Paul writes, “...even though my second letter hurt you, I don’t regret it. Well, I did regret it just a bit.” (2 Cor. 7) Second Corinthians is a letter or collection of very personal letters that the Apostle Paul and some later redactors wrote to the church Paul planted in Corinth. Church leaders kept these letters and passed them along to other Christians as helpful advice. (Colossians 4:7-18) In time, the church deemed these letters as Scripture. Second Corinthians is a kind of love letter between a feuding church and its founding pastor. Paul names his stress, “We couldn’t rest, we were surrounded by problems; there was external conflict and internal fears. However, God comforts people who are discouraged! God comforted us by Titus’ arrival.” We think of the Burning Bush, angel choirs, or Prophets like Elijah but God usually arrives in more mundane everyday human ways. “Blessed are the peacemakers (like Titus) for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5) Titus’ presence brought Paul comfort and the news that the Corinthians were sad, too, and wanted to see Paul.
“Corinthians, our mouths are speaking freely, and our hearts are wide open. There are no limits upon our affection for you—open your hearts wide, too.” Paul puts a lot into those sentences. Do open hearts and open speech belong together? 1 John 4 tells us, “there is no fear in love,” If we know God deeply loves us, perhaps such perfect Love liberates us to speak freely.
On this Juneteenth weekend, let us remember how so much of the church opposed the message of the abolitionist and how even today, “is more devoted to “order” than to justice; preferring a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice” Love opens our mouths. “We see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brother-(sister-sibling)-hood… without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must (admit) that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. (Martin Luther King: Letter from a Birmingham Jail)
Love speaks its truth without putting anyone down. Love keeps a heart open. Love is patient, kind, not jealous, never bragging, not arrogant, and not irritable. Love stops counting offenses. Love wants no one to suffer. Love does not seek an advantage over another person. Love is never happy with injustice but rejoices in truth. (1 Cor. 13) An Open Heart is not crushed. Love liberates us to speak our truth and is open to hearing another person’s heart. Our mouths speak freely, our hearts are wide open- remove the limits- open your hearts wide, too Any one-way conversation, preaching, evangelism, or Bible study is not rooted in love. In The Anatomy of Peace the writers share that we must be open to learning something new if we want to have integrity while teaching others something new.
Our mouths speak freely, our hearts are wide open- remove the limits & open your hearts wide, too. What does it mean that there is a 13 chapter book in the Bible about a broken church relationship that has no resolution?(2 Cor. 13:10) Open mouths, open hearts, and an open resolution! That is strangely incarnational- messy! God is working in the messiness of life. The cross reminds us that our crucified Lord is with us, in the pain of personal betrayal, unjust courts, and self-serving leaders. The deepest wounds we carry are those we inflicted on each other. What pain we sow when we do not offer grace, forgiveness, or fresh starts to others. What loneliness do we plant when we do not listen, defend our ground, quickly judge, and shut people out of our neighborhoods, churches and families? I read a New York Times piece about how some Christians are waving the Jolly Roger and wearing pirate t-shirts boasting “take the ship” as they seek to toss those who see it differently from their denomination. It is easy to open your mouth,to have an open heart requires the presence of God. To speak freely, keep open your heart and invite others to open their hearts is holy, complex, and hard spiritual work. A heart opened by Love is not crushed. The Apostle Paul imperfectly incarnates this messy Love.
Once I got over my literalism and understood that others wrote in the name of Paul, I fell in love with the Apostle Paul again. (I would suggest Marcus Borg’s The First Paul) Paul is grappling with his own messy stuff! “I hope you will put up with me while I act like a fool. Well, in fact (if you are still reading) you are putting up with me!” Let me “brag like a fool for a bit” by the way and “I’m not writing this because the Lord told me to… I am speaking foolishly”. Let that resonate: Paul confesses not speaking for God in what becomes our Scripture. Is that perhaps an invitation for us all to lighten up? How does the open wound between Paul and the church heal? We don’t know! Paul writes: “Look, when I come to visit… I don’t want your things, I want you…” then adding pining like a bad hair-band’s lovesick ballad, “I won’t burden you… I will spend it all for you. But, If I love you more, will you love me less?” When our hearts are open, God can begin healing us in the messiness of our relationships.
Paul overstates his sense of decorum and that sense of being polite instead of prophetic has allowed preachers to overlook evil, oppression and injustice in the name of peace: “We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized.” Paul, like most prophets, loved the truth more than being loved and got up in peoples’ faces. Paul barks, “I opposed Peter to his face, because he stood self-condemned”(Galatians 2:11) “We did this with great endurance through problems, disasters, and stressful situations. We went through beatings, imprisonments, and riots. We experienced hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit (God is not done speaking), genuine love, telling the truth, and God’s power (that goes before us.) Paul’s mouth was open, speaking freely about the radical grace of God that breaks down barriers including class, race, and gender. (“In Christ there is no longer male or female” Galatians 3) This message of the absolute sufficiency of God’s grace still shakes church people up. Our hearts are open and our mouths must speak up. Love listens and speaks up. A heart opened by Love is not crushed.
Paul, Wesley, and King spoke Truth to the church! How did the church respond? Well, the response is mixed at best! John Wesley was often ridiculed and jeered. The police turned fire hoses on peaceful protesters and domestic white terrorists fire bombed Dr. King‘s home. Truth-tellers need great endurance through problems, disasters, stressful situations, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. Some people do not welcome God’s Kin-dom that brings good news to the poor and outcast! Some systems resist goodness, justice, and liberation. Open your heart, speak freely, and invite others to open up to grace but know you may be treated with honor or dishonor, verbal abuse or praise, seen fake, or authentic… dying—but look, we are alive!
Love is not afraid of the truth. Love is not afraid to learn. Love opens our hearts and minds to God’s grace. Love empowers us to speak up and out. Love knows that some people will respond to grace, justice, change with verbal abuse, dishonor, and name calling. Do not forget that Jesus taught forgiveness, included everyone, healed the sick, fed the hungry crowds, led a temple protest, and spoke out about systemic injustice. Open your mouth- remove limits- break oppressive yokes! The orthodox said Jesus had a demon. They killed him… but look, Christ is alive and going ahead of us. A heart opened by Love is not crushed. Love wins, as long as we are open to it!
Open your heart, speak your truth, remove the limits, break oppressive yokes, but do not measure your worth or mission by people’s response. Jesus’ own family tried to redirect his mission! (Mark 3) The church crucified Jesus. Open your heart, speak your truth, remove the limits and know you may be treated with honor or dishonor, verbal abuse or praise, seen as fake or authentic… think you are dying—but look, you are alive! You can’t control anyone’s response. You can not control the actions or responses of others, only your own. A riot may break out! You may not be invited back home. You may get beat down, dishonored, verbally abused- look, take stock: we are alive! A heart opened by Love is not crushed. Paul knew this deep liberating love that freed him from the prison of his legalism, judgment, and theological oppression of others. It is messy, but God is with us. Christ was crucified, dead and buried, but look on the third day Christ arose, and look, Christ is alive and going ahead of us. A heart opened by Love is not crushed.
A heart opened by Love is not crushed
Do not be afraid- perfect Love does not need fear
Keep your heart wide open .
Keep speaking freely the truth of God’s radical Love for humanity.
Remove the limits we put upon Love,
Let us always invite others to open their hearts wide.
And if our invitation is met with rejection or abuse,
Take stock- even so- we are still alive!
Love wins the victory within us ,
whenever our hearts open to Love,
A heart opened by Love is not crushed