Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

A different kind of comfort

July 26, 2020
Martin Baker

Sunday 26 July 2020                            A different kind of comfort              Martin Baker

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,

4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.

7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.

9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again,

11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Our reading today was written by Paul in his second letter to the early church in Corinth.  This word consolation or comfort is mentioned many times in our reading this morning.

I’ve done a quick survey asking people what bring them a sense of comfort.  How do you define comfort?

Some people I spoke to thought of comfort in terms of place. A nice chair by the fire.  Or on a sunny beach.  Some people I spoke with talked about comfort in the sense of being with others who knew you and cared about you.  Who will be still fond of you even when you might not be behaving very well. Others spoke about comfort in terms of activity. Reading a book, gardening.

And I guess there is a lot of overlap here. Warmth, good company, activity. But others I spoke with thought too of comfort when they had time to themselves. Had a break from other demands.

I can talk about comfort sitting on my kayak on a sunny calm day. Like a few weeks ago when I took this photo. It was a lovely day. It may not be everyone’s idea of comfort - but each to their own.

A kind and thoughtful person though sent me this photo. A great white shark 5 or 6 m long just under someone else’s kayak.

So comfort can be a mind-set.  A situation which can seem very comfortable, can change quite quickly. Just when you thought everything was more or less okay, there is a great white shark swimming just below the surface.

I  think we very much live in this moment. With the virus. On one hand many of us know relative comfort while also knowing the huge discomfort and suffering faced by so very many.

Last week I talked about the Leviathan in the Book of Job.  That sense of unease and even threat.  That there are things that we have no control over but which we still have to deal with.

Paul  greets this community in Corinth and then says.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,

4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

This word consolation or comfort comes from an important Greek word parakaleo.

It can mean what we’ve just been thinking about. Comfort, or consolation.

The word parakaleo comes from two words, pará, close beside, and kaléo, to call.

And so rather than being a word that simply means comfort or consolation it is much more the idea of calling to your side. The idea of encouraging, strengthening the idea that there is someone there with you. That you are not alone.

So when Paul uses this word again and again he’s not using the word to  suggest to us a kind of sedative,  or a crutch, or a sort of ‘there there’ spiritual drug voice in our ear. It is a much stronger word. Much closer to being strengthened or fortified or having someone alongside us.

So he is saying to this little church in Corinth, on one hand acknowledging that there are some overwhelming things that you are facing. Remember this Christian faith is new, they are a tiny minority and very diverse group in an environment becoming increasingly more hostile.  

And Paul is reminding the community that the only way we can manage these challenges is together and not alone. And together here means not just with one another but together with Christ along-side them.  Jesus alive with them in what they and we call the Holy Spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in my weekly letter about the 4 cubic meters, this  great pile of steaming compost that turned up in my driveway . Some things can seem overwhelming  makig us feel inadequate, helpless. And then half a dozen people came from our church with wheel barrows and shovels and the pile was gone in an hour. Parakaleo we come along side one another, the Holy Spirit comes along-side, and somehow we can manage the great pile of compost in front of us.

So this concentration in the text  of the word console of parkaleo we hear this morning.

4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

Paul is making the point very very clear. It is important.

5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.

Again and again this word parakaleo.

Paul is talking to us about something that gives us strength. And especially strength to face the difficult times.  The tough times.

In one way we know something about this. And it can be hard to put into words.

Think about the things that happened the first time you set off on your bike, or leaving home, or changing jobs, or maybe choosing to be with someone or even to leave someone or something or to  start a family or leave the country of your birth.

Those things that in one sense we did on our own, but in another sense could not have done without other things or another person being present.   The confidence we had gained from experience. The encouragement of a friend, the assurance of someone close to us, the wisdom of someone who had made that choice themselves. This knowledge or experience or belief or person that comes along side us, that is there with us, that enables us to make the decision to face the challenge to do the right thing. That’s what Paul is talking about. That what he is saying this God we worship is like.

This word parakaleo which can be translated in many ways but which Paul uses so often in these verses at the start of this letter to the Corinthians.

And if we go through this list this morning. And we will stick with the translation here of consolation but think of representing this much bigger idea.

The God of all consolation.   So God not preventing the challenge, not softening the hard times, but along-side us, present always, giving that strength that endures.

Pauls says: Who consoles us in our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation, with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

So we learn here from Paul that the very thing that has enabled us to get through the tough times, that God along-side us,  is a learning thing for us, that we can share with others.  Every time we manage to overcome tough times,  we gain a particular kind of  knowledge that enables us to help others get through the hard time. It is not a theoretical idea.  Jesus talked about the coming of the paraklette the same root word being with us when he is no longer there.

I know what it is like, and it is not easy, but this is what helped me get through.

5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

We hold on one hand the glorified and risen Christ but on the other the tortured and executed innocent Son of God. They are the two sides of the one affirmation. Jesus with us in the worst times and giving the  parakaleo the consolation the strengthening the deep confidence and assurance of resurrection faith.

6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.

So we join with Paul today, we join with that tiny anxious community who joined in Corinth to worship the risen Christ. And we find in these words the same thing that community which endured so much also found in the words. That we are not powerless, the situation or challenges we face are not hopeless. That there is one with us and for us. Knowing what we are going through. Coming along-side in the presence of others in the wisdom of experience,  in the deep discovery of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Knowing the truth of the words we discover in scripture. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake. AMEN.  

Notes:

Over the years like any minister I suppose I have conducted many funerals. And spent time with people who have been through very painful separations.  Known others who have despaired at the loss of jobs or the anxiety they have for their children.  Or the diagnosis of some illness  And almost all those things  have been accompanied by degrees of pain and suffering.

Perhaps it is an obvious thing to say but all that suffering also bears witness to the thing that are most important to us.    The hopes we have for a future. The depth of love we have for another.  Sometimes. It feels like we can’t live with his loss this suffering, but we also can’t live without these most important things. Loving another. The hopes and curiosity that lead us to grow and explore and discover. The love and joy we have in living. The risks that sometimes go wrong,  and sometimes even the mistakes,  but  lead to new and wonderful discoveries.

--------A little quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer imprisoned by the Nazis.

“I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”