We are Easter People

I am writing my sermon, as I always do, early Sunday morning.  I read and stew all week, get a good start on Saturday night after supper and stop at just the right point to make it blossom at 5:00 a.m.  Today I am writing as my dear mother faces her final Easter day—not with an earthly date of month, day, year, but her real, realized eternal Easter.  She is having difficulty making the transition.  Her body is more than wiling and is forcefully dragging her down the path, but her Spirit is clinging to what she knows and loves.For 73 of her 95 years, she has lived in this castle, this fortress. She has made this old brick house a home for her husband and her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, for friends and neighbors and associates. She has charmed them with her hospitality, impressed them with her wisdom, and sustained them with her natural intelligence and ability. Now she looks out the window at the barn that always came first, representing the lifestyle she married, a lifestyle that required diligence and patience and demanded faith and hope.The corn is being planted once more, as it has been for all these years.  The wildflowers are blooming, as they always have for all these years. That is hope: knowing that something is coming.  She knows, in this final spring in this fortress, that her “hope is built on nothing less” than Jesus Christ.  Anticipation is a sly companion, especially when its revelations are unknown.  All our years, we anticipate this final Easter day, yet we are not in any way eager for it.  It is in our nature to be afraid of what we don’t know.  We can never know, until we finally experience it, what is behind that thin place that separates us from the living presence of God.  We say we know God, we say that we feel God’s presence, but we can’t fool ourselves.  We know this is but a “foretaste of the feast to come.” And so, as she waits, always the true self we have always loved, she savors each moment, even if it is boring or painful or frustrating or frightening.  She savors each word spoken, each petal of each flower in the vase by her table, each cool sip, each gesture of love. How privileged we are to have been a part of her journey.  How privileged we are to be able to accompany her, even as we fight the same reluctance she feels…the letting go..even when we confess that we believe in life everlasting. When we says we believe in life everlasting, it is tempting to think of this life we know as everlasting.  But in truth, we won’t know what everlasting life is like until we leave this life that is designed to be impermanent, finite. We are Easter people. We say that because it gives us hope. We are Easter people. We say that because it alleviates the fear of facing what we don’t truly know.  Faith and hope and love, the gifts the Sprit gives to Christians, is finally what helps us move from this dear, sweet life; the gifts of the Spirit help us forget the pain of the past and buoys us forward to what we keep telling ourselves, not out of desperation, but out of hope, out of belief: God has prepared a home for us.  Living in a big, old brick house for 73 years, making it a home, is as close as we can get to paradise on this earth. It is hard to leave something so beautiful. It is beautiful not because of the bricks or the classy furnishings or even the solid memories formed there.  It is beautiful because of the soul that created it. May that beautiful soul find peace and more beauty than she has ever imagined.  Amen.

Who Taught You How to Pray? Luke 11:2-4

 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.

3      Give us each day our daily bread.

4      And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

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What is prayer?  What is the purpose of prayer?  Who taught you to pray? Why did they teach you to pray?

My first prayer was connected with eating. Every meal began with prayer. Come Lord Jesus, B R Guess.    For some reason, I knew at an early age that B and R were letters.  I assumed Guess was just another letter. B.  R.  Guess.

At what age did I learn that the words are “Be our Guest?” Probably at about the same time that I realized we were asking God to make our food even better than it was when it came to the table.  We were asking God to make this food special beyond the fragrance and taste and texture that we enjoyed. The food was transformed beyond nourishment to something else, something sacred.

My grandmother and her quilting friends alway finished their noon meal with “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his mercy endures forever.” Another reminder of from where our sustenance comes. 

Like the table prayer, the Lord’s Prayer was learned from infancy, by listening, then imitating, and finally by understanding.  Something that I find delightful is that human mind is an instrument of discovery; thus understanding changes, matures, grows, expands as we continue to contemplate the reality of life.   Thus, I now know that B R Guess are not random letters inserted in a prayer, but are an invitation to have Jesus sit with us at our meal.

Likewise, my understanding of the Lord’s Prayer continues to deepen and grow in meaning for me as I deliberately examine it.  I can examine it in isolation, studying only the words of the prayer, or I can learn more by reading what other people have discovered about this iconic prayer.

Let me share with you what I have learned this week. 

