We are in the after season now, after the great cycle of Jesus’ anticipation, life, death, resurrection and the birth of his church, after Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In the light of our travel once again around the life of the Son that gives us life, we pick up the continuous reading through of our Scriptures.
And we find Paul speaking.
Paul speaks the truth – the truth of his and our vulnerability. We are wasting away: our bodies, our buildings, the work of our hands, the dream of a church according to our construction. The truth of the situation is a hard thing to face, a hard place to be. But this is where we are, what we are, powerless to stop the decay no matter how we might try to stall it or deny it. And, my oh my, does North American culture try to stall and/or deny it!
To recognize our reality, to confront it or be confronted by it and then to contemplate it – here is where we need to be, to start from, for it is only here that Christ finds us and we find Christ. Here is where we can finally hear what Paul proclaims from his own discipled life – 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. [2 Cor. 4:14]. At the cross we can finally see the resurrection.
Word of mouth is a powerful persuader – it can make or break what is being proclaimed. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Paul’s writings are still so influential, his proclamation arises from his own very convicted faith in the God revealed to us by Christ Jesus. Corinthians is such a great letter for the North American church of our age. The church in Corinth is as messed up as we are, yet Paul finds proof of the Spirit at work to rejoice about and proclaims hope in the midst of the trouble. Paul states from his own experience that we do not lose heart [4:1, 16]. I am inclined to read this as a statement of discovery rather than something they are Spartanly doing themselves. What is unfolding is by God’s mercy and grace and in our participation in God’s mission we discover ourselves heartened.
Paul encourages the church in Corinth and us to keep our eyes on the prize. All the trouble is a “slight momentary affliction” in light of the work of and eternal gift given us in Christ Jesus. This is what lasts. I found myself moved by the love expressed in Paul’s repeated phrase that “everything is for your sake” (see also 1:3-7). Here I glimpse reflected the interrelationship within the Trinity itself – what a marvel to behold. And it is for the whole beloved world: gratitude that increases thanksgiving for the grace extended, all to the glory of God.
And so we too must speak of the God revealed to us all in Jesus. Psalm 138 seems a fitting Psalm not only for the reading from Samuel but for this passage from 2 Corinthians. The Psalmist manages in eight verses to make 29 references to YHWH (LORD, your, you, he, his) along with the reason for praise and worship of this God: steadfast love that endures forever, faithfulness, exalted name and word, answers us, increases strength of soul, high and yet regards the lowly but perceives the haughty from far away, delivers us, fulfills his purpose for us.
Amen and amen.