For Such a Time as This, Pt. 2

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

By Chuck Griffin

Tuesday, I began moving toward Sunday’s sermon with an exhortation: Theologically conservative Methodists positioned by God to lead should do just that in our current environment, employing a little creativity and a lot of grace in the process.

I am not naïve. Once people become entrenched in institutional power and lucrative privilege, they very often will place their own interests above scriptural principles. (Another exhortation in Philippians 2:4-5 comes to mind.) So I exhort with only faint hope of a real response from anyone already positioned to make a difference.

That failure at the top continues to reverberate throughout the United Methodist Church, as it has done for decades now. Basic biblical concepts long preached and taught by Methodists have fallen by the wayside as the people once most able to encourage them grew silent in the face of secular pressure.

You can test how heavily your particular church has been affected by all of this. Look at today’s text from 2 Corinthians and ask yourself if it sounds like something anyone has taught or preached there.

The church at Corinth had very modern problems, the people immersed in “impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” Paul expected that when he arrived, he would find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior among them, too. (Read chapter 12 for the context I am citing here.)

Paul did not dance around those problems. He did not accommodate the social trends of the day. Instead, he relied on his humble subservience to God, letting God speak through him, employing the Scripture of his day and his direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to define right and wrong.

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

If you’re unfamiliar with such language in church, you are in a congregation that has lost sight of what once was a basic Methodist concept, the pursuit of holiness. In church, this is a group effort to create an environment where people can, with the help of God, find their actions more closely aligned with God’s will each passing day.

Missing that in your church? Well, here’s the good news. Unworthy leaders can be ignored and even replaced. Paul ultimately aimed his message at all the Christians in the Corinthian church, giving everyone an opportunity to respond, and we can consider his words a message to us, too.

Know God’s word. Seek the presence of God’s Spirit through prayer, fasting and worship. As more of us do so, we will begin to recover what was once a bright, vibrant form of Methodism, a kind of Christianity that changed lives for the better.

Lord, we give thanks for the leaders who will arise among us, and we pray that they be graced with a double portion of your Spirit. Amen.

Empty Space

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Lent, the word “repent” comes up on a regular basis. Repentance requires more commitment than we may realize.

In the third chapter of Luke, we see how crowds of people responded to John the Baptist’s call to repent and prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. But when they showed up to be baptized, he called them a “brood of vipers.”

Clearly, there’s a little more to repentance than just showing up. As we read on in Luke, we see more clearly what the hairy, locust-chomping prophet was expecting: a true change of heart, the kind of transformation that results in a change of behavior.

The crowd asked, “What then should we do?”

John the Baptist’s answer was simple. If you’ve got plenty, and the poor around you have none, share! Stop being so greedy. He must have sensed there were a few folks in the crowd who planned to keep their extra cloaks and food despite being baptized.

If you have a job, particularly one where you have power over others, then perform your duties honestly, he went on. The soldiers and tax collectors whom he addressed directly were notorious for abusing their power to commit theft and extortion. Again, he must have seen the desire for sinful gain still glimmering in their eyes.

These were just examples. His main point was, you cannot say “I repent” but then go on with your old, sinful ways. “Repent” means that you regret your past actions and put them aside. Without true repentance, all the water in the Jordan River won’t help you.

Salvation is simple. All you have to do is believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to pay for your sins. True belief by its very nature requires a repentant heart, however. If you don’t think the concept of sin, and in particular, your individual sins, are a problem, how can you take seriously the need for the cross?

Think of it this way: Ongoing sin fills up places in you where God needs to be. True repentance creates empty spaces, allowing God to rush in.

Anyone in church knows that we still have much to repent. Sadly, even the really obvious sins—murderous anger, adultery, theft, deception—go on among Christians, within what we call the body of Christ.

And then there’s the more subtle stuff—gossip, slander, greed and refusals to forgive, just to name a few—that can do as much damage long-term as murder can do short-term.

Yes there’s always plenty of repentance needed, even among those who have submitted to the water and taken on the name of Christ. I won’t go so far as to call us a “brood of vipers,” but I wonder if John the Baptist might.

Fortunately, we worship a patient, loving God, one who will grant us the power to change, if only we repent and ask for God’s help.

Lord, as we open ourselves to you, search us and show us what needs to be surrendered. Amen.