Yesterday was Baby Jessica 25th anniversary. That’s what she was called as the world watched her rescue from the water well when she was only 18 months old, and she is still called that today. The story of her falling into the well is listed as one of the top stories of the last quarter century. It happened at her aunt’s house in Midland, TX in the backyard where she fell through the narrow opening of an abandoned well. Scraped and squished some 20 feet down, she sang a song about Winnie the Pooh, to her family up above. Soon the news cameras were on the scene and little Baby Jessica’s plight captivated the country, and even world’s, attention. Only the coverage of Princess Diana’s death that year was more popular.
The 25th anniversary of Baby Jessica’s rescue is significant because it was the day her trust fund was to mature and she could finally have access to it. All the donations that were made to Baby Jessica by well wishers at her rescue 25 years ago were put in this restricted fund. The amount is believed to be about $800,000 – a gift gushing up to her, that amounts to a pretty sizable check, like winning the Lottery! Or a trip around the world? Or a new house? What will she do with it?
Jessica is a pretty normal, laid back kid, her parents have said. She still lives in the Midland area, just a couple miles from the water well. She married young like her parents, and has two children: Simon, 4, and Sheyenne, 18 months. Maybe she’ll use the money for her medical bills and the 15 surgeries she’s had already to repair her injuries from the ordeal. Or for her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis she continues to be treated for. But Jessica has never wanted to exploit her experience. She has granted only three interviews in all these years. And in the one that she did with Matt Lauer at age 21, he asked her about the scar on her forehead. “Don’t you want plastic surgery to remove it,” Matt asked her? “No,” she said. “I’m proud of all my scars. I have them because I survived.” (“It’s my reminder that I’m still here, when I could have not been here.”) So, what will Baby Jessica do now with the trust fund money? She has always said she will put the money in a new trust fund for her children’s education, and keep on living her low-key life. She intends to have the gift, keep on giving.
The Samaritan woman received a gift gushing up to eternal life, the day she met Jesus at Jacobs well. Through her conversation with the Messiah, she was changed. She left her bucket behind, and with her thirst quenched, she went to share the good news with her neighbors – a gift that keeps on giving.
The Samaritan woman was like Nicodemus in one respect, that at first, she mistook Jesus’ offer as some kind of earth bound miracle, like a new well down the road somewhere, just like Nicodemus wondered how you could enter the mother womb a second time. But she is unlike Nicodemus in that she does not give up on the conversation with Jesus at that point, and so her perseverance is able to lead to transformation and change. Nicodemus came in the darkness of night, she comes at high noon, in broad daylight. Nicodemus was a respected leader of the Judeans, while the woman is un-named, a Samaritan and bitter enemy of Israel, her faith suspect. Nicodemus tells no one. The woman from Samaria activates her whole town. Nicodemus slinks away in silence, she presses on and shares the good news, becoming a conduit for “many more” believers to come to Jesus.
When have “we” been like Nicodemus and let the conversation die out, unwilling to pursue it, or afraid of where it is going? And how can we be more like the Samaritan woman, having the courage to go deeper with Jesus? Where is Jesus in the conversations with our family, friends, and others out in the world? What does it take to press ahead and be transformed and changed, more and more into the image of God?
The Samaritan woman at the well used her worldly experience, to stay open to the heavenly message, of God, in Jesus. That he talked with her at all was unusual. And the words he used were respectful and engaging. But she was on her guard, none-the-less. Only when Jesus changed the conversation, “Go, call your husband, and come back,” did she begin to understand. And that he knew so much about her, the life she had had: 5 husbands and counting, everything! And yet there was no word of judgment, must have been refreshing! What is life-changing for the woman is, according to her, that she has been entirely known by him, and this being known, has enabled her to know him. Jesus reveals himself first to her, and, through their encounter, to her neighbors, and then to us.
At the well, both the Samaritan woman, and Baby Jessica, sow the seeds for change, and we are gathered up, the fruit of a harvest for transformation! Jessica said as much, that she herself was not really changed in her 2 day ordeal at 1 ½ years old. She can’t even remember it, she says. And yet her life has slowly been shaped by it and she has become a conduit for our transformation. Jesus worked through her, just as he did through the Samaritan woman, to bring others to faith.
When Matt Lauer interviewed Jessica, he asked her if she’s ever been able to understand why so many people became so emotionally involved in her rescue and her life. “I explain [it] to myself,” she said, “that I believe that people cared so much because they would hope that somebody would care that much about them.” “In a way, helping me out, and caring about me, helped them out.”
