Monday, 31 October 2011

telling letters - Paul to the church at Corinth

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 – The Ministry of Reconciliation


Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. The better I got to know these words, the more I felt the concern of the writers for the recipients of this letter. Hypocrisy was something Jesus spoke against in the religious leaders of the temple; Paul addresses the issue in his letters, too, showing great concern for the harm that people do when they say one thing and do another, especially when the people they are teaching and leading are just beginning along the way of Jesus. This is one of the rewards for me of telling the letters - getting right inside, not only the argument, but the love of the writer for his audience. It helps me to make the message a message of love and encouragement for my listeners, here, today: not merely the complicated rhetoric we sometimes struggle to comprehend. 


For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. As I spoke these words over and over in rehearsal, I experimented with different expression. Through this process, I discovered a meaning that made sense to me: by putting the emphasis on 'we', I indicated the contrast between the writers (Paul & Timothy) and those 'who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.' This contrasting integrity is the reason Paul & Timothy offer an answer to the hypocrites leading the church in Corinth along a harmful path. 

For the love of Christ urges us on (I didn't quite settle on where I wanted to place the emphasis here - it felt again like a contrast between what urges Paul & Timothy on and what might be the motives of the hypocrites, so I went with stress on both 'Christ' and 'us', but it never quite felt right), because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. (again, the emphasis and stress was difficult to settle here, the language is sparse compared to how I would probably say it in English today, and even with expression it's not always possible to convey meaning effectively. The 'even though' follows from the previous phrase, but also leads into the next, and so is carrying quite a lot of meaning. I kept wanting to put a 'but' before 'we no longer know him' - perhaps that would have helped.)

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (this sentence felt joyful - I lifted on 'new creation', pulled back on expression with 'everything old ... ', and built up to a climax at 'become new!' And really felt Paul's excitement and passion at the good news in the story of Jesus Christ.) 

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. To this point, as with the letter from John, I had used little gesture. But here, I introduced gesture - with 'reconciled' & 'reconciling' I gestured linking my hands in front of me; held my right hand up, palm away from me for 'not counting ...', and brought my hands up in a cupping motion with 'entrusting' - hopefully indicating that this message is a gift to treasure.  

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. I repeated the gesture of linking my hands with 'be reconciled to God'. 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. I slowed down the last phrase, in a sense of reverence for God and the gift this is to us. Even so, it felt inadequate, because I feel as though 'righteousness' has lost meaning for us. I wonder if retranslating it, or including some further explanation to more effectively convey what Paul might mean by 'the righteousness of God' in this context ... ? 

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