Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 11, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:14-21
At the beginning of the service:
In a blog post in this week’s Reformed Journal, James Schaap, a retired professor of English at Dordt College writes about his parents and World War 2. His father was in the Coast Guard and spent much of the war on a tugboat in the South Pacific. He left for war with a young daughter. His second daughter was born while he was in basic training. In his father’s Bible, which he carried through the war, was a picture of his mother and his daughters on a beach along Lake Michigan. Knowing his father carried this photo and his Bible through the war brought good memories to the author, who wasn’t yet born.
Schaap tells the story from his mother’s recollection. She was to meet her husband at the train station, with a hoard of other families greeting loved ones coming back from the war. Fretting over how to make the homecoming perfect, she worried if her husband would grab his oldest child, the one he remembered, or the younger child, And then she worried if she might be jealous if he hugged them before he hugged her. She pondered what to do. When the day came, she left the children with a sitter and went alone to the station.
I hope those of you who are veterans had a wonderful day yesterday, and that your homecomings from your time in the military were perfect. In today’s sermon, we’ll explore this desire to make reunions and homecomings special, along with our fears they may not go the way we would like. I think Schaap’s mother understood such a challenge.
Before reading the scripture:
We’ll finish our tour through 2nd Corinthians next week. Last week, we looked at the end of Paul’s “fools’ speech.” That interlude provided a little humor. Today we’ll see Paul returning to a more serious dialogue as he prepares for his third visit to Corinth. For a change, I am going to read the passage from The Message translation. I invite you to read along in your own Bibles and have them ready to follow along in the sermon.
An upcoming reunion can cause mixed feelings. We may have high expectations. If a high school or college reunion, we might be curious about a former girlfriend or boyfriend. Are they the same as we remembered? Or, to quote Barbara Streisand in her hit song in the movie, “The Way We Were,” “has time re-written every line?” Or, will our old nemesis show up and harsh feelings we had long forgotten rise in our guts.
The same can be true of family gatherings. Will a crazy uncle go off about politics. Or will a cousin express weird conspiracies theories that throws a wet blanket on the gathering? Or will a sibling bring up dark secrets we’d like to keep buried?
Probably one of the reasons reunions are hard is that memories of the past cannot live up to our expectations or desires. We remember the good times and, again to quote Barbara Streisand, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply to choose to forget.”
We’re coming up on the season of family gatherings with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I pray your gatherings will be delightful, and later in the sermon I’ll offer some advice about getting through such times.
But first, let’s look at Paul and his plans for a reunion with the Corinthians.
If you remember back to the early chapters of this epistle, Paul has visited Corinth twice. The first time was a long visit of a year and a half where he gathered the church. Luke tells us about that visit in his story of the church, The Acts of the Apostles.
Paul later came back on a second visit that didn’t go so well. We learned about this visit earlier in this letter. It was a surprise visit. Paul had high hopes for it, thinking he could see the Corinthians twice, once on his way to visit the churches in Macedonia, and again on his return. But it didn’t work out that way. He stayed a short period of time and quickly left. Some didn’t like the fact that he came unannounced. Others felt he left too early and were hurt when Paul decided not to visit again on his return from Macedonia. Paul couldn’t win. In a way, 2ndCorinthians is preparation for Paul to visit his beloved church in Corinth one last time.
In today’s passage, Paul returns to his plans for a visit… And he has three concerns on his mind, which he lays out. First, Paul doesn’t want to be a burden. He considers the Corinthians as his children, whom he must show care. He’s the type of guest who doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor.
Paul reminds me of a missionary friend of mine, Cody, who called me a year or two ago. He’d been at a Mission Conference up north and was driving back to his home in Birmingham, Alabama. He wanted a place to crash for the night. I was in the middle of fixing up the basement. The bathroom was only partly finished and the study I’d built for myself, and to use as an extra guest room, didn’t have the flooring down. I was a little embarrassed, but when I offered it, Cody said, “this is great.” And he meant it.
Of course, Cody spent several years working in Dhaka, Bangladesh and wouldn’t have had a problem sleeping on pallets in my barn.
All along, with Paul’s work in Corinth, he tries to avoid being a burden. He provided for his expenses by working with other Christians in a tentmaking business, and by being supported by the churches in Macedonia. Of course, as we have seen, Paul’s supporting himself has also caused a rift in Corinth. The Corinthians must have brought into the argument that you get what you pay for, which is in contradiction to a gospel freely offered.
In our reading today, we see Paul concern goes beyond not charging the Corinthians for his services. He infers in verses 16 through 18 that some in Corinth think he may be a clever grifter. This is Paul’s second concern. While not charging or accepting payment from the Corinthians, they assume he skims off what has been given to the Jerusalem mission and uses this for his own expenses. Such charges hurt Paul, for he has only wanted to build up the Corinthians. Through a series of rhetorical questions about his intent, along with the intention of others like Titus, Paul defends his reputation. “Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building up.”
But beyond building up, Paul insists his judge is not the Corinthians, but God. That’s because ultimately, everything he does is for building God’s kingdom, just as everything he (and we) have belongs to God.
Paul’s final concern has to do with what he’ll find once he arrives in Corinth. Ever go to a reunion wondering how it might go? Will it become a drunken bash? Will there be arguments and fights? Well, Paul had similar concerns.
Paul’s concerns are in two realms. Internal sins within the church which include quarreling and jealousy, anger and selfishness, slander and gossip, conceit and disorder. In other words, things inside the first century church are not much different than what goes on inside churches in the 21st century. If you dig into any church body today, you’ll find some if not all these sins. That doesn’t make it right. We need to continually confess how our lives—individually and corporately—fail to live up to the standards set by Jesus. And we need to strive, like Paul, to build up one another and not to tear down.
Paul’s second area of focus includes external sins. The formerly pagan Christians in Corinth wouldn’t have had much of a problem with such sins as Paul acknowledges in verse 21. Impurity, sexual immorality, and debauchery were things they may have formerly practiced. Such sins should be repented of and ended. We see this clearly in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Some of the church’s members have brought these former practices into the church. Paul desires for those in the church to enter a new life centered in Christ, but he has his concerns…
At least some of Paul’s situation reflect our concerns when reunited with friends or family after an extended absence. What should we learn from Paul’s teachings? Going into such a reunion, we should, like Paul, focus on building up others. Instead of fretting over our own feelings, let’s make sure those around us are comfortable. By focusing on others, we help lower the tension and the unease and hopefully all will have a better time.
I came across a poem titled “A Kinder World,” from a Canadian poet this week. In closing, let me share a few of her lines:
Everyone I meet
is fighting battles
I know nothing about
and I am fighting
battles they know
So I will be kind to
those who cross my
path and hope for
the same kindness
For life is full of battles
that all of us face.
So I will be careful with
I will care about others.
I will speak words that
help and I will speak
words that heal,
because life is hard.
Yet kindness makes it
easier to get through.
 Barbara Streisand, “The Way We Were,” 1974.
 Acts 18:1-17.
 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/06/25/restoring-relationships/
 Acts 18:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:9.
 2 Corinthians 11:7-11. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/10/22/the-fools-speech-looks-can-be-deceiving/
 2 Corinthians 12:19 NRSV
 Melanie Korach, “A Kinder World.” Posted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/melanie_korach/status/1722780387808588283
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987.
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.