Comfort the Grieving

Sermon 1821 2 Corinthians 2.5-11 September 11, 2022

“You don’t see many healthy people come through these doors,” the nurse told me as I visited (back before the Big Sick they would actually let a pastor visit his members if they were in the hospital ER) a member who had come in by ambulance earlier in the day.

“Same with my line of business,” I told her.

What is the purpose of a church? Why are we doing what we are doing? Here’s the mission statement Paul proposes.

Comfort the Grieving

1. United in the Word.

2. Makes us united in our welcome.

It seems like each of the congregations Paul started had a different personality with a different set of problems. I think of Ephesus as the Budweiser Clydesdales, real workhorses for the Lord. They started mission churches (like Colossae) throughout their area. The Philippians held Paul the dearest. Of all the congregations, they, out of their extreme poverty, again and again sent Paul monetary gifts so he could preach the Gospel full time and still eat. Then there were the Thessalonians, eager beaver believers. They were so eager to believe they thought the Last Day was coming any day now—two weeks tops! They even quit their jobs and were waiting for Jesus to come on the clouds. Finally there were the Corinthians. Four-point o idiots. You know, the person in college or high school so head in the clouds that he would walk through a plate glass window thinking it was an open door? The Corinthians were making more mistakes than were statistically possible!

But they learned. And that’s just the point. Not many healthy people come through these doors. But we heal up. That’s because of what is going on here. We comfort the grieving by being united in the Word.

“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (5-7).”

A man in the congregation had committed a particularly scandalous sin. It had been trending in Corinth for weeks! The congregation, after initially adopting a hand’s off approach, had been led by Paul to confront the man’s sin. His initial refusal to repent had led them to excommunicate him, tell him he was no longer a member of God’s family and, therefore, no longer a member of their congregation. The man had come to his senses. He turned away from his sin and asked for forgiveness.

The congregation was united in the Word. Only through the Word were they able to call sin sin. God’s Ten Commandments, “you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal,” set the standard of right and wrong. A congregation that proclaims the Ten Commandments is united in that knowledge. I am not saying they like it. Nobody likes being called out, and the Ten Commandments call us out every single day. In thought, word and deed we all have failed to live up to God’s standards of holiness. We confessed that earlier in our service today. Sin is sin no matter who does it. Sin demands judgment. Everybody walking through those ER doors expects the doctor to be able to diagnose what is wrong with them. If I have a heart attack, I want to know. If I have abdominal pain I want to know if it is my gall bladder. The patients in ER are not there because, bored by life, they wanted some attention.

But that’s only the half of the process. What good is knowing what is wrong with me if there isn’t some way to make it better? A diagnosis must be accompanied by a prognosis. What are you going to do for me?

The Corinthian congregation forgave the repentant sinner his sins. Jesus said, “Whoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” Through such parables as the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus taught us that those who humble themselves before God by repenting of their sins, will be exalted through his forgiveness. Jesus gave the congregation and the individual believer that unique power to forgive those who repent of their sins and refuse to forgive those who refuse to repent until they do repent. This is Gospel. We can do this because the punishment for that sin, those sins, every sin, has been inflicted on Jesus when he hung on the cross.

We are united in the Word as we proclaim God’s Gospel forgiveness to every repentant sinner. We come in with a heavy load. We leave with that load of sin and guilt taken off our shoulders. We are healed. We are forgiven. There is comfort for those grieving over their sin.

Comfort the grieving. United in the Word makes us united in our welcome.

“The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (8-11).”

A welcome back to the congregation accompanied the forgiveness. That was the test and the Corinthians were obedient in everything.

I would have made a terrible politician. It seems they don’t apologize for anything. They never say sorry. I say I’m sorry all the time. So do you! And we mean it! But politicians, never. That’s because they know they are swimming with sharks. Sharks have no compassion. Sharks show no mercy. Saying you are sorry is simply a sign of weakness and gives sharks the chance to move in for the kill.

The Christian Church is not a school of sharks. We don’t shun people or ostracize repentant sinners. We receive them back with joy and open arms. The world doesn’t act that way.

In the world friendships are lost when a couple divorces or even if a spouse dies. The person becomes the fifth wheel, there’s such a cloud over them. Couples who are friends want to get together for fun. That’s why friendships fall by the wayside. Consider high school friendships. Rule out the boyfriend, girlfriend stuff. Friends step on each other’s toes. There has to be understanding, patience, and, I’ll come right out and say it, forgiveness! But if one of the friends is not a Christian, that friendship often falls by the wayside because the one does not want forgiveness. They equate forgiveness with “I owe them one.” Forgiveness to a non-Christian imposes a burden, a debt. That’s not what they wanted to be friends for. They wanted to be equals having fun together. Now all they can think about is how badly they let down their friend. They get tired of revisiting the scene of the crime and walk away.

This congregation exists to welcome repentant sinners and keep welcoming them. There is no debt remaining from sins forgiven except the continuing debt to love one another. There are no skeletons in the closet. Jesus’ death on the cross removed our sin completely. God doesn’t even keep count of sins. It is all forgiven in Christ. And as far as sensing weakness, compared to the surpassing greatness of our Lord and Savior we all are weak. When we are weak, then we are strong. We rely on him, not upon ourselves. His power guides and protects us.

And as for earthly differences and distinctions—so what? Jew and Greek, slave and free, outward circumstances do not matter. We all are sons and daughters of the King. We all are heirs of heaven. We all have faith, hope and love—faith in Jesus, love for God and one another and that hope of eternal life in heaven. We will leave pecking orders to the airline vice-president in charge of seating first class, business class and coach passengers.

Comfort is not comfort if it is given at arm’s length. Here flesh and blood acceptance reigns. Here we are united in our welcome as we pursue our purpose.

Comfort the Grieving

1. United in the Word.

2. Makes us united in our welcome.

The sick enter through these doors. There is, however, one big difference between the Church and the ER. And no, it isn’t that we don’t take insurance. Those who leave this building are healing. Sins forgiven, they will live forever. In that sense they are already healed. You will live forever with Jesus in heaven. But sin leaves wounds and wounds need tending. That tending leads to healing but it takes time. Here we have the time to learn how to trust again, to trust in our God and to trust in our fellow man. That’s why we are here. That’s our purpose.

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