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“The Goodness of God”     June 19, 2011

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

11Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

It’s easy to bypass these short verses, believing them to be simply "wrap-up" sentences without anything significant in them. And that's too bad, because these last few sentences offer much insight into life as a Christian community.  These verses capsulize a central theme of Paul's teaching: how to live and act as the church and the body of Christ.

In this short benediction, Paul offers wisdom that families, churches, work groups, clubs and organizations everywhere can use. He emphasizes what's important: Let's all pull together. Let's be mindful of one another. Let's consider how to deal with the conflicts that inevitably occur - disagreements, misunderstandings, jealousies - whenever two or three gather, in the name of Jesus, or for any other purpose for that matter.

Paul’s closing echoes his greeting of the epistle. Much of the letter is a reprimand, addressing difficult controversial issues in the Corinthian church, yet, it is couched in blessings of grace and peace at either end. Paul addresses them not as adversaries but as his "brothers and sisters."

Although "farewell" is an acceptable translation of xairete (derived from xairos, joy), "rejoice" or "be glad" is maybe a better rendition (v. 11a). Besides the linguistic preference it is also a common phrase Paul uses in many of his letters.

Roundabouts are a good picture of Christian unity. If you’ve ever encountered a traffic circle in your travels you’ll know what mixed reactions they provoke. Roundabouts, what the British call them, or rotaries, as they're sometimes referred to in America. We knew them as traffic circles. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, apparently we're going to see more of them.

More and more cities are choosing a new approach to traffic control. Inspired by our brothers and sisters across the ocean, city planners are replacing traditional four-corner traffic signals with more efficient circular roundabouts.

Statistics have proven traffic circles reduce accidents, but Carlos Wilton, a contributor to Homiletics magazine says, "Most people where I live would raise an eyebrow at the thought that roundabouts are a safe traffic pattern."

"We called them kamikaze circles," said Maira Diaz, reflecting back on her early days as a New Jersey resident, driving that state's infamous traffic circles. She faced each one with a sense of dread.

In the words of one newspaper reporter: "Part merry-go-round, part bumper cars, the circles sometimes proved to be every bit as exciting as the South Jersey amusement park rides that motorists were heading to with their families."

It's all about speed. The British learned how to do it right, reserving their highly successful "roundabouts" not for busy highways but mostly for less-traveled roads, posting them with lower speed limits.

Traveling slowly - there's a different psychology. Adrenaline flows at a steady, measured pace. You can actually see the faces of nearby drivers. You're calmer, considerate, more at peace.

Not sure if we can make that work in America.

Roundabouts are popular in states such as Arizona, which has experienced a 40 percent population growth during the last 40 years. Instead of drivers stopping and starting according to the changing lights, roundabouts encourage traffic to keep moving in a smooth pattern.

Traffic engineers (yes, there is such a thing) have discovered that roundabouts are safer, cause less air and noise pollution, and are more efficient than the usual stop-and-go traffic experienced at traditional intersections.

When accidents do occur, they're less severe because cars are moving at a slower pace, rather than barreling through the intersection in an attempt to beat the light. The statistics in Arizona prove the theory: Injuries in traffic accidents at intersections are down by 75 percent, while the number of fatal accidents has decreased by a staggering 90 percent.

Experts conclude that taking away the need (or temptation) to beat a red light has led to slower speeds and, thus, safer driving. The lesson is this: The emphasis at roundabouts seems to be on cooperation rather than competition.

Environmentalists are also jumping on the roundabout bandwagon. In an age when any glimpse of green or nature is appreciated, roundabouts are often beautifully landscaped, providing drivers with attractive scenery and landmarks. Drivers often appreciate that added beauty by giving themselves more time to decide on a route.

More than one driver has taken advantage of the forgiving nature of rotaries. When unsure which road to take, people simply circle around again, (and again) enjoying the scenery, until they've settled on a route.

Why not enjoy the flowers and plantings as we circle around once more?

