June 24, 2012
II Corinthians 4:16-18
“A Daily Glimpse”
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.
I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
My heart, therefore is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body shall rest in hope.
If we live, we live unto the Lord and if we die unto the Lord, so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord, those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Those words, and that cadence, and the inflection of my voice may sound all too familiar to many of you. With only slight variations, that is how I begin every funeral, memorial service, every service in witness to the resurrection. Those verses, that steady drumbeat of the promise of God, it sets the context, frames the ritual, establishes the setting, and therefore shapes all that is to be said and heard. It is in just such a context, a community called together by death, a community proclaiming resurrection hope, it is that setting where I most often read from the last verses of II Corinthians 4. Funerals and memorial services and cemeteries may, in fact, be the only time I have read these verses of scripture to the faith community; with that cadence, and the inflection, selected verses offered on such an occasion.
Since we have the same spirit of faith as the one who wrote “I believed and so I spoke” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into his presence.
We do not lose heart, even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. 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.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in its destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The one who has prepared us for this very thing is God who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
With such a hearing of the words of the Apostle Paul, it would seem fairly clear that the daily renewal of our inner nature is this deeply planted longing for heaven. A God-given, Spirit-placed, grace-filled yearning for a spot in the kingdom of heaven around the very throne of God. The Preacher in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: God has put eternity into the heart of humankind. This outer nature of ours may remind us every day of our mortality but somewhere, somehow, inside God is renewing in us a thirst for heaven. II Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul, and the renewal of our inner nature.
Our inner nature. It’s not a common expression in Paul’s work, on in scripture for that matter. Inner nature. In the Greek the expression simply implies the opposite of outer nature. Our outer human being and the inner one. One fresh translation makes it even more clear. “If even our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day.” The person that we are on the inside. I don’t find that very compelling. The person that we are on the inside. Sounds like “Let’s use our inside voices” or “let’s unleash the real you that’s inside.” Paul must be trying to get at something more profound than an infomercial. The renewal of our inner nature and looking to what cannot be seen.
Our encounter with the 4th chapter of II Corinthians this month has not been instigated by death. We have been working our way through the chapter each week. Here in the context of Lord’s Day worship, the cadence of a congregation’s Sabbath life, surrounded not by large flower arrangements and guest books, but by baptisms, and the Lord’s Supper, and the ordination of elders and deacons, and the Campaign for Nassau Church. Rather than the drumbeat of the resurrection promise of God, it has been the threads of our life together as the Body of Christ connecting week to week. Such by God’s mercy is our ministry, we will not waver. Our clay jar-ness, our brokenness shall never overshadow the treasure of the gospel entrusted to us. We believe and so we will speak with the testimony of our lives. The verses of II Corinthians 4 echo in the sanctuary this month:
We do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…We have this treasure in clay jars….We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with the scripture--- “I believed and so I spoke”—we also believe and so we speak….grace as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God…..even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day…what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
II Corinthians 4 and the Apostle Paul. Not just rhetoric in response to death, it is a treatise on life, life for the Body of Christ here and now. And the renewal of our inner nature, looking to what cannot be seen, the daily glimpse that Paul is trying to communicate; I think it is even more than a longing for heaven, more than a slice of eternity.
I imagine everyone has heard the old hellfire and brimstone preacher’s trope, maybe on television, or when you went to a cousins funeral, or when you were young and went to your grandmother’s church, or maybe not too long ago in your journey of faith; that old warhorse of revivalism, turn or burn preaching….”sisters and brothers” the preacher starts, “I want you think about what’s going to happen if you die tonight.” What follows is a plea to get yourself right with God so you can be sure to get to heaven, if you die tonight. Now I don’t know if it is because I turned 50 this year, or because in my profession I just happen to be around death and the mystery has worn off, or because I long ago decided (and have said from this pulpit before) that confessing Jesus just to avoid going to hell is the definition of spiritual selfishness, but I have to tell you, I don’t worry one iota about what’s next, about life after death, about my presence in the everlasting arms of God, about the eternal promise of God.
One writer this week was reviewing college commencement speeches. The article wasn’t a summary of snippets of wisdom it was pointing out that more than half weren’t all that positive about the future. The more prevalent apocalyptic language of the day isn’t coming from preachers, it comes from people talking about political systems broken, educational systems broken, financial systems broken. A viral online video shows kids treating an older woman on a school bus in such a hateful way that you can’t even watch. And the front page of the newspaper tells of a priest and football coach both convicted on the same day of crimes related to sexual abuse of children over decades. I don’t know about you, I don’t worry about my soul if I die tonight, I worry about what the world will be like when I wake up tomorrow morning.
The renewal of the inner nature that Paul is talking about, the promise of the daily glimpse of things eternal, it is a God-given, Spirit-placed, grace-filled yearning and assurance of God’s love for the world and God’s provision for the world with you in it. When the world’s outer nature is wasting away writ large, God renews God’s children every day with the assurance of God’s providence, and the glimpse of the reign of God now, and a taste of the kingdom yet to come, and the renewed strength and vision and courage and determination to long for and work for and serve in that coming kingdom of God.
It is not an either-or here, Paul on eternity or Paul on the kingdom in our midst. You can’t read on in II Corinthians and miss Paul’s longing for heaven…We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. But neither can you miss his exhortations related to kingdom building and kingdom serving now. We walk by faith, not by sight….whether we are at home with the Lord or away, we aim to please God….For the love of Christ urges us on….Given us the ministry of reconciliation…..entrusting to us the message of reconciliation….We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God’s appeal through us….In Christ, we might become the righteousness of God. Bearing the message of God’s reconciliation of the world. Becoming the righteousness of God. Our inner nature renewed every day with this deeply planted longing, a thirst for the righteousness of God, for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
It seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? To look for what cannot be seen. But when you stop and think about, it happens all the time. An artist sees what is yet to be created on a canvas. An entrepreneur sees a business opportunity that is yet to come. An architect sees a building that hasn’t been built. A golfer, a soccer player, a basketball player, they see shots and plays and passes that haven’t happened yet, things that no one else can see. A 5th grade band teacher can see and hear an orchestra where others would hear and see so little.
Looking for what cannot be seen. When you think about this congregation’s ministry, our mission, our future, it’s not a contradiction at all. Investing now so that for generations yet to come, the followers of Christ will celebrate, experience, give thanks for that daily renewal and glimpse that Paul describes. That the 1st grader and the member in assisted living, the parents of the baptized child and the college student in a dorm room far away, the seminary professor and the 3rd grade church school teacher, the newly married couple and the Crisis ministry client, the Nassau fellow as a young adult volunteer somewhere in the world and the high school choir member learning a new song to sing….that all of us, today and for generations to come can rest easy in the night, knowing that we will rise in the morrow renewed in our life with Christ and blessed with this deeply planted vision of the world the way God intends it.
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