What’s the Hook?

(2 Corinthians 4: 1-6)


I like hanging out at the church on Saturdays just for those unexpected “God shots” that I experience from time to time.  I’m chatty and will just about talk to anyone given the opportunity.  A couple of months ago an equally chatty fellow engaged me in conversation.  We, or he, talked about all sorts of things but one of the things he said really stuck with me.  Actually, it was a couple of things.  First, he had just been to the clothes closet and got a gently worn vest.  He was so excited and wanted to tell me all about it.  It was an Orvis fishing vest, and he went on and on about it, how nice it was, that he had never before had an Orvis fishing vest and couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He went on to tell me that he had been homeless and was currently living in one of the tiny homes behind the church, and that he knew a lot of homeless men who were out living in the woods.  He said that he had told them all about the great clothing and other items and even about the Saturday soup.  He said they were very suspicious and wanted to know what the hook was.  What was the catch?  He told me that he had wondered the same thing and, as far as he could tell, there was no catch, no hook.  He said he had assured them that there were no strings attached to coming to the church to meet their needs and have some soup.  There didn’t appear to be a hidden agenda.


And that’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  There is no hook, no catch, no hidden agenda.  We just want people to have what we have, no strings attached and free of charge.  He starts out by acknowledging that bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to others can be difficult when he 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.  Like Paul, we’ve received mercy from God through His grace and as a result we’ve also been charged with a ministry of telling others of His grace and the peace it brings in all things.  Paul then states: Instead, we reject secrecy and shameful actions.  We don’t use deception, and we don’t tamper with God’s word.  Apparently, misconstruing or misstating God’s word was as big a problem then as it is today.  Paul is talking about those ministers, preachers, and leaders who twist Scripture in an attempt to motivate their audiences into doing something that may, at best, be in a gray area and not God approved.  And others blatantly take Scripture out of context to promote their own views of what they either think the Scriptures say or wished it said to fit in with and support their agendas.  When I hear or read about what one of these “evangelists” say the Bible says my ears perk up and I find myself fact-checking them.  In fact, I recently saw a book advertised on Cokesbury that caught my attention because it had a red hammer and sickle that had a cross for a handle on the cover.  I clicked on it and read the brief description and learned that the author was concerned about the “left” taking over the church, how left-leaning Christians were too “woke” and focused too much on social justice issues.  Wait! You mean woke as in feeding the hungry, woke as in clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the prisoner?  You mean like woke as in loving your neighbor as yourself and in doing unto others as you would want done unto you?  If so, I guess we need to close our clothes closet, shut down the soup kitchen, stop sending money to Jefferson County immigrant Rights Advocates, and evict the tiny home residents.   I’m tempted to buy the book just to see what they’re saying about us.


In any event, Paul continues by saying: Instead, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by the public announcement of the truth.  What Paul is talking about is transparency, which is a word politicians like to throw around when they want you to think they are being upfront with you and have your best interests at heart.  Transparency and integrity characterize Paul’s ministry and he and his colleagues conduct themselves transparently without being deceitful or exploiting God’s word to their own advantage. Paul then says: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are on the road to destruction.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory.  Christ is the image of God.  As God’s image, Christ perfectly reflects God’s own character, and reflects humanity as God intended humanity to be.  He goes on to say: We don’t preach about ourselves.  Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  The focus of Paul’s preaching was Christ and not himself.  He had no use for those men of religious authority who twisted God’s word and believed that anyone who talks about Jesus Christ must remember that they stand in God’s presence, who hears every word.  He reminds us that: God said that light should shine out of the darkness.  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.  As God commanded the light to shine in the darkness at creation, so he “turns on” the light in people’s hearts so they can see who Jesus Christ is.


Paul’s message is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is open and revealed to everyone, except to those who refuse to believe.  They refuse to believe because of the allure of money, power, and pleasure that blinds them to the light of Christ’s gospel.  These are the “gods of this age”, the things people worship and pursue.  The things they will lie, steal, and cheat for to get at the expense of others, including themselves.  This is the veil of which Paul speaks that blinds them to seeing the light of God’s love and truth.  For them, it is an inconvenient truth that gets in the way of their pursuit of earthly pleasures and treasures.


First and foremost, we must remember that serving people requires a sacrifice of time and personal desires.  It’s a commitment and being one of Christ’s followers means humbling ourselves and serving others, even when they do not measure up to our expectations and standards.  We have to remember that when we tell people about Christ, whether in words of deeds, we must be ever-so-careful not to distort the message to please our audience or what we think it should be.  And above all else, we must proclaim the truth of God’s word as plainly and as simply as we can with transparency, without a hook.


Let us pray.


Gracious and merciful God, open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; open my heart and let me prepare love with the children thus to share.  Yes, Father, how grateful we are that by your grace we have received your word and your light.  Move us by your Spirit to seek out those who need to hear your truth and enable us, as humble and as imperfect as we are, to speak your message with honesty and transparency so that it may be received without reservation and doubt.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

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