The Samaritan woman both believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and became a conduit for others to believe. She left her water jug behind, absent-mindedly, or intentionally, we don’t know for sure, by coincidence or on purpose, in reality or metaphorically. But either way, she doesn’t need it now. Now she is drinking of “the living water, the spring of water in her, gushing up to eternal life,” she is “rejoicing together with sower and the reaper.” She brought others to faith as a conduit, a pipe-line that can be attached directly to Jesus, even without her. At the well, she didn’t give up on the conversation with Jesus. Can we hang in there and go deeper with Jesus? In our darkest hours do we have it in us, like the pure innocence of Baby Jessica, to sing a song, stay in conversation, trusting in our rescue? Do we have the courage like the Samaritan woman to risk letting Jesus know everything about us?
In the waters of Baptism, we have already been named and claimed, its waters quench our thirst, and we are raised up with Jesus to live a new life. Our lives have been re-shaped by these deep waters, and “we have heard the good news for ourselves,” and “we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
I’m the last guy in the world to ask about how children are born! I don’t have any children of my own. I’ve never been present at a birth. And I am not capable of birth myself. But, I’ve seen enough stories and sitcoms, on TV and the silver screen, that I feel like I know, almost everything there is to know, about being born! I’ve seen mothers in premature labor, and mother’s having false labor pains. Babies born breach, and blue babies. Babies with the cord wrapped around their necks, and of course, born by emergency C-section. One thing they do all seem to have in common though, is that “the water breaks,” before the labor process proceeds.
Jesus refers to this universal ‘water breaking image,’ with Nicodemus, to try and evoke the birth he is talking about, a birth we receive in Baptism that comes from the Spirit. “No one can enter the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus, “without being born of water and the Spirit.”
One of the leading indicators of public health, we know, is the rate of infant mortality. And in the U.S., we’re lagging behind. In fact, compared to other industrialized countries we are one of the worst, coming in at number 46. We’re also one of the only wealthy countries where health care isn’t seen as a fundamental right. One of the only ones, in short, that hasn’t had a public plan to cover medical care for every citizen, although there is hope with last years’ legislation under the Obama administration that this is changing. But it is still painful and embarrassing that the U.S. trails behind countries like the Czech Republic, and even Cuba, on the scale of infant mortality!
As usual, the devil is in the details, for we find that the rates of infant mortality are not the same across the board in our country, even in our city. In communities where nutrition is low, a key ingredient to healthy births, the infant mortality rate can be double the average. Low nutrition, usually follows low income, and where these two come together, we discover that we have what’s being called, “food-deserts,” in our city.
So if, say, by the luck of the draw, you’re born into a family of low income and have no health insurance, and your mother had no one to tell her about the importance of nutrition during pregnancy, your chances of dying in the first year of life are roughly double that of all others, here in Chicago.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “if I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” Where is God in the darkness of our earthly desert wanderings?
Nicodemus, we know, came to Jesus by night, a metaphor for unbelief, ignorance and temptation, in John’s gospel. But Nicodemus is at least trying, compared to the other Judean leaders, who don’t have any openness to Jesus at all, and didn’t even bother to approach him. And Nicodemus, toward the end of the gospel at the cross, is there with Joseph of Arimathea, helping to prepare Jesus for burial, an act that can be seen as a great kindness and showing faith.
But here, meeting Jesus for the first time, Nicodemus is missing the boat at every turn. He shows his night-time ignorance by assuming that it’s the signs, or miracles Jesus does, which are the proof that he is the Son of God, instead of his glorification in the cross, resurrection and ascension. And finally he misunderstands Jesus when he says born “from above,” assuming Jesus is using the Greek words’ other meaning, which is, “born again,” or “born anew.”
So, no matter what Jesus says to Nicodemus, he doesn’t get it: he doesn’t “see” the kingdom of heaven, or know how to “enter” it, because he can’t even understand the earthly things about being born.
How about us? Can we get the “earthly things” right at least? Can we understand how food deserts are created, and sustained, day after day, right here among us? Can we learn how to care for the least of these, the mothers and babies in all our hospitals, our elderly and mentally ill in our nursing homes, with passion and commitment? If we can’t understand these earthly things, how can we understand the heavenly things Jesus is offering us?
