2 Corinthians 1:12-22
Saying Yes to God: Yes!
When have you received a “Yes” answer that made your day, or your year, or changed the course of your life? I think about the day of my ordination interviews. I had been serving as a pastor, as what was then called a “probationary member”, a three-year period where pastors were commissioned for ministry but not yet ordained. And I had a long day of interviews, where members of the Board of Ordained Ministry asked candidates question after question about our theology, our understanding of sacraments, our call to ministry, and our practice of ministry. And then we had to wait, and wait, and wait while the Board discussed us - me and the handful of others who were seeking ordination that year. After some 6 hours of waiting, they finally called us in - each into separate rooms, where a team was waiting to share the news with us: a yes, or a no, or a not yet. The chair of the Board was waiting in the classroom for me, along with a couple of others - I can’t tell you know who else was there. But the chair said to me: “We have one more question for you.” Internally, I was having a small panic attack. But I said, “Ok.” She said, “What does the word gospel mean?” This was a weird last-minute question, I thought, but I answered, “Well, it literally means ‘Good news.’” And she smiled at me. And I stood there confused. And she smiled. And I stood there confused. My brain was in a stupor. And she said, “It’s good news! We’re giving you good news!’ The answer was Yes! Yes, I was approved for ordination. Yes!
Another yes that stands out: I had finished a pastoral appointment and decided to ask for a sabbatical year. A year off to listen to God’s call more intentionally. A year to renew my spirit. A year to regroup and refocus. I really needed this year. And I was granted the sabbatical, but the sabbatical doesn’t come with a source of income. I had enough money to get through a few months, but not a whole year by any stretch of the imagination. I had applied for a research grant. I wanted to continue exploring some of the work I had done in my doctoral program about charity and justice and how to help congregations become more deeply connected to the work of justice-seeking. I knew that lots of people applied for this grant program, and my acceptance was not guaranteed. Applications were due in September, and answers would come in November. I can tell you exactly where I was when I received the email that said “Yes”, yes I would receive a grant. The relief I felt at this Yes was overwhelming. Tears sprung into my eyes. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Yes!
What Yeses have you received that have changed you? Changed your life? Today we’re wrapping up our series on “Saying Yes to God” with a text from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In the first chapter, we find Paul trying to explain a change in his plans. He had promised to visit the Corinthians again, after visiting Macedonia, and then meant to head from there to Jerusalem, bringing with him a large offering from both new Christian communities to give to the church in Jerusalem. But for a variety of reasons, his plans change. As he explains elsewhere in the letter, Paul eventually comes to feel that his not visiting would be better for the young faith community than if he did visit. Some of the Corinthians were mad at Paul because he’d sent them a fairly harsh letter, chastising them for some of their behaviors that weren’t in line with the way of Jesus. And so Paul decides not to exacerbate their anger by showing up in person. Others are sent in his stead, so they were not left alone to continue growing in faith.
But Paul finds himself now needing to defend his choice against accusations that he says one thing and does another, just like any hypocritical person that the Corinthians can’t trust. And so in our passage for today, Paul tackles these complaints head on. Paul says that he wasn’t just vacillating, not just indecisive when he changed his plans. He’s not, Paul insists, just saying Yes while meaning No, making plans he doesn’t intend to follow through on. Even though he changed his plans, he can still be trusted. Why? Because, Paul says, even if he had to change his plans, the message he proclaimed, the good news he’s preached to them, the story of Jesus has not and will not change. With Jesus, Paul argues, it is always Yes. Jesus never wavers from his commitment to God’s will or his mission to draw us closer to God, and in Jesus, all of God’s promises to us are fulfilled. Jesus is God’s Yes to us in human form. God in Christ Jesus,, at work through Paul gives Paul his standing among the Corinthians. God is Paul’s Yes among them, as long as Paul is at work proclaiming Jesus.
“For … Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’” What powerful words! In Jesus, we hear God’s message of Yes:
Yes, I created you.
Yes, I love you.
Yes, I forgive you.
Yes, I will never leave you.
Yes, I want to bless you.
Yes, I want the best for you.
Yes, I have hopes and dreams for you.