  1. This prayer shows us who God is, what God is like. 
    • When we say “hallowed be your name,” we realize that God is holy.
    •    “Your kingdom come.” This petition tells us that we can expect God to change where and how we live, not only within our own homes, but within the world.  We are asking God to change the world. We ask with confidence because Jesus told us to ask.
    • “Give us each day our daily bread.”  We learn that God provides for us. God is more than a deity to be worshipped. God is the gardener, the grocery store, the cook.  God is the employer, the natural resources, the energy from which on which all labor depends.
    • “And forgive us our sins,” God is merciful. God is kind, loving, and intentionally removes our sinful blemishes, our flaws, our regrets. 
    • “for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  God has expectations for us. Just as God is generous, so God expects us to be generous. God does not give up on us when we hurt others, and God does not abandon us when we are hurt. 
    • “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” God can protect us from our own weakness.

These simple sentences tell how to think about God.  These petitions that seem on the surface to be about us and our actions tell us the most important ideas we can believe about God. God listens.  God provides. God has expectations for us. God has plans for us.  God protects us. God forgives us.  Even if no one else ever forgives us, God forgives us, not matter how egregious the sin.

When you pray this prayer, let it reveal to you the magnificence of God and the immediacy of God.  Let this prayer be on your lips, ready to seek comfort, to share pain, to give hope on a moment’s notice.  Anne Lamotte says this about prayer: “It is reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. (Anne Lamotte)

2. Prayer is the fundamental work of the Christian

Not stocking shelves at a food bank. Not filling the offering plate. Not making sure the coffee is made. Not making sure the grass is mowed and the snow shoveled. Not making sure the bathrooms are clean.  Not making sure the preacher shows up.  Not calling on the sick. Not protesting injustice. Not inviting people to worship.  Those are all important, but your first responsibility as a Christian is to pray.  Pray without ceasing, Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What’s really great about this is that you don’t need to be rich, you don’t need to be articulate, you don’t need to even move! Anyone, anywhere, can pray. Are you stuck at home because of the pandemic?  Pray!  Are you too ill to leave the house?  Pray!  Are you too stressed to put two sentences together? Pray!  Can’t think of what to say?  Jesus gave you the solution: 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: You don’t even have to think about how to get started, what to say next.  

Once you get started, you can add your own petitions, from your heart, from your list of worries, from your catalog of fears, from you basket-full of gifts provided by the God to whom you pray..  Hallowed be your name.  Our Father is perfect beyond our imagination. Your Kingdom come—there is hope for the future.  Give us bread and all the good stuff that goes with it—we know we can trust you.  Forgive us—even though we don’t deserve it.  We promise to forgive others—it’s the least we can do.  Save us from being tempted because you know we are weak. 

 Life is hard.  We are faced with obstacles in every area of our lives. But God makes some things easy. God makes prayer easy.  Take advantage of that. Use what God has given us, through God’s son, Jesus.  Of course, Jesus gave us more than a one-size-fits-all prayer. Jesus gave us his life, that we too might have life. In this life, we pray, knowing that we will be welcomed someday into eternal life.  Amen.  

We Have Been Tested 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

New Revised Standard Version

8 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 

3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 

7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much,
    and the one who had little did not have too little.”

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 Two verses jumped out at me in this passage.

 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 

They both remind me of the extra turmoil we have endured in the last few weeks. We have been afflicted by COVID-19, by storms and by threats of instability in our political and government systems. 

Amid all this trouble, I have seen generosity overflow.  Schools and churches have provided lunches for children who depend on school lunch to fill their bellies. Volunteers have sewn thousands of masks to help slow the spreading of the virus. Strangers have become friends as the clean-up from the derecho continues. Affliction, disaster, even disease, cannot quell the human spirit.

In contrast to the growing acceptance of hate speech is the the growing manifestation of “love your neighbor.” Actions speak louder than words and the actions we have seen are contributing to healing and reconciliation.

This generosity toward strangers is not a new thing to Christians. Christians have always been the recipients of generosity through the grace of God. We have received more in our lifetimes than we will ever be able to pay back.  God’s grace has restored us to the people God created.  