“What is born of the flesh is flesh,” said Jesus, “and what is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’”
Not everyone can be categorized and statis-ticized into a little box, of course. This isn’t just a social experiment, but this is the world that God loves, instilled with the Spirit of Christ, who has interjected salvation into our lives, by way of the cross. Out of our food-deserts, God chooses to raise people up, and the Spirit is alive, even if we can’t see where the wind is blowing. Who would have guessed, for example, that one Michelle Robinson, growing up in a food-desert neighborhood, would have married one Barack Obama, and be living in the White House, and teaching America now about child nutrition?!
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
Jesus is abundantly clear in the gospel of John that he is the Son of God: he is the light of the world, and the light of day that conquers the night, and he testifies to how God will vindicate and glorify him through the cross, resurrection and ascension. We can come by night, and take our chances that we’ll be courageous enough to be there with him at the end. But we have everything we need to follow and believe right now – to be “born from above.” “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The journey of rebirth “from above” is to be born anew in baptism, by “water and Spirit.” Just as a new birth here on earth is signaled by the breaking of a woman’s water, so are we reborn as children of God, when we are washed in the water of baptism, and we receive God’s Holy Spirit. It is a mystery why we are chosen, but not to who we testify about. We may be astonished that we have been given faith, and “born from above,” but as we begin to live a new life, washed and clean and new, we are clear that we do not walk through the desert alone. But together, the whole people of God are being brought to the promised land. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Are we still skulking behind the trees!? Hiding behind buildings, behind excuses, tempted to hide who we are, so that God won’t see our naked vulnerability, like Adam and Eve in the Garden? Having joined in eating the forbidden fruit, and gaining the knowledge of good and evil, is this what makes us so cultured, so wise and discerning to know how to put away our shame, and display who we want to be, instead of who we are?
We are smart enough now to know right from wrong; smart enough, and grown up enough to judge others, and sometimes even ourselves. But, have we realized, have our eyes been opened yet, to the fact that God knew our nakedness even before we sewed on these fig leaves? Do we really think we can hide from God, who knows us inside and out, through and through?
Jesus, in our gospel today, encounters the same Serpent that Adam and Eve were taken-in by. He wrestles with temptation and sin, in his humanness, and conquers them for us, by his divine nature as, Son of God. Jesus- makes a way for us.
The temptation of Jesus follows immediately after his baptism, where he had been “outed” by the Spirit as God’s Son, the beloved, and then sent into the wilderness to “fast for 40 days and 40 nights” by that same Spirit. How then does Jesus resist changing stones into bread when he is famished? Or resist letting angels catch him in their hands while performing a very public swan dive off the Temple? Or, while being shown the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, resist having autocratic control “of all the kingdoms of the world?” Maybe the Son of God can resist theses things, but certainly we aren’t expected to, are we? Adam and Eve couldn’t even resist an afternoon skack, a simple pick-me up! What’s going on here?
It’s worth noting, I think, that something has happened from the time of Adam and Eve, until Jesus was sent by the Spirit. For starters, God fulfilled the promise to Abraham and Sarah of a land flowing with milk and honey and ancestors as numerous as the sands. Not to mention, with Moses as their leader-prophet, God freed the chosen people from slavery, brought them through the Red Sea, and gave them the 10 commandments in the wilderness, on a very high mountain. And, in their disobedience, when the chosen people were punished in Exile to Babylon, God also redeemed them, bringing them home, promising them new life, just like Ezekiel described the rattling dry bones coming together and the Spirit’s breathe reanimating Israel once more. A lot has happened since the Garden of Eden. God has been working for our salvation, throughout history, which had been coming to a climax, in the person of Jesus.
So one thing the people of God have learned along the way is, there is no sin in being tempted. The crafty snake (and temptation) has been around all the while. Sin, or being separated from God and fellow humans, happens only after giving in to temptation, only after fulfilling the false desire the Serpent offers, when human nature, mistakes empty promises, for the promise of life, that only God can bring. Our struggle then is in following the way of Jesus, rather than the Serpent. And if we are followers, disciples of Jesus, why do we skulk behind trees instead of coming out and answering our baptismal call from the Spirit? Why do we think we can get away with accusing, or blaming our problems on God, our friends and our neighbors?
