(2 Corinthians 4: 7-5: 1)
We’ve all had those times when we just wanted to throw in the towel and give up. We just can’t go another round or even finish the fight. It seems as if nothing you do works, it’s one step forward and two steps backwards. What’s the use? Maybe I’m not cut out for this. I just don’t have it in me. And then, somehow, we find the courage, strength, and determination to get up and persevere, even if we get knocked down again.
I’m kind of a student of history, or actually more of learning about how some people met adversity and prevailed against what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Two books I’ve read were about the Dust Bowl which began with a drought starting in 1930 and the Great Depression, which was kicked off with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a one-two gut punch to early twentieth century America. The book on the Dust Bowl was just gut-wrenching and there were undoubtably more failures than successes. The people of the American plains at times simply found themselves fighting to literally breathe, let alone survive. Some gave up while others fought on hoping and praying that a better life lay ahead. Those that didn’t live in the Dust Bowl considered themselves fortunate but still had to endure the Great Depression which set off a series of events where people lost all they had in what seemed like the blink of an eye. It definitely had a domino effect on the economy and well-being of the country. One figure, however, loomed large during this double whammy of national crises and that was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who served as our 36th President from 1933 to 1945. He didn’t live in any of the plain states and despite the stock market crash his family didn’t suffer financially. I’m currently reading another biography on President Roosevelt which focuses on how his faith guided him through these disasters when others lost their faith and just gave up. And as if the Dust Bowl and Great Depression weren’t enough of a hole to dig out of, along comes World War Two and the threat of world domination by fascists who we know aren’t all about the little guy. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
And not giving up is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today. Not giving up on yourself and not giving up on the little guy. Second Corinthians was actually Paul’s fourth letter to the church in Corinth as two of them have been unfortunately lost. Makes you wonder what we missed. Anyway, not only was the church in Corinth experiencing problems like infighting and powerplays by some who wanted to control the church for their own benefit, Paul had mounting problems of his own. He not only had his detractors within the church, but he still had the Pharisees who seemed to have a score to settle with him for going over to the other side. If you study Paul’s letters to the various churches, he makes quite a few references to the many conflicts he faced on his missionary journeys. A lesser man, a man of lesser faith, would have called it quits and nobody would have blamed him.
Paul was writing words of encouragement to the church in Corinth hoping to help them navigate the difficult times they were experiencing. He reminds them in verse seven that they have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from man, or anything man can possibly do. The clay jars represent us, ordinary and plain, not much to look at, but on the inside, what a beautiful treasure we hold within us as Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. And it’s a reminder that we can’t do God’s work alone. A reminder that this power and ability to do this life’s work that was chosen for us even before we were born comes from God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul says: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. I’ll tell you, when I read that my thoughts immediately went to the year we’ve had as a church due to the pandemic and being shutdown for over a year. We were hard pressed on every side but not crushed. It was tough, all of a sudden, we got notice to close, no warning or anything, and it was right before Easter! Talk about bad timing. Easter is when we do our best to bring the message of the cross and salvation to mankind when they need it the most. Well, maybe next year. But through trial and error, many trials and many errors, we figured it out and learned how to do Facebook Live which entailed me doing tutorials to some really computer-challenged people. Many churches were crushed by the weight of the pandemic and may never recover. I pray for them often. We were perplexed by what happened but did not despair. Our solid infrastructure kicked in as we looked for ways in which we could stay relevant and continue the important work we had already begun. Our bean soup makers worked at home making over 8,700 individual bags of soup mix over the span of 58 weeks. We continued to make fire starters but only in small, socially distanced and mask-wearing groups. We started a food pantry six months into the pandemic to provide food for those who needed it, and safely opened our food pantry and clothes closet on Saturday mornings to meet the needs of those who just need the basic essentials of life and to know that someone cares. And we even found a way to utilize some of our unused property by partnering with Bayside Housing and Services and the Olympic Community Action Program (OlyCAP) to establish Jefferson County’s very first tiny home village right in our own backyard. We didn’t throw up out hands and say we’ll see you when this is all over. Through it all, God did not abandon us or allow us to be destroyed. He was right there with us, encouraging us to stay on our feet and keep fighting the good fight. And Paul says that through these tough times we carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our bodies, in the work we do in service to God the Father in helping to establish the kingdom here on earth.
Paul continues by stating: It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. He says that all of this is for their benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. This, I pray, is what I hope we are experiencing. We have been put to the test, and rather than hunkering down and going into survival mode, we looked for the silver linings in the dark clouds. I don’t think, I know, that the grace God which has been bestowed upon us as a church is reaching more and more people weekly, causing people to give thanks for what we do to the glory of God. Now I know this can be exhausting, and we aren’t getting any younger, but Paul reassures us by saying: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. I think I know what Paul means when he says that we are being renewed day by day. There are days I can’t wait to get to work to see what God has for us to do, what mission opportunities is He going to grace us with. When I see some of the incredible work our missionaries are doing right along side of people who don’t even go to our church, I get this boost of energy and optimism and feel like I’m good for another ten thousand miles. And I know our missionaries feel it too and are grateful for the support and prayers of the church and others. Paul is telling us not to worry about those momentary troubles that make us want to give up and that the eternal glory that awaits us will make it all worthwhile. For what it matters, from what I’ve already seen, it’s worthwhile.
Paul tells us not to worry about it, don’t fixate over what we can see, touch and smell. Fix our eyes upon that which we cannot see because what is seen is temporary, worldly, but what is unseen, our future, is eternal. It’s because we know that if the earthly tent in which we live is destroyed, our clay jar shattered to pieces, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Paul is reminding us, whether it is in our church life or our own daily existence, that though we may think we are at the end of our rope, we are never at the end of our hope. And that’s the supremely valuable message of salvation in Jesus Christ, a salvation that has been entrusted by God to frail and fallible human beings just like us. All our risks, humiliations, and trials are opportunities for Christ to demonstrate his power and presence in and through us if only we get going when the going gets tough.
Let us pray.
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. Gracious and loving Father, how we thank you for the covenant you made with us through the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, that supports us in the whelming flood of a world that seems out of control. When all around our souls give way, Jesus is then all our hope and stay. We praise you for your tender mercies and the promise of Christ’s return. Until then, on Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. In Jesus’s name, we pray, Amen.