Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

sunset viewYou know those people in your life you love a lot, but you just can’t wait until they go away for a little while? For some people that period apart could be an hour, maybe an afternoon. Sometimes we might think a week or two might be nice!

I just hope that last one isn’t your spouse.

We’d love to get along all the time with everyone, but the reality is, it’s just not possible. There are times when it’s impossible to agree on absolutely everything, and that’s is perfect fine. We are our own person, we understand the world from our own viewpoint, our experience, and others also understand the world in their own way, which may be different than our understanding. It’s all part of being who we are.

The trick is, whether or not we allow these differences to spoil our friendship. I guess it depends on how important our view of a particular situation is in our life priorities.

For some people being a fan of the Leafs is non-negotiable. For others, they might be able to tolerate some Hab fans in their life. For me, I can’t understand the affection for either team. But… I do have friends in both camps in my life. And I have no choice but to put up with it. I do my best.

We are our own people. We have our own struggles. We have our own beliefs. We have our own traditions. We have our own foibles which may or may not drive other people crazy.

What’s really important though is that we try to get along. We may need to agree to disagree at times, but we can try to respect others in their life choices.
But there’s also another part. There’s the ability to love, even when there is something really, really important to us they reject.

It’s part of being a Christian.

There are people out there who reject any notion of faith. Some of you have heard it, I know.

“Don’t talk to me about religion.”
“I don’t want to hear any of that church talk.”

But it’s hard for us to hear people say these things, because it’s important to us, and Jesus has asked us to share with others.

We want to share our church, our faith, our love of Jesus with others.

But what happens when people shut us down whenever we try to mention it. Or when we gently try to correct someone, and point them towards a faithful response, and they simply don’t listen. Or, they listen and try, but they just don’t get the true message. They just don’t hear what we’re really trying to say.

Did you know the Apostle Paul had those same experiences?He did!

Today, we starting to take a look at the letter he wrote to the church in Corinth, in particular the book of 2nd Corinthians.

Scholars believe Paul wrote 4 letters to the church in Corinth, but only 2 made it into the Bible. However, the letters we have in the Bible may be the second and fourth letters, not the first and second as the titles in the Bible would have us believe.

As you read through the two letters we have, Paul makes reference to other letters he has written to them. So there may have been even more following the fourth letter, but that’s hard to tell. We can only analyze what we have before us, which points to two other letters he has written.

Why so many letters we might wonder?

Well, if you read through the two we have, you can see Paul had a real struggle with the church in Corinth. It seems as though they liked to do their own thing. And that’s what gave Paul so much trouble.

Paul often opens his letters with a blessing. But he doesn’t in this letter. It seems Paul has been experiencing some significant challenges in his travels, as he goes to other places preaching about Jesus and trying to encourage and build up many different churches.

This morning we read that Paul is in Asia as he writes to the church. And it seems as though things aren’t going all that well.

He begins this letter by saying,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (v3-4)

I don’t think Paul would open the letter talking about consolation and affliction if he wasn’t seeing and experiencing it for himself.

These two verses are speaking to a problem, but also a response. Paul is saying, right off the bat that God is our consolation. God is the one who consoles us, but the word for consolation could also be translated to encouragement. God consoles us, but He also encourages us.

So when we are afflicted, when there are great challenges put before us, whether it’s a personal issue or one in community, God is there encouraging us and consoling us. It brings to mind the closing lines from our United Church New Creed,

“In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.”

Suffering in life is not a new thing. Opposition is not a new thing, even for the church. Paul fought many who opposed him in his teaching, even from within the church, as we’ll see as we progress through 2 Corinthians over the next few weeks.

But Paul has a great skill at taking that which opposes him, from within the church or outside the church, and pointing towards Jesus Christ.

In the next line from his letter he says,

“For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.” (v 5-6)

People in Paul’s day suffered greatly because of their belief in Jesus. As we well know there are people who were willing to kill the first Christians in an effort to stop the church in its tracks; to keep it from getting too popular. These people saw the church as a threat, just as Jesus was seen as a threat to the government and leadership of his day.

So, if they are suffering for Jesus, and the suffering is abundant, which it must be for Paul to mention it, then he offers hope to his readers. He says even though the suffering is great, so is the consolation, the encouragement they receive in the same Jesus who they follow which brings their affliction.

They receive great consolation from Jesus Christ, and they receive it abundantly through salvation; the understanding that through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross they are saved. They have abundant life, eternal life… hope.

Paul has great hope in the church, and he wants to encourage them as much as possible in the work they are doing, despite the opposition they face.

Paul has faced incredible opposition while in Asia, to the point where he says they would have preferred death. But he reminds his readers, even in such dire circumstances, Paul holds on to the great hope he knows through a relationship with and an understanding of Jesus Christ in his life.

A relationship with Jesus in crucially important for Paul. All you need to do is read through his letters and you can see this plainly. He wants everyone to know the power such a relationship can give.
Paul always believed in God. Paul was a Pharisee, and a very good one. He so believed in the God he learned of through his mentors as he grew up as a Jewish boy, he was one who fought against the Christians in order to protect that which he knew.

He had a certain understanding of God and how people are supposed to be in relationship with Him.

But Paul was wrong.

He knows this now as Jesus made himself known to Paul through a life changing experience on the road to Damascus.

Paul no longer persecuted Christians, instead he became one and also a great encourager of others who sought the same.

Nothing was more important to Paul than this new understanding of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing.

