Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Just imagine if Paul the Apostle existed today how much cyber bullying he would have had to endure. Can you imagine the number of negative tweets that Paul would have in his account? Can you just see the hash tags such as #FakePaul or #DeadPaul or #PaulNobody. The Corinthians were into this kind of name calling and bullying against Paul and he admitted it hurt. Churches can be stupid. After all churches are made up of people and we are all sinners. In our modern world of cyber bullying and political name calling on both sides we would all understood what Paul had to endure.
There are ironies here, also. Churches don't have to be stupid either. They have been a significant part of the educational system of whole countries and then are accused of brain-washing or anti-intellectualism. Over time, they have kept more people morally straight, and more people in intact households than all other institutions put together. They have provided more AIDS care around the world than most governments--and still they're the villains in the eyes of many Gays. You can come and go from their midst and they'll even provide you with a theory of personal conscience to justify such a move but let their light shine too brightly in quarters ruled by other religions and they are accused of "making" converts. Sometimes no matter how good you are or how much good you do someone will be unhappy particularly in our present cyber culture.
Paul's tumultuous relationship with the Corinthian community is well known. He founded it around 50 A.D., spending over a year there to nurse it along. But the honeymoon soon ended. He took off on one of his missionary journeys and the place came unglued: cliques, leadership squabbles, a little unaddressed incest, drunken liturgies, discrimination against the poor, compromise on fundamental doctrinal questions, etc.
What confused--and galled--some members were that Paul turned down any personal financing from them, thank you. As though they couldn't bear having it said of them that they didn't support their apostle. Anyhow, it all was a mess and Paul took measures to straighten things out.
The community was beginning to right itself when Paul wrote Second Corinthians. It's a self-conscious piece, with Paul still rehashing in his head the earlier goings-on. When we meet him in today's lection, he's high up on his editorial "we," as if that could provide some defense against the still vivid feelings present. But he is clearly talking about himself.
In vv. 3-10 Paul is once again reviewing his record as an apostle, and you can tell he is still smarting that his authority could ever have been challenged. But what eloquence his feelings inspire him to! --about the beatings he'd taken, about riding out the riots, getting thrown in jail, about hard work, no sleep, no food. And yet the self-image that sustained him through all this was simply that of someone passing on a message. It was a crucial message, so he had to keep his cool, and avoid making enemies. He had to have clean hands and be quite circumspect. He had to be above flattery and not too thin-skinned either. He had to positively exude love.
One thing he wasn't called upon to be was stupid. So, the ironies of his apostolic career are not lost on him. They called him a fake, but his truth beat them down every time. They wrote him off as a nobody, but his name was better known than theirs. They spread rumors that he was dead, but he kept turning up like your least-favorite relative. They said he was depressed, but who had sour looks on their faces? They said he had nothing to give, but the world chased after it anyhow. And if he was such a cipher, as they suggested, how come he was feeling on top of the world?
Tracking in this way Paul's feverish reactions to his Corinthian connection could become a full-time job. But while his response is edifying at one level, it is highly personal. That is why it makes for a welcome change when Paul tries, at least, to relate his personal maelstrom to the common lot of Christians as they try to live out their faith.
For example, in the beginning of today's reading, Paul identifies him-self as a fellow worker (As we work together) with the community in Corinth. It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination, then, to suggest that the Corinthian Christians as well as other primitive Christian communities--indeed that the churches down the ages--themselves experience what Paul has described so eloquently about himself in vv. 3-10.
To wit: a history of vilification despite the imprisonments endured for Christ, the beatings, the trials, the riots, the hard work and sleepless nights spent in prayer and service, the indifference to public opinion when speaking out for justice is concerned; the constant pressure none-the-less to be circumspect, to avoid offending, to stay squeaky clean, to refuse to be praised for the wrong reasons or co-opted by the wrong people, to be loving and even winsome, for the sake of God--and this across a battery of cultures, special interests, languages and religious sensitivities that boggle the mind. In the midst of this, the churches, like Paul, have to maintain the dignified, unapologetic stance of simply delivering a message that is rooted in God.
