About Our Church

 Sunday Services



 Youth Fellowship

 Music Programs

 Join a Group

 Interfaith Ministries

  Current Year
  Prior Years
  Other Writings

 Pastor's Page



Wide Open Hearts

Sermon - 6/21/09
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

I'm reading once again from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, which is a bit of a misnomer as we will soon see.  This particular text from the 6th chapter I don't think is a familiar text to most of us, so I thought a little background on it would be helpful, especially as it relates to Paul's relationship to the congregation.

According to Acts 18, Paul spent about 18 months in Corinth establishing the church there, working with Priscilla and Aquila, two Jews who came to Corinth from Rome after Jews were expelled from Rome in one of the pogroms.  So it's around the year 49 or 50, about 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus that Paul is working in Corinth.

In the process, he created a bit of controversy, and was brought before the Roman Tribunal and charged by leaders of the synagogue with teaching things that were contrary to their tradition.

It just so happens that it was exactly one year ago that we were in Corinth at the beginning of my sabbatical.  Judy and the kids got to go with me for the first couple of weeks, and the first stop we made after arriving in Athens was in Corinth, looking down on the excavations here:

And the Temple of Apollo that dominates that site, from about the 6th century before the common era (BCE):


And just to the right of the Temple of Apollo is the Bema, or the Tribunal:

This was the place where the Roman Governor held court.  And it's right in the center of the marketplace there.  So I was telling my kids this story of how the Apostle Paul was brought before the tribunal in Corinth, and this is the place where they would have brought him.  If you look there, you're standing where Paul stood.  And my daughter says:  "Cool".  Well, yeah, it's cool.  Now that wasn't the purpose of the sabbatical (by the way, we're talking seriously now of doing a tour in 2011, so you can think about making plans to experience the 1st century).  So it's not about going where Paul walked, but about experiencing the 1st century and what it was like.

At any rate, Gallio, not to be confused with the astronomer Galileo, was the provincial governor in Corinth and he dismissed the case against Paul, saying it was a 'religious matter', and therefore it did not concern him, thereby setting the precedent for the principle adopted by Thomas Jefferson of separation of church and state.  Well, Paul wisely perceived that such hostility was not helpful to his mission, and so he moved on to other cities.

Over the next 5 or 6 years, he would return to Corinth at least twice that we know of.  Between those visits, he wrote a number of letters in response to the inquiries that they sent, or the news that he heard coming out of Corinth.  So how many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?  More than two is the correct answer.  We don't know precisely how many, there's a great scholarly debate about such things, but it's very clear from his "first" letter to the Corinthians that he wrote a previous letter:

I wrote to you in my letter . . . . (1 Corinthians 5:9)

So what we call "1st Corinthians" is really the second letter, at least.  And what we know as "2nd Corinthians" is actually a composite of multiple letters.  How many is still up for debate, there's no consensus, it depends on whether or not you consider chapters 8 and 9 as separate letters that were compiled into this one. 

But at any rate, the Corinthian correspondence is quite unique, and it gives us a glimpse of an evolving relationship between an early church and its founder.  A relationship that became quite strained as Paul's leadership became questioned by some of the leaders in that congregation.  Earlier in 2 Corinthians he refers to a "painful visit" that he had with the congregation.  And just after that, he writes of his "tearful letter" that he wrote following that painful visit.  Many scholars think that chapters 10 through 13 is that tearful letter, but again, there's no consensus about that.

So, what Acts portrays as largely an external conflict between Paul and the leaders of the synagogue, Paul himself portrays more as an internal one between competing leaders in the congregation for the hearts and minds of the people of that congregation.

In this text, then, in chapter 6 of 2 Corinthians, we jump right into the middle of that evolving and somewhat tested relationship.  Listen, then, for how Paul seeks to establish his credentials for his authority as he appeals for the affection of the Corinthians.  He writes:

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,

‘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! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as 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. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.


