Today’s Message, 6/7/2020 (Trinity Sunday)

Trinity Sunday’s Parting Thoughts!

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Summary

In today’s Epistle St. Paul encourages the Corinthian church members, who at times have been quite contentious, to rejoice and to live and work together. He concludes the letter with a benediction reminding the church that God surrounds them with the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the community of the Holy Spirit. Our world today needs these same reminders.

            “The Postal Service adds 4,071 addresses to our delivery network every day,” says the U.S. Postal Service. “Each day the Postal Service processes and delivers 187.8 million pieces of First-class mail.”1

            Those are incredible numbers, especially when you think about the huge number of emails (and the even greater number of unwanted spam emails) that are sent every day. One source says there are 293.6 billion emails sent every day in 2019.2 Does anyone think they need to receive more email messages?

            People have been sending letters for centuries. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were originally letters. Of those twenty-one, some thirteen are credited to Paul. Two of those were sent to the church at Corinth (and possibly two additional that are referenced in those letters, but which have not survived). In the two Corinthians letters we have, Paul deals with a wide range of issues such as the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, generous giving, disagreements, false apostles and factions within the church. Among those factions were sub-units divided by social class, intellectual class and economic class. Add to that the arguments over whose spiritual gifts were more important, whose teachings about the resurrection were most correct and who were generally most Christ-like. 

            Paul brings all of this to a close in this final chapter of Second Corinthians, where he gives his parting thoughts to a church he loved deeply.

Paul’s parting thoughts

            “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.” The New Revised Standard Version translates this word “farewell,” but it is the same word used in First Thessalonians 5:16 (“Rejoice always”) and in Philippians 4:4 (“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”). So, this verse can also be translated (as in the English Standard Version and the New American Bible, Revised Edition), “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice.” Rejoice in what? Rejoice in the Lord. Paul started this last chapter of Second Corinthians? with further warning to those who “sinned previously and all the others” that “if I come again, I will not be lenient.”3 But even with that warning, Paul wants the Corinthian church to know that, when all is said and done, he is writing to brothers and sisters, and they all have reason to rejoice.

            Paul’s next words, “Put things in order,” are related linguistically to, “Be perfected.” That and the next several statements are equally ambiguous. “Put things in order” can also mean “be restored to order.” “Listen to my appeal” can also mean “encourage one another.” He continues with “agree with one another, live in peace ….” 

            Whether Paul meant to allow for multiple meanings or not, it’s clear he is pointing to the possibility of reconciliation between himself and his readers, and the possibility of reconciliation between the Corinthians themselves. 

            Why does he acknowledge and allow for this restoration? The final phrase in verse 11 is the key: “And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 

            The restoration continues. “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” Clearly, Paul’s pastoral heart is still at work. The Corinthian church gave him one headache after another, but he loved them still. It is almost an echo of the sentiment in Hosea when God says, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?”4 Paul was certainly not ready to give up on the Corinthian church.

A blessing of the triune God

            To put an exclamation point to his final greetings, Paul adds this unique blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 

            Have you ever wondered what Paul thought about when he mentioned grace? Surely, the word reminded him of how much his life had changed because of Jesus’ grace. In Paul’s earlier letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Last of all, … [Christ] appeared … to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace … has not been in vain ….”5 Every day, Paul was grateful for the full measure of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

            The second part of this blessing speaks of the “love of God.” While it does not say “God, the Father,” it is not a stretch at all to believe that this was Paul’s intent. Jesus said at the Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples … baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ….”The Trinitarian formula (or variations of it) is also mentioned by Paul in Ephesians, by Peter in First Peter and by John in Revelation.7 

            We need the Father! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ….”8 To put it another way: While we were yet sinners, God loved us and sent the Son to live and die for the wretched lot of folks we tend to be. That is the love of God Paul knew and spoke about in his blessing for the Corinthian church.

            The third part of this blessing speaks of “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” From the day of Pentecost onward, the Holy Spirit has been shaking things up. The Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. Holy Spirit promptings have given people the ability and the courage to attempt great things for God, things far beyond what they thought they could do. The Holy Spirit is part of the reason people from all over the world, with widely different backgrounds and widely different circumstances and resources, can remain connected with little in common besides their faith. 

            So Paul, this great man of faith — this man who was responsible for so many of the early churches coming into existence, and who had been tested beyond what he thought he could endure — spoke a blessing over this troublesome and beloved church. Why? Because he knew firsthand the grace of Jesus Christ; he knew firsthand the love of God, and he knew firsthand the power of the Holy Spirit. He knew that God, in all ways and in all Persons of the Godhead, was for the church.

A blessing for the church today

            In the last two thousand years, the church has grown in numbers and spread all over the world. Great things have been done through the church in the name of God. The Gospel has been preached and millions of people have come to know Jesus as their Savior. Churches have been established. Missions have reached the far corners of the world. Schools and hospitals have been opened. There is hope.

            Sadly, awful things have also been done through the church in the name of God. The Crusades and the Inquisition were responsible for terrible atrocities. At other times, the church has supported slavery and economic systems that oppressed some people. Even today, we continue to hear of people being cast out of their families or churches because their faith and practice does not meet someone else’s ideas. Some would question whether the church has grown up at all.

            That last bit sounds kind of like the church at Corinth, doesn’t it? 

            One thing that has not changed at all is God’s love for the church. The world, the church and all people still stand in need of God in all three persons of the Godhead. Paul’s blessing for the church at Corinth needs to be spoken over the world and over the church today. 

            The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

            There is a small church somewhere that sometimes looks and sounds like Corinth. Sometimes people squabble about one thing or another. Sometimes feelings get hurt and people get all bent out of shape. But this is a church where God is at work. This congregation of about 120 regular attenders manages to have nine very active small groups with more people collectively in the groups than in attendance on Sunday morning. This congregation has the largest weekly food distribution in the county and, with some help from a large city’s foodbank, ministers to between 150 and 200 people with groceries and fresh foods each week. 

            This congregation weekly sponsors two AA groups and one recovery group for abuse victims. This congregation prepares throughout the year for a Christmas toy distribution for over 500 kids. This congregation has trouble paying all its bills and sometimes paychecks for the staff are a bit late. This congregation worships well and sometimes quite loudly. This congregation looks like the community — racially mixed, a wide range of economic health in the families and many single-parent families with a wide range of education. This congregation has sent people on work mission trips to Brazil and India.

            Several things are certainly true about this congregation. The grace of the Lord Jesus is at work in the congregation. Grace covers a lot of mistakes and less-than-perfect efforts. The love of God is at work in powerful ways, bringing about reconciliation and harmony where neither was thought possible. The communion of the Holy Spirit is a reality.

            This congregation is not unique. Its story is repeated with slight variations in congregations around the country and around the world. The fact is that God is at work today and God will be at work tomorrow. And that gives us all hope.

            The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

1 “One Day in the Life of the U.S. Postal Service,” Postal Facts, https://facts.usps.com/one-day. 

2 Darina Lynkova, “The Surprising Reality of How Many Emails Are Sent Per Day,” TechJury, April 22, 2019, https://techjury.net/stats-about/how-many-emails-are-sent-per-day/#gref.

3 2 Corinthians 13:2-3.

4 Hosea 11:8.

5 1 Corinthians 15:8-10.

6 Matthew 28:18-19.

7 Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Revelation 1:4-5.

8 John 3:16.

Today’s Message, Bible Readings (6/7/2020)

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

1 Corinthians 13:2-3 

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Hosea 11:8

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.

1 Corinthians 15:8-10

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Matthew 28:18-19 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Ephesians 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

John 3:16

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: