Let Us Not Lose Heart

Sermon,  June 10, 2018 –  Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Let us pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

How often do you feel discouraged?  That things just seem to be going downhill too quickly?  Our best laid financial plans may be falling apart.  Or perhaps we have a debilitating disease that spreads within our bodies.  Maybe we are watching our aging parents, or even ourselves, lose the battle with age.  Or it could just be that we see the growing malaise and sickness within our society and culture.  So much that is wrong, painful or evil continues an inexorable march forward.  It can be easy to lose heart.

And if you did lose heart, you wouldn’t be alone.  We heard this week about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both wealthy celebrities.  The media is talking about a crisis of suicide in our country.  I read that the suicide rate in the United States has risen by 30% over the past 20 years.  Depression has surged over the past decade, most notably amongst young people.  Losing heart is apparently becoming easier to do.

Some Christian leaders confront this sea of brokenness and tell us that we can overcome it if only we do the right things.  Those who preach the prosperity gospel tell us that if only we follow some cherry-picked verses from the Old Testament and adopt a positive attitude, that God will bless us and give us financial success.  Some will tell us that if only we have the right faith, our physical ailments can be healed.  Still others teach us that if we all would act with love, we could fix the world’s problems of poverty and discrimination.

Now some of these proposed solutions contain a kernel of truth.  Some more than just a kernel.  Surely, if we did follow the good advice given in Proverbs and other parts of the Old Testament to work hard, rise early, act prudently, and the like, some of us would probably find that we might have some greater financial success than we currently do.  And surely also, God still can perform miracles today, including miracles of healing.  And surely, God does call us to act lovingly and put the needs of others first, and that if we did this, the world would be a better place.

But none of these proposals are the Gospel, and none can give us the hope that the Gospel does.  The Gospel gives us hope even in the midst of continuing despair and brokenness.  This is the theme in our passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Our passage begins with the statement: “It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.””  This may seem like rather stilted language to our ears, but Paul is actually quoting Psalm 116 verse 10, and he is doing so to set the stage for what he is about to say.  In Psalm 116, the psalmist writes of how God rescued him from the snares of death, distress and anguish.  In the part that Paul quotes, verse 10, the psalmist is indicating that he is calling out to God for help because he first believed in God’s goodness and love.

And so Paul is declaring that we can have this same faith in God’s love for us.  We can have this faith, Paul says “because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus.”  Jesus Christ died for our sins on Good Friday, and then he overcame death, ushering in the new creation, when he rose from the grave on Easter.  By taking our sins upon him on the cross, Jesus removed the barrier to our becoming sons and daughters of God.  By conquering death by his resurrection, he showed us that our bodies would be transformed and renewed as part of his coming kingdom.  The resurrected Jesus is our hope of what awaits each one of us.

There are two things that flow from this that will keep us from losing heart.  First, it plants within us a response of gratitude and thanksgiving towards God.  Paul writes “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”  It is always important to maintain an attitude of gratitude towards God.  One thing that we can do to help us in this area is to seek out and learn about how the Kingdom of Heaven is growing here on earth.  Next week, we will be hosting April Dobbs and Father David from Uganda who will update us on the work done in Uganda at the school, orphanage and home for the aged.  We can give thanks to God for how the Shepherd’s Love organization assists the marginalized in Uganda and shares the Gospel with them.

Second, we should not lose heart even though we still see sickness and evil all around us.  How can this be?  How can we not lose heart if sickness and death keeps coming up?  Paul writes “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  For Paul, the outward refers to those parts of our lives that belong to this current age, whereas the inward refers to that belonging to the age to come – the Kingdom of Heaven.  The current age is the age we live in right now and see all around us.  It is the decaying world before it is transformed by Christ.  It is the world of sin, greed, sickness and death.  The age to come is the Kingdom of Heaven that is being ushered in by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This age began on Easter with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It is the age which will be finally consummated with the New Heaven and New Earth described at the end of Revelation.

And the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking into the current age.  It is present among us, yet not fully realized.  Even in the midst of the evil and sickness around us, the seeds of our renewal and transformation are being planted within us.  Paul writes that we are being “renewed day by day.”  This is not a sudden transformation, but a thing that is ongoing and gradual.  When we became followers of Christ and invited the Holy Spirit to renew our lives, the seeds were sown within us.  We are even now in the process of being transformed.  As we deepen our relationship with God and follow him more closely by studying the Bible, engaging with him in prayer, and being a part of the body of Christ hear on earth, we become transformed into being more of what God has called us to be.

But we are still awaiting the final consummation.  We aren’t there yet.  One of my favorite passages in the Bible can be found in Romans 8 where Paul addresses this issue head on.  Paul writes

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

We are being “renewed day by day” even though we still live in a world of sin, suffering and decay.  We know what the end result will be.  We have the promise that we will be raised with Jesus.  We know that God is creating within our inward nature new people, so that when the time comes, we will be raised up into new, transformed bodies, and we will inhabit the New Heaven and New Earth as sons and daughters of God.  And so, Paul tells us that the troubles we are facing in our lives today are “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul tells us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  What we can see is this world about us, and it is full of sin, sickness and tragedy.  But this will pass away.  What we want to focus on is what is invisible – that is God.

I read that glory is what God chooses to reveal of himself to us humans.  God is invisible, but we can see God’s glory when we see God’s revelation of himself.  Through the Gospel, God shines his light into our hearts, and this is God’s glory shining within us.  The Holy Spirit increases this glory in our lives as we are increasingly being transformed into being sons and daughters of God in Christ.  This is part of our being renewed day by day.  The great Protestant theologian John Calvin wrote that “the decay is visible, and the renovation is invisible.”

Interestingly, the lectionary concludes today’s reading with the first verse in chapter 5.  Many commentators argue, rightly, that verse 1 actually properly belongs with the rest of chapter 5.  But I think that it was included because it provides a wonderful concluding thought to our passage today.  Paul writes “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”  And so, as one of the commentators I read to prepare my sermon put it – at our death, God will remove the scaffolding of our outward frame – that is of our old lives which will have then passed away –  and will unveil our new selves – our new home not built by human hands which will last for eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth.

Let us pray.

Almighty Father, grant that we may always keep our hearts and minds focused on you; and we pray that you send your Holy Spirit into our lives to transform us day by day, as we listen for your voice in reading your Word and prayer.  We ask this in your name; Amen.

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