Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace. - 2 Corinthians 13:11
The final words of advice Paul gives to the Corinthians as he signs off his second letter are good advice for churches to heed, especially since he tells us that following this advice will bring God's love and peace among us. But if we're being honest, it's not always easy advice to follow.
For example, "putting things in order." There's often a lot of resistance to moving beyond the 'way we've always done it' and creating a new order in churches. And sometimes, the dis-order of rapid change seems to rule the day, making 'putting things in order' an overwhelming task. Paul also advises the church to listen to his appeal to live spaciously in the good news and give our lives over completely to God. But that kind of sacrificial living often feels inconvenient or uncomfortable or even risky. "Agreeing with one another" is certainly great advice - as long as your fellow church member is not of the opposing viewpoint in these days of divided worldviews. And who doesn't want to "live in peace?" But we all know that sometimes the church is not always any more peaceful a place than anywhere else in this conflicted world.
So what do we do with this advice from Paul as a church reading his letter? Of course we would like to follow this good advice. It's just that it often seems that the ways of the world conspire to foil our efforts. It makes me ask: How do we ever make peace with the fact that in our human weakness, we are simply unable to live up to God's law fully? (Paul certainly understood this. He famously says in his letter to the Romans, "I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate!")
I think what Paul says last holds the key. He writes, "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints [here] greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
Greet one another, not just with the usual 'Hi, how are you' that we use in every day parlance - but with a holy kiss. That is a different kind of greeting. It means to receive one another as Christ. It means truly honoring the other and listening deeply to what God is up to in their lives. And then praying that all of God's grace and love and communion be with, between and among us all.
In other words - we need to bring God into our relationships. Yes, of course, we strive to do our best (in Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Paul's letter) to be cheerful, to keep things in good repair, to keep our spirits up, to think in harmony and be agreeable.
But under-girding all of these efforts, in Christian community, we must commit to a deep spiritual practice that is not always easy - but, like all disciplines, something we can make a practice of nonetheless - honoring each other in Christ. Imagine everything you say to another is in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Make each interaction more like a holy kiss. Express love for Christ in everyone you meet - both friend and enemy - and pray for each other in the name of God. That, Paul, is very good advice for bringing God's love and peace to earth.
Note that during the season after Pentecost, which begins next week on June 18, we will be using the "Track 2" readings in our Sunday services.