Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
June 3, 2018
2 Corinthians 5: 6-17 (CEB)
So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. 7We live by faith and not by sight. 8We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home. 10We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad.
11So we try to persuade people, since we know what it means to fear the Lord. We are well known by God, and I hope that in your heart we are well known by you as well. 12We aren’t trying to commend ourselves to you again. Instead, we are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us so that you could answer those who take pride in superficial appearance, and not in what is in the heart.
13If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. 14The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.
16So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
A word that you hear thrown around a lot is “passion.” Here are a few ways that Miriam-Webster online defines passion: a strong and barely controllable emotion—a state or outburst of strong emotion, an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. We talk about people having a passion for the arts. Or we say that someone is driven by a passion to succeed. There’s an inspirational billboard you might have seen. It’s a picture of the great US Women’s soccer player, Mia Hamm. The caption says, “Kicked her way to the top. PASSION. Pass It On.” Indeed, passion, drives so, so much that we do. Passion is often the first strong emotion we feel at the beginning of a new romantic relationship—it instills this strong desire to be with the other person and get to know as much about that person as possible. Passion can be a powerful motivator that drives us to get good grades or to excel at our favorite sport or become the best musician or even employee at work.
We have a lot of passions in our lives; our spouse, our families, hopefully our work. We might have certain passions that determine our hobbies. I’m pretty passionate about bicycling and spending time outdoors. I also really like reading. Others like gardening or golfing. It might be fair to say that the things we are passionate about determine how we spend the majority of our time. In a sense, our passions have control over how we live our lives.
As we continue this morning in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is still working to defend his ministry to the Christians there. But now he’s moved from lowering himself and exalting God (as we heard last week), to talk some about what exactly a ministry of the gospel entails. As Paul, in his typical wordy fashion, works through all of this it’s almost as if he realizes that to some it might seem completely nuts! And so Paul makes this kind of humorous statement, “If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. The love of Christ controls us….” It got me thinking. What if our lives were controlled by the love of Christ in the same way that they are controlled by our passions? What if the way we spend our time and our energy and our resources was dictated by the love of Christ in the same way it is dictated by the things we are passionate about?
I must be honest in telling you all that I’m not asking that question because I have an answer. I want us all to think through this together. What would it really mean, what would it really look like if truly, completely, the love of Christ controls us? As we consider that question, I think it’s important to acknowledge first that the love of Christ can control our lives, even as we pursue different passions. That’s especially true if the love of Christ is the primary passion of our lives. But I also think we need to make a distinction between the love of Christ and passion, or even passionate love. I think it is true to say that passion can be intense, but it can also be fleeting. Most likely, we have all had many different passions in our lives—things that held our interest for a time, but then maybe fell by the wayside as new interests and passions emerged. The passion of newfound love eventually fades as reality sets in.
Passions come and go, but love is constant. For any who have experienced marriage or some other long term relationship, for any who have raised children or watched over other young ones, you understand the work that love requires. Love is not just a feeling, it’s not something that is fleeting. It’s not something you can just set aside when you get tired of it. Love is a commitment, a covenant even to care for another even more than you care for yourself, to work to make the life of others better than your own, to help one another even on the days when we may not like each other very much. Love defies all logic. The love that Christ demonstrates and calls out of his disciples is a love which changes everything. I’m talking complete transformation. Hence, Paul’s famous words at the end of this passage: “[I]f anyone is in Christ, that person is part of a new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
“The love of Christ controls us….” The love of Christ that defies all logic; the love of Christ that embraces each of us completely and unconditionally even though we are broken and imperfect; the love which Christ calls out of disciples, saying to them, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” This is the love that should control us, the love that—more than any other passion—should determine how we spend our time and our resources and our energy. “Christ’s love ‘holds together’ all that believers do.” And the wonderful thing about Christ’s love is that it is not a confining love; instead, it is an empowering love. Every aspect of our lives should be the product of Christ’s love working in and through us to transform not only us, but the whole world!
I ran across a story this week of a woman who had just won a competition. The prize was a three week all-expenses paid trip around the world; a once in a lifetime chance. But in an interview with a local news station that was one of the sponsors of this competition, the woman announced that she would not be making the trip. She had given it all up in order to stay with a friend as she went into the hospital for a crucial, and terrifying, operation. The interviewing reporter was incredulous. “Surely,” the reporter asked, “Your friend will understand? There must be other people who could come to stay with her?”
The young woman remained silent, pursing her lips. Eventually, realizing she wouldn’t get away with not saying anything, the young woman burst out, “All right. You really want to know. You think I’m crazy. But what none of you know—and I wasn’t going to tell you—is what she did for me three years ago. I was on drugs and I couldn’t stop. It got worse and worse. My family threw me out. She was the only person who looked after me. She sat up all night, again and again, and talked me through it. She mopped me down when I threw up, she changed my clothes, she took me to the hospital, she talked to the doctors, she made sure I was coming through it. She helped me with the court case. She even helped me get a job. She loved me! So, did I have any choice? Now that she’s sick herself, it’s the least I can do to stay with her. That’s far less than she did for me.”
I just can’t help but believe, and even hope, that if every Christ follower was truly controlled by Christ’s gracious love in the same way our lives are controlled by our passions, this world would be an infinitely different place, an infinitely better place. A place where we care for one another rather than condemn one another. A place where we put others’ well-being above our own. A place without greed, or violence, or pride, or fear. A place full of peace and justice and grace. A place, in fact, that may very well look like the Kingdom that God will establish here on earth once and for all. I don’t know about you, but that is a world, a Kingdom, I would like to be a part of! This is the new creation I want to see break forth—not only in my life, but in the whole world. And here’s the thing; the promise of God in Christ Jesus is that if we will have faith, we will see God’s new creation. We will see the old passing away and the new arriving.
So today, I hear Paul calling me to hand my life over to the control of Christ’s love. Maybe you hear the same. It may seem crazy, but “if we’re crazy, it’s for God’s sake.” Because “the love of Christ controls us.” And for that I am so grateful, because in that truth I can find hope that our world will indeed one day be a far better place than it is now.