’s life.
Paul was no super-apostle.
Jesus was rejected in his hometown.
Prophets don’t always look or sound like we think they should.
As Bishop Curry says,
“The Christians who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.”
This world needs more crazy Christians.
Could you be one?
[i] Michael Curry, “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus,” loc 223 on Kindle.