Finally brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
So much has happened and continues to happen around us. Pentecost was a day of mixed celebrations and expressions. We witnessed explosions of celebration and mourning. We witnessed spirit-filled preaching on social media, and in buildings where people are returning, who just want to be, and be with others. We witnessed loud exhortations in the streets of urban, suburban and rural communities. We witnessed, and still see the smoldering ashes from the strong and refining fires that burned from looting, and those in our hearts for change. Oh yeah, and there is still COVID-19, though the infection and mortality rate are decreasing, we still feel the weight of this invisible threat, and its visible destruction.
If you can lift your head to prepare for this week, take a praise break! Thank God for grace, grace that is sufficient in the midst of whatever we may feel; the thorns in our flesh that make us bleed and cry out in pain. Remember that the Savior gives grace to us, and take care to wrap yourself in that grace, as you prepare to speak on behalf of the Divine.
Second Corinthians 13:11-13 is particularly powerful to aid in organizing and executing a sermon that builds upon the work of Pentecost Sunday. If Pentecost is a day for the Christian commemoration of the birth of the church, then this passage reminds us that on Trinity Sunday, the triune God through peace, love and grace, build upon our koinonia, our fellowship. The fire of the Spirit has not gone out, but it is refining and removing those things that cause the breaches in our coming together. This closing admonition urges us to be in full relationship with God, and with each other, a theme that is not limited to Pauline literature, but also seen in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Two words have major implications for this passage and they are found in v. 11, “order,” and “appeal.”
This second epistle to the Corinthians is actually a collection of several letters that (many agree) the Apostle Paul wrote to this church. Between his visits to Corinth, a breach occurred between the church and its founder. This breach caused serious pain, (see 2 Corinthians 1:15-3) as we see Paul admitting in a very personal way, a manner not seen in other epistles attributed to Paul. Perhaps this background information is necessary to help you craft a sermon using a personal anecdote, or testimony about the present state of affairs in the US or in the world. How are you feeling, watching the many angles and positions of George Floyd dying in the streets of Minneapolis? Have you attended rallies, or wanted to attend rallies, but were confused about how this might affect your safety, and even the perception that others, your congregation may have about you? Or perhaps you would rather ignore this passage this week as its call for peace and reconciliation, ideas that have their own history and coded language for negating and excluding.
Sometimes as preachers, we must take the risk of preaching through our pain and outrage. We don’t ravage the people with our pain, but our pain is a powerful tool to speak about God’s grace. God’s grace, as all good Wesleyans know, is undeserved, unmerited favor and love extended to all by God through God’s Spirit. This grace was shown to us by Jesus, and is required and shown by all to all. A responsible recounting of how one has not lived out this command is a way to ground a sermon in a fuller reality. Consider real personal and corporate illustrations that explain and express culpability, and how we work to avoid accountability for being ungracious and ungrateful. The church is to work diligently against the normal internal divisions, as well, we have to be as careful about the forces from without that may affect our fellowship.
Be clear, this moment of chaos in our country is emblematic of the divides, the breaches we have allowed to interfere with the work of God’s Spirit. White fragility and Black rage are real, and they are present among us, but they won’t be solved in one Sunday. This moment, deserves a larger process of scrutiny, of planning for methodical engagement about race. How we all have contributed to this or other divides through historical and theological means. How we have intellectualized matters as a way to avoid various elephants in the room. The NRSV’s translation and use of the word “order” is from the Greek word, “katartizo.” This word connotes reconciliation (see NIV) or perfection (see KJV). There is tension in the word “order,” or “putting in order.” As we see the peaceful protests by day, and the looting by night. As we witnessed tear gas, and rubber bullets move peaceful protestors out of the way so that our “Law and Order” president could offer words of “order” in front of a church. The various simple orders that are given each day that have complex and deep affects on peoples lives. Is this a moment to discuss “order,” or should the language of “mending and repair,” be the order of the day?
Paul wanted the Corinthians to grow and mature, to stay committed to the process. Likewise, we cannot limit racism and its various expressions to this painful moment in our country. Police brutality, and the abuse of black bodies, are apart of the sin we must mourn in this country. Systemic change takes place over time: it requires movement and focused interest and commitment from leadership.
Like Paul, if you know that you are not equipped to handle this moment, then like Paul, send others, invite others to teach, engage, and preach. Let the people see and hear from persons that would never be invited into the space you hold so sacred. The second word of importance, appeal, or “parakaleo,” encompasses the general sense of Paul’s words throughout this epistle. Even more, what appeal, what admonishment, what encouragement must we give this week, and over the next few weeks by to repair that which is seriously broken not just nationally, but even more, locally, close to home?
The Father’s love, The Son’s grace, and the communion of the Spirit, must be proclaimed, AND enacted. There are deep pains interred in the sinew and tissue of our communities. We must show the people that we have the faith to sit, cry, shout and sing with them and grieve. As we grieve, open ourselves to the great possibilities of our God, that out of the pain of our past, and the weaknesses admitted, and those we hold close out of fear, that God’s grace must be enough. The promise this epistle ends with, is the promise Paul began this epistle with, “The Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (2Corinthians 1:3-4)