Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life Letters: Our Upcoming Journey with Paul and the Corinthians

Our primary text for this week is 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, which can be read here.  I would recommend, however, starting at the beginning of 2 Corinthians and reading the first four chapters, just to read our text in context.  The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of scripture, is a translation I find really accessible when dealing with Paul; so I would commend reading that version here

Speaking of dealing with Paul, I wrote on this blog last summer about my own personal struggles with Paul--particularly my reluctance to preach on his letters, for a variety of reasons.  Out of the four suggested lectionary readings each week, the Epistle reading is usually the first one I eliminate from consideration.

For the next five weeks, however, the second Epistle (that's just a fancy word for "Letter") to the church at Corinth is going to be the focus of our reflection in worship.  Help me, Jesus.  I will explain some of my reasons for making this choice in worship this Sunday; but here I will just say that I figured this was as good time a time as any to undertake this series (which I am called "Life Letters") because, of all of Paul's letters, 2 Corinthians is one of my favorites. 

This week, I think I discovered one of the reasons why:  because, as J. Paul Sampley put it in his intro to 2 Corinthians in The New Interpreters Bible, "Nowhere else in Paul's letters can we observe his enduring relationship with a particular church. In the documents called 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul relates to the Corinthian believers across a number of years. In those two works scholars have found references to five—and text of at least three—letters Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth and one they wrote to him. When the letters or letter fragments are arranged in a sequence, they portray Paul's relations to the Corinthians as ranging from good times to times not so good" (NIB Vol 11 p. 3).  I love that the Corinthian correspondence shows a relationship developed over time, making an ongoing dialogue about what the life of faith means in the earliest years of Christian development.

I also love that Paul's theology in 2 Corinthians particularly is intensely practical.  Sampley said it well again: "Throughout 2 Corinthians, and indeed across all his correspondence, he has no interest in theological notions for their own sake, but only as they engage life, as they bear on the way people comport themselves. His theologizing, therefore, is never abstract or abstruse; instead it is always engaged, always linked to life as real people—he and his hearers—are experiencing it." Paul's desire to engage life in Christ--and to help those reading his letters do the same--makes his second letter to the Corinthians worthy of our attention in the coming weeks.  In what ways do these ancient letters shape our modern faith in practical ways?  How do they call us to engage our world and God in this day and age? 

Join us on Sunday as we begin this journey together, and are given a unique opportunity courtesy of our Spiritual Formation Ministry Group to engage our faith formation as well.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Praticality appeals to me in most things, and yet the extremes to which some folks apply Paul's letters freaks me out quite a bit - though some of my favorite passages are from these letters.

All the same, I hadn't thought about your point that this is one of the only places in the Bible we see a relationship and a specific, early church community, evolve. How cool is that?

Looking at the passages and how they might shape our life, it seems to be pretty clear what Paul is calling the Corinthians to do here. A little less clear is his secondary (and unnecessary?) "carrot" for having them do so, as seen in the passage below. I'm a little trobled at the translation, comparing NIV to Message here:

6-7When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it.

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 have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 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.

Mainly, the part in the Message translation that says suffering works for our healing and salvation. Now, that might be true, but the corresponding text doesn't say anything of the sort in the NIV or other translations.

Anyway, just a question (and a common complaint) I have with Message translations.