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An extremely moving sermon.
Posted by Elk Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, June 14, 2020
2 Corinthians 2: 1-10
2 1 So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.
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John Winthrop, an English Puritan lawyer was one of the leading figures in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If you are a historian or remember your history classes back in elementary school you will remember the establishment of the 13 Colonies…those brave, courageous people crossing the Atlantic ocean to be independent from Great Britain. Winthrop gave a speech, they really called it a sermon, on board the ship Arbella on route to Massachusetts, mind you a speech to a group of people who will be debarking into a newfound freedom, forming a new community in America!
He said in his sermon, to the people he has been traveling by sea for months now, these thoughtful words, “we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.” These are powerful words; words that speak more of unity and cohesiveness rather than independence and freedom.
These seem like such wise words for how a community is to survive and thrive! Rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together with but the final objective to always see the community as members of the same body. Stay together! That was his message, don’t let anything separate you from each other! Stay together
Mind you his sermon, the core foundational pieces for building authentic community was envisioned more than 1500 years after we hear similar words from Paul to the people living in the city of Corinth where they too are building a new community; a community called the church. We don’t know what has happened between individuals, but Paul says this, “I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained.” It is clear that his emotional connection to those in Corinth is very strong, very deep. And we hear as we did in the speech by Winthrop this reciprocity in shared experiences.
If I have caused pain in another, I am in pain too because of the pain I inflicted on another. If one is filled with joy, the joy spreads to another. Now, my friends, we know how difficult it is sometimes to get along in our own families and yet I believe Paul is calling them to have this kind of connectedness with each other as families do, understanding how each member of the community has this interrelated and dependent relationship with each other. As Winthrop was forming the community we now call the state of Massachusetts, Paul was setting the foundation as expectations of what is needed for the continued, sustainably of the church. What is expected of these new believers? Authentic relationships with shared vulnerability. Paul himself is truly being authentic in expressing his own vulnerability in the connection he has with those believers in Corinth. You’ll notice Paul is not saying, don’t rock the boat, don’t question each other or challenge each other…in fact Paul felt it was his calling to correct anyone who got out of line, to correct a false teaching, an error in interpretation, anything that would dilute the powerful message of Jesus Christ! With these kinds of honest confrontations; the call for correction or change, there comes consequences; pain, suffering, and for some people shame.
Paul does not mince words in expressing how the pain of one is truly the pain of another. As his words sometimes caused pain, he is in pain too. But he also says that my joy is your joy too. Paul truly had a sorrowing love for God’s people! A love that is the foundation is his sorrow!
Just yesterday a mother came to the church to deliver food her daughter had collected; three grocery carts full of food plus a check. There is so much more to this story.
Jorja was turning 10 years old, her golden birthday, and she had heard about people who didn’t have enough food to eat and had a neighbor who died of COVID-19. So instead of gifts, she asked her friends and neighbors to bring food by her house to donate to our food pantry in memory of her neighbor. Her mother told me she stopped counting after 45 cars drove by. She couldn’t believe the outpouring of support! Instead of birthday presents, Jorja stocked our food pantry!
But there’s another important story underneath this one, it’s about Jorja’s sister Charli. Their mother told me Charli was a diabetic and has had multiple hospitalizations to treat her condition. For her birthday, Charli asked her friends to send unwrapped gifts so that she could give all of them to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, the same hospital that cared for her. You see Charli saw first-hand the suffering of others as she herself experienced suffering. Jorja learned from her younger sister about sorrowing love. A love that connects one to another from one’s own place of sorrow. It is a shared sorrow that binds one to another.
Jorja and Charli understand the true meaning of community; a community that forms this intimate bond of caring for one another and honoring the shared struggles and hardship. Community is the foundation of the church with Christ as the cornerstone holding us all up together!
As I have continued to ponder this unique creation of community, I came across a book by Scott Peck, “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.” He begins his book by saying, “In and through community lies the salvation of the world.” Well, I can tell you that got me hooked right away! Peck believes very few people have a vision of community, but the church can be that vision of a shared life together making significant changes in the world.
His understanding of community is where individuals have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to “rejoice together, mourn together, and to delight in each other and make other’s conditions our own.”
Scott Peck emphasizes like Winthrop and Paul, our teacher this morning, that this idea of shared experiences is the glue that keeps the community together. In a community such as the church, what affects one affects all. And then Paul so gently extends this understanding of connectedness to forgiveness.
He says, “But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person.” Paul with his sorrowing love for God’s people now asks this same love to be powerfully present in forgiving one another. He says this, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.”
We are called to be an authentic community as the church of Jesus Christ. Elk Grove Presbyterian Church is called to be an authentic community of believers: delighting in each other, rejoicing together, mourning together, laboring and suffering together for we are all members of one body!
Let us not forget and let us always forgive for we are all members of one body!