“Roundabout Peace” 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 7/8/2018
Ever feel as though you’re going around in circles? There might be a reason for that. More and more cities are choosing a new approach to traffic control. Inspired by our brothers and sisters across the ocean, city planners are replacing traditional traffic signals with more efficient roundabouts.
Proponents tout them as if they’re the answer to the modern-day scourge of traffic congestion and big-city growth. Naysayers avoid them like the plague, sometimes driving miles out of their way to avoid the confusion of a never-ending parade of circling cars. \
Roundabouts. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we’re going to see more of them.
Gone are the long lines at intersections while drivers grip their steering wheels, grimly waiting for a green light. Instead of drivers stopping and starting according to the changing lights, roundabouts encourage traffic to keep moving in a smooth pattern. Roundabouts have been shown to be safer, cause less air and noise pollution, and are more efficient than the usual stop-and-go traffic experienced at traditional intersections.
When accidents do occur, they’re less severe because cars are moving at a slower pace, rather than barreling through the intersection in an attempt to beat the light. In some parts of the nation injuries in traffic accidents at intersections are down by 75 percent, while the number of fatal accidents has decreased by a staggering 90 percent. Experts conclude that taking away the need (or temptation) to beat a red light has led to slower speeds and, thus, safer driving.
The emphasis at roundabouts seems to be on cooperation rather than competition.
If roundabouts had existed in the first century, Paul might have used them as an example for ordering church life. Roundabouts can teach us a lesson about how to survive in community.
In roundabouts, as in churches, people need to pay attention to one another in order to get along. The challenge is to instruct drivers in the new, improved way of working with one another. It takes a certain amount of education, patience and good will on the part of all concerned, but once drivers are accustomed to the new traffic circle, improved efficiency and safety result. The ensuing traffic patterns could be instructive to anyone attempting to live and work together.
Paul provides some gems of instruction for congregations in his letter’s benediction or final blessing. Often by the time readers have reached this point in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, having diligently analyzed Paul’s often complicated and dense, theologically packed sentences, the reader is already thinking about taking a break and pausing for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
It’s easy to glide over these last sentences and head for the finish line. One gets the feeling that the letter is complete, and it’s time to move on to the next piece of entertainment or education. And that’s too bad, because these last few sentences offer much insight into life as a Christian community. If we skip these lines, we miss out on Paul’s insights on a central point of this letter: how to live and act as the church and the body of Christ.
Paul completes his letter with a telegraphic style that lobs short bursts of wisdom to sustain readers on the journey. A benediction or final blessing in worship is the last “good word” that concludes a service, offering worshipers a blessing to carry with them as they depart for the world waiting outside the sacred halls of the sanctuary.
At the conclusion of this letter, the reader is presented with some choice phrases, brief enough to commit to memory and yet important enough to mull over and act on. As Paul bids the Corinthians farewell, he leaves them with a to-do list of last-minute reminders, almost like a parent walking out the door and calling back to children over his or her shoulder, “Now remember to feed the dog, do your homework, and don’t hit your sister or brother.”
A parent might do well to quote Paul when organizing family relations: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace” (v.11). Or simply stated, “Think in harmony and be agreeable.”
The Corinthians are on their own now, as Paul leaves them with careful instructions on how to live together as the body of Christ. He concludes his letter knowing that if the Corinthians follow his advice, not only will they be better off, but Paul will receive fewer letters of complaint, and he’ll have to deal with less strife during a future visit. It is now up to these young Christians to take Paul’s instructions to heart as they embark on this new challenge of forming community in the name of Jesus.
No one can argue with the vision Paul paints for his young churches; every intentional community desires to be successful and to live in peace with one another. The challenge is more in the process.
One wonders if the readers of Paul’s letter looked on the backside of the parchment to search for some further instructions or additional insights. The early Corinthians might have wondered, “Is that it?” “Are there no more details to be given?”
The questions abound: Now that we have the goal of agreeing with one another and living in peace, just how do we get there?
- How do we obtain that ideal balance of working, serving and believing while living in harmony with one another?
- Is it possible to just decide to live in peace?
- Has the world experienced wars and chaos only because of lack of will?
- Can one wake up in the morning and simply choose to be agreeable and to get along with others in the community? Or is some concerted effort necessary?
- Does it require sacrificing strong opinions?
- Must one constantly bite one’s lip, lest disagreements arise to threaten the status quo?
- When arguments do crop up, what then?
It’s a rare congregation that hasn’t experienced a church disagreement or fight, sometimes over weighty matters of theology and belief, but more often concerning paint colors; or whether to get new carpeting; or put in an elevator; which hymns to sing; or which style of worship to use; or what to do about the future of the congregation. Churches are filled with opinionated, deeply caring, thoughtful and sometimes overly sensitive human beings.
Church gatherings can be like any extended family coming together for the holidays; it can be a messy mixture of joy, jealousy, creativity and chaos. People hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, but often they don’t realize their brand-new idea seems to relegate beloved traditions to the dust bin.
Small misunderstandings can evolve into virtual standoffs, in which no one is talking or agreeing and things certainly aren’t “in order.” No matter what Paul says, when family members are at odds with one another, the last thing they may desire is to be greeted with a kiss, holy or otherwise. Paul could be asked if that activity is a requirement – or can community members opt out and wait for peace to once again prevail?
Even in the short form of a benediction, Paul manages to give wisdom that families, churches, work groups, clubs and organizations everywhere can use.
Paul emphasizes what’s important:
- Let’s all pull together.
- Let’s be mindful of one another.
- Let’s consider how to wrestle with the disagreements & challenges that will inevitably occur – arguments, disagreements, misunderstandings, jealousies – whenever two or three gather, in the name of Jesus or for any other purpose.
Living in community is much like driving on busy, crowded highways, and Paul presents some rules for these roads. At times, it will be necessary to yield, slow down or use extreme caution. Just like careful drivers, Paul urges us to keep our eyes on the road, not allow ourselves to become distracted by multiple influences and to pay attention to people who are also on the journey.
Perhaps Paul’s benediction could be reworded with our roundabout journey in mind. It might sound something like this:
Farewell, brothers and sisters. Remember that we are all traveling in the same direction, although at differing speeds. At times, a fellow traveler may need to exit (the conversation, the project, life itself) before you do. Trust each other enough to allow that freedom. Keep your eyes on the road and wish people well in their travels. Don’t be so focused on your destination that you forget to enjoy the scenery along the way. As we continue in our roundabout journeys, let’s endeavor to agree on the general direction we’re traveling. We can work through our differences. At times, we may bump into one another, but because we’re all traveling together, we can handle the collisions easily. Acknowledge and be aware of the differences that exist, but celebrate the larger agreements we share.
Roundabouts: a vision of God’s people traveling separately yet together toward a shared destination.
With good will and God’s grace, we can journey, and we will journey on this road together.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, July, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 7-8-18” name of the sermon.