So how does that text strike you?  I have to be honest in saying that when I first read it in preparing for this sermon, the first image that I had come to mind was that of the popular sitcom a few years ago Everybody Loves Raymond.  A fun show.  Remember Raymond's mother?  Always playing the martyr, you know -- "I've sacrificed my whole life for you, but do you ever come to visit me?".  She lived right next door J.  We can relate to stories like that.

Well, this is kind of the way this sounded.  Paul is laying it on pretty thick here, isn't he?  And he comes across as kind of laying a 'guilt trip'.  So I think we need to be careful in how we use this text as a role model, because that's not what we want to do.  And I really do not think it is what Paul is intending, either.

It's always helpful to remember that when you read the letters in the New Testament, you are reading someone else's mail.  The frank and sometimes even blunt way that Paul speaks may not always be the best example for us.  Even though Paul is writing for a very specific group in a time and place that is vastly different from our own (and he never intended this to become scripture, never occurred to him that it would be read in worship service as he read the scriptures) there are some valuable insights here for us.  Which of course is precisely why his letters have been preserved as scripture.

So here are some of the take-aways I get from this text that I think can be very useful to us:

"Now is the time of salvation".  Paul begins with a quote from Isaiah 49, which we sometimes refer to as "2nd Isaiah" because it comes from a time period more than a century after '1st Isaiah' (or the historic Isaiah) when the Jews were returning home from their captivity (the exile) in Babylon.  And so the prophet says:

‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
   and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’

Referring to the restoration of Israel from exile.  Paul takes this text and flips it from its original context to bring it into the present moment.  This is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.  The saving grace of God is not about what happened back then, centuries ago, it's what happens now, for us, to us, in our own lives.  Now is the time.

If you watch Oprah Winfrey, you know about Eckhart Tolle, who puts great emphasis on this.  That now is the time.  We can't live in the past, the past is gone, we can't repeat it.  The future never arrives, in one sense -- now is the only time that we have.  To live each day, every moment, not as if it were our last (though certainly may be) but as if it truly matters, because it does.  It is the moment, now, that counts.  Each and every moment.  We can't re-live any moment in time.

Therefore, every moment matters.  Every moment counts for us and for God.

One of our favorite family stories is when we were on vacation years ago, traveling through Colorado, and stopped to visit some friends who had kids the same age and gender as our kids.  My son Patrick, I think was about 5 at the time.  It had rained, they lived on a hillside, and there were little rivers going down the driveway.  Patrick and John are out there making channels for the water to go down, and making dams, and creating puddles.  You know how little boys like to do.  And at one point Patrick comes running in the house to get something, and on his way out with great exuberance says:  "This is best day of my life!". 

I think God wants us to live each and every day like that.  To put aside those conflicts and worries that preoccupy us but in the end really don't matter that much.  To enjoy the fullness of life as God intends for us.  Knowing the happiness and love and satisfaction and peace and joy and beauty and friends and family -- to share all of that.  And the grace of God.

This is the day.  Now is the time of salvation.  To experience the fullness of life.

My second take-away:  take note of the list that Paul gives of all that he has endured for the gospel and the church in Corinth:

  • Afflictions

  • Hardships

  • Calamities

  • Beatings

  • Imprisonment

  • Riots

  • Labor

  • Sleepless nights

  • Hunger

It's a lot like parenting J.

But note what Paul does not do here:  he does not play the martyr.  You know, 'see how much I've suffered for your sake'.  That's not what Paul is doing.  Instead, Paul matches this list with another list with what enables him to endure:

  • Purity

  • Knowledge

  • Patience

  • Kindness

  • Holiness of spirit

  • Genuine love

  • Truthful speech

  • The power of God

And then he follows that with a list of seven dyads:

We have been treated as imposters yet are true
As unknown yet are well-known
As dying yet are alive
As punished yet not killed
As sorrowful yet always rejoicing
As poor yet making many rich
As having nothing yet possessing everything


What is Paul doing here?  I don't think Paul is laying a guilt trip.  Just the opposite -- I think Paul's message in essence is this:  if I can rejoice in light of all I have endured, think how much more so can you.