It's probably too fanciful to imagine churches responding to critics today with anything like Paul's spit: "Call us fakes and we'll ask to see your truth. Call us nobodies, but that's probably the only way you'll get your name in the papers. Call us depressed or depressing, but don't forget to take your pills. And don't send the undertaker too soon--the law still requires a corpus delicta. But no, we are in the age of the demure. No wonder so many Christians can't go too near the fire of someone like Paul.
There are a good many things that can be emphasized in this sermon. Everything from being stupid as a church, to cyber bullying and even the rudeness of political and public discourse. So how do we become a smart, caring and capable church? How do we stand up as Christians in a kind way to all those things we hear about the church, ourselves and our fellow Christians? Paul’s answer was simple just keep emphasizing the wonderful loving message of Jesus.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
"Why do elephants paint their toes red?"
"I don't know, why?"
"So, they can hide in cherry trees."
"I never saw an elephant in a cherry tree."
"See, it works!"
So, goes an old joke--absurdly funny because of its absence of persuasive proof.
Isocrates said that the most powerful way to be persuasive is to argue from one's own life. Paul does that in today's reading, cataloguing his own life experiences, primarily the hardships and tribulations (occupational hazards), as proof of God's sustaining grace and Paul's basis for hope.
Reflecting on the principles and practice of Baptist dissent, Brian Haymes said in 1986: "I believe that such commitment to Christ will always lead the church into social, political and economic dissent. I suppose you can have religion without political ramifications, but you cannot have the Christian religion without political ramifications. I have to pray for courage and live out my gospel's convictions in a world that is dying for a lack of dissent."
The George Harrell ranch south of Ozona, Texas, had only Sulphur water for a long time. It made wretched coffee, shriveled the frijole beans, and formed black sediment in the pipes and troughs. Then Mr. Harrell's son, Alvin, went off to the University of Texas and came back with a degree. Mr. Harrell was eager for his son to put his learning to work along scientific lines. He knew there were advancements in live-stock breeding, in range management, and in drenching livestock for stomach worms. He asked Alvin what the first thing was he would do.
Alvin said, "I'm going to do something about this awful water."
Mr. Harrell stepped back and waited for geological surveys and some scientific tests. There were none. Instead, Alvin walked across the ranch with a willow fork held before him at chest level, something like a man walking in his sleep. The older Harrell followed, shaking his head dubiously. They went a long way through the tangled chaparral. About a mile from the ranch house, the willow dipped sharply in Alvin's grasp. He scratched a mark on the hard ground with his boot heel, and said, "Drill right here."
They drilled, and struck abundant water, cold and sweet, which still provides the ranch house and the stock in the pasture. The senior Mr. Harrell told the story for a long time. "It was plain proof," he said, "of the advantages of a college education." (Frontier Life, author unknown)
When John Ciardi was editor of the literary magazine Saturday Review, he told in an editorial of his earlier years when he tried to augment a modest salary by traveling the lecture circuit as a book reviewer. Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls had just been published and was on his review list when he spoke to a literary club in fashionable Oak Park, Illinois. A funny thing happened after his talk; he tells about it:
"Following the talk, a well-dressed, soft-spoken woman asked if I could supply additional information about my statement that when Ernest Hemingway was a young boy of 10 or 12, his father occasionally took him to see prizefights. The woman said she had never heard about this aspect of Ernest's upbringing.
"I replied that young Ernest's early interest in prizefighting was a standard item in the biographical data about the great novelist. I told the woman I would be glad to look up the source material and send it to her. She thanked me, then wrote out her name and address. She was Ernest Hemingway's mother.
"It was one of life's more embarrassing moments," John Ciardi wrote, "and I have been wary of supplying personal information about authors--or about anyone else. Hemingway's mother had living proof of something different than what I was retailing."