Yes, I am calling you.
Yes, I want you to follow me.
Yes, I will give everything to be in relationship with you.
Yes, I want you to give me everything in return.
Yes, I want to turn your life upside down.
Yes, yes, yes!
Pastor Edward Markquart writes that God does not say “Yes, but” and reject us. He says, “God did not say, “Yah, but you certainly messed up your life. Yah, but you are a three-time loser in divorce. Yah, but you certainly messed things up as pastor. Yah, but you certainly aren’t the [right] kind of mother or father. Yah, but look at the faults of your kid.” No, no, no … God is not a yah-but. To us, who like the earth, are corroded and fallen and sinful, God says yes. I want it clearly understood that the answer is yes. Cleanly, clearly, crisply, to you and to me in all of our sinfulness.”
“But there is more,” he continues. “God also says yes to those people that the world says are not worth much. So the world looks at a starving man or woman or child any place on the earth, perhaps a man, woman or child in Uganda who is dying of [AIDs] and their skeletons are showing because they can’t eat or drink and the world says, “Yah, but let that bag of bones die. Those starving bones aren’t worth much.” … Or, a person has grown older and older and the senility is slowly destroying the brain with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and their skin is shriveling up … and the world says, “Yah, but they aren’t worth much anymore … and they are taking billions upon billions of dollars to keep them alive. Yah, but they aren’t worth it.” … And so the world says, “yah, but they are a worthless ...?” And God says…Yes. Yes, for these people are the crown of my creation, the valued jewels of my kingdom. I want you to hear God’s answer, clearly, cleanly, crisply, Yes.”
“For … Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’” So what do we do, friends, because of God’s truly amazing way of Yes in our lives? As usual, if we follow the example of Jesus, we’re headed in the right direction. Jesus’s life was a Yes to God and a Yes to us. How are we saying Yes to God with our lives? And how are we showing God’s Yes to others?
Our word about God to others, the way we show God to others has to be more compelling than “Yes and No.” Paul knows that if the Corinthians, these new Christians, think that he and his co-workers are wishy-washy about the good news they’ve been sharing, if they can’t speak with conviction, if they seem to not mean what they say, or if they never seem to act on what they say - if their actions and words don’t match - then the new Christian Corinthians will have reason to doubt the very message about Jesus that has been shared with them, reason to doubt the nature of the God Paul and the others have proclaimed to them. And so Paul wants to make very clear to the Corinthians that what he proclaims and believes about Jesus is unchanged, what he teaches about God’s faithfulness is constant and enduring, and the Word - capital W - that is Jesus Christ is always a “Yes.” Paul knows that the more he can be a person of deep integrity, and the more he can show how his life has been transformed by Christ, the more he will be able to help others hear the Yes of God. How are we communicating the “Yes” of God to others? How are we showing to others the amazing faithfulness and constancy of God’s love in our life? How are we showing the “Yes” of Jesus?
God has said Yes to us in so many ways. And God wants our Yes in response. What’s been nudging at your heart, tugging away at in your spirit, that is God waiting for your Yes? Maybe God is asking you to say Yes to following Jesus, making a commitment to discipleship. Maybe God is asking you to say Yes to changing your life - letting go of addictions, or greed, or behavior that hurts you and hurts others. Maybe God is urging you to begin a ministry, a project, or join a mission team, or befriend some overlooked people in our community, or expand your vision of what it means to be a neighbor. Maybe God is calling you to become a leader, to raise your voice boldly, to preach the good news. Maybe God is longing for you to say Yes to God’s grace, yes to God’s forgiveness, yes to God’s love. God has said Yes to you. God wants your yes in response. What is the Yes God is waiting for from you? If you’re not sure what Yes God is waiting for from you, then I hope that you will commit to figuring it out. That’s the work of discernment. You don’t have to do it alone. Your friends here, your pastor here - we can help you in that work. But if you already know - if you know the Yes that God is waiting to hear from you, don’t hesitate. For with Jesus Christ, whom we proclaim here, it is always ‘Yes.’ In Christ, every one of God’s promises is a Yes. Let that be our answer too: Yes! Amen.