Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
So here we are, once again in the long Season After Pentecost (after Easter, after Lent, after Epiphany, well, you get the idea). Having moved through the great, narrative seasons that remind us of who Jesus was and is and is to come, we are launched into a season of deep, practiced discipleship, out in the world God so loves. And just as the Earth is literally in a physically different place from the last time we encountered the Season After Pentecost, so too is the world, our congregations, and ourselves. Continuing to travel in Jacob Bernoulli’s Spira mirabilis* the hope is that we are spiraling ever closer to the final fulfillment of God’s Creation.
And so it is a good time to once again hear Paul’s summary for the Corinthian Church (and for us) of what he is up to, and why. That is, of course, if we can follow his thinking through all his uses of now, therefore, so, but, for, since, and indeed!
Paul is nothing less than an apostolic announcer, sent to all the known world with the message of the gospel. His motivation is laid out at the heart of this passage—“For the love of Christ urges us on…” Now here is a statement that can be read in two ways, and indeed I would argue it holds both these meanings at the same time. It is Paul’s (and his fellow apostles’) love for Jesus, the Christ that urges them on, and it is the love of Jesus, the Christ, for them and the world that is urging them on.
The love of Christ, Paul goes on to explain, led Jesus to the cross where he died, before rising again to new life for all. This is the Self-giving love of God, from which we cannot be separated (Romans 8:35). Only by the power of such a God could the Roman symbol of control be transformed into the symbol of agapic love. Christ became incarnated, lived, died, and rose again for others, for us. This is the “messianic pattern of dying and living,” the Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday that is the rhythm of our discipled lives, guided by Paul’s reminder that we no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised for us all.
What would you do for love? “The logic of love outweighs all other logic known to the human race. That sense of a love which changes everything, and gives people the power to face things and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done, is what Paul is talking about.” So says N.T. Wright in his commentary on this passage from 2 Corinthians. Of course Paul, formerly Saul the terrorist, has more than just a sense of the love of Christ, confronted as he was by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus—an encounter that left him blind and helpless, ready to be newly created by a love that would not let him go, and that will not let us go. The Saul that terrorized the disciples of Jesus had to die, shedding old ways of thinking and being and doing, so that Paul the apostle could come to new life.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of my sense of control. I’m not sure I like the idea of being blind and helpless. What if I am really honest and say I like some of the old ways that must pass away? But then, when I am confronted by truth, and when I can allow myself to be candid about my brokenness and failings, I sense a ripple of joy . . . a calling forward, through death to new life.
This is what the love of Christ does. And it is what now drives Paul, that he might, in the sure knowledge of one day having to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, be able to make a beautiful offering of a life of self-given love. Dying to the old, human ways that are passing away and rising to the new divine life of self-giving love is the standard set by Christ himself, and Paul is telling the Corinthian church it is the only one that matters. Upholding and living out that standard is what the church, the Body of Christ, and we as individual members of it, is to be about.
So, what does it look like to die and live for Christ? To be a new creation, as that pearl of great value in verse 17 tells us: “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything [everything . . . everything!] has become new!”? I think it looks beautiful—a life that is fearless (for Christ), full of gentle confidence, offering unapologetic generosity and hospitality nurtured by the knowledge of God’s abundance, filled with grace for self and others, focused on the eternal. May it be so for you and me, for our congregations, and for the beloved world.
* “the marvelous spiral” or “miracle spiral,” also known as a logarithmic spiral, which the 17th century mathematician had engraved on his tombstone