Madame Chiang Kai-shek was asked why she was a Christian when most of her people were Confucianists. She answered, "Well, Confucianism worships ancestors but never builds old people's homes for them." She put her finger on the living proof.
Years ago, there was a famous Methodist preacher in London named Hugh Price Hughes. He was a bold and controversial figure who attracted enemies as well as admirers.
Once a prominent atheist challenged him to a public debate. Mr. Hughes accepted on one condition: Each speaker must bring to the platform as exhibits a score of persons whose lives had been changed for the better by their respective philosophies. The challenge went by default, and the debate was never held.
Halford Luccock, a popular pulpiteer earlier in this century, related in a sermon ("The Hearing Ear") of a discussion he had with a college student.
"The young man said to me with a fine, courteous air, I hope you won't mind if I say that religion is all moonshine.' I said, No, I wouldn't mind it at all.' After a bit I added, But I'd like to thank you for that word moonshine I felt like the character in the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice who keeps dancing around the room exclaiming, oh wise young man, I thank thee for that word!'
"I asked the student, have you ever been in Panama?' He said, No, but what has Panama got to do with religion?' I said, There's a lot of moonshine in Panama.' I asked him if he had ever seen a 22-foot tide come in, such as there is in Panama. If one has never seen a 22-foot tide he has missed something worth watching. There is an unbelievable lift of billions of tons of water. And what is doing it? Moonshine! The pull of another world, unseen but resistless in its force. Religion is like moonshine--unseen but powerful in the measureless lift it gives to life.
"In every century and in every land, there is the quiet eloquence of lives which have been lifted by religion to new levels of living. Their music is the gladness of the world and living proof of their faith."
An English critic said that most British novels about Oxford are written by elderly ladies on the basis of a two-day visit, thirty years ago, to Cambridge. They have no current, living proof of their observations.
"When people suggest, Jesus wants you to own a BMW' or Jesus wants you to support this politician' or Jesus wants you to give me your money,' how do we know if it's Jesus who wants it, or if it's a self-centered, short-sighted vision? Demand to see the scars of the crucifixion. Demand to see the signs of self-giving love. If the scars are there, it is Jesus. (Ryan Ahlgrim Church of the Brethren Messenger)
Bullying has morphed into something that is quickly getting out of control. While traditional bullying can stop on the playground or at school, cyberbullying continues outside of school hours. It weighs heavily on the psychological and emotional health of teens and children involved, sometimes leading to anxiety, depression and suicide.
In order to break down the barriers that keep schools and communities from effectively attacking cyberbullying, let’s start with the facts to help understand exactly how damaging the effects of cyberbullying are on teens and children.
Studies show that 81% of teens believe bullying is easier to get away with online. This sentiment can easily lead students to dismiss the consequences of bullying because they don’t believe they will get caught.
Almost 35% of teens have been threatened online, while 1 in 5 teens has experienced cyberbullying more than once. Sadly, these numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. 66% of teens who have witnessed cyberbullying have also seen others join in with the bullying, which can make matters extremely worse for the victim.
Victims of cyberbullying exhibit warning signs that parents should watch for, such as aggression, symptoms of withdrawal and lower grades than usual. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 1,599 children called the ChildLine in 2011/2012 to report bullying and cyberbullying.
There are plenty more facts available online from a variety of resources dedicated to joining the fight against cyberbullying, but the above facts should be enough to recognize that cyberbullying is out of control. Explore the opportunities to combat cyberbullying that are available in your school, community and even in your home. And if there are no initiatives in your community, you could always be the first to lead the charge. (https://www.gaggle.net/speaks/5-facts-about-cyberbullying/)
Every now and again secular progressives rip off their mask and tell conservatives what they really think of them. At a fundraiser in New York recently, Hillary Clinton one-upped President Barack Obama, who said of conservatives during the 2008 presidential campaign: “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” That came to be known as the “bitter clingers” speech.
