2 Corinthians 3:17-4:2

A few weeks back, this section of the Bible was infamously read by Donald Trump during a visit to Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame,” Trump said, drawing laughter from the crowd who knew Trump was attempting to refer to “Second Corinthians.” Trump was still able to draw applause from the crowd by reading the Bible verse, however: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” the university’s “School Verse” which is prominently displayed on campus.[1] Though Trump seemed to be just trying to score political points with this verse, there is much we can learn from this passage.

As we talked about last week, the Corinth Church was a church with many problems, a long list of issues which Paul had addressed throughout his first letter to the Corinthians. But it was a church for which he had great expectations. Yes, the people had caused Paul many headaches and had repeatedly hurt one another, but despite this history, Paul spoke positively of the church and of these people. Paul felt the presence of God in the church, and Paul knew that the most important thing for a church is that God is present; because where the Spirit of the Lord there is hope, freedom, and transformation.  Paul was optimistic because he knew that God’s Spirit was bringing hope, freedom, and transformation to the Corinth Community Church.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is hope.

February is Black History month, when we remember the important contributions African-Americans have made to our country. Being as just a couple weeks ago we celebrated MLK Day, the Civil Rights Movement stands in my mind as a preeminent example of the incredible impact made on America by African Americans. I’m reminded of the song of protest sang so often during those years of protest, “We Shall Overcome.” The words say, “We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome Someday. Deep In My Heart, I Do Believe, We Shall Overcome Someday.” It’s a powerful, moving song—and all the more powerful and moving when we think about the context in which it was sung. Despite facing fire hoses, attack dogs, and billy clubs, despite local law enforcement, local business interests, and local government being so often standing against them, despite facing the vengeful threats of the Klu Klux Klan, the White Citizen Council, and the American Independent Party, despite all these things stacked against them—they were still able to sing out this song because of the hope that lied within them.

We have a hope that lies within us, a hope that lies within this church; it is the power of God within us! For 110 years this church has served the community of Henderson, CO. This is a church that has weathered the storm of personal tragedy, financial trials, even fire and lightning. This is a church that has overcome and will continue to overcome! This is a church that will not be easily defeated, because this is a church where the Spirit of the Lord is present, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is hope.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is Freedom

Are you familiar with the story of Rumpelstiltskin? The story revolves around a girl who must spin straw into gold or face death. In the well-known story, the miller’s daughter is bound to give her first-born child to the unnamed dwarf who taught her how to weave straw into gold. She is helpless in his power until she learns his name. When she tells him what his name is—Rumpelstiltskin—she gains the ascendancy over him, and he flees. Though the girl was initially powerless against Rumpelstiltskin, it was when she named him that the power was reversed.

There is a power in naming things, naming something demonstrates a power or dominion over a thing or person.[2] We need only to look at the book of Genesis and the story of Adam for an example.  After being given dominion over the animals, Adam is then instructed to name the animals. When we name something which was previously unnamed or misunderstood, we gain a measure of control over it and it in turn no longer has control over us. There is a freedom then in naming things, a freedom from control and oppression.

In naming the prejudice and oppression they were facing during the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans took back power over their lives and freed themselves from the bondage of racism.  This is the kind of freedom Paul wrote about, a freedom from oppression, a freedom from bondage. Last week we took the important step of naming things which had been unnamed and unrecognized, and in that anonymity, had maintained a power over us. But by naming these things, we took the power back, we freed ourselves from these things. No longer will these things exercise dominion over ourselves or our church. And being free feels good.

I was somewhat concerned that the events of last Sunday would cast a gloomy spell over Friday’s dinner—but that was far from the case! There was an energy and enthusiasm present which lifted my spirits. Seeing friendly faces reminded me that this is a church and we are a people that have been freed by God—because the Spirit of the Lord is here, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is in present there is transformation.

Every new year, magazines hit the newsstands with stories of weight loss transformations, hoping to attract the attention of folks who have made their own New Year’s goal to lose weight.  Reading these stories are inspiring. The stories are often similar, with a crisis point of realization that something had to be done, then was the long and tedious work of actually doing the work required lose the weight. One woman who lost 200 pounds wrote, “The most important journey you will take in your life will usually be the one of self-transformation. Often, this is the scariest because it requires the greatest changes, in your life (sic).”[3]  Transformation isn’t easy; ask anyone who has successfully undertaken a radical change in their life whether it be losing weight, leaving a dysfunctional relationship, or changing careers. A key to transformation is setting oneself up for success by ensuring one has the support systems to make it through. If these supports aren’t in place, it’s harder to succeed, and it may in fact be wiser to wait for a more opportune moment.

In this last week, some members of this church decided the timing wasn’t right for them and have decided to move their membership elsewhere. We’re not superior to them because we’ve chosen to participate in the process of transformation. If anything, perhaps we should consider whether we could have done more to be supportive, to help them through the process. And the more we think about it, the more we are saddened, the more we grieve that these are being led elsewhere. These are people we love and care for, relationships we will always treasure, friends we will always pray for and pray with. The intention of a church is not to make people feel unwelcome, and we will truly miss these people.

With some of these people feeling led elsewhere, there are some openings in our leadership positions. Tomorrow evening, at our board meeting, we will be addressing these openings. While times of transition can seem like a scary time when we are uncertain about what the future will bring, we need not fear. In the vast wisdom and prudence of our forebears, wise men and women before us anticipated challenges like this and gave us a process should these challenges come our way.  Article XI of our by-laws gives us a clear process for addressing these openings.  Let us take comfort in the prudence of those who have gone before us, let us take assurance in their wisdom and the clear path forward given us.

And while the process of transformation is never easy, let us celebrate that we are being true to the commitments we have made to one another, having covenanted in our ministry call agreement to “support leadership change and development” as we “commit to new leadership and new ministry.” We are simply doing the work we have already agreed to do with one another and with God.  While the unknown can be scary, we are walking this road together, with God’s help. And know that I am always here to listen to pray, talk, and listen. Transformation is hard, but “the work of the Christian is to not lose heart but continue to act—no matter the circumstances of life—with boldness”[4] We are being transformed because the Spirit of the Lord is here, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is transformation.

Just as Paul said of the Corinth Community Church, the Spirit of the Lord is here, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is hope, there is freedom, there is transformation. Knowing God is present among us gives us all the encouragement we need. Paul had faith in the Corinth Community Church—not in the church’s abilities to change itself—but faith in the Spirit’s work within it.[5] God is present within our church, and the Spirit compels us to act with great hope, the Spirit frees us from the things holding us back, and the Spirit is in the process of transforming us into the image of Christ. Praise be to God—the Spirit of the Lord is in this place!

 

[1] Jeremy Diamond, “Donald Trump takes Liberty, courts Christian crowd,” CNN.com <http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/18/politics/donald-trump-liberty-two-corinthians/> (accessed February 7, 2016).

[2] Loren Graham, “The Power of Names: In Culture and Mathematics,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, VOL. 157, NO. 2, JUNE 2013 <https://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/proceedings/1570204Graham.pdf> (accessed February 7, 2016).

[3] http://www.redbookmag.com/body/a40777/plus-size-model-lost-200-pounds-after-airline-drama/

[4] Robert Warden Prim, “Homiletical Perspective: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2,” in Feasting on the Word, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 1:451.

[5] Carla Works, “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2,” <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1541> (accessed February 6, 2016).

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