Another verse needs special attention:  13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 

Paul contrasts the poverty of the Macedonians with the abundance, the generosity of their gift to the wider church. their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 

We live in a culture that teaches us to accumulate wealth. We are taught that the more wealth we have, in property, in investments, the more successful we are.  Our accumulation is a source of pride and we use it to display our success.  We look down on those, consciously or not, who cannot accumulate as much wealth as we do. There are some Christians who buy into this by claiming that their wealth is a blessing form God.  So, by contrast, those who are not wealthy are not blessed by God.  Our God does not pick and choose.

What is it like to believe that God loves you more than the guy who depends on the beneficence of the government?  Have you ever been upset because “my taxes are being used to bail out lazy people who won’t work” or “my taxes are being used to bail out the wealthy corporations.” That’s how possessive we are of our wealth. We call them “my taxes” even though we give them to a new owner, the government. On a micro level, when we go through our unused goods, we want them to go “to a good home.”  We cannot let go of our claim on our material goods.  

What are we missing from our Christian faith when we cling so tightly to each object, each dollar? We are forgetting from whom each gift comes.  God does not give us gifts to hoard for ourselves. God gives us gifts so we can care for each other.  What if every lineman from another state had said “All those downed power lines are Iowa’s problem; they have nothing to do with me.” What if neighbors had said, “All those trees on my neighbors roof, in the middle of the road, are somebody else’s problem?” What if every person who had meat thawing in a dead freezer had let it rot instead of hosting a barbecue and grilling that meat to share with neighbors? 

Why does it take a disaster to prompt us to share our wealth?  

God does not pick and choose who gets to eat, who gets to live in a home without cockroaches and mold.  We do.  By our policies, by the government policies, the business policies that we allow to exist or that we embrace, we decide who gets to eat and who gets to sleep with cockroaches.  

Does that seem like exaggeration? It’s not. God provides abundantly for all. God cannot prevent anyone from taking more than a fair share.  

Another difference is that God does not judge the value of a person by the size of that person’s estate.  In God’s eyes, all people are deserving of God’s abundance and grace.

Speaking of deserving, who is deserving of God’s grace? Who is deserving of having all sins forgiven, of being loved without conditions imposed to earn that love?  None of us. We do not deserve God’s grace.  We do not deserve God’s love.  Think of how hard it is for you to love someone who is ugly or mean or peculiar.  God doesn’t see those differences. God loves every human every conceived with an equal amount of joy and caring.    

Now, what difference does it make that God loves everyone equally? After all, it’s God’s creation, not ours.  Wrong.  It is our creation. Every thing God has created has been gifted to us, put in our care. God’s generosity is not a dead thing that stops at the walls of my house, that stops in my checking account.  God gave us the greatest gift of all, and that gift is Jesus. 

Jesus was more than a good man, a good example for us to model.  Jesus is God and God took on sin and won, through Jesus’ death and resurrection. What is our response?  I like how Martin Luther put it:

We are freed from sin AND freed to serve our neighbor.  Every neighbor, every neighbor of every neighbor of eery neighbor. Every friend of every friend of every friend.  Every relative of every relative of every relative. 

We are not freed from sin to sin again.  We are freed from sin to serve our neighbors, not out of our own pocket, but out of the abundance that God has given us.  What’s in your wallet is not yours to keep. It is given to you that you may share God’s love for you with the brothers and sisters you know and the bothers and sisters you don’t know.

This year has shown us how hard the world is. We have seen the proliferation of hatred, the proliferation of a virus, the proliferation of fear, the proliferation of loss.  Out of these disasters have risen peaceful protests, sack lunches, chain saws and pickups, and calls for unity and love.

Christians know that love wins.  But that love must be made visible.  

I mentioned a second verse that jumped out at me.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 

I’ve had several people, in discussions about where God is in all of this chaos, say that God is trying to tell us something.  They are implying that God wants us to change our ways. By “us” they usually mean everybody who doesn’t think like them.  In other words, God is warning the Democrats or the Republicans or the protestors or the looters or the people with COVID-19   that THEY should get their act together.  I disagree.  All the troubles we have are not sent by God; they are the result of human sin.  

But I do agree with Paul. We are being tested. The question on the test is “How much do you love your neighbor, your universal, all-over-the-world neighbor?” How much do you love the person who speaks against you?  How much do you love the person who steals your tax money?  How much do you love your neighbor who is richer than you? How much do you love your neighbor who is poorer than you?  