I talked about the non-negotiables with our friends? For Paul, a belief in Jesus was non-negotiable. He was sure to introduce you to Jesus, and he expected you to believe as he believed. And he wasn’t shy to tell you if he thought you were heading down the wrong path. He would be sure to let you know you were straying and also tell you how to come back to the right path.

We aren’t so sure about this today are we?

But we might wonder why not? Do we believe Jesus is important in our lives? Do we believe Jesus is most important in our lives? If you are thinking “Yes I do!” then great!

If you aren’t so sure, I ask, why not?

The world we live in today isn’t all that different than the world Paul lived in. People oppose the church, although here in Canada it’s very unlikely we will die for our faith. But there are many places in the world where being a Christian could cost you your life, and it has cost many people their lives, even in the last few months.

These people died for what they believe in. They died because they stand up for Jesus Christ in places where there is open hostility against the Christian church.

We have it so easy here in North America.

People may mock us and make fun of our faith, but they aren’t going to kill us.

What would we do in such a situation? It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? Turn your back on Jesus and live… or die.

Which would you choose?

For some people in the world, this is the decision they are forced to make. It was a decision Paul and other Christians faced regularly, and many died for their faith. They died because they could not turn their back on Jesus.

I hope it’s a decision we never have to make. But it’s a sobering question to ponder none the less.

Jesus Christ offers us encouragement, he offers us his love as we seek to be consoled in tough times.

Jesus Christ offered his life for our’s, so that evil and sin would have no control over us.
It’s a daily decision to follow Jesus. We wake up every morning and before we even get out of bed, we need to decide if we’re going to follow Jesus or not. Because to say we’re going to follow Jesus every day means there are things we cannot do. We can’t do them because Jesus would not want them to be part of our lives. There are sins we must try to avoid each and every day.

There are days when we will make mistakes. Days where we will make decisions which will not be consistent with what it means to live a Christian life.

The good news is we don’t need to beat ourselves up over it. Why? Because if we confess our mistakes to Jesus, we will be forgiven. And then we get to start all over again the next morning.
I’ve been trying to get up every morning and start my day with God. I’ve been getting better at it, although with the NBA playoff games being on so late at night, it’s been a struggle of late.

But when I do it. I get up an hour early and start my day with God. I read the Bible. I pray. And while I pray I listen for what God has to say to me, including things I need to confess. Things I need to change in my life in order to be more in tune to what God is asking me to do with my day.

If you find yourself struggling excessively with your days, then maybe you need to reconsider how your day starts.

Maybe we need a greater understanding of the way God works in the world, which means we need to know our Bibles better. Which means we need to read it more. We need to let scripture speak to us as we seek God’s direction in our life.

Sure there is some ugly stuff in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, but it’s the ugly stuff which helps us understand the true purpose of Jesus as a gift of love and hope from God. The true identity of God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ. And it’s the true identity of God revealed in Jesus that shows us the true identity of the sinful heart of humankind.

Those who killed Jesus weren’t truly in relationship with God. They were protecting themselves, their pride and their egos. It’s the same sinfulness which led them to kill the Apostles, the first followers of Jesus and the leaders of the early church.

People who died because they firmly believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and how he sought to bring change to the hearts of humankind. Asking people to give up their sinful ways and follow him, entering into a personal relationship with our Father of love.

In verse 10 this morning, we read these words from Paul,

“He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again…”

There is great hope that Jesus will rescue us from the sinful ways of the world. In a world who opposes the Truth he brings by not only living in its sin, but denying it as even being sin.

We can’t know what is truly sin unless we know Jesus and his way.

Sin is tearing this world apart. It’s even impacting our Parliament as we see ego and pride clouding people’s common sense.

It’s clearly foolishness of all involved which led to our Prime Minister acting out in an un-Christian way.

A way which clearly impacted his thoughts as he spoke the very next morning at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast held in Ottawa. An event he attends regularly, and has read scripture at a number of times.

This year he was asked to read Psalm 130 and then speak briefly about his own spiritual journey. However, after he read the Psalm, instead of sharing the Prime Minister turned the pages in his Bible and read Romans 12. A chapter which includes the following,

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud.”

Words he may have wished he read the morning before the “incident” which amounted more to an embarrassing act of childishness on display by all people involved.

We all make mistakes. We all fall short of God’s plan in our lives.

But in Jesus we have hope. We have hope because he is the one who shows all of us, the broken people of this world, he shows us we can be healed of our brokenness and that we are loved.
Two things no one else can show us. Two things no one else can do for us.

We can’t love everyone. We can try, but our differences can sometimes be too great. We can respect. We can be friendly. But sometimes love is just a little too far for us to go with some people.

But not for Jesus.

If Jesus can love even me and the sin in my life, then there’s no reason his love can’t be offered to everyone.

My friends, Paul’s writings, as challenging as they may be at times, are words for us to hear today.
A relationship, a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ is very, very important. Not just for our life, but for the life of each and every person on this planet. We need God’s love and God’s direction. We need to recognize our sinfulness, and we need to know God’s forgiveness for our sinfulness.

Do you know God’s love?

Do you know He is here right now and inviting you to know His Son, Jesus Christ, as Saviour, the one who died for you?

He is here. And He is waiting.

May we all know the love of God shown abundantly in Jesus Christ, and that this love will sustain, encourage and console us in our greatest times of need.

In Jesus we have hope, a hope nothing else can ever offer.

A hope of life, new life, both here on earth and in the life still to come in the presence of our Father in heaven.

It can be our’s. If we simply realize his sacrifice and his love for us.

Jesus is here. Ready to love and comfort us. Ready to show us all God has for us, both here on earth and life everlasting.

Thanks be to God.
Amen and amen.