"Prove It!" - Pentecost 6B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 1, 2018 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Subject
Pentecost 6B
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: July 1, 2018 – Pentecost 6B

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

 

Prove It!

 

            In numerous meetings, our synodical bishop has posed this question – a question that has been around the church for quite a while now. “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

 

            Now, widespread persecution of Christians isn’t a thing in this country. The First Amendment limits the government from endorsing any particular religious expression and guarantees the free exercise of whatever religious faith one has. No one here has ever been jailed, interrogated, or tortured for their faith. But it is still an interesting question to ponder. If you were arrested for being a Christian, would you be convicted? Or would you be freed for lack of evidence?

 

            In a different way, Paul poses a question like this to the Corinthian church. Paul’s mission, you see, is twofold. One – plant communities of faith that preach, teach, and live out the good news of Jesus Christ, especially among Gentiles. Two – as part of an agreement with James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church, collect an offering from the Gentile churches to support the poor of Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:9-10). It is in regard to the second part of this mission that Paul writes to the Corinthians.

 

            The Corinthians, you see, were quite spiritually gifted. When it came to theology and doctrine, they had it down pat. When it came to faith, they were totally committed to the gospel of Jesus. When it came to charismatic gifts, such as speaking in tongues, their interpretation, prophesy, and healing, amazing things happened in their church. People could feel the movement of the Holy Spirit. They must have experienced heaven here on earth. Folks were moved by the Spirit to speak in ways that they would never have done on their own. Paul commends them for all of this, including their love – a striking change from 1 Corinthians. But the Corinthian church still preferred the “flashier” spiritual gifts. They tended to forget the “humbler” gifts, like generosity.

 

            And so, Paul challenges them to develop the spiritual gift of generosity as well. Just as they have grown as a congregation, as they have struggled through what it means to be a believer in Jesus connected with other believers drawn from every known nation, culture, and language, and as they have become adept at living the Christian life in every other way, Paul challenges them to make this gift – that of generosity – just as well-developed. “Do you love your sisters and brothers in Christ?” Paul seems to say. “Prove it!”

 

            Now, Paul doesn’t say it nearly as forcefully as this. He is quite gentle in this passage, reminding them that he is not commanding them to be generous, as if he could command them to do so. It would be like commanding someone to love someone else. It can’t be done. Rather, Paul points them to the supremely gentle, generous example of Jesus.

 

            Jesus, remember, is the pre-existent Son of God. The fullness of the eternal realm is his by right. Paul couches this fullness in economic language, the language of wealth and poverty. “Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.” Everything in creation belongs to Jesus. As Revelation 5:13 reads (and which we sing sometimes!), “Blessing, honor, glory, and power belong to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever.” Jesus has and is everything. And out of a love that we can’t comprehend, he was the Word that God the Father spoke into chaos, forming order, harmony, and our very lives. Of course, it didn’t take long for us to decide to go our own way, to end up spiritually destitute. But God still didn’t give up on us. God became one of us. God took on our poverty – in both a spiritual, existential sense, such as our finite existence and our human weaknesses – and in a very literal sense as well. Jesus was born into literal poverty, the child conceived out of wedlock, the child who fled to Egypt with his family, the child who grew up working with his hands for a meager wage. Think of the craziness of it. The Word of God became human, but not one of the “winners”. He didn’t become a powerful or wealthy person. He wasn’t born into the high priest’s family or the emperor’s household. He wasn’t a wealthy businessman or a land manager. He was, as Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan puts it, a “Galilean Jewish peasant”.

 

            And Jesus did this so that we could share in his fullness, in his “wealth”, as Paul puts it. He did this to make us more completely human, to be the spiritually rich creatures that God created us to be. To be people aware of our connection with God and our fellow human beings. To have empathy for the other people God has created, mindful that at the end of the day, we are all equal in God’s eyes. Luther calls this “the great exchange”. Jesus becomes everything that we are, so that we can become everything that he is.

 

            Jesus proved God’s love for us by becoming one of us. By being born as a lower-status human being, living as a human being, suffering as a human being, and dying as a human being at the hands of other human beings. With Jesus, salvation comes from below to remind us of our equality with all other human beings. So, then the question left to us, as to the Corinthian church is, what are we going to do about that?

 

            Perhaps the first thing would be to really trust that this good news is true. That it applies in all areas of our lives. That Jesus has already given us eternal life that begins now, in this world – despite this world’s imperfection. What would it mean to accept trust in Jesus as a gift? To not just intellectually assent to the good news of Jesus, but to really believe it? Might we act differently? Might our generosity as a congregation, which is already a special gift of ours, become even stronger? Might our lives be one long proof of God’s goodness, generosity, and grace? Would there be enough evidence to convict us of being followers of Jesus?

 

            I think there would. When we can accept God’s gifts rather than continually trying to “earn our way” into grace, I think our lives would be radically different. We might find out just how much God has blessed us. How much God has gifted us. How much God has used us in the past, and now, to proclaim and prove the life-giving gospel of Jesus.

 

            Let us pray,

 

            Jesus, you took on our emptiness so that we could be full. Help us to accept your gifts and trust in your grace, thereby renewing the gift of generosity within us. When we try to “earn our way” to grace, help us to let go of that attitude and trust that ultimately, we are dependent on you for everything we are and everything we have. Amen.

 

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.