We’re not talking sympathy or empathy or admiration or jealousy here.  We’re talking LOVE.  Genuine, pure, unadulterated, unconditional love. The kind God has for us.  

So, is God sending us some kind of cruel message to shape up ? Or are we simply being tested by our own folly, by the results of our own sin?

Paul quotes scripture: 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

You can argue that that sounds like socialism or communism.  You are right. Socialism or communism, unadulterated with greed or selfishness sounds a lot like the early church.  Are the practices of the early church out-of-date? Can we ignore the practice of sharing equally and let our own secular practices prevail in the church?  Of course, we can.  The church has for most of its existence taken form the poor and enriched the takers. That’s what riled up Martin Luther in the first place. 

On the other hand, who gives more to the poor than our churches. Who started hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters? The churches.  That is loving your neighbor on a grand scale. Let us continue that tradition, not out of pride for our good deeds, but out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen. 

Waiting for the Electricity to Come On 2 Corinthians 5:1-21

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

We know plenty about destruction after this week. We know that there is power beyond our imagination that can uproot century-old trees, shred leaves into confetti and hurl branches in every direction. We live in houses built with hands, and we count on those houses to keep us safe.  There is no place we would rather be than in our own homes.

Paul uses that metaphor of shelter in this passage in a radical way. He describes our bodies as being places of shelter. We are who we are, creations of God, who need an earthly armor, a physical body to exist on earth. As permanent as our bodies seem to us, we Christians know that our bodies are only vessels for the spirit, the soul that is the center of our existence.  At every funeral, we celebrate the promise of eternal life.  We acknowledge that  the body is no longer necessary to the existence of the deceased.  We are given this body as the means to minister to each other and to the earth. When that shelter, that body is worn out, it is simply discarded. That is the promise we embrace when our bodies are plagued with pain, when the storms of life through us against the wall and pin us to the ground.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

When you get out of bed in the morning, achy and stiff, when you listen to the news, when you listen to your neighbor’s breaking heart, it may seem that God is far away, not paying attention.  How many times this year have I said to myself, “Come, Lord Jesus,” not as a way of inviting Jesus into my heart, but as a plea for the glorious apocalypse promised us in Jesus own words:

“Be you therefore ready also: for the Son of man comes at an hour when you think not” (Luke 12:40).

“But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is” (Mark 13:32–33).

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comes” (Matthew 25:13).

Paul is the poster child for waiting for release from this earthly body. He suffered imprisonment, beating, slander, ship wreck and yet his love for God never waivers, his faith in the promise of being reunited in person with Jesus never waivers.  

1 Cor. 15 50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

As I studied this passage, I kept thinking about how all of us waited in the dark, in the daylight, hour after hour, for the electricity to come back on.

We were kept from our daily tasks by the lack of power to cook our meals, cool our homes, communicate with our family and neighbors. Even caring for ourselves physically was a challenge.  A cold curling iron doesn’t do a lot of curling.  I thought of the danger to those who needed electricity for oxygen and dialysis and refrigerated insulin.  We survived in part, because we knew that living like “Little House on the Prairie” was temporary. We counted on REC and Alliant to bring their trucks and their workers to our rescue.  We had faith. Even when we couldn’t see them, we knew they were out there, working as fast and hard as they could to return us to the sheltered life we live.

Likewise, as we live in this imperfect bodies, these bodies that wrestle with their own internal disruptions, we have faith that this is not the last body we will inhabit. We have faith, not because we can see what our next life looks like, but because we have been promised a new life by God, through the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul continues his letter by reminding the Corinthians—and us!—that we live in community.  Christ died for all of us; none of us has a greater or better promise than any other person. As my husband’s grandmother used to say, “What Granny does for one, Granny does for all.”  What God does for one, God does for all. 

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

This faith influences who we are, how we act, how we think.  The derecho brought out the worst in damage, but it also brought out the best in human community.  The minute the storm was past, neighbors were checking on each other, helping each other to move brush, take down trees, patch roofs, provide food. The image of Christ was reflected everywhere as people ministered to each other in countless ways, often at their own risk or expense.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 

The storm has destroyed what cannot be restored: trees ripped in half.  The storm has destroyed much that can be restored: buildings and fences.  The world looks different and we look at it in a new way, as a place not only of home, but of danger.  We have learned that what we value and build is not always as important or as permanent as we thought.  

