Read 2 Corinthians 9:1-15. What stood out to you in this reading of the text?
“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, says Paul in the same letter in which he describes the unimaginable power of separation and self-destruction within society and the individual soul. He does not say these words because sentimental interests demand a happy ending for everything tragic. He says them because they describe the most overwhelming and determining experience of his life.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.
In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life.
We experience the grace of understanding each other’s words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation.
We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted.
We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belongs to life.
And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life.
We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say “yes” to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.
I read these powerful words from a sermon by Paul Tillich many years ago. I remember they left me overwhelmed with tears at the time, but very grateful. They have always had a lot of meaning for me.
Posted March 21st, 2010
Wow, Gina. That is very free-ing. I feel lighter, having read it. Thank you for sharing!
You guys are pretty funny today! 😄
Meanwhile, back in Corinth…
Church members filled out their pledge card commitment.
The Financial Secretary sharpened his ledger equipment.
The Treasurer reviewed the Greek tax report
And established a conduit for “Jerusalem Support”.
Thanks, Amy! The people you mention are certainly using their gifts for service!! (Thank you for all YOU do for our church community, too!)
Your poetic form is brilliant! Not only do you have the rhythm going, but those multi-syllabic rhymes are something! Your poem is wonderful--what a gift you had, and you shared it with us! Thank you!
My thoughts jumped in many directions in response to this reading. It focuses on several different gifting situations since "Gift-giving is entwined with the Christmas season." For me, this devotional entry got deeper and deeper, and so did my thoughts!
In the Bible verses for this entry, the Apostle Paul seems concerned in verses 4 and 5 that this wonderful gift he's been telling others about might not be forthcoming, and that could be embarrassing for him and for others. He follows that with comments about the need for people to contribute that with which they feel comfortable. His approach seems a little passive-aggressive to me: I promised you'd have this, and I'll be embarrassed if you don't. Give only what you're comfortable with, but God loves a cheerful giver. If you sow sparingly, you reap only sparingly. Paul sounds to me like he's trying to "guilt" the Corinthians into doing the right thing about contributing to this promised gift.
The devotional book refers to the "wildly precious yet impractical" gifts the wise men brought to Jesus. I have seen funny cartoons that suggest gifts from three wise women would have been more practical:
However, I've always thought there must have been a practical use for those expensive gifts from the wise men. I don't ever remember learning about what happened to the expensive gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Does anyone know? Did those items help pay for food and shelter when the Holy Family fled to Egypt? Or did the Wise Men arrive after the family returned from Egypt? (I've heard that all those Christmas card pictures of the wise men at the stable are inaccurate.)
I have seen other cartoons that suggest wise women would have also asked directions. However, the wise men did ask directions: Matthew 2:2 tells us they said, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? . . ." Then Herod called them in, and, as a result, Herod had many children killed. What a horrific outcome! My theory is that this is why, to this day, men are hesitant to ask for directions.
One thing is for certain, though--the wise men gave freely from their hearts. They did not need any external nudging like Paul thought the Corinthians did.
The devotional author moves on to discuss the gift of Christ, first, in giving up His place with God to become a servant here with humankind and, lastly, making the sacrifice of death on the cross. Wow! The author had previously mentioned gold as "wildly precious," but Christ's gift of Himself is far greater than any worldly wealth! Other than the prayer in Gethsemane, there are no other hesitations I have ever heard of in reference to these gifts. It's a bit difficult to imagine the depth of that love for us!
As I said at the start of my response, my thoughts jumped all over the place as I read this entry: Christmas, gifts from the wise men, gifts from the Corinthians, gifts from Christ. All of these are rather familiar themes, even to the point of including some humor. However, the last line of the prayer at the end of the devotional really hit me hard. "Grace-giving God, thank you for the many indescribable gifts you lavish on us. Transform our gratitude into acts of service. Amen." Service--that term really captured my attention. In the holiday season, there is so much focus on giving and getting gifts, but service means I should be putting those gifts into action for others. To me, that seems like a BIG idea that was tucked into the devotional right at the end. I was primed for presents, not homework! But that line about service puts a whole different spin on all of the other gift examples, doesn't it? With Christ as our ultimate example, service is where our gifts always should be directed, isn't it?
And that insight is the author's gift to me this day! Thank you, Angela Finet!