Preached at St. Mary’s, Chesterton
14th June 2015: 2nd Sunday after Trinity
2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
Not my words, Lord, but yours. Send your Holy Spirit that we may hear the words I speak not as a human word, but as your word addressed to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Love will make people do crazy things. A few years ago Cosmopolitan asked men to name some of the crazy things they had done in order to impress a woman. The list included taking a woman to IKEA so she could buy tea lights, donning lycra and joining her yoga class, or simply giving her the remote control for the TV. Yet the craziest thing, this survey said, that men would do to woo a woman was to become a vegetarian or date a vegetarian (which, in many ways amounts to the same thing).
Love will oftentimes lead us to do things, which, at any other time, would seem completely and utterly ludicrous. A couple of years ago, my wife and I watched a French film called Hor de Prix (or its English title, Priceless). (I must confess, it was her choice; but in hindsight I thoroughly enjoyed it!) The basic plot is that through a set of unlikely circumstances, a wealthy gold-digger named Irene, mistakenly woos Jean, the softly spoken, mild-mannered bartender at a classy hotel, believing him to be a well-heeled guest, only for him to fall head-over-heels in love with her.
As Jean pursues Irene, she takes him for everything he’s got (which isn’t that much). She insists on eating at the most expensive restaurants, buying the finest designer clothes, and staying in the most exclusive hotels. Desperate to keep pursuing Irene, Jean makes a series of increasingly frenetic phone calls to his banker telling him to empty his savings, withdraw his pension, sell his shares, and put everything into his account in order to fuel her every wish and whim. Finally, when he’s reduced to his last Euro, he gives it to Irene in exchange for just ten seconds more of her company.
As a viewer watching it, when you’re not laughing, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “No! Don’t do it! She’s not worth it! Stop throwing your money away!” Watching him throw good money after bad is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And all the while, you can’t help asking yourself, “What on earth would possess him to do that? He must be mad! Can’t he see that she’s using him?” Surely, only love could compel someone to do something so stupid. Only love.
Which leads us to the words of the apostle Paul that we heard earlier, explaining the motivation for his ministry—a ministry, let me remind you, for which he says later in this letter (2 Cor. 11:24-27) he received the forty lashes minus one on five separate occasions; a ministry for which he was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, and shipwrecked three times; a ministry for which he was constantly on the move and constantly in danger; a ministry for which he endured countless sleepless nights, hunger and exposure.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
Why did Paul do what he did? Why did he turn his back on the security of his very successful life in Judaism to become the public face of a group despised by Jews and Gentiles alike? Why did he suffer all the hardships that he describes for the sake of the gospel? Because Christ’s love compelled him. It was as simple, and as difficult, as that. Having begun to know and to experience the love of Christ for us, expressed by his death on our behalf, Paul concluded that he was left with no real option but to give everything in return.
Those who knew him, might well have been tempted to cry out, as I did watching Jean, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t throw away your life following a crucified Lord! It won’t end well!” But he did it anyway. Why? Because Christ’s love compelled him. Paul says in Philippians 3:8 that for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, he counted everything as loss. Nothing could ever compare. In order to gain Christ, he gave up everything. Everything. All his hope, all his trust, all his security in life was staked on Jesus. If this was a poker game, you’d say he had gone all-in.
Why would Paul, why would any of us, renounce those things we think give us confidence and safety for a life of uncertainty and vulnerability? Only if Christ’s love compels us. The Greek word Paul uses here (συνέχω) is so wonderfully illustrative. It means to hold together, constrain or compress; to surround, hem in, encircle or besiege; to control, seize, guard or hold prisoner; to afflict, consume, urge or impel. In short, what Paul means to say is that he has been gripped so strongly by the love of Christ that he simply cannot escape it exerting its influence over him. Christ’s love surrounds him on every side. It holds him prisoner. It afflicts him like a disease.
How was Paul so absorbed by Christ’s love? Because he was “convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Paul was confronted by the man on the cross and could come to no other conclusion that He who died there, died there for us all—in our place, as our representative, bearing our sin before God. In Him, God had said a clear-cut and categorical “No!” to our self-centred living, while saying a loud and loving “Yes!” to us. Paul saw that Jesus died and was raised for our sake; so that in Him we might live the life us humans were made to live, the life Jesus embodies—life in the presence of God, life as the children of God, life in the glory of God.
It is the conviction of Christ’s love for all, supremely revealed in His death on the cross, which compels us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to living for Christ. A few weeks ago there was a story in the press about a 29-year-old woman called Theodora Hawksley, who is part of an increasing number of women (particularly young women) entering life in a religious order. Asked how she ended up in the convent, she explained: “It wasn’t a decision that I made so much as one that was made in me that I discovered. It’s like any other relationship,” she said, “in that you suddenly realise you’ve rearranged your life around someone else, that you’ve encountered this life-shaping love.”
Why would an attractive, intelligent 29-year-old woman with her whole life ahead of her give it all up to become a nun? Because Christ’s love compelled her. Having been met by Christ’s great love for her, that love became the controlling influence over her life. And it wasn’t a burden; it was a joy. She wasn’t focussed on what she was giving up. She was focussed on what she had found in Christ—a love stronger than death.
But we don’t have to be nuns to live ‘all-in’ for Jesus. We do that in our everyday lives—as husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, friends, workers etc.—simply by letting Christ’s love be the controlling influence in our lives. In whatever it is we’re doing and in whatever role we find ourselves, we let Christ’s love set our agenda: transforming our thinking, shaping our speaking, empowering our efforts. For when Christ’s love compels us, we will offer a compelling testimony to Christ’s love for all.
So then, what is the controlling influence in your life? What is pulling the strings? Are you committed to living for Him who for your sake died and was raised? Are you convinced that He died you, and have you accepted and agreed to His representation? Are you compelled by His love, knowing that it was His love that drove Him to the cross that you might share His risen life? Do you know, have you experienced for yourself, what it means to be compelled by Christ’s love?
In a few moments’ time, the Lord will invite us to His Table. He’ll offer us bread, and say: “Take, eat; this is my body—the body you broke, but which I freely gave for you.” He’ll offer us a cup, and say: “Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood—the blood you shed, but which I freely poured out for you.” So as you come with empty hands, look at those signs of bread and wine that speak of His sacrifice, and see what crazy things God will do for love.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.