Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perishable Vessels, Unperishable Hope (1 Cor. 4:6-18) - Part Two

Here is the second half of the homily that I preached on September 5.

The Hope that God Has Given Us (4:13-18)

13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

One thing that gets us through the trials that come our way is faith—not just faith in Christ (although this is crucial), but also faith in the Resurrection. For no matter how difficult our lives are, we know that our Lord Jesus has triumphed over death. And he has promised that if we live a life of faith in Him and if we are faithful to the end, we too will triumph over the dead. “He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus,” St. Paul says. No matter how bad the middle of the book of our lives can get, the end can be happy.

Another way we can triumph over our trials is by thankfulness. As St. Paul writes, all things—both good and bad—are for our sakes, so that thanksgiving will abound in our hearts to the glory of God. It is easy to give thanks to God when things are going well for us. When we are in good health, when we have a good job, when others show love to us, and so on, thanksgiving flows naturally. But when things go wrong, few things are harder than giving thanks.

And yet, this is exactly what God wants us to do. As St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “In everything, give thanks.” Notice that he did not say “FOR everything, give thanks.” We don’t necessarily have to thank God for illness, injury, loss of job, betrayal by loved ones, and so on…although later, we may do just that when we are restored. But we can nevertheless thank God that no matter what happens to us, He loves us and He has promised to take care of us. Few people have ever lost more at one time than Job. When Job had lost all, his wife urged him to curse God and die. But he refused, saying “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked will I return. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Finally, even though the lectionary reading for today ends with verse 15, I cannot help but continue on for a few more verses. Verses 16-18 are among my very favorite in all of Scripture. As St. Paul writes, despite all he had to suffer for Jesus, including mocking, beatings, stoning, hunger, thirst, shipwreck, threats on his life, and eventually imprisonment and beheading, he wrote “Therefore (that is, because of the his faith in the resurrection), we do not lose heart.” We too, must never lose heart. God will never leave us or forsake us! Sometimes we forsake him. Sometimes it SEEMS as if he has forsaken us. But he never has, and he never will!

St. Paul goes on here to remind us of something that we often forget. Even though outward person—our body, that is—is perishing (and which of us who is over 35 needs to be reminded of that?), our inward man is being renewed day by day. God has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and the Spirit’s presence within us renews our spirit. Our bodies can only get increasingly weaker and more frail as we age, but our spirits can grow stronger. And what is more important? We cannot hold onto our bodies forever, but our spirits will live forever. This is why St. Paul told St. Timothy that “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness with contentment is great gain.” There’s nothing wrong with taking care of our bodies; I try to do this myself. But it is even more important to take care of our spirits through fasting, prayer, worship, Scripture reading, almsgiving, and so on. These things help us to maintain our faith in Christ and our hope.

St. Paul then reminds us that our afflictions, in the perspective of eternity, are quite light and temporary. They certainly don’t feel like that at the time, but they really are. For as we have already seen, trials produce godly character in us, which in turn will lead to “a far more exceeding…weight of glory”—that is, eternal life. What we sow on this earth in tears, we will reap in heaven with joy.

Given all this, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us follow St. Paul’s example seen in verse 18. Let us not fix our gaze on the things that are seen. Let us not become trapped in our present trials, sorrow and heartache. Instead, let us look at what is unseen: God’s great love for us and for our parish, and his promise that pain, suffering, and death are not the end of our story. Let us fix our gaze on the hope we have through our faith in Jesus Christ. For “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

To him who is our life, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, dominion and honor forever, amen.

1 comment:

charlene said...

Father James,
Reading your sermon that I heard several weeks ago brought out so many points I had missed in the kistening. The story of the little boy and the butterfly can be taken as a warning as well as an explanation of why God allows us to struggle: When we attempt to help others grow, children for one example, we must be careful not to clip open THEIR cocoons, lest we leave them without the strength and tools to continue to grow.
Thank you for this sermon that makes the light of the Holy Spirit within us real to us, and for emphasizing the hope that can bring us peace, no matter what our situation in life.