Nobody Said it Would be Easy

(2 Corinthians 4: 5-12)


Some people would say I’m stubborn, hardheaded, and uncompromising, but I like to think I’m determined, committed, and focused.  Some would say I’m a leader while others would describe me as a lightning rod.  Some who care about me would say that whatever it was I was about to do, albeit well-intentioned, was sure to end badly for me.  I’m reminded of one time when a woman came to me with a complaint against one of our county Justices of the Peace.  She had approached the judge on behalf of her son who had been charged with a very minor offense.  The judge talked it up implying how serious it was and then offered to dismiss the case in exchange for a sexual favor on her part.  I told her that, as the District Attorney, I would investigate it and file the appropriate charges against the judge if warranted.  When it came time to file the charges, the felony judge who would issue the arrest warrant and preside over the case told me I was making the biggest mistake of my political career and that they, meaning the offending judge’s family and supporters, would come after me and I’d never survive re-election.  Well, nobody ever said doing the right thing, especially in politics, would be easy, and that was the first time I was voted out of public office.


And that’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  Being a committed follower of Jesus Christ won’t always be easy, you will often pose a threat to the status quo, and they will come after you, but it is the right and only thing to do.  I like Paul.  He’s a lightning rod.


In the opening verses of chapter four Paul says: This is why we don’t get discouraged, given that we received this ministry in the same way that we received God’s mercy. Instead, we reject secrecy and shameful actions.  We don’t use deception, and we don’t tamper with God’s word.  Instead, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by the public announcement of the truth.  To his detractors Paul comes off as stubborn, hardheaded, and uncompromising.  I see him as determined, committed, and focused.  The Apostle, it seems, was an equal opportunity offender.  He had a knack for alienating a lot of people who could hurt him more than they could help him.  Remember, Paul started out as a Pharisee, a Jew’s Jew, who made it his mission to hunt down these new Christians bringing them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned or worse.  In fact, he was present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and even held the cloaks of those who hurled stones at the disciple.  And then he had his conversion on the road to Damascus and became a fervent believer, which made him an enemy of the Pharisees and those who felt threatened by this new movement of love, life, and forgiveness.  His new friends were wary of him as they weren’t sure he had really changed for the better.  And then he became an enemy of other Christians who had a different view on spreading the Good News, a viewpoint that Paul saw as wrong and also self-serving.  But Paul knew full well that being a committed follower of the way of Jesus Christ wouldn’t be easy.


We pick up where he says: We don’t preach about ourselves.  Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  Paul comes right out and establishes the focus of his preaching as Christ and Christ alone and not himself.  He is a slave to the gospel for Jesus’ sake, a slave who obediently follows the direction of the Master no matter how difficult the task.  He continues by reminding them that God said light should shine out of the darkness saying: He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.  Paul is referencing back to the creation story when he alludes to the light that shown in the darkness and that it is the same light that shines upon us through Jesus Christ.  The gift of light has been bestowed upon those who believe.


So that we don’t think too much of ourselves he describes us as ordinary clay pots that have been filled with a treasure that he describes as an awesome power that belongs to God and doesn’t come from us or in anything that we might do or say.  Paul possesses this knowledge as though it is a beautiful and priceless treasure stored in an ordinary earthenware jar, a jar that represents his body and thus highlights the contrast between this treasure in the heart and the outward plainness of the body.  This humble and contrite attitude flies in the face of those who think they are God’s gift to humankind, that it is all about them, like the modern-day evangelists whose churches look more like a palace than a place of worship, the televangelists with the perfect hair, dazzling smile, and thousand-dollar suits who beam as the collection plate makes its way through the congregation.  And because of this, his ability to draw lightning strikes, he acknowledges that in their ministry they are experiencing all kinds of trouble.  But in spite of this trouble, they aren’t crushed, they are confused but not depressed, harassed but not abandoned, knocked down but not knocked out.  He’s reminding his readers, and us, that though we may think we are at the end of our rope, we are never at the end of our hope.  He says: We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.  We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying.  So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.  Humble words of encouragement.


Paul’s message here is one of the importance of a true and faithful ministry, one that is transparent without being deceitful or exploiting God’s word for its own advantage.  Christ, in his simplicity, perfectly reflects God’s own character, and reflects humanity as God intended humanity to be.  What Paul is saying is that the appropriate way to set forth the sovereignty of Jesus is not by Christian swagger or imperialism, but through an extraordinary self-emptying and humility.  The gospel that Paul offers is open and revealed to everyone, except to those who refuse to believe.  It’s the allure of money, power, and pleasure that blinds people to the true light of Christ’s gospel.


There is nothing here about a salvation that is simply for ourselves as many false teachers and preachers advocate.  And yet, while we may echo Paul’s thanks for deliverance, we must also realize that we are all in this together, and all for the glory of God.  So, when you witness, tell people about what Christ has done, and not about your abilities and accomplishments.  People must be introduced to Christ, not you.  Though we are weak, though we are human, God uses us to spread his Good News, and he gives us the power and stamina to do his work which to some may come across as stubbornness, hardheadedness, and uncompromising, but being a follower of Jesus Christ means unselfishly serving others, even the ones who don’t measure up to our expectations, being determined, committed and focused, and nobody ever said that would be easy.


Let us pray.


He leadeth me; O blessed thought!  O words with heavenly comfort fraught!  What e’er I do, where’er I be, still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.  Yes, gracious and loving God, lead us in our efforts to do your work and your will.  Keep us firm in our resolution to be the ones who carry your light out into the world.  Reassure us during those times of doubt when we question our commitment to being true followers of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And during those times when we weaken in our resolve and begin to think what we do matters not, remind us that nobody ever said it would be easy and that’s why you have chosen us to help you in restoring your kingdom here on earth.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.