Today’s lesson is really one long “goodbye” at the end of a letter. Paul has been writing to the early Christian community in Corinth, but for the purposes of this mini-sermon, not even that matters. All you need to know is this: the people in Corinth are having difficulties, they received two letters of advice, and it closes out with love and a hope for peace.
Of course, the landscape two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire was very different than it is now in 21st-century America. That doesn’t make the words any less true or any less applicable to us, even now.
Paul is writing to a people in turmoil, a people who despite their best intentions are kinda getting it a bit wrong. They want to follow Christ, they want to be Christians and everything that entails, but the day-to-day reality is proving to be difficult and they are often mislead.
Can’t we say that about any point of time?
Can’t we say that about now–today–in the recent unrest that is flashing across the globe?
In the explosion of tear gas to the hatred of words chanted by thousands, from the mass confusion of what exactly people are fighting for, to the desire to quell opposition no matter the cost–we are descending into miscommunication, misunderstanding, and miscalculations. The news reels can make us similarly cry in aguish and cry in joy. Everything seems in fluctuation.
Where two weeks ago, my greatest concern was whether I could acquire toilet roll before I ran out, now I’m having multiple conversations a day about I-84 from multiple viewpoints. (For those who don’t know, protesting is going in certain parts of I-84 and traffic is slowed if not outright stopped.)
Nearly everyone on the planet has an opinion, and they very rarely completely align with friends and family, let alone people we disagree with. That, however, is the beauty of being human and having free will. Even when an idea or a cause blasts into public consciousness, we can all form our own opinions, which will then dictate our actions.
I would like to point out, at this point of this sermon, I am neither validating nor condemning any beliefs in the recent political landscape. As a minister, I have the dubious honour of not professing a political opinion outside of the privacy of the ballot box. That being said, I condemn violence in any shape or form, regardless of the purity of the intentions behind it.
But when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, about very different problems in a very different time, he was also writing to us. Now, Paul was a man–he had a few good letters in him, sure, and was a devoted follower of Christ once had a bit of an existential crisis on the Road to Damascus. However, he could not see the future. His ideas, however, are universal. They apply today, here, in America, in the world, just as easily as they did to the Corinthians (and, let’s be honest, unless you really like Biblical history or are good with maps, no one really remembers where Corinth was off the top of their heads, anymore).
What did Paul Say?
First off, this is the closing of a very long letter. While we might put “Sincerely” or “Love” at the end of a missive (or, in the age of emails, just our name, job title, phone number, and possibly website address), Paul was a little more personal. He writes: Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.
This (at first glance) is a bit more formal than the “xoxox” I sign off with in personal messages, I admit. It seems a bit more like a Rogers and Hammerstein song most of us know from our childhood. However, Paul is signing off with affection. When he wrote brothers and sisters, he’s reminding us that in God’s eyes, we are all God’s children. If I’m a child of God and so are you, then we are brothers and sisters. There’s a kinship, a sense of family in the love of Christ. It really is bit like my xoxox to my brother, because it portrays earthly and spiritual love.
And this love–this spiritual family–extends beyond Corinth. It extends beyond the Roman Empire, into all of Christianity–from two thousand years ago to today to far, far into the future. It’s a universal family, a universal love, that is not limited by time or space.
When Paul continues, he’s just reminding Corinth of what he wrote about in the previous letter (or epistle).
Put things in order. I.e. Get your act together. If only we could all do that here and now.
Listen. I.e. Don’t just turn away from what I’m saying because you’re all the way in Corinth and I’m somewhere (or some-time) else.
Agree with one another. Paul is not saying we have to be automatons and stick to the “party line.” Individuality is not “right out”, as one might say. Individual opinion is not a bad thing. Disagreeing with each other privately is never a bad thing, because without dissent, we will never change, we will never grow, we will never be better. Instead, Paul really means that we should listen. We should talk to each other. We should even pay attention when our political adversaries are clearly not taking into account what we have to say. This involves compromise. This involves respect. This involves–dare I say it–LOVE for your fellow human being.
Live in peace. That seems pretty self-explanatory. With differing opinions and different mindsets, things don’t always run smoothly but with love for everyone, regardless of what they think and what they do, we can find a peaceful solution and a good outcome to anything. You may laugh at this. You may say that racial injustice, if we’re to take today’s political climate, has been going on so long no one alive even remembers it being much different. Conversely, you may say that we’ve come so far in the wrong direction you don’t even recognize what America should be like because we lost the true America somewhere in between. You may not even care and just want to feel safe in your home–if that’s even possible with the health crisis that still looms in the back of our thoughts. You may think none of these things and close the web browser. However, I submit to you the idea that if we did love–if we could ever find that true Christian harmony–all these questions would fall by the wayside and we could create a better America, a better world, that is so wonderful and magnificent that none of us can even fathom it here, in June 2020.
To continue with Paul:
And the God of love and peace will be with you. Isn’t that what we all should want? If we can achieve this, we will be with God and God will be with us. It may seem like a pipe dream, but just over a century ago, we never thought that we’d be able to fly in the sky as if we were birds, and now airplane travel is quite common.
Listen, We May Learn Something
Paul did write these words about two thousand years ago, in a very different place, with very different concerns. But his words carry through the centuries, through the difficulties, and into the present. He writes to Christians regardless of place, time, or circumstance. His words were preserved in the Bible not just to preserve them in a set situation, but so that we might learn from them even now.
So listen. Try to respect. Love with all your heart even if you want to figuratively bash the other’s head in.
Jesus came for everyone. He came not only for the Chosen People, but the tax collectors (who were reviled), the widows (who had no one), the orphans (who had no name), the prostitutes (who were lower than the low), and the Samaritans (whose dirty blood made them worse than the Romans, in many respects). He didn’t see the color of people’s skin, their racial or ethnic heritage, their gender, or their circumstance. He came to the outcast.
While dying on the cross, he forgave the very Roman soldiers who had tortured him and were crucifying him–the very establishment that trampled upon his country of Israel.
He forgave everyone regardless of if they spat at him or adored him. He gave us the gift of love–and it’s yours for the taking.