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Posted by Elk Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, June 7, 2020
2 Corinthians 1: 1-11
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
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Each time I read and re-read this passage in 2 Corinthians, I have been moved by Paul’s words. The very beginning of this passage has the title, “thanksgiving after affliction.” Is this really possible? Is it really possible to be thankful for our burdens, our problems, for our hardships? Can a thankful heart rise amid life’s most tragic experiences? For months now we have been struggling with all that has come with the coronavirus and the resulting pandemic. But now the awakening reality of racism, bigotry, and inhuman treatment of our black brothers and sisters just adds to the burden we have already been carrying. Can we be thankful right here right now?
This is what Paul says, he reminds the people at Corinth that his hope for them is unshaken; for all together they know that as they share in their mutual sufferings, they also share in their consolation, for their comfort does not come from humans, but from the living Christ.
This past week I marched in a peaceful demonstration standing up against the killing of George Floyd and at a deeper level against the systemic racism that allowed and permitted this death to happen and to the racism that has infected our communities and our world.
I would call it a “racism pandemic” in the truest form…but it is a pandemic that has been with us for generations, killing the very souls of God’s people with numbers that far exceed that inflicted or dying from the coronavirus.
I say to you this morning that Paul’s words feel so different to me right now, for I don’t share in the sufferings of the black community. I don’t experience the same fears and uncertainties about the future. I don’t know what it is like to be afraid of being arrested because of my skin color. I don’t have to be fearful that I might say the wrong thing or agitate someone who is in a position of power. I don’t have to worry that I might be sent to jail or imprisoned for a minor offense.
So, why did I walk? Even though I am unable to walk in their shoes, I do want to understand the challenges, the inequalities, the injustices that happen because of being black or Latino or any color of skin different from my skin color (white). I was, and continue to feel compelled to do something. And so, I can stand up and be counted as saying what is happening in our country is wrong. I can walk alongside my fellow brothers and sisters of all skin colors, so they will know that I am here, so that I am listening to what they are saying, so I can join with them in the effort to bring about needed changes in our law enforcement system, our legal system and in our human treatment and respect of all God’s people.
The body of Christ is severely wounded!
We are wounded!
So how can we be faithful in becoming the healing presence to a nation divided by the color of one’s skin even as we need healing from our own wounds? In one of Glenn McDonald’s daily meditations, I found two interesting reflections that both lend insights into the next steps for you and me. One is about a nurse who works with parents and children with profound visual impairments.
In her life practice, she found the most valuable gift she could give the parents was the gift of empathy…could you imagine how hard it would be to understand what it would be like to have such limited vision. She helped parents to understand what it was like to have severe vision problems…and with that understanding came shared feelings.
She says this is one of the greatest assets we can bring into any relationship…shared feelings! Hold on to this idea of shared feelings…
In this same reflection was another interesting perspective to meaningful relationships. A Methodist pastor, Steve Goodlier, conducted a survey about the relationship between executives and subordinates. The number one mistake made by executives was the failure to see the other person’s point of view. We’re right back to the same conclusion the nurse made.
Seeing another person’s point of view leads to empathy and shared feelings. Is this not the foundational problem we are experiencing today? The inability to see another’s person’s point of view, to have the capacity to have empathy for one another to build understanding?
Steve Goodlier says that, “we don’t always need others in our life to agree with us, but we do need to feel heard and understood.”
What does the word “understand” mean? We usually think of it as to comprehend, grasp the idea of… but the original meaning is to “stand in the midst of”. I find this so very interesting. To stand in the midst of another is to gain understanding. So, my friends, we are called to understand what our brothers and sisters are going through, we are called to stand with them, in the midst of whoever is being afflicted.
We cannot choose who we are to stand with for in Christ we are all one, therefore we are to stand amidst all of God’s people.
Now one might be asking how can we do this? How can we truly stand among those who are suffering and afflicted? Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth gives us the answer we need, the answer we must cling to at times like this. He says the Lord Jesus Christ consoles us in all our afflictions, and in experiencing this comfort and care from Christ, we too then are able to console those who are experiencing their own afflictions.
And then Paul powerfully says, our hope in you is unshaken! How can that be? How can hope be so strong, so unwavering? Because Paul knows that Christ understands us at such an intimate level. You see Jesus walked among us, he is able to see our point of view, walk in our shoes, he lived fully in the midst of humanity. Remember what understanding leads to…shared feelings. Christ understands us at the deepest level, that dark place where we hide our own pain, that dark place where loneliness, doubts, and fears live. Christ understands for he himself bore all the afflictions that one can bear. No one can say Christ doesn’t understand what I am going through…he does understand, and he stands with us and will all those who we need now to stand for. Paul tells us something else that is critical for us to know. He shares the afflictions that he and the disciples experienced that left them utterly and unbearably crushed. So crushed they despaired of life itself. He says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God.”
And he concludes by saying the God who rescued them and gave them hope, that God would rescue them again. Their hope was in the living God! Our hope is in the living God. As Christ walked among God’s people, we too must walk among God’s people. Understanding will help those who are afflicted feel heard, understood, and loved.
And may all those afflicted hear from us that our hope in them is unshaken! For our hope in the living Christ is unshaken too!