What do we have left?  Compared to many natural disasters, we have what is most important: community. We have family and friends. 

And through all the fear, the frustration, the danger, the confusion, we had prayer.  That prayer was not words thrown into the wind. That prayer was and is specific words, specific longing, specific hope sent directly to the one who created us, who loves us, who has prepared for us a shelter, not of flesh and blood, but of something which we cannot yet know, something that is beyond our comprehension and imagination. 

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So, with the electricity back on, we can go about our daily routines.  The world is still a dangerous place, but we have more than meets the eye.  7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.  This faith is in a Triune God, a God who gave us minds and bodies, a God who showed us what love looks like, and a God who gives us the courage and the strength to persuade others that God is real, that God provides, that love is the answer.20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As one pastor puts it:

All this comes from God, who has reconciled us to Godself and has not given us a special status to lord it over others — or to be immune from life’s suffering — but a ministry or a service (diakonia) of reconciliation.

We are not just Iowans; we are not just Americans.  We are ambassadors of Christ. First and foremost, above any labels we claim for ourselves we are ambassadors, agents, diplomats, ministers for Christ.  May our every thought, our every word, our every action proclaim Christ’s love.  Amen.

Jars of Clay 2 Corinthians

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 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.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 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.

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Where do you keep your important stuff?  A lockbox at the bank?  A safe at home?  Your handkerchief drawer?  

My brother collects Savage rifles; they are each a work of art and many of them have a story, like “that’s the one Grandma used to shoot rattlesnakes.”  He keeps them in three safes, each bigger than my refrigerator.  My dad had a collection of marbles and a collection of arrowheads.  The arrowheads resided in a cigar box and the marbles in a peanut can. They were both kept in a Hoosier cupboard in the cellar.  My husband has his uncle’s WW2 medals.  He had a special box built for them.  

From the time we are children, we collect treasures.  We find secret places to save them so that we an examine and enjoy them again and again.  

Paul says that we have a treasure in clay jars.  Clay jars were the everyday vessels of the Corinthian household. They were cheap, and because they were cheaply made, they were breakable.   What is the treasure? We know that Paul is speaking metaphorically, that the treasure is something beyond ordinary description. 

 I found an article in Biblical Archeology that helped me to understand this metaphor.

Coins were often buried in clay jars for safe keeping, especially during times of political and social turmoil. The size of the hoards ranged form fifty to fifty thousand coins. Jesus told a parable about a man who found one of these hoards sold all his possessions to buy the field (Matthew 13:44). 

Our faith is not an idea, a system, a philosophy dreamed up long ago by people with too much time on their hands. Our faith is in the One who raised Jesus and who will bring us into Jesus’ presence. 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.

This would have meant something to the members of the Corinthian congregation. Paul and his band of apostles were always competing with other teachings, with other philosophies.  Most philosophers, most preachers based their preaching on their own knowledge and virtue. They gave credit to no one but themselves.

Our faith is different. It comes from God. That is the treasure: what God has given us through Creation, through his Son, through the Holy Spirit. We are the clay jars, fragile, vulnerable, prone to breaking, not only physically, but morally and spiritually.  

You may have heard of a Christian Rock Band that goes by the name of Jars of Clay.  (They actually played in DeWitt one time.) Their name , references 2 Corinthians4:7 and one of their songs explains the reference:   

Jars Of Clay

Jars Of Clay

Four Seven

We have this treasure

in earthen vessels

to show that this power

is from God, and not from us

This is important.  How often do we attribute one’s good works, our own or another’s to the “fact” that the person is a good person?  And have you ever expressed surprise when a supposedly “bad” person has done something good? It is not our own virtue, our own righteousness that inspires our kindness, our generosity, our forgiveness.  It is the power of God, the power of Goodness, within us that allows us to be the kind of person we want to be. 

It is an amazing fact but true, we bear the image of the living God, and yet we bear that image in an ineffective, limited, even compromised frame and so have to admit to being constantly overcome by the circumstances of life: “Hard pressed on every side…. perplexed….. persecuted….. struck down.”Yet,, even in our brokenness, the Glory of God shows through us. Even in our sinfulness, the love of Jesus Christ, is present.

