“6 As we work together with him,[a] we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.”
-2 Corinthians 6: 1-13
2 Corinthians 6: 1-13
Reverend Phillip Blackburn
June 21, 2015
The waiting room. It is not our favorite place, is it? These days you are most likely to find yourself there while visiting a doctor. You know the routine of the waiting room. You check in at the appointment desk, then you survey the room. You find the person who looks the sickest and then begin searching for a seat as far away from them as you can find. Finally you find a couple of empty seats near a guy who looks like he’s probably got a foot problem or something, and you decide that’s as good as it’s going to get. So you head over and plop down in a pre-fabricated chair with a padded seat which isn’t nearly as supportive as it once was likely to have been. Finally seated, you look around you. You see an end table with a few magazines from 2004 and Tiger Woods smiling up at you from the cover of Golf Digest. That’s no help because you don’t really like golf. You notice a few nature pictures on the walls, and you look out the windows at the action in the parking lot. You’ve been sitting a few minutes at this point and you realize that, once again, the doctor is running late.
And so you begin to survey the people. Who are they? What are their likely symptoms? How sick are they going to make you? You ask yourself these questions at the same time that you wonder when wearing pajama pants in public became a thing. And then, as you have finally taken them all in, you realize there is simply nothing left to do. Now you wait. You sit and you wait, and you watch people get called to the back. And you wait some more and you find that waiting is one of the more difficult things we humans can ask of ourselves.
The waiting room is a hard place for us, but in truth we spend more time in the waiting room than we think. Sure, we aren’t literally in the waiting room, but nevertheless that’s where we are. We spend much of our lives waiting. We wait for the game to start. Wait for the phone to ring. Wait for the kids to be finished. Wait for the light to change. We wait for the email to arrive. Wait for the vacation to start. Wait for something good to happen. Wait to wake up in the morning and feel better. Wait for the bad things to stop happening. We sit and life happens and we wait. The actual waiting room, when we are in it, is so uncomfortable, because in so many ways it is a metaphor for our lives. We wait. All the time. For almost everything.
The Corinthians, you know, where waiters. They sat around in Corinth, in the hustle and bustle of ancient Roman life, amidst all the traders and sailors and in the shadow of a great temple, and they waited for new teachers to come through. And then they would sit around and debate which one to follow, which one was best, which one had the true version of this new faith. And it seems like they were real deliberators, the Corinthians, but they certainly didn’t seem to be in any great hurry to do much of anything. You can see that in all the things Paul says to them. They were in no hurry to push forward in their faith. No great hurry to change Corinth. No great hurry to choose and commit to a path forward. No, they sat in their little waiting room they had found for themselves, and they waited for the next great teacher, the next visit, the next idea, the next argument. There was no hurry in Corinth. So they waited.
Now for all of us who have been in the waiting room, we know that there is a magical moment when things change. You’ve been sitting there for awhile now. You’ve evaluated every person in there and you’ve looked in the bored eyes of the bored people and heard the bored voice of the bored receptionist, and you just don’t know if you can take it anymore and then the door pops open and the nurse steps out. You’ve done the math and you know that you should be close to freedom. She looks at her sheet, looks up, and says the magic words: “Phillip Blackburn.” Finally, you think, and you pop up and head back, giving a nod to all the suckers who still have to wait. You can leave them behind now. Now you are doing something.
In the waiting room there is simply nothing better than hearing your name. It’s the elation that comes when your phone rings and it’s your best friend, or then you catch the green light instead of the red. It’s the joy you feel when the waiting ends and things actually start to happen again. And I wonder, I wonder so much, if the Corinthians realized what was happening when they got to Chapter 8 of Paul’s 2nd Letter to them. Did they hear it? Could they understand what he was telling them? Do we?
They’d been waiting for a new teacher. Waiting to see the clear and right path. Waiting, and the door pops open and Paul steps out and he calls their name. Not literally of course, but that’s what happened. After so much rhetoric, theology, and, let’s be honest, pleading, Paul says the word that everyone in the waiting room longs to hear. He says it loud and clear. Did you hear it? Did they? Paul says to them: “Now!” See, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Now. Now is the time. Now. Get up! Come on! Now.
When you get clear of the waiting room it’s a fairly amazing thing. You get back into the inner sanctum and it’s like a different world. Doctors and nurses and techs buzzing around everywhere. There is action. There is life. Things are happening back here and you hope they will happen for you. After sitting in a semi catatonic state for almost an hour, the activity jars you. But this is real and finally, finally, you get to be a part of it. Finally the waiting is over.
And what did the Corinthians hear once their names were called, once Paul said, “Now”? They heard the most amazing things. They heard about Paul’s persecutions. They heard about his troubles, and then they heard his amazing list of paradoxes. Listen to it: “we are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet are well known, as dying, and see-we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” This is life outside the waiting room. This is what life is like for those who work in God’s kingdom, for those who hear their names called, and rise and head through the door into the world of life and death. Paul says “Now” and then he describes to them a world they have never seen or experienced, yet one that is so amazingly full of life, they have no other choice but to stand and head through the doors.
And so, I ask you, have you heard it? Have you heard your name? Are you tired of life in the waiting room? Are you tired of sitting around and waiting for things to happen, waiting for someone to do something, waiting for an opportunity to arrive? You know, when Calvin commented on this passage, he thought that there were only a couple of moments in our entire lives when we could answer Paul’s call. He thought that once that moment was gone, it was gone. And I understand why he thought that, but I don’t agree with him. I think every day, every single day, we wake up in the waiting room, and we are sick to death of it, and every day, every single day, the voice of God pops into our lives, and says our name, “Phillip Blackburn, Phillip Blackburn”, and every single day we have the opportunity to get up and go through those doors and join God’s business in this world, the business of life and death, of truth and untruth, of wealth and poverty, of nothing and everything.
You have been in the waiting room for so long. So very long. Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you sick to death of it? See, now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Now. God is calling your name; come, be a part of the kingdom work happening in this world. Now. Now is the time. Now is the day of salvation. Now. God is working now. It’s time to get up, go through and join life. Amen.