Last Sunday of Epiphany – Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 11, 2018  

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

These past weeks, our sermon series has been rooted on readings from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which was really his second letter to the Corinthians but which we know as his first because we don’t have his first, just references to it in his second which we call his first. This week our reading is from his “2nd” letter, which must mean it is really his third, if you follow what I said about his actual first and second.

Things changed somewhere between the two letters we have in our New Testament. Rather than focus on the fracturing that as occurring in the congregation in Corinth, as he did in the “first” letter, in this letter Paul seems to be defending himself, and more appropriately, his work with the congregation. There were those in the congregation who weren’t impressed by Paul, or by his work. This left Paul frustrated and defensive. He fought the need to defend himself, focusing instead on the gospel message he preached, hoping his message would speak for itself.

Remember, Paul wasn’t in Corinth, he was writing to them. There were others in Corinth, others who visited the congregation, showing up with letters of recommendation, trying to assert themselves into the life of the congregation. Those letters of commendation were working, they were sowing seeds of doubt in Paul’s leadership. It makes me think of the old saying, when the cat’s away, the mice will play. Except this wasn’t about a cat and a few mice, it was about the future of a congregation Paul dearly loved.

Paul could have gotten his own letters of recommendation. It was a common enough practice and he had more than enough standing in Christian circles, let alone Roman society. Paul’s point was—I don’t need a letter or letters of recommendation. I have you, Corinth. You are my commendation. Look at who you are. As a church. As individual people.

As one scholar wrote “the Corinthians themselves are his letters, written on ‘human hearts’ (3:3)” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11, p. 63).

 

Anyone besides me watch the show “Alaska: the Last Frontier”? If you ask Jeanne she will tell you I watch “anything Alaska.” If there was a TV network showing shows only from or about Alaska, I would probably retire and do nothing but watch TV.

This past Sunday night the Discovery network ran a marathon of Alaska: the Last Frontier. I was in Alaska heaven.  The show is about an extended family living on land in Alaska that has been home to four generations.

In one of Sunday’s episodes one of the 2nd generation fathers was working his horses with his adult son (3rd generation). When the adult son was a child, growing up on the ranch, he watched his father “break” horses. He described it as violent and frightening.

The son was afraid of horses. He says his fear was rooted in watching his dad “break” them.

When his dad invited him to come “work” the horses, he was skeptical.

The son’s father wanted to show the son that his father was a changed man. And this is why I’m telling you the story: his father no longer “breaks” horses, he “gentles” them. Literally, that is what it is called when you try to tame a wild horse using this new method, it is called “gentling.”

The 2nd generation man wanted the 3rd generation man, his son, to see that what was written on the 2nd generation man’s heart had changed. His son saw the change. Because of the change in heart, the son began to relax. His fears were calmed.

 

Paul was writing to an entire congregation asking them to examine their own flesh and blood hearts (TNIB, vol. 11, p. 63). He wrote

For it is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (4:6).

Two points:

  1. Paul was clearly saying to the Corinthians “It’s not about me. It’s about you. Or, more specifically, it is about what is written on your hearts. Look at your hearts. What are your hearts telling you about Jesus Christ?”
  2. Which is the 2nd point. It’s not about us, it is about what is written on OUR hearts? What do our hearts tell us about the God who lives and reigns in and through us? AND, what do others see in us?

Again, a scholar wrote “Christ represents and reveals God to us. When we act with love and clemency toward others, we reflect Christ to them. And, at least in some little measure, re-present Christ to them… God’s love is a powerful agent in every life it engages, so when God’s love is imaged or reflected through and beyond us, we reflect not ourselves but Christ through us” “TNIB, vo. 11, p. 79).

This is what I’ve been saying throughout our sermon series: these two (or three) letters are about ethics. They are about how we ought to live. Using the language of our religion, they are about our “life together”, our life as individual people following Jesus Christ together. As individuals, as a congregation, as one part of a larger Church of Christ on earth… What are our hearts telling us? What are we telling others?

Hopefully, our answer is that our hearts tell us we are loved… because we ARE loved.

Hopefully, we are (by the ways we live) telling others they are loved. Because they ARE loved.

This is the perfect message for our Valentine’s celebration this holy Chocolate Sunday: God loves us. And God loves the world.

Amen.