This treasure that we have, entrusted to our own broken sinful selves, is not something we collect.  It is not something we purchased.  It was purchased for us by the suffering and sacrifice of our Savior. It is a gift, a gift that is not buried or hoarded or hidden, but a gift that is shared every day. 

We are, not by our own virtue, but by the virtue of our faith in God, a treasure that is visible. We are called, through our baptism to share that treasure.  We are the ones who can bring healing in times of suffering. We are the ones who can bring relief in times of fear.  We are the ones who can who can turn off the bad news and bring the Good News. 

How and why can we do this?  How can we persevere? 16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 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. Amen.

How to Forgive

2 Corinthians 2:1-10

New Revised Standard Version

2: 1 So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. 

For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 

And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. 

For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 

This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 

So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 

I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 

10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. 

What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.

+++

What is Paul talking about?  

So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. 

“Another painful visit”.  Something happened. Paul’s last visit to Corinth was painful.

We know little about that first painful visit except that Paul was verbally attacked by a member of the Corinthian congregation. We do not know the argument.  We do know that the person who attacked Paul was disciplined by the congregation, at Paul’s recommendation.  Evidently Paul had promised a return visit to Corinth, but chose to avoid another confrontation and instead rebuked, in writing, the person who had attacked him. The letter hurt the Corinthians’ feelings. They received it as a harsh reprimand against all of them.  So now he is writing to them again to explain to them that he wrote out of love for them, because the attack had to be addressed, not ignored, for the good of the congregation. 

How many times is bad behavior ignored in a congregation or a business or family to “keep the peace.” Many of us have worked with a person who should have been, at the least, reprimanded, and at the most, fired. Instead, bad behavior was allowed, tolerated, while the morale of the group suffered.

Paul’s response here is considerate and faithful.  First he reprimands the troublemaker, then he suggests that the congregation punish him, then he tells the congregation to forgive him.  What if we used that protocol in our own conflicts.  It is so easy to skip all those steps and put up with the backbiting, the cheating, the slacking instead of dealing with it to protect the person and the group.

Look at the steps Paul takes.

First, he reprimands the troublemaker. But he doesn’t stop there. He puts the responsibility on the congregation to punish the troublemaker. After all, the congregation has allowed the attack to happen. Evidently no one came to Pauls defense. But again, there is one more step, and that step is reconciliation.

What if, in our families, we followed these three steps?

Call out the troublemaker.

Make the group take responsibility for allowing the bad behavior.

And most importantly, forgive the person. Welcome the person back into full fellowship.

Bad behavior is a common topic among pastors. Not our own, of course, but the behavior of the few people in the congregation who make life difficult. It seems most congregations have one person or group that causes trouble, sometimes just for the pastor, but more often for the whole congregation.  Because we are a “numbers” culture, that is, we count numbers of people and numbers of dollars, we want those numbers to remain constant or get higher, so calling out bad behavior threatens our numbers because we might lose dollars if those persons leave.  

But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 

How do we react to the person who initiated the painful exchange?  I’ve been in congregations where the pastor called out bad behavior.  Usually the only person who left was the pastor.  The bad behavior was allowed to continue and the next pastor was dealt the same losing cards.

Paul adds two more steps.  Discipline the guilty person. Then forgive.

Now, how would the congregation have disciplined the person? In my mind, it would not be a whipping or being barred from potlucks or having to weed the flowerbeds. In my mind, discipline is more about understanding.

After all, when I “got a lickin” from my dad, I understood that fighting with my brother and sister was unacceptable.  Can we discipline without using physical means?  More challenging, can we discipline without causing pain?  Can we discipline by helping the offender understand his or her own actions and how they hurt the group?  Can we help the offender by showing him or her how to change behavior?  Discipline should lead to repentance.

If we use understanding as the form of discipline, how much easier it is to forgive.

I remember one time, my teacher marched me down to the basement of our one-room school house and gave me a good scolding.  I burst into tears and poured out all my frustrations about the kids who were making fun of me. When my teacher understood the cause of my bad behavior, she was able to help me get back on track.  I was forgiven, I was restored.  I was ten years old.  

