The scripture you heard is a letter from the apostle Paul to the community at Corinth. Paul began a church there around the year 50, not in the modern sense of the word, like a building with a steeple, but a community of people following Jesus Christ. After about a year and a half, he left for Ephesus to establish another community but would stay in touch with the people in Corinth by writing letters, ministering to them and instructing them by mail. (not a bad way to do things, maybe that’s what I’ll start doing. I could preach from home in my pajamas by Skype on the screen)
BBT writes-But not too long after Paul left… a new group of evangelicals that Paul calls “Super Apostles” came to the town of Corinth. And they begin to challenge Paul’s authority. They accuse him of being crude, manipulative and volatile. On top of that, Paul was short, insecure and tactless. He didn't work enough miracles and he was always in trouble. In and out of jail, getting beaten up in public, always rubbing people the wrong way, Surely God had better taste than that, the super-apostles suggested. Surely God would tap someone more, well, more like them, to serve as
Paul knew he was short, insecure and tactless. By the way, your Pastor is short and insecure as well, and at times even tactless, especially after a few sips of one of John Bischoff’s manhattans.
In this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is responding to criticism, as we heard last week, Paul reminds the Corinthians that we are all made of clay jars, we break easily, none of us are perfect, and life happens and we fall and we crack… but the treasures we hold we hold internally are gifts from God…We carry this treasure, Jesus Christ, and when we break, that light shines through the cracks…
This mornings reading is a continuation of this same theme…
Our outer nature is wasting away, says Paul… those are the things we can see…our bodies, the sagging skin, the liver spots, the way my arms jiggle when I do this, or the way I sometimes burp in the middle of a sentence with no warning…surely my outer self is wasting away…Half of you are thinking, you just wait…getting old is not for sissies, but our physical bodies are not the only thing Paul is alluding to. For Paul, the body and the body of the people as a whole, a church house, the body of Christ, is also wasting away. That is certainly true for the mainline Protestant church, we’ve all heard the statistics. But I would argue that measuring in statistics is much like focusing on the outer nature of things that Paul is arguing against…Which is why I give thanks to God that I’m part of this intimate and healthy community of faith here at St Luke.
But our bodies and the body of the greater church is not the only thing wasting away it would seem. If you’re paying attention to the news, we could extend this idea to our culture…showing signs of wear and tear… people fighting about the issues of the day and separating themselves into tribes, an inability to trust the person who thinks differently or sees the world differently…A growing inability to sit with relatives at Thanksgiving because of our political and cultural divide…we separate ourselves from others all the time,
Paul is emphasizing another way of seeing the world, by valuing the things we cannot see, our inner nature.
Vs 17-18….For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
What can be seen is temporary. Sounds so Buddhist, this idea of Impermanence is not new, it lives in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. And it lives in Fred Rogers, a cultural icon of a different time. His popularity is stronger than ever. There are two movies, one documentary and one feature film with Tom Hanks soon to be released, so there are lots of wonderful articles about him right now. But the best way to revisit is to watch old video clips of him, as I did this past week in a 2002 commencement speech where he talks about all things on the walls of his office and points to one in particular...
One line from the book The Little Prince. ” What is essential is invisible to the eye. Things unseen, eternal.
That line is arguably the entire story's essence and said by a fox that the little boy meets in his travels... The full line is…”One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye."
Rogers goes on to ask this question of the graduates, “what is essential about you?”
and I ask it of you this morning…
What is essential about you? What is unseen and eternal inside of you that lives in this gift of Jesus Christ but manifests itself differently in each one of us?
Rogers goes on to give the graduates a minute to think about all the people in their lives who have helped them to become who they are…
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. he says…And I now extend to you… A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some…may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. … So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.
Rogers never mentions God and Christ, but if you know he was a Presbyterian minister, you can hear the subtext so clearly. The bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, that very good stuff is the unconditional love of God who renews what is essential, what cannot be seen, our inner nature, not once, not once in a while….but according to scriptures…. day by day. So we do not lose heart…
Our bodies may seem to be falling apart, yet I wouldn't trade who I’ve become for all the firm skin in the world. Mainline Protestant church may be declining, but God is who is always doing a new thing is changing the way church looks as the need for something greater than self is deepening as a response to a culture that has lost its ability to look inward…What we value most lives internally and is shared externally in how well we love one another. In the choices we make. I’m not telling you anything you don't know, especially in the second half of life.
Father Richard Rohr wrote a book about the second half of life titled Falling Upward. It’s a wonderful book and in it, he writes…
Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole and lives inside the Big Picture.
It is not a loss but again, not losing but actually winning. You probably have met at least one true elder to imagine this to be true. People who have come to their fullness, often against all odds, and usually by suffering personally or vicariously. As Jesus describes such a person. “from their breasts flow fountains of living water.” (John 7:38)
I can think of many people that fall into this category, like Marilyn Linscott, who despite lying on a hospital gurney this past Tuesday, would smile wider and more richly than I do on a great day, who would lead us in song whenever there was a quiet moment, who when doing OT with the nurse, leapt from her chair to give me a hug goodbye and thank me for coming to visit, and said to me loud and clear on my way out for her hospital room at 95, I’ll see you Sunday… Marilyn and so many others in this congregation remind me of the gifts that life continues to bring to people who take heart, Who do not lose heart… that is who take the love they have been given by God, externally and internally, embraced life itself, allowing themselves to be renewed by this gift of a beating heart which holds more capacity for love today than it did yesterday because of all those uses essential things that make you a child of God.. day by day. Day by day and sometimes minute by minute.
Vs 15-Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Everything is for God’s sake… and grace, as it extends to more and more people, increases thanksgiving all to the glory of God….That one verse is
Finally, I want to point out that Paul and Mister Rogers had something else in common. Both were criticized. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could criticize Mister Rogers but it seems there were whole groups of Christians who felt his assertion that all people were special was wishy-washy. They believed that one had to earn their way into being special in God’s eyes. In other words to say all people were special, that all people are unconditionally loved by God watered down their faith into something too pedestrian. I can’t think of a better time in our world to stand up for a different understanding. In our reformed faith, we understand God’s goodness first. That is, we don't try to be good so that God will love us, God already loves us and our goodness is our response to Gods love. Paul knew that Mister Rogers knew that. We live that out…Day by day, take heart. God is offering this renewal day by day…Open your eyes to things unseen and see how God renews your faith in all things, day by day.
 BBT, Perfect in Weakness, Sermon