Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 13, 2021
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 Commentary
The end of Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson has taken on perhaps extra poignancy over the past fifteen months or so. That’s partly because, at least in the United States, the global pandemic, political partisanship and struggles for racial justice have added new chapters to the story of what its verse 16 calls “a worldly point of view.”
2 Corinthians 5’s proclaimers might consider the “worldly” ways we have come to “regard” each other. We easily regard each other mainly as Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or progressives. It’s tempting to locate others’ primary identity in the color of our skin, stance on guns, or socio-economic status.
Or think of the new labels COVID-19 have created. Mask wearers and those who refuse to wear masks. Those who have been vaccinated and those who refuse to be vaccinated. Those who view the pandemics as a foreign plot or a horrible accident. Those who favor locking nearly everything down and those who favor opening up nearly everything.
Perhaps especially in the past year, when I hear Paul insist to the Corinthians in the fifth chapter of his second letter “we regard no one from a worldly point of view (16)”, I want to ask, “Really?! Do we really no longer view people from a worldly point of view?
After all, how quick aren’t even God’s adopted sons and daughters to regard especially people who somehow differ from us “from a worldly point of view?” To help our hearers and us approach that issue (without reverting to yet more pandemic examples), those who proclaim 2 Corinthians 5 might consider asking a question like this one: if I were to ask you to describe your neighbor or co-worker, how would you respond? At least some of us might begin by describing what a nice guy he is (or isn’t). You might even tell me the color of her skin before you got around to finally telling me that God created her in God’s image.
Or think of how we identify ourselves to those who ask about us. I tend to first mention my daily work as a pastor. I often say something about where I live and to whom I’m married. I might also say something about my interests and grandchildren. I might even eventually get around to mentioning that I’m God’s adopted son.
Those who proclaim 2 Corinthians 5 want to spend time exploring with our hearers what Paul calls a “worldly view” looks like. Perhaps foundational to that view is its contrast with God’s view of those for whom God so deeply cares. God’s view doesn’t mimic our culture in thinking of people as primarily black, brown or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, Muslim, Jewish or Christian.
Yet if Paul doesn’t want Jesus’ friends to view people the way our culture views them, how does he want us to “regard” them? Clearly he expects us to view each other the way God in Christ views them. “We are convinced,” the apostle writes in verses 14 and following, “that one died for all and therefore all died. And [Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
At the heart of God’s view of people is their identity as part of the “all” for whom the “one” who is Jesus Christ “died” (14). So God’s adopted children view people not first of all as black, brown, white or any other color, but as those for whom Jesus died. Since Christ died for all, Christians see people not primarily as rich or poor, or as single, partnered or married, but as those for whom Jesus Christ died.
Yet perhaps especially those whose ears are tuned to the melodies of the Reformed expression of the faith may be ringing about now. Don’t Reformed Christians, after all, profess that Jesus Christ died only for the elect, only for those whom God chose before God even created the world?
As Len Vander Zee, to whom I’m indebted for many of this Commentary’s ideas, notes, we don’t have to say that God will somehow save all people in order to profess that Jesus Christ died for all people. After all, by saying that Christ “died for all,” Paul simply means that through God’s atoning work in Christ God did something radically new for the whole world.
So, as Vander Zee goes on to note, God didn’t let people kill Jesus before raising him from the dead just to offer people some kind of religious deal. God doesn’t make offers; in Christ God creates something “new.” God doesn’t offer Jesus to the religious marketplace as some kind of new fad; God’s work in Christ changes the world.
Of course, God expects God’s beloved children to faithfully respond to this new thing God has done. After all, for the seed that is God’s transforming work to fully flower in people’s lives, we must receive God’s grace with our faith. God’s people most respond to Christ’s death and resurrection by faithfully reconciling ourselves to God and each other.
That reconciliation, in turn, shapes the way Christians view the people around us. Instead of viewing people from “worldly” perspectives, Christians see people as those whom God wants to faithfully respond to God’s grace. From “now on,” that is, ever since Christ completed his saving work, we see all people as those for whom Jesus may well have died.
Christ’s love compels God’s adopted sons and daughters to love those whom we don’t like or quickly label as unlovable. So Jesus’ followers seek to live for him who died and was raised for our sakes in part by loving all people with the unconditional love of God.
That means that, among other things, Christ’s love compels God’s adopted sons and daughters to deeply love both our fellow Christians and our enemies. Christians are, after all, sometimes more critical of our Christian brothers and sisters than anyone else. Since we often expect more of them than of those who don’t yet believe, we’re often least loving towards Christians who sin or even merely disagree with us.
God, however, challenges God’s children to live for Jesus Christ by unconditionally loving our fellow Christians. God summons us to respond to Christ’s transforming work by praying and working for what’s best for our Christian brothers and sisters.
Christ’s love also compels his followers, however, to love even our enemies. So instead of, for example, torturing them, we treat them with love. Instead of condemning people to hell, we learn to pray for them. We learn to view even our enemies as those whom God wants to draw into his glorious presence.
Flannery O’Connor was what one colleague calls “a remarkably perceptive diagnostician of the human condition.” One of her most diagnostic but startling short stories is entitled, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
It’s the story of Bailey, his wife, children, and mother who travel to Florida for a vacation, even though their route takes them through an area in which an escaped convict is on the loose. The ornery grandmother constantly tries to direct the trip. Eventually she convinces her reluctant son to turn off the main highway and onto a deserted road. There they have an accident that disables their car.
The only people who stop at the scene of the accident are the escaped convict O’Connor calls the Misfit and his docile henchmen, Hiram and Bobbie Lee. When the grandmother shrieks his name, the Misfit tells her that it would have been better for all of them if she hadn’t recognized him (a poignant foreshadowing of the story’s final act).
The old lady spends most of the rest of her life desperately trying to save her family and herself by insisting that the Misfit must come from good people. While we sense she really believes just the opposite of what she keeps saying about him, the strong-willed grandmother continues to insist that the Misfit is a “good man.”
Even after the Misfit’s henchmen take Bailey and his son John Wesley away to execute them, the grandmother insists he must be good, not common people. She tells the Misfit he could be honest if he just tried hard enough. All he needs to do, the grandmother keeps on saying, is, “Pray, pray, pray.” Even after the Misfit’s henchmen take the mother and her daughter June Star away to kill them, the grandmother just keeps on insisting that he’s a good man.
Finally, the grandmother peers intently enough at the Misfit to see that he’s about to cry. That leads her to jettison all her religious clichés and murmur that he’s just one of her children, one of her “babies,” in other words, a child of God.
However, when the grandmother expresses this by gently touching his shoulder, the Misfit recoils and then shoots her three times. She would have been a good woman, he concludes, if there were just someone there to shoot her every moment of her life.
The grandmother naturally regarded the Misfit (and nearly everyone else) from a worldly point of view. It seems as though it took her recognition of her imminent death for her to view the Misfit not as he regards himself, but as God views him.
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!