Discipline is done out of love. Paul makes that clear to the Corinthians.

For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

 Have you ever told your kids, after taking away the car keys,”It hurts me more than it hurts you?”

Discipline is not easy, because it puts our sin in the spotlight.  

Forgiveness is a term whose understanding is grounded in God’s giving freely and graciously to people who do not deserve it. Sometimes Paul expresses that free gift as reconciliation of people to God. In the context of community and one of its disciplined members, however the term functions to describe the restoration of relationships between or among people.  Paul doesn’t talk about forgiveness of sins.For Paul, forgiveness and pardon are reserved for failed relations between human beings.   

As baptized people, we are naturally, if we follow our baptismal bows, forgiving people, not because we are good, but because God has forgiven us. If we don’t forgive, what happens?

Think about the times you have not forgiven someone. What happens to the relationship? It deteriorates. What happens to you? A part of you is wounded, and the wound festers. You are less than healthy.

Community is the structure of the church. Without community, there is no church.  Just as one rotten board can weaken a building, so one rotten relationship can hurt the group.

This passage is not a lesson about calling out one person.  This lesson is about community, how to protect it, how to nurture it, how to make it a safe place for everyone.

Discipline is not the final step. 

This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 

So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 

Forgiveness is a fresh start. a readiness to let bygones by bygones. Forgive and —-here’s the hard part—-forget.

Forgiveness is easier because each of us have been forgiven by God (and needed it!) and second genuine repentance without a change in behavior cannot be counted as genuine.  

A caveat.  It is not our calling as Christians to walk around accusing everyone else of sin, although there are denominations and Christians who give that impression. They get the most attention because that kind of action appeals to our sinful nature of seeing sin in others and not ourselves. 

The  right to use frank speech has to be earned. Frankness can be overused. However, not to speak frankly to a person with whom we have a special relationship can let the other person down at a signifiant moment. Prayerful reflection, a self-examination of whether you are genuinely seeking the good of the other person, and-a trust that God will use your efforts creatively should precede any use of frank speech.

Relationships are the richest part of our human lives.  Stop for a moment.  List your most valuable relationships. What would you trade for your spouse, your best friend, your child, your church family? 

We know that at times, we are betrayed by the people whom we most cherish. What do we do? How do we keep the community whole? 

We speak and act with honesty, with love, with understanding, as members of a community.

10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. 

What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. Amen.

Lies

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Thanksgiving after Affliction

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our[b] behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

+++

Sometimes it is more convenient to sin than to obey the Commandments. Some of our sins our so conventional that we don’t even notice them. Especially if we are in a comfortable place in our community, among friends and family, these sins fly so low under the radar that we never ask to be forgiven for them.

The sins of which I’m thinking are based on the belief that everybody else is just like us because everybody experiences life the same way. The sins of which I am thinking are based on the assumption that we all have the same opportunities, that the laws of our land treat us all equally, that the way we were raised is the way everyone is raised.  

The sins of which I’m thinking are sins of judgement.  

Have you ever had anyone tell you, in a time of grief, such comforting words as “I know how you feel.”  That is an assumption that is false. It’s a lie. Nobody knows how you feel.  But we say those lies to make us comfortable. 

We may think telling such a lie offers comfort, but, in fact, it is a way to diminish the other persons grief by making it about us.

Has anyone told you they’re sick of Black Lives Matter?  Has anyone declared to you that All Lives Matter?  All Lives Matter is a lie.   Those of us who are direct descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, either by blood or by race, are the ones who have mattered for 244 years. Anyone descended from slave owners is in fine shape. Anyone who is descended from people bought and sold like animals cannot expect to receive the same justice proudly proclaimed in the mainstream media and in school textbooks. 

But that’s not our fault, right?  We think those other people are our equal. But let me give some reasons that All Lives Matter is a lie. It’s not about who is murdering who, about who kills the most cops or who kills the most people with similar skin color.  It goes much deeper than that. Remember that saying, “Beauty is only skin deep?” Ugliness, that is ugly thoughts and behavior go all the way to the bone.

Here are twenty-six ways the people in our congregation are privileged. Here are twenty-six ways people who are from a different ethnicity are shamed or endangered or inconvenience.  

