Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 2, June 17, 2012 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13; Psalm 20.1-9; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this morning’s epistle lesson, Paul continues to defend his apostolic ministry. As we saw last week, there was confusion in the church at Corinth over exactly what the apostle’s ministry should look like. Paul wasn’t acting like a guy in charge. Rather, he was suffering mightily for Jesus’ Name and sake, and appeared to be weak and sometimes indecisive. He certainly wasn’t behaving as the world expected its leaders to behave. He apparently wasn’t in it for himself. He had only one thing (and one person) on his mind—Jesus. And that just didn’t make sense to some in the Corinthian church.
And I suspect the situation hasn’t changed much from Paul’s day to ours. A quick look at Christ’s body, the Church, reminds us that it hardly has the unity for which our Lord prayed. We are at odds over a lot of things—abortion, sexual ethics, social justice, and divorce, to name just a few. And so this morning I want to look briefly at what Paul meant when he wrote that if he were considered to be out of his mind, it was for God’s sake. What does being out of our mind for Jesus’ sake mean? What might it look like and why might it even be desirable?
Given what Paul writes in today’s epistle lesson, he would tell us that it is definitely a good thing for others who do not know Christ to think that we are out of our mind for him. Why? Because after Jesus claimed Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul always had the big picture in mind. He realized that life was much more than his own particular wants and needs. As he reminds us today, each one of us will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our actions. If you are like me, that is a fearsome thing to consider. How can a sinful, rebellious man like me stand before a holy, pure, and just God, a God who hates evil of any kind? On my own merits, I don’t have a prayer when it comes to being judged by God—and neither do you.
But as Paul also reminds us, thanks be to God that those who are in Christ can have confidence when they stand before the judgment seat of God because in Christ, God has borne his just punishment for our sins himself. As Paul wrote to the Romans, there is now no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah because in Christ God has condemned sin in the flesh, our sin, and suffered the terrible consequences himself so that we do not have to (Romans 8.1-4). Elsewhere, Paul calls this being justified by God’s grace through faith. This simply means that when we stand before God at his judgment throne, despite who we are and what we have done, because we believe Christ has died for us and act accordingly, God will declare us not guilty because he has taken care of our just punishment himself. And the best part of all is that this future “not guilty” verdict for those who are in Christ has come back in the present so we can enjoy that status right now. Judgment there will be. None of us can escape it. But for those who are in Christ, the judgment will be not guilty. This, of course, is a free gift of God given to us and none of us come close to deserving it. But it’s not about us. It’s about the mind-boggling love, mercy, and grace of God poured out for us on the cross of Christ.
Not only that, but there is the hope of resurrection and new creation for those who are in Christ and Paul continues to unpack that for us today. There will be a day when we lose our mortal body and go to be with our Lord who loved us and claimed us from all eternity. After a period of rest (unless he returns immediately after we die), our mortal body will be raised and transformed into a new resurrection body. We will be reunited with it and live in God’s direct presence forever in his new creation when the dimensions of heaven and earth are fused together. We will be able to enjoy this wondrous future precisely because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
This is why Paul would encourage us to be out of our minds for Christ’s sake, i.e., to imitate him, even if it means we must suffer profusely for our Lord. The world does not understand why we would want to think and act like Jesus because it is hostile toward and alienated from God. But as Paul reminds us, what the world thinks doesn’t matter because the world and its values are passing away. Those who consciously choose to remain alienated from God often think we are fools because they see things from a worldly perspective and judge us superficially. But as all our lessons remind us this morning, God does not see or judge us by outward appearances. God sees and judges us by what he sees in our hearts, biblical language that refers to our very being, and God works his will in mysterious and often unseen ways.
And so we willingly suffer scorn, derision, and hurt for Jesus’ sake, not out of a sense of duty but out of a profound sense of love for all that God has done for and given us in Christ. It’s what motivated Paul and it is what must motivate us. Of course, we must have the help of the Spirit who lives in us to give us the needed perspective to have a grateful heart. But when the Spirit works his grace in us, we are indeed given the needed humility to have a grateful heart for all God has done for us in Jesus and it changes us down to the very core of our being. Not all at once, mind you, but over time. As we respond to the promptings of the Spirit, we discover that we are slowly going out of our mind for Christ’s sake. In other words, we become more and more like him and in doing so we find life and joy, even in the midst of our sorrow and suffering.
