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2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

Once again, the Lectionary makes a random choice about the starting and stopping point (as well as the omission of a middle section) of a passage. This may create some frustrations for the preacher. A quick survey of modern translations shows a significant transition in Paul’s argument at 5:11. The prior section is identified in the following ways: Living By Faith (4:16-5:10, NRSV), Awaiting the New Body (5:1-10, NIV), Our Heavenly Dwelling (5:1-10, ESV), and New Bodies (5:1-10, NLT) to name a few. Each translation views verse 11 as the start of a new section, one that continues through the end of chapter 5 and on into chapter 6 (some conclude this section at 6:2, others at 6:13). So the first order of business for the preacher will be to decide on the parameters of the sermon text. 

Let’s consider an overview of these two sections before we decide exactly why and how we might preach a message that is informed by both sections. (This is how the lectionary, in its own weird way has given us this text). Let’s keep in mind the overall context of the passage, as it concludes a lengthy fragment of Second Corinthians that the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary entitles: “A Multifaceted Treatment of Paul’s Ministry (2:14-6:10)”. (Sampley, 2000, p. 54) 

J. Paul Sampley, in his Commentary on Second Corinthians summarizes this section as follows:

The opening section (2:14-17) is rich with imagery that points to one end: Paul is the agent of God’s powerful and triumphant gospel; Paul is part of a victory processional across the Mediterranean world that would make the Romans proud; and Paul is part of a vast sacrifice whose fragrance, though it is being offered up to God, is manifest to everyone around.  Then, in what amounts to a series of three complementary depictions that together make up the heart of this letter fragment, we see (1) Paul’s as a ministry of a new covenant (3:1—4:6), (2) Paul’s as a ministry sustained through affliction and mortality (4:7—5:10), and (3) Paul’s as a ministry of reconciliation (5:11-21). The entire section closes with a primary appeal for the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1-2) and, once more, a defense of Paul’s apostolic probity and an insistence, yet once again, that Paul is worthy of exemplification and honor (6:3-10). The integrity and rectitude of Paul’s ministry is the issue that laces together everything from 2:14 to 6:10. (Sampley, 2000, p. 54) 

So, keeping this overall context in mind, let’s zero in on the two sections that the lectionary assigns, 5:6-10 and 5:14-17. Verses 6-10 conclude the argument that Paul’s ministry is carried out through the power of Christ’s resurrection life which is poured into our very human “jars of clay” (4:7). Paul’s ministry is sustained by God’s power and grace, even through affliction and mortality. Serving Christ does not exempt one from suffering or death, but rather, in the midst of the struggle, Paul remains confident in the hope of the gospel, that “what is mortal will be swallowed up by life” (5:4). There is an urgent reality that permeates this confidence – we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our ministry, our stewardship of God’s gift of resurrection life. 

Verses 14-