Summary: Epiphany 7: No is a difficult word for us to hear and even harder to accept. But through Jesus, God came to say, "Yes" - Yes to forgiveness, peace and to the heavenly Kingdom for all who trust in the Cross and Resurrection.
The words in our second lesson were written by St. Paul to the Corinthian believers. Let me read this lesson to you again using the New International Version of the Bible:
18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”
20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,
22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:18-22) – NIV
This was not the first time that Paul had written to the Corinthian Church. Some scholars think that 2 Corinthians, the book in the Bible from which our lesson comes, was actually the fourth letter to that church. The first two verses in our text point to an issue or a problem that Paul is having with the church. He says to them, “Our message to you is not, ‘Yes,’ and, ‘No.’
With these words, Paul was telling the believers in Corinth that what he told them and what Timothy and Silas told them was absolutely true. It was necessary for Paul to defend himself because there had been a group of high-minded teachers that had been talking Paul down. They criticized him to the Corinthians and suggested that Paul didn’t teach them all they needed and so they tried to lead the fledgling church astray. We know that this is the case because in another place in this letter Paul writes the following words:
"But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ’super-apostles.’ " (2 Corinthians 11:3-5) – NIV
Paul was trying to sort out a serious problem associated with the credibility of his ministry. He was trying to demonstrate to the Corinthian believers that the message they preached was credible – believable and real. But, what does this disagreement between Paul and the Corinthians have to do with you and me? What’s so important about Paul’s words that we should pay attention to them today?
Well listen, credibility is at the core of the faith. Paul was, in effect making an argument for faith in the promises of God. What wars against credibility is our experience with other people. You see, when we interact with other people, it isn’t always easy to get the straight skinny. Sometimes it’s because folks simply aren’t honest. Sometimes its because they don’t want to say what they are really thinking. You see, we often say, “Yes,” when we mean, “No.” Or we may say one thing and do another. It wouldn’t be so bad if all that were at stake were simply human interactions. But the real problem is that we often project the same kind of double-mindedness on God. We begin to doubt that God will actually do what He says – especially as it pertains to our salvation.
But God is not this way at all. When He says, “No,” it means exactly that. If we are tempted to love anything or anyone above God, the commandments tell us, “No,” – and God means it. If our anger drives us to despise our parents or to hate another person, the commandments tell us, “No,” – and God means it. If our lusts drive us to abandon our spouse, the commandments tell us, “No,” – and God means it. If we are tempted to spread gossip about our neighbor, the commandments tell us, “No,” – and God means it. God’s “No” is harsh and immutable and going against it places us under his judgment.
“No,” is a hard word for us. It is a word that has many difficult and harsh associations. In my own life, these range all the way from the laughable – my anxieties as a young man at asking a girl to dance and fearing a, “No;” And all the way to the crushing “No” of my father’s death. The fear of “No” surfaces everywhere we turn. Am I good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or secure enough? – No! Do I have what it takes to excel in sports, or in my role as a student, or in college, or in my job? – No! Is my health OK? – No! Does my wife or husband or mom or dad love me? – No! “No,” is a hard word.