Why? Because especially in our suffering, we imitate our Lord and are confident that God will use our suffering to bring us to glory, just like he did with Jesus. And so we develop a different mindset and value system from the world that is opposed to God, a mindset and values that equip us to live as citizens of the kingdom starting right now, and which is pleasing to God. We remember that we will have to give an account of our life and if we really have a saving faith in Jesus, that faith will always manifest itself in our behavior. If we do not imitate Jesus in our actions there is no way we can have a saving faith. And by faith, we can also have confidence that God will see in our hearts that we are trying be like Jesus because we love him and want to please him, just the way Paul talked about in today’s epistle lesson, even when we fail.
So what does being out of our mind for Christ look like? Let me give you two quick examples of behavior that might indicate our sincere desire to love and please the Lord because of all he has done for us. In each case, the world might look at these behaviors and question our sanity, and that is for our good (and theirs). The first example deals with our mission statement, Changed by God to Make a Difference for God. We have already seen how the love of God changes us. But how do we make a difference for God? By being his agents of new creation and proclaiming the Good News to others. Being agents of new creation means, in part, that we willingly forgive those who wrong and hurt us and seek to be reconciled to them. The world, of course, would encourage us to stand up for our rights. It would encourage us not to let our enemies use us or take advantage of us. But that is not what our Lord told us to do. He told us to forgive seventy times seven, an unlimited amount. He didn’t tell us to wait until the time is right. He told us to get busy and do our part to be reconciled to our enemies. Are you doing that with your relationships that need the healing touch of Christ?
Regarding the latter behavior of proclaiming the Good News in word and deed, our culture tells us that this is a cardinal sin because it worships the gods of moral equivalence and tolerance and we can count on being persecuted if we fail to do likewise. But if Christ really did die for our sins and was raised from the dead as Paul and the other NT writers claim, and if there will be condemnation for those who are not in Christ when they stand before God’s judgment throne, how can we possibly remain silent, especially if we claim to love Jesus and our fellow human beings? Does not compute. Of course, the world will challenge this claim and we can prove none of it the way the world demands because we walk by faith, not sight. But faith does not mean we do not have certainty. We have certainty because we have the love of Christ poured into our hearts in and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Do you love others enough to keep talking to them about and demonstrating the love of Christ in your life or will you bow and remain silent before the gods of moral equivalence and tolerance? If you choose not to remain silent, I can promise that you will quickly find out what it means to be considered out of our mind for Christ’s sake and it won’t be pretty.
A second example that might illustrate being out of our mind for Christ’s sake is how we decide to allocate our financial resources. The wisdom of the world tells us to save as much as we can and look out for number one (that would be us). What happens to others is just not our concern. But since Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that God’s creatures and creation are important in God’s economy and that God intends to redeem rather than destroy his creation and us, this suggests that the conventional wisdom of the world might be a bit myopic in this area as well. Precisely because we value God’s creation and creatures, whenever and wherever we see suffering, want, and need, as Jesus’ people we are called to do something about it, even if it is costly to us. Seen from the world’s perspective, we would therefore be acting as fools, giving generously to those in need instead of looking out for number one and keeping our resources to ourselves out of fear they might someday run out.
But the world’s economy is not the kingdom’s economy. As Jesus reminds us constantly, we are not to put our ultimate trust in wealth (cf. Luke 12.13-21). We are to put our ultimate trust in God who can and does provide for us. Consequently, we are led to give generously and even outrageously because this is pleasing to God (cf. Luke 7.36-47). The only way we can really do this consistently is to remember Whose we are and the gift we have been given in our crucified and risen Messiah.
So are you out of your mind for Christ’s sake? If you are, stop and rejoice in the great gift you have been given. If you are not, don’t despair because it is not too late to give yourself to the Lord who has given himself for you. God’s love for you in Christ is the only way you can ever be out of your mind for Jesus’ sake. But when you are, it means you really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.