Sunday, October 24th we will be continuing our series on “Why Church.” Some people have used the pandemic to stop coming to church, some have adapted to worshipping from home, while others have other personal reasons for not attending. So, this fall we will explore why belonging to a church and participating as a member of the local church is important for our faith, our emotional and spiritual health, and for growing in all areas of our lives. We will be reflecting on Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 5:13-16, To Change the World Together. God called Abram to follow him with a promise of blessings and that Abram and his descendants would become a blessing to the nations of the world. Jesus calls us to be light and salt in the world, both impact and transform the world, adding taste and hope. They are not neutral, but active agents. We too are called to be active agents in our communities, bringing a good taste, bringing hope, bringing Jesus.
To Find Renewal and Hope
2 Corinthians 4
October 24, 2021
This is Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Their relationship with each other hasn’t been easy; Paul’s had to hold them accountable in his first letter for some pretty hard things, yet you can hear in this letter Paul’s love for them. He begins this letter by sharing how his suffering, and he’s gone through a ton of suffering, is so that they can find hope and comfort in their own suffering, knowing that he really does understand what they’re going through. This is life wisdom, when you’re hurting, the person who can help you the most is the person who has gone through similar struggles and hurt. In addiction support groups, your sponsor or mentor is someone who’s been addicted just like you are. They get it.
Our renewed relationship with God is important to Paul. Paul talks about how Moses wore a veil over his face because being in God’s presence made his face shine so brightly, that it hurt the people to look at him. God met face to face with Moses, renewing his relationship with his people, leading them into freedom and a new life of hope and restoration with him. This helps us understand what Paul is talking about in our passage this morning, when he mentions that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Moses used a veil to conceal God’s glory from the people while now, in Paul’s time, when God’s glory is being revealed in Jesus and the church, Satan is blinding the minds of unbelievers so they can’t see who Jesus is as their Lord and saviour.
Paul leads into chapter 4 with this verse, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Paul’s talking about how we reflect Jesus’ glory and are being transformed into Jesus’ likeness, becoming more like him with his glory shining brighter in us. This glory comes from the Holy Spirit that now lives in us. This echoes Paul’s first letter to this church where he reminds them that they are God’s temple now, 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” It’s important to read the Bible listening for echoes to other books of the Bible, or even within the same book of the Bible, to help you get a deeper insight into what the author is saying. It also reassures us that we are understanding what the Bible is saying.
This light of the gospel, this light of Jesus shining in us, the light that shines out of darkness, is found in jars of clay. It echoes back to creation when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, creating light in the darkness to bring about the conditions for life. The Bible’s creation story reminds us that God formed us out of the dirt of the ground, like a potter molds clay, and gave us life by breathing his Spirit into Adam. Life and light flow from God and Jesus into us. We’re the shining height of God’s creation, created in his image.
Paul goes to the image of potter and clay, saying that we have this treasure, the gospel of Jesus in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Because of sin, we have a tendency to make God and Jesus smaller so we can make ourselves more important and bigger, which has led to brokenness and evil gaining a strong foothold in the world and our lives. Our jars of clay are covered with cracks and chips from life from being hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Hard-pressed refers to the process of pressing olives for their oil. Wikipedia shares how this works, traditional olive-presses consisted large millstones used to grind the olives and their pits into a pulp. One stone could weigh up to 400 kilos. The upper milling-stone was turned by a donkey or ox pulling a wooden beam attached to the stone. Then the pulp was collected, kneaded, and then placed in woven baskets stacked one on top of the other. A large stone weight was then placed on top to release the oil from the pulp.
Being hard-pressed can bring out the precious oil in us, but it doesn’t come easily. Perplexed is about not understanding why we’re going through hard stuff while others seem to float comfortably through life; everything they do succeeds while no matter how hard we work; all we get is hard times. Yet in the hard times we learn deeper trust in God, we grow closer to God, and we learn life wisdom. We know what persecuted is, even though most of us have never experienced it. Yet in persecution we understand better what Jesus went through for us, we understand the power of sin and the amazing grace of God’s glory and presence in our lives in the holy Spirit who comforts us, protects our hearts, and guides us back to Jesus. Struck down reminds us that there are always people who want to see us fail and will work against us, but the Holy Spirit picks us up and gives us the strength and hope we need to move forward. This echoes back to the beginning of the letter where Paul shares how he’s suffered, but recognizes that God is using his cracks and chips in life to bless them.
It’s through the cracks and chips in the clay jars of our lives that the light of Jesus shines through powerfully, creating beautiful patterns of grace and hope for the world to see. Desmond Tutu, with his daughter Mpho, wrote The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and the World. Tutu tells some of the brutal stories from apartheid and how, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, perpetrators could tell their stories and victims were able to offer forgiveness. The forgiveness offered could only come from knowing Jesus and how Jesus understands the heavy and hard cost of forgiveness. In the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, the story in the Gospel of John where Jesus shows Thomas his scars and invites him to place his hand in the hole in his side. Jesus carries the scars of his suffering for us in his resurrected body do we can be reassured that Jesus knows our suffering and is able to renew us. It takes deep honesty to tell your story and name the hurt, and then granting forgiveness becomes possible and you can move forward to renew or release the relationship in which you experienced the hurt. We find the strength and courage to forgive because we walk together as the church; helping each other learn how to forgive; offering encouragement and strength when we’re called to forgive.
I think of the Amish community in Pennsylvania; a gunman killed a number of their children and the families reached out to the gunman’s mother to comfort her as they forgave her son. The light of Jesus burned brightly through their cracks and brokenness for the world to see. Many who work hard in non-profits could be working in their own businesses and receiving all kinds of accolades, but instead work quietly among the neediest and least people because their faith tells them this is more important. Their faithfulness often comes from having experienced brokenness and cracks in their life or loved one’s lives. Their light shines brightly. You all have stories of people who have sacrificed to help others, people who have suffered and turned that suffering into blessing others; the light of Jesus shines brightly through their cracks and chips creating beauty out of suffering. Tell the stories!
The light of Jesus shines through us because we his. We have the death of Jesus in us, the death of our sin through the cross, and we have the life of Jesus in us, renewing us, giving us new life. When your life is filled with brokenness, when the cracks feel too big, Jesus takes those cracks and fills them in, renewing us, even if the scars are still there. The cracks point to hope because we belong to Jesus. As Big Daddy Weave sings, “Jesus makes all things new again,” this is the message we speak and live out in the church together.
Paul reminds us that our renewal in Jesus leads us into speaking of our hope, “It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have 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 to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and calls us to speak to the hope and life we have in Jesus so that more people will discover that same hope and live out of a spirit of thanksgiving to God.