Perhaps because the country is currently in the grip of World Cup fever, one phrase stood out from the passage in St Paul's second letter to Corinth that is included in this week's lectionary. 'Whether we are at home or away,' says St Paul, 'We make it our aim to please the Lord.'
It makes a big difference to football teams whether they are at home or away, and no one seems to know quite why. Occasionally, when non-League sides are competing in the FA Cup, it's because they know about – and can exploit – some of the idiosyncrasies of their pitch, things like slopes, bumps and hidden depressions in the surface. Professional sportsmen shouldn't be affected, of course, by the roar of the crowd. They should be able to blot it out and concentrate on the game. And so should referees. However, a statistician recently analysed Premiership matches and found that referees consistently award more free kicks to the home side than to the away side. He thought that, sub-consciously, referees might be responding to the partisanship of the crowd.
Whatever the explanation, there certainly is a home advantage in the World Cup. The home nation has won on several occasions since the competition resumed after Word War II, including – mostly famously – when England won in 1966.
In the lectionary passage, St Paul talks about the advantages, and disadvantages, of being at home or away. Being at home in the body may be a comfortable sensation because, after all, most of us have never had an 'out of body' experience, but it means that we are away from the Lord. St Paul would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
I wonder if this is a false distinction. Do we really have to wait until we are away form the body to be with him? Isn't the Lord with us now?
St Paul has an answer to those questions. Yes, the Lord is with us now – but only if we have faith. We cannot actually see him face to face and, however confident we may be that he really is with us, wouldn't it be even better if we could?
Does this mean that we will have to wait until we have died before we can really know Jesus as his first disciples did? The logic of St Paul's argument so far suggests that we will. But then he has second thoughts. If we surrender our lives entirely to Jesus, and begin a new way of living, because we have put our whole trust in the love he showed for us when he died on the cross, we have in a sense already died and gone to heaven. We have left behind the attitudes and appetites which used to shape us; we are dead to our old way of living since we no longer live for ourselves. We live for him! So that means we can know him – perhaps not in the old human way, face to face, but in spirit and in truth.
 2 Corinthians 5.6-10, 4-17