2 Corinthians 3: 7-18
The chapters in 2 Corinthians that begin with this evening’s lectionary reading have always been one of my favorite selections from Scripture. 2 Corinthians 3-6 contain some of the most beautiful writing in all the Bible. You are no doubt familiar with some of the verses: "The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Or, "For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen." Or again, "For we walk by faith, not by sight." There is also"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
This selection of Scripture is also particularly relevant this evening as I address a chapel full of seminarians and potential seminarians. Why? The context of the entire letter of 2 Corinthians is one long sustained argument that Paul is having with the Corinthians in which he defends his ministry. We know from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that Paul did not get along well with this church, and that there were those who challenged his ministerial credentials. Under similar circumstances, we ourselves might well be tempted to respond with an outburst of temper: "Because I’m the apostle, and you’re not! That’s why!" There is a little of that toward the end of the letter when Paul warns them: "What we say by letter when absent, we do when present." (2 Cor. 10:11) So, the Daddy apostle is coming home, and boy are you going to get it!<more/>But, Paul is, after all, Paul. And Paul is nothing if not a theologian. So before Paul warns them at the end of the letter that if they don’t straighten up, they will be sorry, Paul does what Paul does. He theologizes. And for this we can be grateful, because Paul defends his ministry by a theological reflection on ministry that contains these wonderful three chapters from chapter three though chapter six. In this selection, Paul provides some of his most profound insights on the meaning of redemption and Christian life. The heart of Paul’s defense of his ministry is that as an apostle, he is a minister of God’s new covenant in Christ Jesus, a covenant written not in the stone letters of the ten commandments, but in letters of love written by the Holy Spirit on human hearts.