Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 11:1-4
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.
Thought for the Day: Have you been in Barnes and Noble lately? If so, have you walked through the religion section and read some of the titles? It is an interesting mix of voices attempting to grab your attention. Paul has preached a very specific understanding of Jesus to the people of Corinth, but they have heard other opinions and perspectives. Barnes and Noble is just one of the places where you see Paul’s dilemma – there are a multitude of voices, each suggesting their insight on Jesus is the truth. If you pause long enough to read the first chapter of ten of those books, you will find eleven opinions on who Jesus was and what his life means for us today. All most all of them use scripture as a starting place, and it is equally fascinating how many of them claim to have the “true” or “correct” interpretation – often using a bit of fear to get you to buy the book, suggesting that otherwise you may fall into the incorrect category. Paul is passionate about the people in Corinth. In fact, he feels a sense of jealousy when it comes to them, specifically feeling jealous when it comes to the other teachers who have attempted to woo them away. I have some pretty strong opinions on what books are worthy of reading at Barnes and Noble, but in the end, the one piece of advice I would suggest is this: stay away from any book that uses fear as one of its selling points. Usually that means it doesn’t have much substance, but more importantly, I think it goes against one of the central teachings of Christianity – that the love of Jesus casts out all fear.
Prayer: As I listen to the many voices who claim to know you, O Creator God, may I remember that no one outside of Jesus can really know you fully. May grace be my starting point and love be my journey. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 10:8-9
Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters.
Thought for the Day: This whole early Christianity thing was complicated! As faithful and committed as Paul and others were, they were still trying to figure out exactly who this Jesus was and what it meant to follow him in daily life. There is the old adage that something sure looked easy in theory, but in the case of Christianity, it didn’t look easy in theory…and it was even more difficult in the day to day grind. Paul found this to be true as he worked with faith communities, including Corinth. And of course, when you are writing letters to people, something you say can be taken out of context or misinterpreted. This clearly occurred on more than one occasion, yet Paul pushed ahead with his goal of communicating the Good News of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ. At times, he sounded a little arrogant and people took offense. Other times, they simply misunderstood him. And still other moments, people were hurt by his confrontational words that were intended to call people to repentance. Even to this day, Christianity remains difficult in theory and even more challenging in the day to day grind. Just remember, it is nothing new…and the best you can do is continue to share the Good News of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Be gracious with me, Lord, when I fall short of the ministry to which I have been called. Help me as I continue to grow in faith, and among those many moments of failure, be patient and kind. I’m trying…I really am. Amen.
THIS COMING SUNDAY
Bring Your Money To Vote
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 9:13-15
Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Thought for the Day: I love the language Paul uses: “the surpassing grace of God…” It is Paul’s attempt at expressing this amazing and indescribable concept in language. The Greek word we translate as surpassing is Huperballo. It is two Greek words that mean, throw & over. Some translate it as exceed or excelling, going beyond or transcend. Those are all interesting translations, but I think I like the actual meaning of the word in the sense that there is no place that God cannot throw the divine love and kindness. There is no distance, no place beyond the ability of God to toss this gift. No matter the obstacle, God is capable of sharing grace over the barrier and into our life circumstance.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your excellent ability to toss your love right into the place that most needs it. Amen.
SEE YOU IN WORSHIP
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 8:23-24
As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.
Thought for the Day: The above passage comes from NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) of the Bible. It makes its point, but not as well as the Message. There we read the same passage in this way:
I don’t need to say anything further about Titus. We’ve been close associates in this work of serving you for a long time. The brothers who travel with him are delegates from churches, a real credit to Christ. Show them what you’re made of, the love I’ve been talking up in the churches. Let them see it for themselves!
Maybe this Sunday, I will offer a very short sermon. I will simply say, “Show the world what you’re made of, the love I’ve been preaching in this church. Let all the people see it for themselves.” And then just sit down. What would you think of that?
Sorry to disappoint you, but the sermon for Sunday is a bit longer.
Prayer: As you displayed your love in Jesus, Eternal Father, make me a visible witness for others to see that same love. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 8:1-2
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
Thought for the Day: I read these words, and there is a part of me that wants to say, “What a bunch of over achievers. They are making us look bad.” There is another part of me that wishes to express gratitude for the examples of generosity that are electric and contagious. Most of us are not wired to be generous, but the generosity of God is beautiful and amazing. Our encounter with God’s generous love and forgiveness stirs our souls, but it is also helpful to see people just like us who have chosen to respond to God’s generosity by being generous. They show us that it is possible.
Prayer: I am so thankful for all the generous spirits who have blessed my life. This generosity started with you, Lord God. And so I also express my gratitude to you. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 7:1
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.
