Putting Things in Order
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Once upon a time, a father of five children won a toy at a local raffle. He called his children together to ask which one should have the present. “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. “Who never talks back to mother?” and “Who does everything mother says?” Five small voices responded in unison, “Okay daddy! You get the toy!”
And then there is the story about a little girl sitting in her grandfather’s lap as he read her a bed-time story. From time to time, the little girl would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch her grandfather’s wrinkled cheek. As the minutes went by, she would alternately stroke her own cheek, then her grandfather’s.
Finally, the little girl spoke, “Pops, did God make you?”
“Yes, sweetheart, he answered. “God made me a long time ago.”
“Oh,” she said, then, “Pops, did God make me, too?”
“Yes, indeed, honey,” he assured her. God made you just a little while ago.
“Oh,” the little girl said.
Feeling their respective faces again,
she observed, “God’s getting better at it now, isn’t he?”
On this Sunday in which we honor the grace of fatherhood, there are those who describe the present generation as the “Fatherless Generation.” To the fathers of this congregation, may you be a faithful father to your children, and may the Lord bless and keep you as you spend time with your children. In addition to so many responsibilities and outside obligations, your children live in need of your presence and your love.
This morning, we unite our hearts with millions of other Christians around the globe as we celebrate the mystery of the Trinity. According to the most recent creed in the Presbyterian Church USA, A Brief Statement of Faith, “we trust in the triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.” As life comes at me hard and fast, I find great security and peace when I pray in the words of Patrick of Ireland, “I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three, of whom all nature has creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord. Amen.
From time to time, someone will ask me to explain my understanding of the Trinity. I have found the following thought expressed by Kathleen Norris to be extremely helpful, “The Trinity is the primary symbol of a community that holds together by containing diversity within itself.” (Amazing Grace, page 289) By way of the diversity that God has revealed himself to the world, I believe we are called to respect the diversity within this congregation and all congregations, and as there is union between the Three Persons of the Trinity, we are likewise called to practice the grace of unity within our diversity. This is one of the great wonders and blessings of who we are as a Christian people. Thankful for this mystery and the many blessings that come our way, we offer this prayer: Thank you Father. Thank you Son. Thank you Spirit. Three in One. Amen.
With our faith grounded in the triune God, I would like to quickly shift our attention to a brief formula the Apostle Paul shared with the 1st century congregation gathered in Corinth: Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, and live in peace. The formula came into being because the relationship between Paul and this community of faith was not always cordial. Because of certain practices that Paul understood as contrary to the gospel and a proper Christian witness, Paul was on occasion rather stern and straightforward. Earlier in this letter, the apostle goes as far to say, “I have made a fool of myself, but your drove me to it.”
Afraid of quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip arrogance, and disorder in the life of the church, Paul planned a third apostolic visit. He did not want to see the church fail in its witness or its mission. Even though the strain between Paul and this church at times was severe, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, he loved them deeply and because of that love took the risk to write in order to encourage them to do better, hence the formula we have in front of us today: Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, and live in peace.
From my point of view, there is great value in Paul’s theology and his pastoral guidance to put things in order. Paul is a strong advocate for Christians knowing what we believe and argued the case for organization and discipline. As we live in the midst of political, social, and ecclesiastical disorder, the apostolic witness of the early church sets an urgent task before us: In the name of Jesus Christ, Christians are called to love one another, to trust one another, to work together, to help one another, to discern the will of the Lord together. We are called to say “No” to all of the dysfunction and hopelessness that is sadly dictating the lives of so many.
Putting things in order is a critical Christian discipline that touches every aspect of daily living. Allow me to offer a brief pastoral response to this very basic affirmation. First, order begins with knowing Jesus Christ and letting him know us. Jesus Christ gives proper order to life. To engage in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important decision we make in life as opposed to where we may want to go to school, what we want to do with our lives, who we date or marry, or how we practice a particular politic. Christ engages us in our thoughts, guides our conversations and our decisions. Christ is our guide in how we parent, how we live with others, and how we embrace the future. Without Christ, we are especially vulnerable to the influence of evil.
Second, to put things in order as Christians we must seriously review the people and things that matter most in our lives and make the commitment to live in a manner that corresponds to the Jesus Way and honors what we cherish most. For me, my days honor the triune God, my family, and my work as a pastor on behalf of the gospel. Everything else follows these three.
Third, order mandates making adjustments to how we live in a nuclear age where we are over-scheduled and constantly on the go. Hyperactivity is destroying the essence of who we are and what we can be because we never stop or slow down long enough to think about those things that are important. As Christians, we are called to practice the grace of Sabbath.
Last, to maintain order in our lives and in the life of the church requires the discipline and grace of prayer. Pray in the morning. Pray during the midday. Pray at night. Pray without ceasing with an open heart, an open mind, and an open spirit: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, grant me to change the things I can, the courage to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Help me Lord, to put things in order and keep them in order to your glory and honor.
In closing, the writer Flannery O’Connor penned these words in a prayer journal early in her career, “My dear God, please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my published writing for Christian principles to permeate. (A Prayer Journal, page 5) These are words from a person who desired to put things in the right order.
This is my prayer for all of us: My dear God, please let Christian principles permeate everything we do and say and please let there be enough of what we do and say for Christian principles to permeate. It is time to put things in order. Amen.