Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35
June 7, 2015
When I was a kid one of my favorites books was a sports book about strange happenings in sports; it might have been part of Ripley's Believe it or Not. One I recall was about an unfortunate woman who was attending a baseball game, I've got the details for you: In 1957, Richie Ashburn, centerfielder for the Phillies, his a foul ball that went into the stands and hit a spectator named Alice Roth. As she was being treated by medical personnel, Ashburn hit another foul ball and hit her again! That's a bad day! Charlie Brown once told Linus, “Sometimes I feel like I just want to run away from everything.” Snoopy overheard and reflected in his mind, “I remember having that feeling once when I was at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. I climbed over the fence...but I was still in the world!”
Anybody here ever feel that the world is a series of bad days and feel like running away from your troubles? The apostle Paul had about as many problems as anybody
Today's epistle is a glimpse at his view of this life with its suffering and despair with the message of why we can live in hope: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” This is a passage I have often used for funerals, especially if the person has been sick for some time. In those instances we can see the outer nature wasting away. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, physical failings can cause us, both the one sick and those who care for them, to lose heart. It gets difficult to face disease day after day; to see our loved one's outer nature wasting away. But in our faith journey, we can look to the words of Paul and to his life record to find positive ways to face life's trials; what he called momentary afflictions. More specifically, we need to look at the source of Paul's peace—the Lord Jesus Christ. And peace was not his because Jesus promised that all Paul's troubles were going to disappear as he followed Jesus. In fact, his troubles multiplied due to his activities done in Christ's name; but then so did his peace in Jesus. His eyes were not fixed on his troubles but on the eternal. He wrote, “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.”
Where are you looking at today? Where are your eyes focusing? Are you seeing the temporary or the eternal? It is so easy to look at the troubles all around us—universal troubles with floods and boats capsizing and earthquakes and terrorism; personal problems with our job situations, family troubles, health issues, money, friends, chemical dependency, loneliness...its easy to get discouraged. It may feel like life is hitting us with one foul ball after another. Like Snoopy, we may be looking for an escape. But if that's you today, you need to change your focus. An old quote but one that fits here, God never promised us a rose garden! In fact, the promise is that we will be ostracized and hated because of our relationship to Jesus Christ. Don't focus on your troubles to determine your level of peace. In fact, don't even focus on the good things of this world for your satisfaction. Focus on Jesus and remember, the world is temporary. As children of the resurrection promise, we believe that this world is not all there is. We are seeing the temporary; look at the eternal, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on with the promise with which we all live, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” That is an eternal vision. And it is a wonderful promise and great comfort when we lose a loved one. But heaven doesn't get us through the tough days here on earth. What are we to do with the suffering we face? The promise is a comfort but it does not get us up in the morning, it does not bring us peace in the midst of struggles. We need help now. Where do we look for our help in those dark days?
Three points I'd like to make here. First, look for and remember experiences of God's faithfulness in the past. We all experience dark days, but we also experience mountaintop experiences, those days when God's presence is especially close and things are looking bright. Reflect on those days and remember that they often come about after we've been through a valley, a time of trial. One of my regular authors I read regularly, sorry I can't remember who right now, liked to quote the scripture, “And it came to pass...” and then makes the point that it is part of life that all things come to pass and the troubles you face shall also pass. So often it seems that the dark times are going to be endless...but they aren't. Use that miraculous mind you have and remember God's blessings in the past and trust that this too shall pass.
Second, look at the valley as a time to grow in faith. God walks with us through the valley; consciously come before God's throne regularly. Not just to ask for escape but to ask for wisdom to learn and grow through your experiences. Let these times make you a better person; let God's grace touch your life in new ways. It is widely accepted that we grow more in our dependance on God during times of trials than during the good times. Accept that during your down times, you can reach out to God in new and deeper ways. Too often our prayers are for escape from our troubles; let your prayer be “God teach me your ways.”
Third, the dark days allow us to share in the trials and griefs of others. If everything is coming up roses, it is hard to empathize with the trials of others. But as we suffer we can relate to others who are suffering. And not just relate, but we can share the love of Jesus with them as they suffer. Now I'm not saying preach to them about why they are suffering or what they are doing wrong—that's the mistake Job's friends made. As Jesus walks with us through our valleys, we can walk with others; let your presence show your love.
I started by calling on us to look at Paul as our example when we are suffering. But better advice is to, like Paul, look at Jesus. He didn't exactly live a life of luxury. He was born in a stable, he was exiled to a foreign country, he was an itinerant preacher with no place to call his home. He was rejected by the people to whom he'd come to save, beaten, judged at a mockery of a trial. But one consistent trait we see in Jesus—he had compassion on those in need. We learn compassion and empathy by looking at and by being lead by our Lord. This is a constant struggle for me, and perhaps some of you. When challenges come up, whether for me or for some of you, my thought is too often, “how does this affect me?” I pray for more compassion, for a heart that is a servant's heart; for the compassionate heart Jesus shows us. We are called as God's children to love. It's been a common theme of our readings the last few weeks—we love because God first loved us...we keep Christ's commandments when we love one another. As our view turns away from the temporary to the eternal, our motives in love turn from ourselves to others.
Julie and I went to the movie “Tomorrowland” last Sunday evening. Not a great movie, but it kept us interested. A native American legend called Two Wolves was part of the tale of how the characters looked at life. One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
We can look at this tale with the understanding that we live with two natures within us, the human nature to sin and find our own way, self-centered, selfish, greedy. And the Spirit nature, the Holy Spirit given when we declare our faith in Jesus. They too, are fighting within. Our message today calls for us to feed the nature that is eternal, our soul. While out sin nature draws us away from the Lord using our momentary affliction to convince us that God doesn't care the Spirit nature reminds us that there is a bigger picture, that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,” and that we should “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.” Feed the spiritual side of your Christian walk! Prayer, Bible reading, church, what you read or watch or listen to; they all are feeding your soul—for good or for bad.
We celebrate Sierra's graduation today. Our advice is fitting for a graduation exercise for a Christ follower: Remember God's faithfulness, share your ups and downs with God and learn through the Holy Spirit, and love others as Jesus demonstrated. For all of us, as we walk this journey of faith, don't get too discouraged by your trials. Jesus doesn't promise to “fix” everything here and now. Thomas Long wrote the book What Shall We Say? about suffering and quoted Kosuke Koyoma about the “power” of Jesus. “The name Jesus Christ is not a magic name which transforms the broken world into an instant paradise...Jesus Christ is not a quick answer...he is the answer portrayed in the crucifixion.”1 So let us, in all things, allow the Spirit of God within teach us God's way. Fix you eyes upon Jesus our Savior, the suffering Servant. Don't let the things of this life overwhelm us, but be overwhelmed by the glory of our eternal Lord. Amen.
Hymn: 252 O Soul are you troubled and weary?
1Thomas G. Long “What Shall We Say? Pg 143