Am I to Come to You With a Stick (Day 11 of A Simple Lent)
As we get further into this letter to the church in Corinth, we are now starting to see what has Paul so mad. Not the specific stuff, that’s coming later. We’re getting the question of authority. As in the people are starting to question Paul’s authority. Aren’t you ever going to get here, Paul? they seem to be asking. You should’ve been here by now.
As a church leader, I can totally relate to Paul.
And I can relate to the irritated congregation.
I’ve been in both places.
When I read this, I feel a little of the He Said / She Said. I start to say to myself
Well, what the heck do these people expect?
And then I wonder
But if he said he’d be back by now and he’s a month late, can’t he keep a calendar?
And in my twisted mind Paul is either a saintly worker trying to balance way too many responsibilities or he’s a negligent leader, planting more churches than he can handle.
I suppose there’s room for both to be true at the same time.
Paul is not my Dad
The image Paul uses for himself is to take on the fatherly role. And I’m not so sure this means what I think it means. Or what you think it means. He certainly doesn’t seem to be treating me like he’s my Dad. Or how I treat my children as their Dad.
One of the lessons I learned in seminary is the burden and the trouble of the church’s obsession with familial comparisons. We like to speak of church as a family. We think it is a warm image. For some it is. For some, it is a terrifying and destructive image.
This seems particularly true here as Paul seems to suggest that fatherhood is synonymous with disciplinarian. As in, “wait until your father gets home, then you’ll really be sorry!”
And many hear this, who have been victims of abuse and familial violence, and they might say “Nope! I’m outta here. You can have your church and your Bible. If Paul’s your hero, I’m done.”
I’ve heard many, many people struggle with Paul.
For me, the more important reason for not wanting to think of the church as my family, is that too often in families, we excuse abusive behaviors we wouldn’t excuse in other environments and we encourage codependencies we wouldn’t encourage in our other environments.
Confronting the bullies
Paul calls his detractors arrogant. They don’t give Paul the benefit of the doubt, they don’t say kind things about him, they slander him and pick, pick, pick at him. And now, Paul confronts them for their bullying and says You’re doing a lot of talking. When I show up, will you be able to show me power?
It is fortunate that in the gospel we hear about the twelve becoming apostles, receiving the power of Jesus to do his ministry of proclaiming and casting out demons. They are given the very power of Christ to transform the world.
Paul’s coming with not only words, but power, apostolic, GOD power. And are these little people going to be able to handle it?
For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.
This is what, for me, breaks the He Said / She Said. For it isn’t about Paul and it isn’t about the upstarts in Corinth, it is about the kingdom: the very mission of the followers of Christ to make GOD’s dream into a reality. Are they at work doing that? Or are they complaining about Paul? Are they sharing the love of Christ or are they plotting against Paul in the church parking lot?
Paul’s mind is on GOD and the mission. And you can hear it in what is probably a pretty honest and straightforward question:
What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
It is not about being the heavy. It is not about disciplining children. It is not about fatherhood and family systems. It is about being the kingdom, about sticking to the core message.
Where’s the message in your life
You don’t need me to be the heavy. I come to you in a spirit of gentleness. But I do so as Paul who wants to see that you are sticking to the core message. That you are finding Jesus in the margins of your life and making room for him in the center of your work.
My hope is that you are finding ways to focus on things that matter and with a spirit of generosity and love for those around you.
Below you’ll see that there is new homework for the week. In it you will find the next step of focusing is finding a way to declutter our minds and digital lives. For help, I encourage you to investigate the Note to Self podcast. You can discover techniques for taking control over your family photos and organizing your phone and computer. But more importantly, you’ll hear about ways to help declutter your life in general, from all the stresses and strains on it.
I am calling us to take charge of the information that comes into our lives and challenge us to recognize when things don’t help.
As in, don’t help you see Jesus in your neighbors and your family. As in, don’t help you see GOD at work in the world around you. The things that block our vision also destroy our souls.
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to silence the distractions.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent-Handout 2!