Oh, one more thing! says Paul. You all are being conned by those super-apostles who walk around with their fancy credentials and their compelling rhetoric, but tell me this. Can any of them claim to be on the run from the law? Did any of them have to get smuggled out a window in a basket?! Yeah, I don’t think so…
Escape by basket is not a traditional selling point on a resume, but it’s a thing that happens in the Bible more than you’d think.
For Paul, it happened back in the days when he was breathing threats and murder against the Christians. In his previous life, he worked as a bounty hunter going after anyone who followed Jesus until that day on the road when Jesus got him. In the days that followed, the disciples weren’t sure what to make of him. He began preaching that Jesus is the LORD, he even drew a small band of supporters! This confounded the religious leaders in Damascus who plotted to kill him.
That’s when his followers knew they had to get him out of the city in a hurry. There were guards posted at the gates, so his crew found a window in the city wall. They went by night, hiding him in a basket and lowering the basket through the window, down the wall, until he got out and made it to Jerusalem. And I have so many questions!
How did these early Christians know this guy was telling them the truth when everyone else wasn’t so sure? Where did they learn this basket escape plan? Had they done this before? Did they just keep a basket on hand just like some people keep a collapsible ladder with their fire extinguisher? I could not begin to tell you how they were so good at this! I could guess where they got the idea because the Bible loves a good Escape-Out-The-Window story!
Thousands of years earlier, two Jewish spies were sent by Joshua to scope out the land of Jericho. They were staying at Rahab’s house. Once the king found out, he his sent his men to arrest the spies, but Rahab warned the spies that they were being pursued. Then she literally engineered their escape, using ropes to lower them out the window.
Then there was the time King Saul got afflicted by an evil spirit. In his distress, he tried to kill David with a spear. When that didn’t work, Saul sent henchmen to David’s house to finish the job, so late that night, you know what David’s wife Michal did. She lowered David down through the window, then she stuffed his bed, so when they busted in, she could tell them: Oh look, he’s sick in bed.
If you’re starting to think, the LORD our God must have a penchant for daring escape, you are absolutely right. God looks at this world, and loves this world, and even when her heart is moved by anguish, when seeing the world makes God cry, what the Holy Spirit wants us is for us to come into right relationship. This is what it is to be free. Again and again, the Spirit keeps getting into the story and driving it toward liberation. It’s his signature move.
Today is the last Sunday in our summer series called Why Church? We know that people don’t go to church simply because everybody is going to church. These days, everybody isn’t. This means, if somebody is choosing to come to church, that’s remarkable. That is worth noticing! And so we’re asking: What is it that the Church offers that you can’t find just anywhere?
For the past weeks, we’ve been identifying precisely how the Church is distinct from the world and today it’s this: We’re choosing to follow an unlikely savior. The world is afraid of weakness; the Church is not. We know where our power comes from and what it is.
In the scripture we heard today, what happened was that missionaries had come to this church that Paul had founded, now these missionaries are telling the Corinthians that what Paul had been teaching them is wrong. Well, once Paul got word of this, he erupted in fury. Now in the passage Marissa read, we’re hearing Paul argue his case to the Corinthians:
You all are being conned by these super-apostles! Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So. Am. I. Are they ministers of Christ? Yeah, but I’m a better one and you want to know why? I have a criminal record. I’ve been beaten and shipwrecked. Often I don’t have enough food or clothes; I’ve gone nights without sleep.
You all think they are so perfect? Well, Surprise! I am weaker than you can imagine. I’m an entirely broken person.
Paul writes: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
By using reversal to subvert our expectations, Paul is doing something more than asserting that his ministry is better. What he’s really saying is: The contest is a problem. Standing before you is a preacher who is embarrassingly weak and more than a little bit broken. The only thing I have is my faith in Jesus, the only thing I can give you is faith in Jesus, and you and I know, Christ saves us not in our moments of triumph but when we’re shamefully in trouble. I’ve been in trouble, I know.
And I have to tell you, I think Paul is onto something. His argument exposes how easy it is for us to ascribe power to forces in the world without even realizing that’s what we’re doing. A whole lot of the time, we’re impressed by what we’re supposed to be impressed by. Whether it’s money, or guns, or grades, or status, the world wants us to know what power is and who has it. Without questioning the contest itself, we can find ourselves swept up in it and playing to win.
Then along comes the Gospel, and it goes: Surprise! When it comes to power, maybe don’t be so sure. When it comes to power, says the Gospel, what are you going to do with yours?
Through this argument of reversal, we hear Paul asking the Corinthians the same question he would ask us: Whom do you serve? Whom do you mean to serve?
Because if it’s Jesus, we should know what we’re getting into. Following Christ isn’t going to make us more impressive. This is a guy who never led an army into battle; he never won a gold medal, or a Nobel prize, or a lot of money.
Jesus spent time with old people and children. He wasn’t afraid to touch people who were sick. He wasn’t afraid to sit down next to somebody who was crying. Jesus knew what it was to be homeless, to get arrested, to get executed by the state, and betrayed by friends, and that’s not even the end of the story… If we choose to serve Jesus, the first thing we’re going to see is our own weakness. The next thing we’ll see is that Jesus is not even afraid of it; he’s not even embarrassed.
You and I know we live in a world that demands perfection. It seduces us with the taunt that goes, Sure nobody’s perfect, but come on, don’t want you to try to come close… And I’m telling you. We can fall for that without even noticing.
Here’s what I can tell you for sure: The Holy Spirit does not want us to be perfect, she wants us to be free. This is the difference between serving the forces in the world that try to own us and serving Christ who tries to show us how get up from the dead and find new life. I mean you know Jesus, he’ll gas up the getaway car. He’ll smuggle us out the window if that’s what it takes…
Now can you imagine if this is the work of the Church! I mean, of course, our work is serving communion and bringing a casserole to someone recovering from surgery. It’s sending a sympathy card, and listening to children learning to read, and working the food pantry, and playing in the band, of course. It’s just… What if you could count on the Church when you’re the one in need of a quick escape…
Whichever forces have laid a claim to your life: Our jobs. Our addictions. Our grades. Our money problems. Our medical problems. Our stellar accomplishments. Whatever power we’re serving that we don’t mean to serve… We are showing up this morning because there’s another choice, and it’s our job— and it’s our joy— to keep reminding each other that we’re not destined to be held captive by any force in this world. God keeps getting into the story, and he has set his face toward liberation. God wants us to get up from the dead!
I’m here to tell you, you can count on us to help, even if this means showing up in the middle of the night ready to spirit you out the window. Let the Church find the basket and set the rigging. Let the Church say: Come on, the map is marked, the snacks are in the car. We’ll get you out.
We didn’t come here by mistake. We know what we’re doing here. We will help each other serve Christ. We will help you come back to life.
This is our power. Thanks be to God.