I love a good legend. There is something about the way we tell stories to tell ourselves about ourselves that is fascinating to me and almost always has been. Whether it is ghosts and monsters, gods and goddesses, great warriors, great civilizations, or just a simple folktale, I love looking at the world through the lens of myths and legends.
A more recent legend that I have read is about an ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. The story is about the fifteenth century shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Yoshimasa was not regarded as a great shogun, in fact, during his shogunate there was a civil war, The Onin War, over economic distress and the question of who would succeed Yoshimasa as shogun. He was, however, a great patron of the arts and built the great Silver Pavilion, a beautiful retirement villa in the eastern mountains of Kyoto, which would eventually become a Zen Buddhist Temple. Yoshimasa was also a practitioner of the Tea Ceremony and this is where our legend begins. It seems that at some point Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea cup. Distraught over the apparent loss, he sent it to be repaired by Chinese craftsmen with the hope that he would once again be able to enjoy this very personal treasure. He was dismayed to find that the repairs were done with ugly metal staple like ligatures, leaving the cup in worse shape than when he sent it out. The Chinese had so damaged the cup in the process of repairing it and it seemed the cup would be irreparable. Not one to give up, the shogun gathered his own craftsmen and ask them to repair it.
The Japanese craftsmen decided that a normal repair would be impossible, so they decided to transform the cup into a work of art. They mixed together a special kind of resin and powdered gold and layered it over the cracks to hold the cup together while at the same time giving it a jeweled effect. The result was a process that would become known as Kintsugi, the golden repair. This art has come down through the centuries and across continents to allow people to create masterworks of pottery out of what might have been thought of as simply trash. It has spilled over into other arts and even philosophy as the idea of repairing broken things to be better than they were before they were broken.
Reconciled to Reconcilers to New Creations
For Paul, the church at Corinth was an exercise in patient work for a greater good. When Paul first goes to Corinth in Acts 18, he meets Aquila and Priscilla, fellow craftsmen, and from there Paul begins to make inroads with Jewish and Gentile believers alike. For a year and a half, Paul begins and continues the process of church building, that is making disciples for Jesus. Paul is joined later by Silas and Timothy and they begin to disciple people in the ways of Jesus including Titius Justus, who “lived next door to the synagogue” and Crispus, “the official of the synagogue.” Eventually, the leaders of the synagogue that “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law,” and ran Paul and his companions out of town.
Sometime after this, Paul and his friends begin corresponding back and forth with one another and some of these letters, or fragments of letters, survived as the texts that we see in the Bible. While we have only two letters in our Bible that are listed as being to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote several and Second Corinthians itself is at least two letters which have been collected together (chapters 10-13 written earlier than chapters 1-9). This letter is an example of the relationship that Paul and his companions had with the church at Corinth, a relationship that ran the gamut of emotions from joy in their new faith to frustration and anger over the acceptance of false teachers and their teaching.
As we come to our text today, Paul has been through the struggles with the Corinthian church and has now come to the other side. The so-called ‘super-apostles’ have been corrected and sent packing (though we won’t read about them until chapter 10) and Paul is ready to get into some meat on the bone teaching about the nature of being a disciple. This teaching that Paul brings to the Corinth church has three facets to it – reconciliation with God, becoming a new creation ‘in Christ,’ and then becoming one who aids in reconciling others to God. In my reading, this hinges on this idea of being and becoming ‘in Christ.’
Paul’s begins this discussion of ‘in Christ’ in this passage with verse 15 which says, “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” This idea of ‘no longer living for ourselves’ is key to becoming a disciple of Jesus. When we can realize and live with our life not being our own, but a life given to us by the Creator and then be able to offer that life back to the Creator, we are on the road to becoming a disciple. This realization is the foundation for reconciliation with God or repenting, reorienting ourselves in the direction of God. According to theologian Paul Tillich, salvation is healing (think having a salve put on you, same root word). “Healing means reuniting that which is estranged,” which I think is a good definition also for reconciliation.
Once we are reconciled, we become and are becoming ‘new creations.’ As new creations we find ourselves ‘in Christ,’ or in union with Christ. One writer says, “It is Paul’s short hand formula, a formula which encapsulates and summarizes the unique, close, living, dependent relationship between the believer and Christ, with all the implications which flow from that.” The term ‘in Christ’ is a general term of the early church but is found almost exclusively in the letters of Paul in the New Testament (94 out of 98 times that it is used). Some translators choose to use the phrase ‘in union with Christ’ rather than ‘in Christ’ as a way of being more specific about the meaning. To be ‘in’ something as it is used here, I believe, calls to mind the idea of baptism and specifically, immersion. Being ‘in Christ’ is being completely, totally, mystically, immersed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (5:15) so that his life is lived through us as our new life (5:17). When we are ‘in Christ,’ we can take on the continued ministry of Jesus through the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. This ministry is a ministry of new creation and reconciliation. Like the craftsmen who practice the art of Kintsugi, we ourselves become repaired vessels working to help repair other vessels to make them better than they were before they were broken.
Once we are reconciled and new creations, our mission is to be someone who helps reconcile others to God ‘in Christ.’ This union with Jesus means we shared in the ministry and mission of Jesus. We are called to then take up the mantle of Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit of God as disciples to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release oppressed from their bonds, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This then, is how the whole of the Kingdom becomes those ‘in Christ’ leading others to become ‘in Christ’. This is the foundation for the Kingdom of God here on earth.
For many of us, this was our life before we began to walk as disciples of Jesus, broken and in pieces. “Human judgments are not merely inadequate. They are also tinged with prejudice and bias. We make them with our own interests in mind.” For some of us, our journey of faith has seen the mended parts broken again as those judgments led us back to old patterns of living, ways of thinking at odds with the Way of Jesus. Along the way we refused to accept the pieces grafted into us, denying the scorching heat of the repair process and allowing ourselves to be only partially repaired before shying away. Where are you now? Are you wandering away from God, in a direction leading you from reconciliation? Are you reconciled but in need of being, becoming a new creation? Are you ready to take the next step and become an instrument of reconciliation?
Allan, John A. “The ‘In Christ’ Formula in the Pastoral Epistles.” New Testament Studies, 1963: 115-121.
Arndt, William F., F. Wilbur Gingrich, F. W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Best, Ernest. Second Corinthians: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Crouch, Frank. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. 03 03, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3999 (accessed 03 24, 2019).
Ehrman, Bart E. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Fifth edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Greene, Joel B., and William H. Willimon, . The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.
Hearon, Holly. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. 03 14, 2010. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=535 (accessed 03 24, 2019).
Larsen, Iver. What does “in” and “in Christ” mean? n.d. https://www.academia.edu/4180832/What_does_in_and_in_Christ_mean (accessed 03 27, 2019).
Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957.
 1 Corinthians 18:7-8
 1 Corinthians 18:13
 (Tillich 1957, 166)
 (Larsen n.d.)
 (Larsen n.d.); see also Good News Translation, 2 Corinthians 5
 (Best 2012, 53)