June 2024


In Sorrow and in Rejoicing

Open Your Heart

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

As we enter this three-week stretch focusing on Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, we also focus on what I think is one of the key questions of Ordinary Time; namely, how do we live our faith day after day after day?

How do you accept the grace of God in vain? That seems like an odd thing for Paul to ask, don’t you think? I mean, grace is grace, right? All the power, all the effect, all the working is in God’s hands and not ours. At least that is how we understand it. Our job is simply to receive. We just open up our hands and grace pours in. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

Well, Paul has a different understanding, at least when it comes to the Corinthian church. And we have to admit that this bunch is atypical when it comes to representing the church today. I mean, they were struggling to get along with one another; there were feelings of superiority; there were questionable intimate relationships and some challenging theology undergirding it all. Nothing like any churches today. … Moving on.

What does he mean with this plea to not accept the grace of God in vain? The word he uses here – and elsewhere, even about his own ministry (Galatians 2:2, for example, or I Thessalonians 2:2 and 3:5) is kenon, which can be translated as vain or empty. “Don’t let your faith be empty,” Paul is saying to the Corinthian church. Don’t let this gift not bear fruit. Let there be some evidence of your faith in how you live in community, how you engage with the world around you.

Note that he isn’t saying you must earn faith; it is a gift. But it is a gift that works in you and works through you. There are signs; there is evidence, says Paul; there is fruit when faith is not empty. Accepting the gift in vain means nothing is done with it, nothing internal and nothing external. Just nothing. Emptiness. Grace is transforming. Grace is fruit-producing. But it is a partnership. That’s the tricky part of this relationship. The giver of grace chooses to work with you rather than in spite of you. God chooses to invite you rather than overwhelm you. We can debate the cliché and whether God is the co-pilot or pilot, but either way, there is a seat for you too.

“Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. There is no need to wait,” says Paul. Effort can be expended right now; hope can be lived; grace can be full. Right now. As evidence, Paul offers his own life, not as a boast, but as a sign that grace is at work in him and through him. But the road has not been easy. Grace does not make life simple or comfortable. If anything, it makes it more complicated and difficult. Yet, that is where grace is made full, where life is embraced. It is in the difficulties, in the heartaches, as well as in the joys and celebrations – in sorrow and in rejoicing – that grace is made manifest in individuals and the community of faith. When we rally around one another, when we enter into the hardships of another, when we endure, then grace abounds.

So, then, how do we activate this grace? How do we ensure that we have not accepted God’s great gift of grace in vain? Paul’s advice is simple and enormously difficult. We open our hearts. We risk loving and being vulnerable. We open ourselves to the possibility of being hurt so that we can approach the possibility of knowing joy. We reach out to connect with another person, risking being rejected so that we can also embrace the possibility of relationship. We share Christ, maybe with words, as we tell our story wrapped up in his story. But more often, and usually first, we share Christ by how we live in relationship with neighbors and strangers and loved ones all. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. The grace in our lives is most full when it comes out in relationship, when we open our hearts to those around us and trust in the abundance of God’s grace.

Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.

In This Series...

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes