NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME
2 Corinthians 6: 1-13
FOR A PRINTABLE COPY OF THE SERMON, CLICK HERE!
FOR A PRINTABLE COPY OF THE BULLETIN, CLICK HERE!
If you want to watch a person deal with a world of conflicts, particularly between Christians, you are in the right place in the Bible! The Corinthian Christians created divisions between themselves and others! The divides between Christians in our day may fall into national issues, like: “Whose political voice do you follow?” “Whose vaccination voice do you follow?” or “Whose foreign relations voice do you follow?” But it may astound you to know that the letter that includes the beloved words, in First Corinthians 13—”If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal…. And now abides faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love”—that letter was addressing conflicts! I have been requested to read that so many times for weddings, but there is a subtle irony about its use since preparing for a wedding often brings out conflict!
So in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, Paul had heard that some were declaring “I belong to Apollos!” and others, “I belong to Cephas!” and a third group, “I belong the Christ.” To which Paul asked: “Is Christ divided? … Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Squabbles are what they are often called: petty, not earth-shattering disagreements among Christians, and yet they happen. They happen in our nation too; they also have happened in churches around our country, and on this Father’s Day, we know they can happen in families. Conflicts arise; conflicts divide; and love—unconditional love—is one main antidote for the venom of conflicts. But there is another answer that Paul says just before our passage in 2 Corinthians 6 today. It was repeated in our Words of Assurance: “If you are truly in Christ—not lined up behind a preacher, a prophet, or a political figure—you become a new creation! Everything can become new through the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the focus for today. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. And when we are in Christ, we have Christ in us, so we can demonstrate unconditional love, and we can reconcile—re-connect—with those from whom we are estranged. It may be other church members or family members. It may be your neighbors, or it may be people who you used to call friends. Now is the acceptable time Paul says. For what? For all of it:
For love! For reconciliation! For putting aside petty disagreements.
I once passed a cartoon to each Session member for one of our Session retreats. In the cartoon, the elders were all in one room, but their clothes were torn, pictures were knocked off walls, glasses people wore were askew, and papers were strewn on the floor. The caption was: “Alright! It’s settled! The new carpet will be blue!” Such things are what some church arguments have encompassed! John T. McFadden, who was a Chaplain for the Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin, had this wry comment, playing on the comments from 1 Corinthians 1: “In the service of a gospel of moderation, the role of the pastoral leader shifts from bold proclamation to helpful facilitation: we step between the followers of Apollos (who are committed to the blue carpet in the fellowship hall,) and those of Cephas (who are the green carpet contingent) and suggest a muted shade of aqua might represent an acceptable compromise. Being pastoral [on some days] is reduced to ‘being helpful’ or ‘making everybody happy.’” [Feasting on the Word, Year B,Volume 3, Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 2009, p. 160.] Can you imagine the great writer and church starter of the New Testament—Paul—having to deal with trivialities? Trivialities can be the topics du jour when we take our eyes off the prize of salvation, grace, love, and reconciliation. So Paul kept pointing the way back to what mattered.
In my Disciple classes, also my weekly Present Word classes, we continued to learn the rootedness of New Testament writings in the Old Testament. Here Paul, thoroughly versed in the Hebrew Scriptures from his days as a Jew studying under a famous Rabbi called Gamaliel, quoted the masterful prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was comparing the restoration of Israel after the exile, with the Exodus from the hands of Pharoah. Isaiah proclaimed: “Thus says the Lord: in a time of favor, I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you.” [Isaiah 49:8.] In those words, Isaiah challenged and comforted the people of Israel! As Paul grappled with Corinthians focusing on petty things, he also lifted their eyes to the bigger picture, calling out the great name of Isaiah and his insightful words, making them fit a new circumstance
Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right time, or the opportune time. In 2 Corinthians 6:2, it is translated as “the acceptable time.” Sometimes it is equated with God’s time. Paul senses the confluence of God’s plan and Isaiah’s readiness, then he focuses the petty Corinthians on higher things; to more God-centered focus; to more heavenly ideals like faith, hope, and love. Sometimes we fall into the trap of majoring on minors. Paul today tries to teach us to see forests, not just trees; to see major plans, not just minutiae. Paul went on saying: “We are putting no obstacles in anyone’s way so that no fault may be found with our ministry.
As we have been dealing with pandemic minutiae to save lives, Scripture now calls us to focus on saving souls. Isaiah focused on that for the people of Israel, coming out of a horrific time called the Exile. Paul picked up on that, noticing the squabbles in Corinth, and he lifted their focus onto higher subjects. Today, this is the acceptable time for us to lift our focus from pandemic issues, to love and to reconciliation. Let’s call on the wisdom of God as we do so.
Last year I recommended something called the Simple Faith Bible that includes many notes and prayers offered by Jimmy Carter as he was teaching Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. I want to close with his prayer over today’s Scripture passage:
“O Father, you have given each of us the opportunity to embark on a new life, to become a new creation. We praise you for your life-giving Spirit, the new work you have begun in us. We pray for more hope, joy, peace, adventure, and demonstrations of unselfish love. Help us forgive those who might have hurt us and reach out to those around us who are in need, those who might become the most precious friends we will ever have in life. Help us to reach these goals in the name of the gentle Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 20, 2021