Paul's not trying to make anyone feel sorry for him, or guilty.  He wants them to celebrate with him how God has enabled him to triumph over all these trials and tribulations.  And therefore how God is available to us to do the same.  This Paul's own personal Easter story.  The powers that be will not destroy him.  God has turned every defeat into a victory.  Every loss into a gain.

Many of you know the story of Andy Laird and his bicycle accident about 5 weeks ago on Memorial Day weekend.  He broke his neck, nearly killed him, airlifted to the hospital in Bend (Oregon).  It has left him partially -- and hopefully temporarily -- disabled.  He's regaining some of his abilities, it's just wonderful to see how he's healing.  I finally got to see him, now that he's in Eugene, and I was so touched by his spirit.  You would think if anyone would have cause to be bitter about life (if you know Andy, very outgoing, very much an outdoorsman), and here he is now in a wheelchair and a halo brace that keeps his head immobile, and spending so much time in the hospital.  And it's possible he may never walk again.  But, this is what I took away from that visit with him:  his spirit.  His spirit is incredibly positive and hopeful, and he has this attitude that this is going to change his life for the better.  I think Andy has a powerful witness in him to give as a result of this.

Paul provides us with a witness to that kind of divine reversal.  From the cross of Good Friday to the resurrection of Easter that is available to all of us.  Does it always happen when tragedy strikes?  No.  Bad things do happen to good people.  And sometimes it cannot be redeemed or turned into something good.  But that such can happen is the foundation of our hope.  And that it ever happens through no credit of our own is a cause of wonder and joy for which we can only praise God.

Lastly, Paul concludes with a message that I think is very appropriate for us on this Father's Day.  Asking his children in Corinth to open their hearts as wide as he has opened his.  Now, I know many of you have children.  All of us here have or have had parents, some you might call your father or mother is someone to whom you were not born.  In some cases it may be someone you chose later in life because your own parents, for whatever reason, were not able to fulfill that role. 

Whatever the case may be, call to mind as a child or as a parent what it means in that role to say "my heart is open wide to you".

Recall the things that your parents did for you, or that you did for your children.  Remember that time your child was so sick or injured and how you would have done anything in your power to take away some of that pain.  Or maybe something your parents did for you.  Something they gave up so that you could have that gift or that experience or go to college.

Parents know about hearts open wide because it is that unconditional love we feel for our children.  And even when parents are estranged from their own children (and it sometimes happens), that love often remains there, sometimes hidden beneath the surface looking for a way to get out.

Fred Craddock, the great Disciples preacher, tells the story of a fellow minister he knew who was born without any arms.  He and his wife Nettie were visiting with the armless preacher when the preacher shared his story of how he learned how to dress.  His mother, of course, dressed him and fed him.  And every day, she would dress him and feed him.  Dress him, fed him.  And so the days went.  And then one day the mother came in with his clothes, put them on the floor in the middle of the room, and said "You're going to have to dress yourself".

He said "I can't dress myself!"  She said "You're going to have to learn, because I'm not going to do it any more".  And she left.

He couldn't believe it.  He was stunned.  He began to cry.  He rolled on the floor and threw the biggest, meanest, baddest tantrum he could, kicking his feet and screaming and yelling and crying.  And he screamed out "You don't love me anymore!".  And she didn't come.

After he got hoarse, cried out, he finally realized that if he was going to wear any clothes he was going to have to figure it out himself.  It took him several hours, but he did it.  It was only later he learned that his mother was in the next room the entire time, crying.

To have hearts open wide is to know and to feel that kind of love.  Not only for your family, but for people around you, for people here.  Well, maybe not everyone.  That's for God.  Sometimes I wonder if even God is up to the task.  But, I think so.

But to know there are people here in this room, here in this community, who matter so much to you that you know in their time of need you'll be there.  You'd cry with them, for them.

And there are people here who know you, who in your time of need will be there for you.  Crying, with you, for you.

That's what you call a family.  Paul says that's what we call a church.


Home | About Our Church | Services | Mission | Education | Youth Fellowship
Music Programs | Join a Group | Interfaith Ministry | Sermons | Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site?  Contact the WebMasters