"Glory Pulls Us In"

Date Sunday June 10, 2018
Service Third Sunday after Pentecost
Text Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Gaining a Sabbath Perspective"
Next Sermon "The Reality of Uncontrollable Grace"

     Listen to this … it’s from the book I’m currently reading, Denial is my Spiritual Practice by Rachel G. Hackenberg and Martha Spong. Martha writes:

     “The week after the vet said my dog had cancer, my second husband admitted to having cheated throughout our marriage. The next week, a cracked filling left me minus a tooth. Then I found fleas on my indoor cat. These things led to bills I could not pay, and I stilled need to hire a divorce lawyer.

     I’m living in a very tacky soap opera,” I told my best friend. I could hear her a grin in her voice over the phone. “You’re a stolen truck shy of a country song!” (1)

     I imagine we all have had similar days, weeks, months or even years, which is why we need to hear the Apostle Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians. Last week we read: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that I made be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God, and does not come from us.” The treasure is the light of Jesus, or Divine presence, and the clay jars are fragile, breakable containers – that is, us.

     Paul goes on to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….” And, in today’s reading Paul proclaims, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure….”

     The language is complex, but reassuring, because it points to Paul’s certainty in God’s power. God must be powerful since God chose us mere morals to witness to divine glory. Paul wants the Corinthians to grasp that suffering should not deter them from testifying about Jesus.

     After all, Paul himself is no stranger to suffering. As commentator Carla Works points out, his letters to the Christians in Corinth refer to severe affliction experienced in Asia and then accounts beatings, shipwrecks and other near-death experiences to demonstrate the danger of his mission. (2)

     Paul message is that both death and life are at work in our lives and our world, but since God has defeated death by raising Jesus, life wins. God’s power and presence are real and can be trusted; that power renews us daily, even when that’s not apparent. So, we do not lose heart.

      We do not lose heart, do we? Well…we do, being the clay jars that we are, we struggle with discouragement, doubt and frustration. This week we've been reminded in the deaths of two famous people due to suicide, that even people who seemed to have it all - weath, fame, relationships - lose heart, and hope. The wasting away noted by the Apostle Paul takes center stage, literally as we face physical and psychological challenges that come with aging and having imperfect bodies. But, also that wasting away is evident in our world as safety, civility, tolerance and kindness are eroding around us.

     I recently read in Christian Century an interview with President Jimmy Carter, who continues to amaze people with his mental and physical dexterity. The interviewer asked what he would teach in a final Sunday School class. He said he would focus on kindness, the existence of which he described as being challenged.

     Here’s what he said: “We now have the possibility of eliminating all living creatures on earth with the use of nuclear weapons. The next step in the evolution of human beings has to be learning how to live with each other in peace and with some degree of love. Jesus said we should not only love our neighbor but love our enemies, which means loving those with whom we disagree. We have to learn to get along with Russians and Muslims and North Koreans in a constructive spirit of care….” That is, to be kind.

     In the answer to another question he says, “One of the human rights that we cherish is the chance to live in peace. We also believe that all people should have a good education, good health care, the chance to put into effect whatever talent or ability they have, and the right to a decent home.” (3)

     His words challenge the violence, division, prejudice and hate that plague our world, and which Paul calls, “a slight momentary affliction”. Really? Those seem like too major of difficulties to be labeled “a slight momentary affliction.” The death side of life often seems more apparent in our world than the life side; how can that be a "slight momentary affliction?  And, when we focus on our individual challenges – illness, financial struggles, relationship issues, loss – it’s even more difficult to look at it all as a “slight momentary affliction.”

     Paul refers to our world, and our bodies, as an earthly tent, another image of impermanence. Well, when that tent is in tatters – the fabric is torn, the fabric has faded, the tent pegs are lost and the supporting cord ropes have frayed – when one strong gust of wind could knock it over, how can one then carry on?

     Scott Hoezee says we focus on having received “an eternal weight of glory,” remembering that glory – a condition of splendor, magnificence - has power and heft behind it. Glory draws us in, it strengthens us, it shines a light in the darkness. And, this glory is not just for some day in the future, but for now, although it will be even more profound in eternity. (4) Glory is another way to refer to the priceless treasure that rests in the clay jar that we are; it enables us to not lose heart.

     It's true, then, that we do not lose heart, at least no permanently. Martha, with whom I began my sermon, didn’t. Glory pulled her to its Divine self even when she asked, “How will I go to the office in the morning? How will I keep breathing when it feels like a train hit me?” It gently shined a light on the ways she had denied the realities of her life. People who loved her showed up, and although she felt like a bird caught in a snare, like one in need of deliverance, it didn’t matter whether another person had set the snare, or she had set it herself, she believed God would help free her.

     “In time things got better, as they should in the last verse of any worthwhile country song,” she writes, “I felt rueful, remorseful, and regretful. I also felt repentant for lying to God and to myself. My dear dog Sam died, and so did the fleas on the car, eventually. I save money on the divorce by doing most of the paperwork myself. I kept my sense of humor. When I got married again (yes, again) and had better dental insurance, I got an implant. I’ll probably never buy a truck, though, because the last thing I need is for someone to steal it.”

     And, perhaps the words with which she ends are her version of a country song:

Thank you, Lord, for being there,

All day and through the night.

For loving and forgiving me,

When I don’t get it right. (5)

AMEN

 

             (1)   Denial is My Spiritual Practice by Rachel G. Hackenberg and Martha Spong, 2018, Church Publishing, pg. 49

(2)   “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1” by Carla Works, www.workingpreacher.org

(3)   “True Evangelical Hope” by Elizabeth Palmer, Christian Century, May 23, 2018, pgs. 30-33

(4)   “2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1” by Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, www.calvinseminary.edu

(5)   Same as #1, pg. 57