“I can’t do it.” This is a familiar refrain in our house. It is used often by my kids about homework, household chores, and getting up for school in the morning. I can’t blame them for it – I used it lot as a kid too. I still do. There are still times when a task comes up, a project needs to be planned or executed, a conversation needs to be had, or a potential conflict needs to be stepped into and this familiar refrain comes quickly back to mind. And no, it is not typically spoken so clearly or brashly as it once was. But it is there, lingering somewhere in that space between my head and my heart. There are just some things that feel beyond our ability to do them. Thankfully, I was recently reminded that, when these words come to mind, I am in good company.
“I can’t do it.” The Apostle Paul uses these words for the task that we as Christians have been given. In 2 Corinthians 2 he is writing in a very personal way about the very personal and very practical challenges of being a less than perfect church in a less than perfect world. As he writes, he is aware of the personal and moral and spiritual conflict that can exist within the Christian community – and not just conflict that can but does exist in the community he is writing to. He is writing in part to try and mend fences between himself and this group of Christians after a series very difficult series of conversations. As he writes, he is also aware that this is the very community who is also given the task of being Christ’s witness and presence in the world. He speaks of how Christians are to be like “the aroma of Christ” – that is, people should be able to “catch the scent of Christ” on us like we might catch the scent of a loved one’s perfume or cologne on their jacket or in the room they just left. And this aroma is to be “the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere,” a scent that for some will feel like an experience of life and for others like a reminder of death. This is no small task. And Paul recognizes this is especially no small task for a less than perfect church like Corinth with its less than perfect leader like himself. So Paul writes, “Who can do this?” Or, to read a little between the lines, he is saying, “I can’t … we can’t … do this!” That is on our own this is simply too much. It is simply impossible. So what can or what should we do instead? Paul suggests that instead of perfect, we should pursue sincerity. He says that rather than focusing on trying to be perfect, we should instead focus on being sincere. So we should speak honestly, genuinely, sincerely about what we have come to find and are continuing to find in Christ in the midst of all the imperfect ways that we live this out on our own and together.
“I can’t do it.” These are welcome words because I can’t be enough on my own nor can we be enough together. We can’t be perfect friends and family members, perfect parents and children. We can’t be perfect Christ-followers and church leaders, perfect hosts and caregivers and witnesses and worship leaders both in our congregation and beyond. We can’t be a perfect church. But we can be a sincere one. One who sincerely points to the One who is perfect and whose grace is more than enough for our imperfections. And when we do this with sincerity, Christ’s “aroma” has a way of lingering on us.
- Joe Welty