Aug. 24 lesson: An appeal for reconciliation

8/21/2014

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Sunday school lesson for the week of August 24, 2014
By Beth Barnwell

Lesson scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 7:2-4

Key verses: Make room in your hearts for us. We didn’t do anything wrong to anyone. We didn’t ruin anyone. We didn’t take advantage of anyone (2 Corinthians 7:2).

Purpose: To know that God’s ministry of reconciliation through us within the faith community requires honest speech, personal integrity, and open hearts.

The saga continues. This lesson is actually a continuation of Paul’s “letter of reconciliation.” Keep in mind that Paul is trying to apologize (for lack of another word) for the harsh words in a previous letter. He is trying to woo back the Corinthian Christians who were more inclined to follow Paul’s opponent and question Paul’s ministry intentions.

Verse 1 reads, “Since we work together [with him], we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” I have taken the liberty of putting the words “with him” in brackets because original translations of scripture did NOT include those two words. They were added in the King James version and were probably intended to refer to God. However, the omission of those words could more aptly mean, “Since we work together [with you]” . . . meaning that Paul and his team are working hand-in-hand with the Corinthians. The Corinthians already knew that Paul and his team were working with God. It’s possible, though, that they didn’t consider themselves as working alongside Paul to accomplish God’s purposes. Paul is pleading with them not to take the Lord’s gift of a wonderful life in vain.

The key verse is Paul’s attempt to inform the Corinthians that he and his team had already suffered, and was willing to continue to suffer, many hardships in their ministry – at the expense and wrongdoing of no one. He is simply trying to help the Corinthians understand that he wants them to join forces again and share the warm and comfortable relationship they had previously experienced. He stresses three important elements of reconciliation: (1) candid and honest speaking, (2) compassion, and (3) integrity. He implores the Corinthians to “be friends again.” The key verse, “We didn’t do anything wrong to anyone. We didn’t ruin anyone. We didn’t take advantage of anyone,” clearly shows that he is speaking plainly, with compassion, and integrity that no harm was done to anyone. Sounds a little like John Wesley’s Three Rules: Do No Harm, Do Good. Stay in love with God, doesn’t it?

Paul was basically trying to bring the community back together. He wanted everyone to kiss and make up and play nicely together. That’s what a community should do. By definition alone, a community exhibits “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Sometimes, however, communities suffer a setback and warring factions erupt. That’s when the need for reconciliation (definition: the restoration of friendly relations; to reestablish a close relationship) becomes important.

The United Methodist denomination is called a connectional system (aka: community). Our common attitudes, interests, and goals are one and the same – to bring people to God and enjoy a life of salvation through Jesus Christ. But . . . as we all know, there are times when we just don’t see eye to eye. Sometimes it’s within the local church, sometimes it’s within an Annual Conference, and sometimes it’s within the entire denomination itself.

Many of the subheadings in the Student Handbook pretty much say it all. When we disagree, when we are in need for reconciliation, remember:

Help is always available. All we need do is ask for it. I have used this phrase with my children as they were growing up, and continue to use it: “If you don’t ask, you know the answer is no.” Ask for help. God’s is just waiting to answer that question! The power of God is bigger than anything we could ever imagine.

Can you recall a time in your life when you had nothing left but to humble yourself and ask for help? What was the answer? How was the answer revealed?

Never give up; never give in: Who knows what awaits us when we step out the door each day? Paul experienced many problems, disasters, stressful situations, beatings imprisonments, riots. I’m sure he didn’t plan on facing these inconveniences. Yet, he was able to overcome them all and still work diligently to spread the gospel. As individuals and communities, we experience hardships every day as well. As Christians, we know this: God may not call us to action at every turn; but when he does, he will equip us. This knowledge should allow us to speak candidly, with compassion, and with integrity.

What hardships have you, your local church, or your community experienced? What was the cause? How were they handled? NOTE: Read the Wesley Covenant Prayer on page 94 in the Student Handbook and answer the question on page 95.

Leave nothing undone: Circling back to the Key Verse (2 Corinthians 7:2), this kind of language sets the stage for reconciliation to begin. Paul is asking the Corinthians to come back to the table. He is clearly stating that he and his team haven’t done anything wrong and no harm has come to anyone. His tone is not belligerent. Rather it is pleading. He is asking for a compromise. I learned long ago from a former employer, when both parties come to the table willing to compromise, good things happen. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

When was the last time you were faced with having to compromise?

End this lesson by reading the last paragraph and answering the last question on page 96 of the Student Handbook. Remember – there is no better time to begin reconciling (if necessary) than NOW! We should not act like we do not know what God has done for us and for all who call Christ Lord. Say that loud and say it proud!!  And – say it NOW!

Beth Barnwell is a staff member of the North Georgia Conference, serving as administrative assistant to the director of Congregational Development. She is a long-time Sunday school teacher. Contact Beth at bbarnwell@ngumc.org.