Thought for the Day: Ok…let’s just deal with the “fear” issue right here and right now. There are plenty of scriptures that speak of people fearing God. Many of those passages are found in the Old Testament, but there are some in the New Testament. Over and against those passages, we read in how the perfect love of Jesus casts out all fear. So are we to fear God or not? There are plenty of religions and traditions within Christianity that will give a hardy, “YES!” to that question. It sure appears as if Paul would agree, yet I would suggest that fear is probably not exactly what most of the writers of scripture were suggesting. In some passages, they are speaking about standing in the presence of God’s holiness and grandeur. Is it fear…maybe, but I think it is something more like breath-taking, knee weakening awe. It is the moment where you realize who you are as compared to the One who formed all of creation. If it is a competition or comparison, then we should be afraid. But it is not. It is a moment of enlightenment where the genuine care and love of God is made real for us, and in that moment, the response is that breath-taking, knee weakening awe. Do I believe we are to fear God in the sense of being terrified. NO! I believe that kind of fear before God is in fact detrimental to a healthy and life-giving relationship with God. Am I in awe of God to the point that it, on occasion, boarders on fear? Maybe. But it is not fear that God will strike me with a lightening bolt. It is more of that emotion a person feels when s/he stand with his/her toes curled over the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Prayer: As I stand before your gift of grace, O Lord, I am in awe. Your breath-taking love has my knees shaking. Thank you for such a wonderful gift. Amen.
WE STILL NEED
A FEW MORE CHILI COOK-OFF
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 6:16-18
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Thought for the Day: Sanctuaries made of human hands have their place. For most of us, it is helpful to have a roof over our heads when gathering as community. There is also something helpful for the human spirit to have symbolic places where we feel we can find welcome, respite and healing in the presence of the Holy Other. At the same time, our visits to a church building should teach us how each human life is a sanctuary for the divine image. Not only are we to honor our own lives, but we should strive to view every human being as a temple of the living God – even when that so-called temple isn’t very nice, even when that so-called sanctuary does not act like a place made holy by the presence of God.
Prayer: I need your assistance in every moment of life, O God. It is easy to see your beautiful and creative presence in some people, but in others it is a real challenge. It is these challenges that are of greatest interest to you, and are for me, the place where my faith will be tested. Assist me so that I do not defame any of your human temples. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 5:1-5
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
Thought for the Day: It is Valentine’s Day, and though many won’t see it in the above passage, what Paul is presenting is a love story like no other. It is not a traditional love story that we would see on the big screen or read in a tacky romance novel. In fact, Paul presents for his readers a story about love that actually does not use the word love. Yet as we all know, the word love can be tossed around without much meaning or substance. Sure, we want to have that special someone say to us, “I love you,” but even better would be for that special someone to show us the love. And for Paul, he experiences God’s love through the promise that is guaranteed by the Spirit. Unlike love in this world that too often falls short of what is promised and does not come through in the end, God has already contructed a house for us in heaven. It is built because it says this house is eternal in the heavens. It has been there from before time even existed, and it will stretch beyond any point the human mind can imagine. That’s one of the ways God’s love goes beyond words.
Prayer: Thank you, Eternal God, for going beyond words in expressing your love. Thank you for showing me this love through Jesus and then holding in heaven a promise that shall never end. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Thought for the Day: We find Paul speaking about hope amidst difficulty. At this point, Paul gets a little poetic as he speaks about the momentary afflictions alongside the eternal glory. Often within the pain of these momentary afflictions, it is difficult to imagine the eternal glory. Yet the eyes of faith see what is not seen; they perceive what is not yet visible; they discern what so many others yearn to know. By faith, let us continue to pray that God gives us the ability to see beyond the present pain and discouragement. Let us trust that God will show us what has yet to appear.
Prayer: Continue to show me your eternity, O Lord of All Creation, especially when I am feeling utterly stuck in the pain of my frail and finite life. Amen.
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 4:4
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Thought for the Day: For Paul, what is the god of the world. In so many other passage, Paul makes it clear that there is only one God, the God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul saw so many troubling and unhealthy things as he traveled between churches, and though I can’t say for sure, I believe he was referring to the spirits of exclusion, the idol of hate, the icon of arrogance and the deity of selfishness. He not only was concerned about those outside the church, but those inside the church who claimed to follow Jesus. Their words might sound all well and good, but their behavior had them bowing down to a god that could not be aligned with Jesus. There is not one of us who hasn’t at one time or another followed this worldly god, but this is where the church must continue to challenge the members of its body – to live again as Jesus taught.
Prayer: In your grace, O Lord of Heaven and Earth, invite me to confess my failures, to seek the way of repentance, to allow your forgiveness to heal me, and to once again follow in your ways. I humbly make this request in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Collecting The Next