Perhaps it is just easier to be like the snake. We are tempted to think stones will be turned into bread, by somebody, somehow, if God wants everyone to be fed. Because, we have worked hard for what we have, and God is in the business of miracles, right? It’s tempting to go on pursuing our daily bread, without regard to why others don’t have theirs. We prefer miracles in place of responsibility and sacrifice. We ask for world peace, without working for justice. We are tempted to believe God will save us because we have been nice, rather than trust in the God who has given us life and every good gift, which tends to open our eyes to our responsibility to be co-creators with God, and care-takers of the world, and with one another.
The snake seeks to gather us in to the half-truth that, because we are created in the image of God, and thus like God, we can be just as good as God. Then we will know and understand the power we have, the entitlement we are due, and learn to take all that we want, for our own self-sufficiency.
Jesus, invites us to follow him, into a different realm. One of desire, not for what our neighbor has, but desire for life, and love, and a mutual interdependence for all. As Luther said of the 9th commandment about coveting our neighbor’s house: “we are to fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, and obtain it by a show of right, but help and be of service to him or her in keeping it.”
None of us is perfect or free from sin, but we have much better tools than Adam and Eve had to resist the Serpent. We have the scripture, from Adam and Eve to Jesus, the new Adam, and the many stories of God’s salvation history in between. We have the traditions of prayer for one another, and the practice of fasting and works of love. These disciplines of lent were passed down from our Jewish ancestors in the faith, traditions that Jesus knew and practiced. Prayer for one another and the world center us in the mission of Christ. Fasting deepens our appreciation and thanksgiving for the grace of God, and for all we have been given. Works of love and charity – helping and serving our neighbor instead of desiring what they have – provide healthy outlets for our creativity and faith life.
We do not need to skulk around behind trees and buildings any longer, but are able to confess our sinfulness openly in the presence of God and one another, for we trust that God is rich in mercy, having heard the stories of salvation from other believers. We rejoice that, even when we were dead in sin, God loved us, and relying on the power of our baptisms, that we have been made alive to this new life we share as fellow members of the Body of Christ.
Now we know, that sin separates us from the kingdom and realm of God, and from one another. And so, we still have work to do. Now we know that, being saved by Christ, we don’t have to be afraid or ashamed or try to earn it any longer, but we are free to work for the justice and peace of God’s world and all God’s people. The Serpent will work just as hard against us and the realm of God, pushing back with equal determination, for the devil seeks to isolate us one from another, to divide and conquer, and tempt us toward meaningless power and personal gain,. But in the body of Christ, that cannot happen. We have been “outed” as God’s beloved children. Hiding is not an option! Now, we have no shame in the presence of God, but trust in forgiveness, and the hope of new life in the resurrection.
Jesus called it a “vision,” as they came down the mountain, down from the experience of the Transfiguration. And we usually think of the Transfiguration of Our Lord as a visionary and spiritual moment, a revelation or a theophany. Yet it seems to me that it is equally, if not more so, about the physical touch of Jesus in our lives.
The narrative of Jesus’ Transfiguration in the gospels is a perfect book end to Jesus Baptism, and so it is always read at the end of this season of Epiphany, just as his baptismal story always begins it. And if the themes of Epiphany, as we say, are about revealing and light, this reading is particularly illuminating: the un-named mountain which Jesus climbs with his disciples, the symbolic place of divine revelation, brings back memories of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, surrounded by his closest disciples who witness the glory of God in an overshadowing cloud, and hear God speaking from it.
And so, when Jesus shines like the sun and is seen talking with Moses and Elijah, he is revealed, and we come to know, that he is their peer, their equal. And when God speaks to the disciples out of the bright cloud and Jesus alone remains, we know that Jesus is also, more, than their equal. When God speaks the exact same words on this mountain that God spoke at his baptism, which only Jesus had heard, “this is my Son the beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” we the reader, some miles down the road, are now let in on this secret about their relationship. And when Jesus, standing alone, “tells Peter, James and John not to tell any one about this vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead,” we know that this is a revealing of Jesus’ resurrection, a proleptic foreshadowing, ahead of time. In all these revelations, we are filled with a new and wonderful knowledge.
Still, knowing all this, what leaps out at me from this story today, from this theophany, is Jesus’ touching them in the moment of their fear, when they are overwhelmed and afraid for their lives. Peter’s initial reaction to the vision of Jesus’ transfiguration and his conversation with Moses and Elijah, had been joy and excitement, which led to his offer to make 3 dwellings for them, to do something constructive. But after the heavenly voice overwhelms them from the bright cloud, Peter, together with the other disciples, fall face down on the ground, feeling their utter vulnerability. And that’s when Jesus reaches out to them, and touches them, saying, “get up, and do not be afraid.”
