Requirements for Peace

Jun 07, 2020

Sermon 6-7-2020
The Holy Trinity
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     There is at least one command that Paul gives the Corinthians in today’s Epistle reading that we will not be following anytime soon. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We cannot even stand within six feet of one another or shake hands, let alone offer a “holy kiss.”
     But, given the division in our country, perhaps a holy kiss would not be such a bad idea. For the early church, this kiss on the cheek was a symbol of love and fellowship, a way to say that the other’s well-being is important, and the relationship is valued.
     It would be quite a sight if the people protesting, and those policing them, or people of opposite political views, stepped up and kissed each other on the cheek. The tension might actually break, and helpful interaction begin. Why? Because to kiss someone is to accept him or her, or at least that is the intention. Maybe that is why the Apostle Paul includes the holy kiss in his final words to the church in Corinth.
     You may recall that Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was tense because he had addressed divisions and missteps in their community. So, he offers them final words of wisdom for staying on the right track. He says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.” Using the endearments “brothers” and “sisters” indicate that a relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is still possible, and he views them all as God’s children.
     There’s an interesting translation issue here – the word translated “farewell” can also be “rejoice,” which points to Paul’s advice in other letters to rejoice, to experience the contentment that is rooted in Jesus Christ, which he has learned to experience in all circumstances.
     Then, he lists four requirements for experiencing God’s loving and peace-filled presence more fully.
     First, “put things in order,” which also is translated “be perfected.” He is telling them to mend their ways, to restore their relationships with God and each other.
     Second, “listen to my appeal,” or “be of good comfort.” Set aside your division, he’s saying, unite in order to encourage one another to be like Jesus.
     Third, “agree with one another” or “be of one mind.” The Corinthians have a history of treating one another more like enemies than brothers and sisters in Christ. He’s telling them to have the mind of Jesus, to love sacrificially, to adopt an attitude of serving, to put the needs of others before those of themselves.
     And, fourth, “live in peace.” This is both internal, which is a God-given sense of well-being, and external, which is harmony with others, peace.
     So, to summarize, Paul’s words of wisdom to the Corinthians are that they restore their relationships with one another, strive together to be like Jesus in loving sacrificially and be at peace inside and out.
     They are to be the new creation God is creating them to be, just as he wrote in chapter 5 of this letter, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
      It is ironic, I think, that this is the reading following one of the most contentious weeks in our country in recent memory. This week, people throughout the United States have been protesting in response to the recent deaths of African Americans, who were the victims of racism that was revealed in the deadly actions of law enforcement personnel.
     Tragically, racism is a continuing legacy in our country, from which anger, grief, and frustration grow. I would seem we all could agree about the destructive power of racism. Yet, even among Christians, there has been division this week concerning these realities, which have become politicized.
      People who all identify as followers of Jesus look at what happened in front of St. John Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. on Monday night and see different things. The basic facts are that after speaking about “dominating” rioters with military force in order to restore calm, the President walked to the church and paused there, holding a Bible, while photos were taken. He did not comment, nor read from scripture. Prior to his arrival, what had been a day-long peaceful protest at and near the church was broken up by the use of force.
     Some people view this scene and see strength displayed and faith defended. Others see power misused and the sacred abused. In the midst of it all, we are in danger of losing sight of human suffering. Of course, the destruction of property when peaceful protests are derailed is horrible. But, it’s racism and its violence that must end. Of course, the use of people’s pain for political gain is reprehensible, but it’s racism and its violence that must end.
     We who are the followers of Jesus are the avenues of justice, so, within our congregation, our denomination and the faith we must follow Paul’s imperatives:  
  • First, “put things in order,” mend our ways, restore our relationships with God and each other.
  • Second, “listen to my appeal,” set aside division, unite in order to encourage one another to be like Jesus.
  • Third, “agree with one another,” have the mind of Jesus, love sacrificially, adopt an attitude of serving, put the needs of others before your own.
  • Fourth, “live in peace,” be grounded in a God-given sense of well-being live in harmony with others.
Then, there will be strength in our proclamation that:
  • We condemn racism.
  • We announce that the love of God is for all people without exception; that the justice and mercy of God are for all people without exception.
  • We believe that political and religious leaders have a moral responsibility to condemn racist rhetoric and to speak with respect for the innate dignity of all people.
  • We will demand and will advocate for a more just, loving, and peaceful world, including the arrest and prosecution of all perpetrators of racial violence.
  • And, finally, we will equip ourselves to understand and challenge the structures that empower and fuel racism. (1)
    Perhaps then we will be better able to greet one another with the holy kiss of reconciliation, respect, acceptance, and peace. As Paul proclaims, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”   AMEN
(1) “Condemnation of White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric”, Social Policy Resolution, CA19.04.18, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America