2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
This morning I would like to begin my sermon by showing you a clip, once again. This time it comes from The Lord of the Rings, more specifically The Two Towers, the second instalment this famous trilogy. For those who might not be familiar with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the main character of this high-fantasy movie a very ordinary individual named Frodo Baggins, played by Elijah Wood. There is absolutely nothing special or particular about him. Yet, after a series of encounters and events, he is caught in great epic confrontation between forces of good and evil. Frodo’s specific mission to take on a very dangerous journey to a distant mountain to destroy a ring, a powerful artefact that many want to possess at all costs. After several obstacles and tribulations, our hero reaches the point that he is just ready to give up; he feels he cannot do it anymore. Sam, his travelling companion, offers these following words…
When we look at the world surrounding us, it is often tempting simply to give up because we come there are no such things as a happy end. After very recent terrorist attacks in Manchester, London, Paris, and also Melbourne, Kabul and Tehran, we can only but wonder how can the world go back to the way it was after such violence. How can we remain engaged in our society when elected leaders consolidate their powers through lies and deceit. How can we keep a shred of optimism when the climate changes crisis does not receive any serious answers. Too often, we feel like a few individuals lost in a sea of ignorance, selfishness and political games. We doubt we can make a real difference. We are unsure we can still find some signs of hope in our fellow human beings. As Frodo wonders, on what can we hold on to?
Maybe the apostle Paul felt that way when he was on the verge of ending his last letter to the Corinthians. He had all the reasons in the world to walk away from the community of faith he established previously. To say that the early church at Corinth was dysfunctional would be an understatement. The Corinthian community was torn by many fights, interpersonal rivalries, spiritual arrogance, lack of sensitivity toward less experienced members, sexual immorality, and theological conflicts, just to name a few. And if this would not be enough, some sort of super-apostles within the congregation has challenged Paul’s authority. This group was determined to discredit the apostle by outshining and outspeaking him.
Most of us in a similar situation would have said, the heck with it. They do not want to listen, so be it. I am done wasting my time with them. Let them argue with one another and see if I care. However, Paul remembered that there is some good in this world and it is worth fighting for it. The man known for his hot temper and uncompromising statements surprises us by behaving like a faithful parent who does not condone nor abandon a troubled child. After the storm of tears, rebukes, recriminations and self-justifications in his letter, Paul concludes with an ultimate attempt to reach out to the Corinthians. His last words are an appeal to order, mutual agreement and peace. Stop playing games, he asks them. Put your differences aside and try to agree with one another. Go beyond your divisions and find ways to live in harmony.
I know. These simple words are far from being new or revolutionary. Yet they are still as powerful as they were 2,000 years ago. They are still relevant and speak to us today. Yes, in our broken world driven by cruelty, hatred and injustice, we encounter many situations in which the road to reconciliation seems to be forever closed. The divisions in our church and congregations are not that different from the time of the Corinthians. The use of force and violence for political purposes is considered normal. However, Paul reminds us that it does not have to be that way. Something else is desirable, something else is required. Despite the signs of darkness present in our lives, hope is possible. Peace can exist in our midst. Transformation and renewal are not a distant dream, but a close by possibility available to all.
This might seem difficult at first glance, but it is not actually the case because all of this always begins with each and every one of us. Experience teaches us that we cannot really control other people even if we try. And almost none of us has the power to influence the great events and policies of our world. However, we have control over our own person, about what we say and do. We can begin with an honest look at ourselves. We can be courageous enough to have a sincere time of self-examination. We can detect the part we are playing in the conflicts that undermine our lives. We can identify the concrete actions we can do to facilitate reconciliation with ourselves and those surrounding us.
We do not have to be a superhero or paragon of faith to extend compassion to our sisters and brothers all around us experiencing a different context or lifestyle than ours. All of us can perform small acts of kindness every day without being asked, seen or expecting retributions of some sort. We can drive someone to an appointment, encourage a teenager struggling with self-esteem, water the garden of a busy neighbour or listening for the twelfth time the same story share by a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease with a smile on our face. We can do all of this and firmly believe that those actions and words will have a ripple effect in the lives of others.
Like the Corinthians, we need to remember we are not alone in this world. As the United Church’s New Creed says, we live in God’s world, a God of love, a God of peace, a God who makes all things new. We can face the challenges of our lives for the Risen Christ can be experienced in our midst when injustice is denounced, the injured are healed or food is shared with friends and strangers. We can create and sustain fellowship among each other because the Holy Spirit always finds ways to create spaces for communication, mutual understanding, respect and growth. Nothing in this world or in heavens can make this disappear, not even our worst divisions and conflicts.
“What are we holding on Sam?”
“There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it is worth fighting for it.”
Bombs can explode. False rumours can be spread around. Bickering and petty quarrels can drive politics. And as the Corinthians, we might be essentially just a bunch of imperfect believers. Yes… Nevertheless, we can still have hope. We can still believe in a better future. We can still continue our journeys, even the most difficult ones, because we have in our possession all that we need to relate with one another in harmony, to make a difference, and to build God’s world here and now. Amen.