Uniform 08.31.2014: Look for the Helpers

2 Corinthians 8:1-14

When I was little, I felt like I knew the man who invited children into his home each week and treated them like a true neighbor. Fred Rogers was more than a television star. He was our friend.

My mom says that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was always guaranteed to hook my brother, sister, and me into a half-hour of silence. She says we were transfixed by this simple man who gently introduced kids to the good and bad in the world. When I think of Mr. Rogers now, I remember brief moments: him changing into comfortable shoes and a sweater at the beginning of every show, inviting us to watch as he fed the fish, talking to his Trolley just before it took us on a journey into the Neighborhood of Make-believe, and taking us on trips to visit various places in his bigger neighborhood. He always spoke to and about others with kindness and gentleness. Most of all, I remember his opening song: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?”

I’ve thought of Mr. Rogers often through the years and have felt grateful for his genuine spirit. Now, I read quotes attributed to him and realize what an outstanding human being he truly was. In troubled times, one of his quotes gets shared frequently, especially on social media: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Many of our recent posts here on Coracle have noted the troubling current events in our world. In times like these, whether we’re heartsick over what’s happening in Africa or the Middle East or Ferguson, Missouri—or if we’re so buried in a personal trial that it is consuming us—I do think Fred Rogers had a wise mother. “Look for the helpers,” she said. I would add, “Be one of those helpers when you can.”

Our lesson text focuses on a piece of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He is pleading for them to follow through with a mission they began a year ago. He reminds them of other “helpers,” the Macedonians, who gave what they could even though they were poor. Then he tells the Corinthians that they have a chance to be helpers too. “It is appropriate,” he said, “for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means” (2 Cor 8:10-12).

Paul says that these Corinthians started doing something to help others. Even more important, they desired to help. When they began a mission to give, they were excited about it. They wanted to help others. Maybe now they are burdened by the situation. Maybe they feel jaded or taken advantage of. Maybe they simply think they don’t have enough to offer. But Paul is praying that they’ll get their excitement back.

When we see difficult things happening in our world, we should always look for the helpers. And we should also try to be the helpers. May we see it not only as a Christian calling but also as a “privilege” (2 Cor 8:3), for God can work through each of us to make a difference, one individual life at a time—and we can even feel excited about it!

“Fred Rogers Biography,” Bio, http://www.biography.com/people/fred-rogers-9462161#mister-rogers-neighborhood (accessed 21 August 2014).

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” Fred M. Rogers, http://pbskids.org/rogers/songLyricsWontYouBeMyNeighbor.html (accessed 21 August 2014).

Discussion

1. What personalities in television shows, films, or books have inspired you through the years? What public figures do you view as genuine, honest, caring people? How do they help others?
2. What do you think of the advice of Fred Rogers’s mother? Is it easy for you to focus on the helpers in desperate, difficult times?
3. Think of some troubling current events. Who are the helpers in these events? What are they doing to ease the pain and struggles of others?
4. In our lesson text, why do you think Paul points out that the Corinthians not only helped but desired to help (v. 10)? Do you think our motives are important when we do something to help others? Why or why not?
5. Think of some situations in your community, church, school, or home. Are there any opportunities for you to serve as a helper? How can you get excited about it?

Reference Shelf

At the time of the writing of 2 Corinthians 8:10, a year had passed since the Corinthian believers had agreed—apparently with enthusiasm—to participate in the collection. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 Paul gives them practical advice on how to gather it. During that time, the churches in Macedonia had also decided to participate and had done so in a big way (2 Cor 8:1-3). But also during that time, relations between Paul and some of the Corinthian believers had become strained as we have seen. That strain appears to have taken a toll on the Corinthians’ zeal for the collection. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8–9 enter the story at this point.

As mentioned, Paul appears to have put great time and energy into this collection. There are hints in his letters as to why he would do so. According to Galatians 6:15, the new creation in Christ transcends the boundary between those who practice circumcision and those who do not. In Romans, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, and both are reconciled to God by faith, for the One God is God of the circumcised and the uncircumcised (3:28-30). In 2 Corinthians, God, in Christ, was reconciling the cosmos to Godself so that the new creation, long promised through the Jewish people, is coming into being. The old things (including the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles) have passed away; new things are coming into being. All of this newness is from God, is the result of God’s righteousness and grace. No wonder, then, that the gospel of circumcision, with its insistence that Gentiles must become Jews, troubled Paul greatly, for it kept the old boundaries in place.

Furthermore, the division within the Jesus movement between adherents of the gospel of circumcision rooted in Judea and the primarily Gentile communities that Paul and others founded also troubled Paul, for the division meant for Paul that the Christ believers were not living out God’s new creation. There is consensus among scholars that Paul’s desire to reconcile these groups was likely the greatest impetus for his decision to pursue the collection project. It became for Paul a symbol of the restored unity between Jewish and Gentile believers that was itself an enactment of God’s new creation. Indeed, Paul may have hoped that the Gentile believers bringing their gifts into Jerusalem would “act out” the apocalyptic fulfillment of the nations streaming to Zion prophesied in such places as Isaiah 2:2-3; 60:4-7; 61:6, and Micah 4:1-2.

As Sze-kar Wan points out, such a vision of the new creation is spiritual, but it is also political through and through, for it “constructs a reality outside, beyond, but also encompassing all earthly empires, especially the Roman Empire.” Furthermore, the collection had economic implications. We’ve noted the Roman patronage system already. Richard Horsley describes this system as creating a political economy in which resources move “vertically” from the “have nots” to the “haves” who are higher up “the ladder,” thus reinforcing the poverty, exploitation, and powerlessness of the poorest ones. By contrast, “Paul organized a horizontal movement of resources from one subject people to another” to support the poor in Jerusalem.

Thus the collection was hugely significant for Paul. It symbolized the new creation that God is graciously inaugurating in which the cosmos is reconciled to God, just relations prevail among all people, freedom comes in the power of the Spirit, and there is peace. The collection, then, was a way of actively living out the gospel (as Paul understood it) and resisting the oppressive power of Rome. The problem in chapters 8 and 9, as we shall see, is the Corinthians did not “get it.”

Reference

Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 153-154-300.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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