September Newsletter Pastoral Epistle
“Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them.” – 2 Corinthians 9:1-2
I don’t know about you, but I love the underdog. Regardless who a team is playing in a particular sport, I often (unless it is against Fulham FC or Fresno State) root for the underdog. I like upsets. I like to see the prideful be humbled. It is this holdover of my sinful nature that loves to see other sinners brought low so I might, in some way, feel superior or at least equal. The danger is that, even in seeing the boastful fall, my own abilities to cheer that on become the same sin that I am decrying in the failures of another person.
Zeal and boasting aren’t all bad. They can often be very wonderful things when they are captured within the working of God on our behalf. Here in 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church that had left him behind. They had turned to some superstars who came flying in on their private jets with letters of reference from the bigwigs at the Synod office in Jerusalem. These men had not labored to begin the churches in Corinth, nor had they taken the time to realize the foundation had been laid by another. What Paul writes in this letter is that these “Super Preachers” came with demeaning words about Paul because of his weaknesses, because of his past sins. He had been a persecutor of the church after all. He had probably been guilty of the execution of more than a few members of the Christian faith. Now he was preaching and evangelizing in all corners of the known world, and these preachers come to take advantage of his absence from Corinth by using the work of God to their own advantage. Making Paul the underdog and themselves the superior creatures.
Amid all this backstory, Paul does not waver. In fact, he reminds them of their mission, to be cared for and to care for others. They were to be gathering sums of money as an offering to be combined with other gifts from other cities to be taken to the Christians in Judea, as these siblings in Christ were suffering under increased persecution both from the Jewish leadership and the Roman forces. Paul, while fighting against a persecution brought against him, is eager and zealous to care for the very people who have come to undermine him. His boasting, if it is boasting, is pointing to the very nature of God’s grace as a gift poured out to all people, including his opponents. All of it is done with a zeal and a boasting for the sake of the church, in order that others might be gathered around a common mission of Gospel life, and to stay the course no matter what others say or want.
What has come in this pandemic season in the church, there has been a lot of upheaval; a lot of mourning, a greater amount of anger and fear, plus even some boasting and zeal for the sake of a return to previous life in the church. Maybe the worry is that what we had is gone. Maybe the worry is that what we have is not enough. For us as the gathered people of God, we have a mission. That mission is to commune together for the sake of being handed the gifts of Christ, in whatever way Christ comes to us. In him we are to be offered the Word as it is unfolded, to be served by God through what he has to say to relieve us of our fears and failures. Our eagerness, our zeal, our boasting all are met now with some sense of patience and perseverance. Patience in knowing that the Church has survived for 2000 years amidst horrid persecution and abandonment. Perseverance in knowing that where the Word is proclaimed, and the Sacraments rightly administered there is a Church. We are in a place of fear and heartache, but do not let that fear lead to impatience. Allow your fears and anxieties for the future to be swallowed up in Christ, because that is where they are now. He stole them from you. Trust that he knows what to do with them and knows what to do with his Church.