Where are the places, I wonder, where we are touched, here in worship? We make contact and exchange greetings as we gather for the service, or as we are sent out to serve the world, and as we enjoy coffee hour. We also exchange the Peace of Christ with one another, with a hug or hand shake, a touch on the shoulder or in the ancient Kiss of Peace. And then, most intimately, we receive the touch of healing and wholeness at the healing station, both in the balm of anointing with oil, and in prayer in the name of Christ, a very sacramental-like experience of restoration and hope, that comes from the power of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus heals with physical touch often throughout the gospel of Matthew. Reaching out with compassion, he touched the leper, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two blind men, healing the ailments of each, and restoring them to the community. He offered more than good will and well wishes, Jesus, with the power of God, put his hands on them and physically touched them, made a real and holy connection, fully human, fully God.
It is no coincidence that we say to one another, ‘we are touched’ by a certain experience, in the sense of our hearts being touched, being transformed in our whole outlook, so that our lives are, changed. And this meaning is captured in our own Unity Vision Statement: “to be an urban green space, welcoming everyone into a holy encounter, where we are changed…” touched, you might say, transformed. The holy encounter in our gospel reading, couldn’t be clearer. Jesus is transfigured dazzling white as the sun, in order that we may be transformed, and changed. And being changed, touched by a holy encounter with Jesus, we are ready to turn around and go back out, the way we came in, which is basically the definition of “repentance,” “that all may be fed, as Jesus feeds us.” So, call it repentance, or call it transformation or changed hearts, but it is Jesus’ touch that makes all the difference.
The Edgewater ecumenical community is trying to make a difference, a transformation, in our neighborhood Nursing Homes. It began about a year ago, when the Sommerset Place was closed down by the state for a number of health and safety violations. The local media continue to raie up the issue, and just this week in a Rogers Park NH, another resident died due to neglect. What is the holy encounter, we wondered, that can effect change? And so we took action to train a dozen or so teams that volunteered from our Edgewater faith communities, to visit the people in our institutions, to support and hear the stories of our neighbors who are living and working there. Trudy, Lynette and I were eager to visit at the All American NH just on the other end of our block, a place where we use to visit our members Barb and Cindy. Yesterday, we made just our second visit. It had been a good initial encounter the first time, when we met a number of folks on an easy going Saturday afternoon. This time, as we entered, we could barely say hello and introduce ourselves to the hospitality person, when up ran the deaf-mute man from our first visit. His hands were extended and he ran first to Trudy, giving her a big hug, moaning with joy in his sing-song pitch! Then the same greeting for Lynette and I.
It was a touch that was full of welcome, and peace, and healing. Someone’s heart had been changed and transformed! I know mine had. And obviously our new friend’s had. I suspect the same is true for Trudy and Lynette’s as well.
When Jesus comes to touch Peter, James and John, who have fallen to the ground overwhelmed by a holy, awesome fear of the almighty, he lays hands on them to reassure and restore them, in combination with the words, get up, or literally, “be raised.” The same word is used of Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion, the word the angel used, the angel who sat on the large rolled away stone from Jesus’ grave, whose “appearance was like lightening, and his clothing as white as snow,” to announce Jesus’ resurrection. “He is not here,” the angel said to the women trembling in fear, “he has been raised.”
Do you see what is being revealed? Jesus’ touch “raises” us by transforming our lives and changing us. Let us go down the mountain for now, into the valley of Ash Wednesday and Lent, expecting a holy encounter, because Jesus is with us always now, ‘touching’ us, that we may touch and transform others.
Does anybody know what Paul is talking about today?! “I do not even judge myself,” he says. “I am not aware of anything against myself.” Really? You haven’t done anything wrong in your entire life? You think you’re above the law?
What’s going on here? I want us to listen to these verses again, but this time from the Message translation, an excellent contemporary paraphrase by Eugene Peterson:
“Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them. The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge. It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. I’m not aware of anything that would disqualify me from being a good guide for you, but [even] that doesn’t mean much. The Master makes that judgment…” (1 Cor. 4:1-4)
Okay! It’s something about judgmental-ism vs. judgment. It’s about reliable and faithful guides in our life, and not about ranking people.
