A sermon preached by Patrick H. Wrisley on June 20, 2021.
In previous weeks, we have noted the strained relationship between Paul and the church he founded in Corinth. In essence, he is reminding them to be the Church and stand out from others in the world. Thus far in Second Corinthians, Paul has been talking with them about the ministry of reconciliation and their involvement in it. Just sentences before our text this morning, Paul makes the appeal, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” Interestingly, the word “ambassador” is the from the same Greek word we get the word “Presbyterian.” Just think about that for a moment and let that sink in! You are an ambassador!
Our scripture today is Paul’s plea for the church to not take their relationship with God for granted. They were not bearing the fruit of a close relationship with God in their community; they were acting like what we would call Sunday morning Christians. They dressed up and acted like good Christians when they went to church once a week but then went on to reflect the values of the world the rest of the time. Worse yet, they were living out the world’s ways within the church community itself and it was tearing them apart. As you listen, note how Paul is calling them to account and is letting them know in not-so-subtle ways that they need to be experiencing the same issues he is experiencing in his ministry; after all, he says, they are in the ministry together. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
6.1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says (in Isaiah 49:8),
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to listen to one of the spiritual giants of the Bible preach? Just imagine what it would be like to hear the words straight from Jesus’ mouth, from Peter’s lips, or from Paul’s first-hand story. Do you really think we would take their words more seriously if we heard them with our own ears? From our standpoint today, we might wistfully think to ourselves, “Well, if I were alive back then and heard them speak, surely I would understand what they said and would believe and live the life they are describing!”
Well, I just don’t know. Would we? Lest we forget, Paul is known to have literally killed someone with his preaching! In Acts 20, Paul is in Troas waxing eloquently way past midnight when young Eutychus drifts off to sleep with Paul’s droning on and he falls out a three – story window and dies! Dear Paul was not known for his great delivery. And just for for the record, I’ve never killed anyone with my preaching! (Not to say that some of haven’t muttered, “You’re killing me, Preacher” as I am proclaiming the Word!).
People today judge preachers just like they did Paul in Corinth centuries ago! Pastors are judged oftentimes by their ability to deliver a decent sermon. People want to be inspired, encouraged, fed, and entertained by a message that does not make them feel uncomfortable, agrees with their political views, and does not last too long so that we can beat the Baptists and Methodists to our favorite brunch spot. Surely people will listen to their pastor who is invested in them physically, spiritually and emotionally and heed the call to follow and live like Jesus. The deal is this, Church: It does not matter who the preacher is, whether it’s Paul, Pam, Nic, or me because what matters is that the message is the same: Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!
A Christian life exists at the nexus of the already and the not-yet. The Church was birthed by Spirit to tangibly live out of the fact we, indeed the world, have been redeemed by Christ and that we are to help usher in the Kingdom of God until the fulfillment of time when the Lord comes again. Salvation is a present reality that begins this very moment and extends into the future. Paul is cudgeling the Corinthians to be a part of that process in their own life and in the life of the Church.
Paul is reminding the church that because God has reconciled with them, “Then why, Corinthians, doesn’t your life show it?” I love what commentator John McFadden writes, “Paul’s pastoral message to the self-absorbed Corinthians was, in effect, ‘get over yourselves!’” In Christ we are a new creation, a new missional community so let’s live a life that demonstrates that. The problem is that when you and I don’t, when the Church fails to live into its mission, we end up doing what Paul warns us of inverse 1: We end up taking the grace of God in vain.
That means we take it lightly. Flippantly. Carelessly. We fail to receive the gift. Professor Scot McKnight says this is Paul’s “Not so subtle way of saying (to us) “Be reconciled to God by being reconciled with the Gospel Mission (of being ambassadors).” Verses 4 through 13 are Paul’s way of proving to the Corinthians that he has done his job; he’s begging them to enter into the work and do the same.
Friends, yesterday history was made in our nation as collectively as a country we recognized Emancipation Day. Emancipation Day, Juneteenth, is a day African American brothers and sisters commemorate when the very last slaves in Texas heard about emancipation and were set free. As of yesterday, all of us were invited to commemorate it, too! Emancipation Day is a day that I as a white man can pause and reflect upon my own life and assess whether I oppress others with my words or behavior or am I liberating others with acts of grace and mercy. Juneteenth is a celebration of moving from bondage to liberation and freedom! This is exactly the message Paul is trying to get across: Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of your salvation, your liberation, your freedom! So, live into that freedom, Church!
Say yes to a new life beginning this day!
Say yes to an intimate relationship with God today.
Say yes to renewed relationships with those you have strained ties with and are now separated.
Say yes to moving from a Sunday morning spectator of the Christian faith and become a presbyter, an active ambassador, letting others know of God’s love for them through Christian acts of service and mission.
When Paul says now is the acceptable time and now is the time for our salvation, it’s his way of reminding us we have been liberated and our rights have been restored. It’s his way begging us to Say, Yes! to new life.
Friends, from what do you need liberation from? How is God urging you to live your life as an active, vital disciple of Jesus Christ in and through this church and in our community? How do you personally make the engine and ministry of this church run? Oh, may the Holy Spirit haunt each of us until we know. We have been lulled over the last year to say ‘no’ to many things; now is the time to say, Yes! Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 2 Corinthians 5:20.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 I was reminded following the service this was preached that I failed to mention the important part where Paul went downstairs and brought the boy back to life.
 John T. McFadden, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, et el. -Kindle
 Scot McKnight, Connections: Year B, Volume 3: Season after Pentecost (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) by Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, et al. – Kindle