If roundabouts had existed in the first century, Paul might have used them as an example for ordering church life. Just as with church life today, some people would enthusiastically take on the challenge of a new idea, while others would moan in chorus, "But we've never done it that way!" Yet rotaries can teach us a lesson about how to survive in community.

In roundabouts, as in churches, people need to pay attention to one another in order to get along. (Watch, pull in, merge, decide where you want to go, look around you to see where others are before you decide to speed up or slow down; check for a clear path before exiting the circle.

If you’re not sure, go around one more time. As long as everyone stays at the same speed, or momentum, and watches out for each other things run smoothly. It’s a great way to learn and foster cooperation in social interaction.

In his farewell, Paul leaves them with a to-do list of last-minute reminders, almost like a parent walking out the door and calling back to children over his shoulder, "Now remember to feed the dog and don't hit your sister." A parent might do well to quote Paul when organizing family relations:

"Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace" (NRSV, v. 11). Or, in the words of The Message, "Think in harmony and be agreeable." The Corinthians are on their own now, as Paul leaves them with careful instructions on how to live together as the body of Christ.

No one can argue with the vision Paul paints for his young churches; every intentional community desires to be successful and to live in peace with one another. The challenge is more in the process. One wonders if the readers of Paul's letter looked on the backside of the parchment to search for some further instructions or additional insights.

The early Corinthians might have wondered, "Is that it?" Are no more details to be given? The questions abound: Now that we have the goal of agreeing with one another and living in peace, just how do we get there? How do we obtain that ideal balance of working, serving and believing while living in harmony with one another?

Is it possible to just decide to live in peace? Has the world experienced millennia of wars and chaos only because of lack of will? Can one wake up in the morning and simply choose to be agreeable and to get along with others in the community? Or is some concerted effort necessary? Does it require sacrificing strong opinions? Must one constantly bite one's lip, lest disagreements arise to threaten the status quo?

When arguments do crop up, what then? It's a rare congregation that hasn't experienced a church fight, sometimes over weighty matters of theology and belief, but more often concerning paint colors or punch recipes. Churches are filled with opinionated, deeply caring, thoughtful and sometimes overly sensitive human beings. Church gatherings can be like any extended family mustered together for the holidays; it can be a messy mixture of joy, jealousy, creativity and chaos.

People hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, but often they don't realize their brand-new idea seems to relegate beloved traditions to the dust bin. Small misunderstandings can evolve into virtual standoffs, in which no one is talking or agreeing and things certainly aren't "in order." No matter what Paul says, when family members are at odds with one another, the last thing they may desire is to be greeted with a kiss, holy or otherwise.

The kiss-greeting was a Middle Eastern social convention that was adopted in the first-century church and made “holy” because in church, it wasn’t reserved for just a chosen few. It was a personal act of relationship tending. It’s not so easy to give someone a peck on the cheek when you’re put out with them.

Living in community is much like driving on busy, crowded highways. Paul presents some rules for these roads. At times, it will be necessary to yield, slow down or use extreme caution. Just like careful drivers, we are urged to keep our eyes on the road, not allow ourselves to become distracted and to pay attention to people who are also on the journey.

Perhaps Paul's benediction could be reworded with our roundabout journey in mind. It might sound something like this: Farewell, brothers and sisters. Remember that we are all traveling in the same direction, although at differing speeds. At times, a fellow traveler may need to exit (the conversation, the project, life itself) before you do. Trust each other enough to allow that freedom. Keep your eyes on the road and wish people well in their travels.

Don't be so focused on your destination that you forget to enjoy the scenery along the way. As we continue in our roundabout journeys, let's endeavor to agree on the general direction we're traveling. We can work through our differences. At times, we may bump into one another, but because we're all traveling together, we can handle the collisions easily. Acknowledge and be aware of the differences that exist, but celebrate the larger agreements we share.

Roundabouts: a vision of God's people traveling separately yet together toward a shared destination. With good will and God's grace we can journey on this road together with peace and joy knowing we’re all going to get there eventually.

11Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Amen. 

 

 

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