Clinton said: “You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” She then said that some of these people were “irredeemable.” After strong pushback, presumably from some of the “deplorables,” Clinton partially walked back her remarks. She said she had been “grossly generalist and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying half — that was wrong.”
This is the contempt in which it seems the left holds traditional Americans. Anything they say “no” to is to be labeled racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic and nativist. To the left, anyone who does not share “modern” ideas is to be condemned, even called un-American and deplorable. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-hillary-clinton-deplorables-20160913-story.html)
Washington Post writer Michael Weisskopf wrote about evangelical Christians in the early ’90s. Weisskopf said they were “mostly poor, uneducated and easy to command.” That produced a torrent of critical letters and phone calls to the newspaper, prompting Ombudsman Joanne Byrd to explain the reasoning behind Weisskopf’s statement was that most journalists don’t know any of “these people.”
The two comments prompted scores of evangelicals to send their resumes to the newspaper, showing degrees, even doctorates in various fields.
In a statement released by the Republican National Committee in response to Clinton’s remarks, Chairman Reince Priebus said, “Insulting everyday Americans to a group of wealthy donors shows whose priorities Clinton really has in mind and exposes the hypocrisy of a candidate whose stated desire to unite the country is clearly all for show.” Priebus went on to accuse Clinton of condescension and disrespect to her fellow citizens.
Name-calling on both sides prevents us from hearing what solutions to America’s manifold domestic and foreign challenges the candidates propose. Perhaps the upcoming debates will help focus their and our minds.
Bad language in politics is nothing new. The 1800 presidential race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who are now held in high regard as statesmen, was the beginning of what we now call negative campaigning.
In addition to the often-scurrilous things they said about each other, Adams and Jefferson had surrogates who attempted to outdo them.
As Rick Ungar wrote in 2012 for Forbes magazine, the president of Yale University, a John Adams supporter, suggested that if Thomas Jefferson were to become president, “We would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.”
A Connecticut newspaper, noted Ungar, warned that the election of Jefferson would create a nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.”
Not to be outdone, James Callender, “an influential journalist of the time — wrote that Adams was a rageful, lying, warmongering fellow; a ‘repulsive pedant’ and ‘gross hypocrite’ who ‘behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.’” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-hillary-clinton-deplorables-20160913-story.html)
Donald Trump called his former Presidential opponent Hillary Clinton “Crooked.” He labeled U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) “sleazy,” and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) “goofy.” Contrariwise, former Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders brands Trump a “pathological liar.” U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego (R-AZ) tattoos Trump as “an abject Liar,” and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says Trump is “a 98-pound weakling.”
It may seem that name-calling has reached its high-water mark in American Politics. However, in actuality political insults in the U.S. are as old as the Republic. Thomas Paine, who wrote the 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, was a vociferous critic of President John Adams. He enjoyed belittling the President. He once deadpanned: “Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of him.”
In 1800, while seeking re-election, Adams was involved in arguably the dirtiest Presidential campaign in American history against his arch-nemesis Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson hired political pamphleteer James Callender to attack Adams’ reputation. Callender successfully spread a mendacious rumor that Adams’ ambition was to order an invasion of France. Adams coefficients labeled Jefferson: “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mullatto father.”
Adams son, John Quincy Adams, had a similar rivalry with his Presidential successor Andrew Jackson. Adams’ supporters referred to Jackson’s wife Rachel as an “adulteress” because she had not completed her divorce from her first husband. Mrs. Jackson died days before the election. An inflamed Jackson put the blame on Adams for his wife’s death, averring: “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can.”
In 1833, Harvard University awarded an honorary degree to President Andrew Jackson. John Quincy Adams, a Harvard University alumnus, boycotted the ceremony. Adams had lost his re-election bid to Jackson in 1832. In his diary, Adams called Jackson, who had no college education: “A barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.”
