Thursday, June 14, 2012

Life Letters: When it Comes to Paul, We Need it All...

Our primary text for this week as we continue our series on Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is 2 Corinthians 5:6-20.  We will also be reading from the Gospel of Mark 4:26-32.  You may read both of these here

Every once in a while, while working on a sermon, I come to a realization that should have been totally obvious but that never really occurred to me.  Here's is this week's "Well, duh, Abby!" realization:

When it comes to Paul, we need it All.

Here's what I mean:

I got frustrated reading about this passage from 2 Corinthians in one of my favorite commentaries, the New Interpreter's Bible, this week.  It felt like all this commentary did to explicate this chapter was refer you constantly to other passages in other letters of Paul's.  Rather than saying "here is what this means," the commentary kept me flipping back and forth between the epistles looking at how Paul phrased it differently to another church, outlined an idea differently in another place and time, or actually seems to have changed his mind or contradicted himself on certain points.  It was a cross-referencing fiesta.  How am I supposed to sift through all of this to come to some coherent conclusion?

The decision I came to is, maybe I can't.  Like we are all on a journey of faith, Paul was on one too--and his ideas developed with different fullness and different edges in his communication with different communities whose issues caused him to wrestle in different ways.  We can't look at one verse of Paul's and say, "Here's what's right" definitively without putting it in the context of all of his writings--and he wrote a boatload.  I think this is why Paul has been so often maligned and abused--because we love to memorize one verse of a letter and think we have his theology under control.  Really, however, Paul weaves a complex picture through his writings.

As people living in a 24 hour news cycle of headlines and Twitter feeds, getting a sense of a wider picture is not one of our cultural strengths.  But it's a skill we need to develop, I think, to read Paul well.  So, in advance of Sunday, here is one of the key verses from our readings, and a few things Paul says in other letters that connect with this verse.  How does what Paul says elsewhere give you deeper insight into what Paul might be trying to say here?

2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
  • Galatians 3:26-28   For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 
  • Galatians 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!  
  • Romans 6:4  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
  • Romans 8:19-21 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  
Just a little "Paul from elsewhere" to get those wheels turning!

1 comment:

Diane Foutz said...

To me, Paul is saying God is doing something new in history. No power, position, ethnicity, money or sexual orientation needed to be one with Christ. We leave the bad feelings of inadequacy, pride, hurt, fear etc behind and start the process of becoming what we are meant to be. We are being prepared for our new transformed bodies and new responsibilities we will have in the Kingdom of God. Imagine this message to the people of Corinth which was a city of predominantly slaves. I've heard one figure of over 100,000, many who were slaves in the sex market. This message of transformation, hope and community was why Christianity spread through the Roman Empire. New families developed through Christian communities brought solace to those who had lost their own to war and displacement. Those disappointed or disillusioned by the blood, rituals and purchasing of religion are offered the free gift of salvation. Learning about the world of Paul's time helps us understand the power of his message, the GOOD NEWS.