“12So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God. 13In this we find comfort. In addition to our own consolation, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his mind has been set at rest by all of you. 14For if I have been somewhat boastful about you to him, I was not disgraced; but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus has proved true as well. 15And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling. 16I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” (2 Cor. 7:9-16, NRSV)
I am a relatively young man but in my time on this earth, I have been able to witness many changes in the way in which we interact and live in this world. I am not talking about the changes of the seasons or the changes that occur from one generation to the next, (like music preferences or television shows) but rather the kinds of changes that can reorder and re-structure a society. They can alter world-views and redefine morals and can lead to positive developments in society. They can foster environments in which self esteem and courage can be embraced for people who once were enslaved and encourage equality in employment practices for women. They can be positive forces of moving toward hope and love.
But these changes can also lead to negative forces that alter the society so that in fosters hate for an unknown and unexplored religion or foster fear of people who come to this country merely to seek a better life whether they get here legally or not. These types of changes help to redefine many generations and can either develop relationships or destroy relationships; they can create love or cement loathing; they can foster hope or foment hate.
Before our very eyes, it has taken root in our society and even in our own lives and it has altered our sense of purpose and being. This type of change has created a new norm in our collective psyche and has infiltrated every aspect of our being, changing us literally from the inside out. It is more insidious than AIDS, more tenacious than Cancer, more oppressive than poverty and more appealing than money. This change has taken root in our morals and found growth in our minds to cause us to change how we behave. I am talking about an acceptance of the mediocre.
The mediocre is that thing that is characterless, common, commonplace, conventional, humdrum, indifferent, inferior, insignificant, mainstream, moderate, ordinary, possible, run-of-the-mill, second-rate, so-so, standard, starch, tolerable, undistinguished, unexceptional, uninspired, average. We as a society have shifted from being a nation, culture and people embracing purpose, excellence and hope, to a people that have settled for…..average. We have given up on the lofty goals of egalitarian democracy and instead have embraced factionalism and partisan politics because…that is the conventional wisdom of the day. We don’t challenge our leadership and our neighborhoods because of violence, drug abuse and poverty instead the ordinary thing to do is just move and never bother to help those who live there. Our children look to pass their classes and not to ‘Ace’ their classes and so they get excited over a ‘C’ because it means you’re just average. We maintain relationships of convenience, comfort and commonality because we want to be affirmed where we are and not be challenged into who we ought to be. We are a mediocre people with few extraordinary attributes.
Christ’s church has always been a place of affirmation, healing and hope for the oppressed of the world. No matter where you are and what you were going through, the church was a place where you could find love and assurance despite the world telling me you that you are less than ordinary. But in our present day society, the church has become insecure in preaching a message of hope. It has become cowardice in proclaiming a message of healing, and it has become divided in fostering affirmation for the poor and the oppressed. The church has instead added politics, censorship and a ‘Jesus-less’ message for the sake of survival and conformity in a world of mediocrity. And worst of all, it has remained silent and indifferent on the issues that Christ calls us to speak on. And so, in the 21st the church, is mediocre.
In the second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is writing to convey his excitement and joy at the hearing of the effective ministry of the church. Paul is the founding pastor of this church and is seeking to give guidance through his letters, occasional visits and his “co-Pastor” Titus. The church at Corinth is a difficult pastorate, (as preachers say). The people have come to the faith very naively and have no real conception of what it means to live for Christ. The old practices of their lives take up new residence in the church and force them to deviate from the purpose of God as communicated through their pastor… Paul. The church at Corinth becomes a hotbed of all sorts of callous, misguided and misdirected activity that mirrors the pagan rites and rituals of the common society. The church is in chaos and worse yet, when Paul attempts to assert his pastoral authority, the church denies him his rightful role as leader. Paul writes a letter of rebuke to the church chastising them for their immaturity and disrespect.
In this 7th Chapter of the text, Paul is celebrating the church’s repentant nature after they received the letter of rebuke. He congratulates them for hearing him and correcting the errors of their ways and helps them to know that he still loves them and still cares for them. Interestingly, in this text we see the Corinthian church as they have been wrestling with becoming mature in Christ. They have struggled with their identity and purpose as Paul has laid it out and up until now, have been nothing more than an average group of common Corinthians. Their ministry is mediocre at best and their fellowship is something a little less than that.
Despite these shortcomings, Paul says just before this particular passage in verse 4, “I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.” There is something about this church that encourages Paul and gives him a reason to hope and to boast. He writes with excitement and joy to a church that is still coming out of its own immaturity. The Corinthian church has given Paul nothing but problems and heartache and yet he can still say that he has pride and confidence in them. This church that has displayed nothing more than mediocre behavior and, at best, commonplace practices, gives their pastor a reason to boast and source of pride.
I say Paul can boast and be prideful because he expected more from the mediocre. Paul from the beginning had a vision for what the Corinthians would be and could be and despite their desire to be average and adequate, Paul expected something more out of them. He says in the text that he is not sorry for the letter of rebuke (v. 8) because it conveyed a different type of grief and pain; the kind of pain that motivates you to change your behaviors and your practices. It is this type of motivation that gives confidence and makes the mediocre rise to the potentiality of excellence.
Whenever we live mediocre, average and commonplace lives our purpose becomes blurred. In fact, the very danger of living a life that is commonplace and average is that it conforms to the status quo. Getting average grades means that you are just like everybody else. Following the trends of convention and popularity means that your purpose is defined by them and not by God. You look for certain jobs, focus in certain career fields, get a specific type of education because the masses, your friends and even your family have told you to do it and not because God has revealed it to you-this is the real danger of mediocrity. We buy clothes, go to work, walk, talk, eat and even vote in ways that keep us from being extraordinary. Human beings as social creatures tend to hide in the masses and move with the masses and anything that competes with that is not acceptable for human fellowship. You may even argue that all we are doing is simply being human.
Whenever you say to the commonplace that I expect more from you, you are looking to be in an extraordinary place. When you begin to live with a higher expectation of the average, your average begins to go up. Now this doesn’t mean that you can make people or things change in your life. That ain’t the meaning of Paul’s expectation. He says that it is God who consoles and comforts and it is God who brings those to repentance. And so it is with God that the changes will take place. The vision of truth here is found in the power of God to bring about change; and our power to expect more of the life in which we live.