Proper 6 – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Sunday, June 13, 2021
The experience of being truly loved changes us.
Being in relationship with another person requires intimacy and transparency. Being in relationship with someone means letting them in to see beneath our polished, outer presentation and experience the unpleasant underbelly that we all seem to have. When they love us anyway, it gives us hope! When a long-time friend knows that something is awry and offers to take you to lunch just so that you can vent, you gain just a bit of hope to face another day – not because all of your problems are solved, but because you know that the other person loves you.
The writer of our second lesson today was someone who was drastically changed by the experience of being loved. The love of Christ literally transformed St. Paul from a persecutor of the church into a tireless missionary who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about so great a love! He means it when he says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
But in order to become new, in order to be reborn and become a new creation, death comes first. We were baptized into both Christ’s death and resurrection, and are called upon as disciples of Jesus to die daily to sin.
St. Benedict, in his rule that he wrote to regulate the lives of his monks in the sixth century, said, “Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die.” By itself, this phrase implies that death is something to be feared or even dreaded. But in light of the phrase before it, “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire,” it is clear that, for Benedict, death and eternal life are not separated. To gain eternal life, death comes first.
Using the parallel Greek verbs “to be at home” and “to be away from home,” Paul acknowledges the distance between being in the body and with the Lord, and tells us that he would prefer being at “home with the Lord.” But whether at home or away, whether in the body or with the Lord, he says, “we are always confident.” Confidence here means not simply self-confidence, but faithfulness and security in believing. Confidence whose true giver and object is God.
It is with this deep, abiding confidence that Paul reminds us that each of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. We will all be held accountable for our actions when we cease to be at home in the body and go home to be with the Lord.
This is what Benedict had in mind when he said “remind yourself daily that you are going to die.” He continues in his rule, “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.” At first glance, this seems to say that God is watching over your shoulder and will punish you for all the naughty things you do. But in context, it simply means that we should live our lives knowing that temptation is just around the corner, and when it comes up, by God’s help, we should resist; and if we fall, we should repent and return to the Lord. In other words, the death into which we were baptized – Christ’s death – is something we have to intentionally put on each and every day.
Dying isn’t a fun process. It is usually painful, I’m told. But it is only through death that we can attain eternal life. It is only through death that we can be reborn and made new. It is only the experience of being loved by God that we can receive the hope not only to face another day, but the deep, abiding confidence we need to choose God’s will before our own, to put others before ourselves, and to continue with the constant cycle of death and rebirth that is our daily burden to bear. It is when we know and embrace the fact that despite our flaws, despite our underbelly, Jesus loves us so completely and deeply, that we will have the confidence to walk by faith, not by sight, and to share God’s overwhelming love generously with those around us.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Amen.
 Rule of St. Benedict 4:47
 Ibid 4:46.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 135-136.
 2 Cor. 5:10.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!