Ulysses S. Grant, and Donald Trump, both Republicans, had not come from the political world. Grant had risen to the Presidency through his military exploits in the Civil War. Trump through the business world. Like Trump, some politicians questioned Grant’s intellectually heft. Former Georgia Governor Joseph Brown belittled President Ulysses S. Grant, stating: “The people are tired of a man who has not an idea above a horse or a cigar.” The aforementioned quote might be expected since Brown was a Democrat, but William Claflin, the Chairman of Grant’s own party, also excoriated Grant. Claflin averred after Grant assumed the Presidency: “The cry was for no politicians, but the country did not mean no brains.”
In 1972, AFL-CIO President George Meany, a traditional Democratic ally, took a hard swipe at the Democratic party’s Presidential nominee, George McGovern. His organization endorsed Republican Richard M. Nixon instead. Meany styled McGovern as: “An apologist for the Communist world.” Some politicians have a certain knack for heaping insults on their political opponents. Lyndon B. Johnson had two creative ways of explaining his political foe U.S. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). Ford was a constant partisan critic of Johnson and delivered the Republican response to Johnson’s State of the Union Address in 1967. Johnson often mocked Ford in private, telling his associates that Ford had been the Center on the University of Michigan Football team, and jokingly said of Ford: “He’s a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off.”
In 1988, Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis dexterously capitalized on a spat between two leading candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination. Dukakis told a Democratic crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “Vice President (George H.W.) Bush and Senator (Robert) Dole have been saying some rather nasty things about each other. Senator Dole says the Vice President is not much of a leader and the Vice President says Senator Dole is not much of a leader. I don’t ordinarily agree with those guys but in this case, I agree with both of them. Neither of them is much of a leader.”
Contemporaneous political insults are no more outrageous than political insults from years past. Of course, most politicians are equipped with thick skin, and most politicians realize that politics is a dirty playground, not for the faint of heart. In 1936, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Frank Knox ridiculed President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling him “a blundering visionary and fanatic,” and said that the New Deal contained “something of Karl Marx equally as much as Groucho Marx.” (Karl Marx was the author of The Communist Manifesto. Groucho Marx was a famous comedian). Knox later became U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Roosevelt.
In truth, American politicians have been exacting discourteous barbs at political opponents since the nation was founded, and the Trump political era is no aberration. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/political-insults-in-american-politics-are-as-old-as_us_59dc22c9e4b0a1bb90b8308e)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
(Based on Psalm 9:9-13)
Leader: The Lord is our protector, the one who comforts us in our times of trouble.
People: Have faith in the Lord! God never abandons those who seek the Lord!
Leader: Sing praises to the Lord! Tell all the world of God's mighty deeds!
People: When we cry to Lord, God hears our prayers. God is our Savior, from this time forth and forevermore!
God of wind and waves, amid all the storms of this life You are always with us. Yet we sometimes doubt Your ability to deliver us in our times of need. There are times when we cry to You for help, but we hear no immediate answer. There are times when we pour out our prayers before You, but we see no response to those pleas. Almighty
God, forgive our lack of faith. Enable us to remain faithful to You, as we come to realize that You are ever faithful to us. We ask this in the mighty name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Creator God, in our times of need, You give to us. In this hour, we now give to You. Use our gifts, so that they might bring peace and hope to those who are still held in the grip of fear. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Everlasting Father, in many ways we feel ourselves being tossed to and fri by the stormy winds of life. Waves of fear and anxiety about the future crash over us. Dark clouds of sadness and grief surround us, often blocking us from seeing the brightness of Your love and glory. Winds of anger and hatred swirl about us, tossing our world into confusion, causing us at times to live in dread of what tomorrow might bring.
Amid the fierce storms of this life, O God, we pray that You would come to us and speak to us Your word of hope. Dispel the shadowy darkness of evil and fill all the world with the brightness of Your Kingdom. Calm our troubled souls and grant us that peace that goes beyond all understanding. By Your mighty hand, reassure us and encourage us so that each day we may live as Your faithful disciples. For we trust that every moment of our lives You are with us, and You will never abandon or forsake us. For Your constant care, we give You our thanks. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.