Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 27, 2022

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Commentary

There are Sundays when nearly all of us feel like the Spirit inspired the Scriptures’ authors to address the day’s headlines. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson is one of those times. As I write this Commentary, Russia continues to escalate its assault on Ukraine and its people. Its troops recently bombed a maternity and children’ hospital, as well as historic theater, inflicting untold casualties and suffering. And then its leaders claimed that they were legitimate targets because Ukraine was using them as defense posts.

People are currently almost endlessly arguing about things like the effectiveness of the Western response to this aggression. Yet Ukraine’s victims of this aggression argue that there’s been far more talk than helpful responses.

My talk about Russia’s attacks on a country and people whom I love has been strong. I have referred to Russia’s leaders as “monsters.” I’m thankful for a godly wife and friends who have challenged this assertion by, instead, referring to them as inhabited by the kinds of evil spirits that Jesus’ disciples were unable to exorcise.

Such diagnoses of Russia’s leaders (and other tyrants) are arguable. But they do have the advantage of taking as their starting point Paul’s “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (16). No one — not Mr.’s Putin, Lukashenko or any other leaders who wreak such havoc. Nor those with whom we disagree on things like efforts to fight climate change, or have different perspectives on things like human sexuality. Paul won’t even let Christians view ourselves from a worldly perspective.

Yet as New Testament scholar James Kay (The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI) points out, it’s difficult to translate the Greek phrase kata sarka that the NIV renders as “from a worldly point of view.” He helpfully draws readers’ attention to the verses 14 and 15 that RCL regrettably omits from this Sunday’s reading.

In those verses’ light, proclaimers might describe the “worldly point of view” Paul rejects by repeating them in just the opposite way from the way the apostle writes them. “We are convinced,” we might say, “that [Christ] died for some, and therefore some died. He died for some …”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 at least suggests that a “worldly point of view” is that Christ didn’t die for the world’s thugs, assailants, swindlers, and abusers. That Christians may identify and treat people according to the labels that our culture so quickly and doggedly affixes to them.

However, it isn’t just those whom God creates in God’s image whom God’s dearly beloved people naturally view from a worldly point of view. Paul mourns that we also “once regarded Christ in” that way. We naturally regard Christ as essentially little more than a slightly improved version of the world’s nice people.

So who or what changes Christians’ perspectives, not just on Christ, but also our neighbors? During Lent, Christians focus on Jesus’ suffering that reaches its apex in what Fleming Rutledge calls Calvary’s God-forsaken darkness. While Paul doesn’t specifically mention the cross in this week’s Epistolary Lesson, he does focus on the reconciliation God affected through Christ’s suffering.

Through Christ’s unspeakable suffering, God reconciled himself to us. So those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson announce that God has done all the “heavy lifting” to reconcile us to God. God graciously did all that by allowing the authorities to unjustly try, torture, humiliate and, finally, lynch God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. All people need to do to be reconciled to God is to faithfully accept the reconciliation God offers to “all.”

Of course, as I noted in an earlier Sermon Commentary on this text, any such talk about the universal character of God’s work of reconciliation makes perhaps especially Reformed Christians, somewhat nervous. Calvinists have, after all, spilled nearly oceans of ink on the question of whether Christ died only for those whom God had chosen before God even created the world.

However, as my colleague Len Vander Zee notes, we don’t have to claim that God will somehow save all people in order to profess that Jesus Christ died for all people.  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.  In Christ God creates something “new.” God’s work in Christ changes the world. God transforms history, making all things new.

Those “things” include not just the whole creation and its creatures, but also Christians’ attitudes toward our neighbors. God doesn’t just long to be reconciled to people who naturally declare ourselves to be God’s enemies. God also longs for people who by nature view our neighbors as our enemies to be reconciled to each other.

So many things drive people apart and cause us to view each other from “a worldly point of view.” A friend who shares something we meant to be confidential is nothing but a “gossip.” A driver who cuts us off on the road is nothing but an “aggressive driver.” A neighbor who allows her leaves to blow onto our newly-raked yard is a “bad neighbor.”

All of those things, and more, may, in fact, accurately characterize our neighbors. But those who define our neighbors by those features and let those characteristics shape our behavior and attitudes toward them view them not as God regards them, but from a “worldly point of view.”

I have found it easy to pray for Ukraine, its President Zelensky, and people during this time of unspeakable suffering. I have found it very difficult to pray for Mr.’s Putin and Lukashenko during their escalated war on Ukraine. But wise friends have called me to pray for both those perpetrators – not that they’ll succeed in brutalizing a nation and its people, but that they’ll be reconciled to God so that they may also be reconciled to their victims.

Of course, God gives those God has reconciled to himself a prophetic role. So we don’t, as a colleague reminded some of us last week, get to say, “You’ve been reconciled to God and your neighbor. Period.” We, instead, say, with Jesus, “You’re reconciled to God and your neighbor. Now go and sin no more against God or your neighbor.”

After all, reconciliation doesn’t remove the need for the hard work of responding to God’s work by acting toward each other like we’ve been reconciled. Nor does it erase the pain various perpetrators have caused. But God’s reconciling work on and in us does create the space in which we can own our pain, repent of our words and actions that have alienated our neighbors, and then move on to the hard work of reconciling to others.

The work of being reconciled to our neighbors can, however, be not just messy, but also faltering. Reconciliation sometimes, in fact, involve one step back for every two steps it takes forward. Among the Christian organizations that’s doing amazing work to facilitate reconciliation is Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations.

God has graciously used it to open the path to reconciliation through some of the most treacherous territory on earth. God has historically used HHTN to help affect real reconciliation among and between Russian and Ukrainian people. Russia’s war on Ukraine has disrupted some of that ministry – just when it’s most needed.  However, this war has created and will also continue to create more need and, thus, opportunities to work for reconciliation. Whenever and however this war ends, the need for reconciliation won’t end. It will, instead, accelerate. Perhaps that’s a vivid picture of humanity’s plight until Jesus’ returns to end hostility and renew the whole creation.


Flannery O’Connor was what one colleague calls “a remarkably perceptive diagnostician of the human condition.” One of her most penetrating 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 decide to travel to Florida through an area in which escaped convicts are on the loose. Eventually the grandmother convinces her reluctant son to turn off the main highway and onto a deserted road where they have an accident that disables their car.

The only people who stop at the scene of the accident are the escaped convict whom O’Connor calls the Misfit, as well as his passive henchmen. 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.

The old lady spends most of the rest of the story desperately trying to save her family and herself by insisting that the Misfit must come from good people. The strong-willed grandmother continues to insist that the Misfit is a “good man.”

Even after the Misfit’s thugs take away her son and grandson 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 henchmen take away the mother and her daughter to kill them, the grandmother just keeps on insisting that he’s a good man.

Finally, the grandmother peers closely enough at the Misfit to see that he’s about to cry. That leads her to finally dump all her religious clichés and murmur that he’s just one of her “babies,” in other words, a child of God. However, when the grandmother expresses this by gently touching his shoulder, the Misfit 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 from a worldly point of view. It’s as if it took her recognition of her imminent death for her to view the Misfit not as the world or he regards himself, but as God views him.


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