Summary: The cross teaches us to allow ourselves to be misused in the name of giving so that others might find salvation; the alternative is to hoard and thus to lose.
The woman answered a knock on her door, and found there a homeless man who said that he was looking for odd jobs to do so that he could earn a little money. “Well,” she said, “around the back of my house I do have a porch that needs painting. Can you handle a paint brush?” He said that he could, and so she gave him a gallon of bright green paint and a brush and said, “Go around back, you’ll see the porch that needs painting, and go to it. Do a good job on my porch and I will pay you whatever it’s worth.”
About an hour later came another knock on her door, and there he stood, smiling, and announcing that he had finished. “Well, “ she said, “that was fast. Did you do a really good job?” “Oh, yes, ma’am. I covered every spot, I really lathered on this bright green paint. But, by the way, there is one thing I’d like to tell you. I guess you don’t know too much about cars. But that’s not a Porsche, that’s a Mercedes.”
Sometimes the message we send is not the message that is received! Paul figured out, when he was just about done lathering the Corinthian Christians with criticisms, that maybe the message he was sending was not the message they were receiving.
Last week I told you I really like to work with the Biblical material about the church at Corinth. I told you that despite its fractiousness, infighting, immorality, and jealousies, I like that church. I like that church because it is familiar. I like it because I know it. I mentioned that its address could be Washington rather than Corinth. And then I proceeded to speak about living in the contradictions, living with mixed feelings. I talked about living in conflict and understanding that when we differ with one another, that is God’s opportunity to make us grow and even to enrich us. I rather laid it out last week, didn’t I? Yes, I laced it with humor, and yes, I told you some good stories, but the bottom line last week was that we need to acknowledge and work with the contradictions in our fellowship. The bottom line was and is that I personally just refuse to be worried or anxious or distraught about our church, because I believe in you and I believe in the Lord of the church.
Some said they heard that message very clearly. Others said, “Ouch, I needed that.” And others, doubtless, went away troubled. But that’s all right. That’s all right. I want to take up where I left off last week, using the same Scripture, but extending it a bit and creating an entirely different mood. I want to do, as best I can, what Paul did with the Corinthian church: I want to make sure that love is heard here. Having spoken candidly last week, having poured out for you some of the issues I see, and, although I insisted that those issues were good news and not bad, occasions for the gospel rather than occasions for, I know that some went away a little scared, a little frightened. The message that was sent was not necessarily the message that was received.
Paul says in this letter that sometimes he has had to be bold and to scold and admonish, and then he turns right around and tells them that he loves them, he cares about them, they are the very hope of the world, they are the apple of God’s eye. Paul scolds them and he loves them, he chastises them and he compliments them. Again, I like that. That’s familiar. I’m right there. I am right there with him when he says, “We have spoken frankly to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections.” I am right there. I have spoken frankly to you, Takomans. My heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in my affections either. The question now is the same as Paul’s question to the church at Corinth: will you “open wide your hearts also”? Will you open wide your hearts also?
Have you ever had the experience of being in a climate of love, where not a word was spoken, no concrete gifts given, nothing but the power of love? Have you ever been in a setting where there was a serious problem, nothing you could do, nothing you could say, to help? And yet you knew that love lived there?
About four years ago it became apparent that my mother was dying. She had declined both physically and mentally, and we knew it could not be long. My son was traveling to the west coast from time to time, so he arranged for a stopover on one of his flights, and spent a day in Texas, where my mother, his grandmother, was in a nursing home. My brother reported to me that it was apparent that she hardly knew her own grandson; her responses were limited to occasional grunts and groans; and Bryan ran out of things to say very soon, just because there was no response. But, says my brother, that young man was willing and able just to sit in that nursing home room and just to look at and smile at his grandmother for several hours, in complete silence. And, before it was over, I’m told, she was smiling back, feeling loved and sharing love. But all of it in total silence.