In Corinthian society, the number one social more of the time was honor vs. shame, or praise vs. blame. So, in your relationships, you’re always trying to avoid being “shamed” while at the same time seeking “honor” in your neighbor’s eyes. To be praised instead of blamed. You can imagine the energy it takes to keep up pretenses. And running a close second to “honor/shame” was, patron vs. client. Everyone had someone above them to whom they were indebted, and meanwhile you cultivated as many clients as you could, that owed you. Jesus, and Paul following him, spoke out against these societal value systems. So when Paul says, “It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion,” he’s addressing these issues head on. How they rank him is not important to the gospel message he has preached. We know that Paul has been attacked by the “Apollos faction” in the Corinthian church. They complain that he’s not an eloquent or powerful speaker; he’s not as wise as Apollos; he doesn’t support their elevated positions by which they “lord it over others” in the church.
So Paul uses himself as an example, not to lord it over others, but to be a reliable and faithful leader, a leader who is a servant. And in that we certainly can hear the words of Christ. Paul points them towards the big picture, that ultimately, we have only one Judge, God. It’s not that Paul thinks he’s perfect. In other places he confesses his many shortcomings and sins. As a former persecutor of Christians, he even calls himself the “chief sinner.” But he also knows God’s grace. And if grace comes to him, the chief sinner, it can come to all of us. And together, we can live into the forgiveness of Christ, knowing that we no longer have to live by rankings, or by honor vs. shame. Now we live by grace through faith. Judgmental-ism is overcome.
But, in this in-between time, as Paul describes it, waiting for the glorious Day of Christ’s return, we still need to render good judgment in dealing with one another, remembering who is the true and fair Judge of all.
When I was younger, much younger, like back in middle school, I remember there was always one friend’s house we hated to go to, our friend Steve Godar. Because whenever we went there, Mr. and Mrs. Godar were the grumps of the century, and always made you feel like dirt, shamed. ‘What are you doing here,’ they even said to their own kids! And every once in a while they’d shout something else down at us: ‘What are doing in the basement? You better not be making a mess! Don’t you have anywhere else to play?’ In their basement, they had this really cool jukebox, a real one. It was rigged up so you didn’t have to put any money in, just punch the buttons, A-11, and it would play, “Eight Days a Week,” by the Beatles, B-3 and it played “Wild Horses,” by the Rolling Stones, H-6, Roy Orbison, and D-12, the Jackson Five. What could be better?! But it got to be that just the thought of walking over to their house and having to get by the judgmental barrage of disapproval at the front door, was more daunting than the appeal of that cool jukebox. Sometimes all it took was a scowl or disapproving look from Mr and Mrs. Godar, and you got an ugly feeling about yourself. Who wanted to be in that environment? They seemed more like “security guards,” as Paul says, than “reliable” parental “guides.”
Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians, we know, was grounded in love, the love of Christ that had been shown to all believers. In chapter 13 he says it so beautifully:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This is the cosmos, the world, of our God, the new age of Christ, that Paul wanted to gift them with, in place of the burden of, honor vs. shame, and client vs. patron. There can be no Mr. and Mrs. Godar’s in our Corinthian church, Paul wrote to them! We do not shame our brothers and sisters, we do not trade in judgmental-ism.
It’s not that Paul doesn’t believe in rendering a judgment where judgment is needed. He does that more than once in this letter, citing, factionalism, immorality, and exclusionism at the Lord’s Table. Somewhere on a sliding scale between the nasty judgmental-ism of the Godar’s, and a false “niceness” face that we sometimes put on, that ‘everything is okay,’ is a place where we can sit down and talk with one another about expectations and behaviors that may need a judgment of right and wrong, or where we can just come to a place where we ‘agree to disagree.’ It’s the place, says Paul, where we can still be sisters and brothers, united in the Body of Christ. We have seen Paul do it when he calls out those involved in factionalism, yet also insists that the Corinthian congregation is “holy,” as he does in the opening of his letter, and in the 3rd chapter, where he insists they are, “God’s temple.”
“So,” says Paul in our last verse today,
“don’t get ahead” of the one-and-only real “Master, and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of – inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the “Well Done” of God.”
Even now, this is the judgment we live by, the commendation and approval from God, not the indebtedness and judgmental-ism that others seek to hold over us. God hears and knows our inner motives, purposes and prayers. And, as servants, we live and express those with one another within the Body of Christ here and now, and in the body and blood we joyfully receive, around the banqueting table. “what a blessedness, what peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms,” as our sending song says. We live by, God’s commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Go in peace!”