The Sunday Sermon: Living for Another
+ IN the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of all the books of the New Testament, the ones I find the most difficult to read are Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
It’s not because of any difficult moral or theological teachings we find St. Paul teaching in those letters, but rather, it because of what we learn from those letters about Saint Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Christians and the Corinthians Christians’ relationship with St. Paul and their own faith.
I hate conflict. Its, I think some people would say, one of my weaknesses that I avoid conflict like the plague, even I really should face the problem head on. When we read the letters to the Corinthians, we find St. Paul facing head on the problems of the Corinthian Church. As I read the letter, I find my anxiety building and my desire to set the book down growing.
But there’s a reason why Paul was willing to write to the Corinthians in such strong, powerful terms. Terms that he knew would upset his readers and terms which even brought him to tears.
And I think we find that reason in a verse today:
“If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” 2 Cor. 5:13-14
Paul was willing to enter into a painful season in his relationship with the Corinthians rather than walking away because he believed that they were worth it. He could have walked away, but instead, he knew the reward for his labor, which was for him a labor of love. The reward was that those to whom he had delivered the faith would be in Christ, and if in Christ, the old would pass away and there would be a new creation: “everything old has passed away. See,” he says, “everything has become new”
But this new life in Christ meant that the cornithians had to change. They had to died with the one who had died, and live no longer for themselves, but for Christ who had died with them.
Paul told them they had to live no longer for themselves but for another. What does that mean? If you’re anything like me, as someone who, to my own shame and humbling, too often lives for himself rather than for another, you too will probably find it easier to say what it means to live for ourselves rather than for another.
To live for myself means to be self centered and to be full of selfishness. It means to structure things around me for my own gain and advantage, rather than to be about self-giving and self sacrificing love. It means all my energy is focused on my own priorities, my own will, my own desires, and how I think things should be. It means I become angry when I don’t get my way, it means I refuse to forgive those who I think have wronged me. It means that I’m not willing to empty myself and humble myself and to forgive as I have been forgiven.
Living for oneself is a way of life that is deeply engrained within us. It makes up part of the fabric of our human nature, it seems. Its no wonder why, then, that Saint Paul tells us that we must die.
The old self must pass away – everything must must must be made a new Creation. We are convinced, Saint Paul would say, that one has died for all, and if we are to be a new creation, then we too must all die. We must die and be given a new heart, a heart of flesh in place of this heart of stone. The Love of Christ urges us on to this hope, this expectation of the faithfulness of God’s love for us.
Dying to self – and being raised to new life in the Kingdom of God – as a new creation. That’s what you and I were made for.
The difficulty we face, however, is this criticism from the outside world which looks at the Church and expects us to be, here and now completely and totally holy and perfect.
The truth is, that even when we have given ourselves over to Christ and died and been reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, we are still imperfect. For all of us who are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death. We have had the seeds of new life planted in us.
But that seed of new life under God’s reign is small. Small like a mustard seed. And it takes time to grow. But you and I aren’t the ones who can make it grow. The parable of the sower this morning tells us that. The farmer plants the seed, but then he has to wait for the growth to occur.
But that doesn’t mean we are free from all responsibility. It is God who gives the growth, yes. But we must allow the seed of new life planted in us to be fed and nourished by the rain and the sunlight. We have to till the soil to provide for it a good place to grow.
In real terms, the water, the sunlight, and the good soil are our faith and our response to God’s will for our lives.
We must be willing to cultivate our faith and grow in the knowledge and love of God. It is perhaps, only in that way that we can live no longer for ourselves, but for the one who died for us that we might have that new life.
The love of Christ – that’s Christ’s love for us – urges us on because one has died for all, therefore all must die, so that we may have new life – and be a new Creation in the Kingdom of God’s new reign on earth.
To him be the Glory, now and forever. Amen.