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
  19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
  22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
  23. I can choose public accommodations without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
  26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more less match my skin. (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Peggy McIntosh)

We can argue against this list.  We can claim that “it’s their own damn fault for rioting and looting.”  This list affects the majority of people who do not loot and riot.  We can argue against this list because one or two of these items applied to us at sometime in our lives. Do we even think of ourselves as an ethnic group?  Do we think of the people who gather in the same places we gather as an ethnic group, as some quaint crowd who cooks unique food or wears unique clothing? 

We don’t have to take the items in this list seriously, do we? Well, your pastor does.   Partly because I am a woman and have experienced parallel unwritten rules that have influenced not only how I am treated, but by how expectations for myself were jaded by the assumption that I was dumber, slower, weaker than the men I worked with. As a woman, I grew up knowing that my first priority was to entertain and serve men.  I also grew up knowing that I was dependent on men. My major in college may have been English literature, but my goal, which was planted in my head by age ten, was to graduate with a husband. The degree was a meal ticket.  I did not graduate with a husband, so no matter how rewarding teaching was, I was always haunted by this demand to find a mate. It took me three years of teaching.  Forty-five years later—too late to regret anything. But how many women have taken the bait and been in damaging relationships for 45 or 25 or 5 years? 

These are the lies we tell ourselves about each other. These are the lies we tell ourselves. 

So let us acknowledge those lies and then acknowledge that we are all the beloved children of God.

Paul acknowledges that in we are all victims of sin, of pain, of injustice. But he goes beyond that to remind us of that Children of God are unique.

Our God is the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

We do not have to throw up our hands in despair when we see our friends and family suffer.  We do not have to despair that we can do nothing about racism or sexism or totalitarianism or any of the other isms that plague us.  

It comes back to our baptismal vows.  Our parents made promises for us and raised us with these promises to guide them. Whether you remember this or not, here are the promises you make every time you remember your baptism. 

  • I renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God.
  • I renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God.
  • I renounce the ways of sin that draw me from God.

We know that Jesus Christ made all those promises. We know that Jesus Christ still suffered, just as we suffer. We know that our temptations were his temptations. We know that he was tempted to go with the crowd, to blend in to keep himself from being ridiculed or humiliated.  We know that he had to live among people different from him, a good Jewish boy from a small town. We know that he was irritated by the behavior of some in his community.  We know he didn’t wave a magic wand to make everyone able to perfectly obey all the commandments. 

So, we continue to suffer. But, because Jesus suffered with us, died for us, and freed us from sin, we are able, through the Holy Spirit’s love within us to love others in their suffering, to empathize with those whose experiences are not ours, to try to understand that God created each of us in God’s image.  God did not create rioters and looters.  God did not create sin. God did not create boundaries among God’s children. If God created us to have different complexions, different hair styles, different eye shapes, if God created us to use God’s gifts to created great varieties of communities, then God also created us to love the unlovely, the frightening, the damaged, the different. Fortunately, God also created us with enough brains to move beyond stereotyping and convenience to embrace, on a broader scale as well as face to face, our brothers and sisters created in harmony by a God who desires only peace in this Creation we share. 

Let us share in the suffering and address it through our prayers. Let us share in the suffering and let it be reflected in our conversation.  

You may wonder what the heck I was smoking when I took this Corinthians passage and turned it into a lecture on love your neighbor. This one little except from research is the reason: 

At the center of all this are the sufferings and consolations of Christ, which overflow within and through us. Christ’s sufferings (pathemata) for all not only become a means of abundant consolation and grace amid our own suffering, but they so unite us with Christ that we too share in both his suffering for others and in the abundant overflow (perisseuma) of his consolation that spills over through him and within us, and now on to others.

Somebody smarter than me wrote that, but I can learn. I am continually learning more and more about what it means to be a Christian. What I know so far is that I am at the mercy of God. What I know is that God has mercy on me, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God walks with me every minute. Dianne the preacher is not separate from Dianne the social justice advocate or the political activist. I can only live me life as it is reflected in the Ten Commandments. They both condemn and inspire me. When I am condemned, I am forgiven.When I am inspired, I walk in confidence armed with my baptismal promises.  May it be so for you.  Amen.