Monday, August 31, 2020

Our Money Story: Release

This has been another rough week. Something, it seems, that is to be expected in this year of years, 2020. This week we are witnessing devastation in our world due to weather events, including hurricanes and typhoons, and extreme temperatures and wildfires, here and in other parts of the world. We’ve also been witness this week to the tragedy in Wisconsin. And to the continuing pandemic that has taken over 180,000 lives in our country alone. This has been another rough week. And in the midst of it, today, we are talking about release. About letting go.

We read from the gospel of Luke, the 11th chapter. 

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’” --Luke 11:2-4 (CEB)

The verse in Luke 11 that is central to our conversation this morning is verse 3. “Give us the bread we need for today.” So, how does this passage connect up with the idea of release?

The concept of release in scripture is closely connected to the Year of Jubilee, which is set forth for Israel as a command in the book of Deuteronomy.  Every seven years, all prisoners and slaves were to be released. All debts forgiven. All property returned to its original owners. Anyone bound by a labor contract was released from it. All labor was to cease for one year. So, during this Year of Jubilee, not only was the land able to rest and experience a Sabbath, but so, too, were the people. For an entire year.

Now, we might look at this and just shake our heads. How was this even possible? How could this even happen? And why was this even necessary? The idea is almost beyond our current cultural comprehension.

But, the idea of release is not all that we learn from Deuteronomy. In this fifth book of the Torah, sin is not connected with one’s own piety, about doing right and wrong. Instead, sin was an economic term. It was about how (or not) you cared for yourself and your neighbor. Because this is how you honored God. So, if you robbed someone of their wages, you sinned. If you failed to release someone from their debt, you sinned. If you made someone a slave, you sinned. If you had too much food and you didn’t give any to your hungry neighbor, you sinned. Sin was an economic term.

All of this was about leveling the playing field. Giving everyone the ability to take care of themselves and their families. And, also, ensuring that, if someone couldn’t, they would be cared for.

But, it was about something even more. It was about idolatry.

In Jesus’ day, much like our own, the underlying economic system encouraged faith and trust in the holding of possessions. Consider the man in Matthew 19. He comes to Jesus asks how he might gain eternal life. He has fulfilled all of the commandments, he tells Jesus. But, Jesus knows what is truly enslaving him. And so, Jesus tells him that, to gain eternal life, he must release all of his possessions and give them to the poor. He can’t. Because he has come to believe that it is his possessions that will save him.

Our every instinct as human beings is towards idolatry. To close in and protect ourselves and our possessions from others. I know this from my own money story.

I grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. I never knew as a child that we were dirt poor. Because it always seemed as though there was enough. Enough food on our table. And enough clothing to wear. We had really no toys to speak of. Yet, there was always something for us to play with. Maybe it was an empty box that we could make a house out of. Maybe it was tall weeds that we could stomp down for a pretend village. Maybe it was simply the dirt in the grove of trees behind our house that my brother and I used to form and shape a little town for the few Matchbox cars we had. Whatever we had always seemed to be enough.

But, that changed as I became an adult and started to make money. It then became all about collecting stuff. Whatever it was. Clothing. Household stuff. Knick knacks. You name it, I probably had it. So much stuff. Stuff that I thought I needed. And along with the stuff came greed. Because I wasn’t buying stuff for anyone else. Only for myself. Until 2012 and my layoff. I learned pretty quickly how useless this stuff was. And how little I actually needed to live on. And what was really important. And what wasn’t.  

Yesterday, in our Saturday morning study, we were asked this question: What is essential in your life, and what is trivial? In other words, what can we release in our lives and what should we hold onto. I’m wondering whether this pandemic and the times in which we are living haven’t begun to reveal for us what is truly important. And what isn’t.  

Christianity has, honestly, become a twisted mess in our country. We have lost what is essential to our faith. That we simply be lovers of God and lovers of people. This is at the heart of who and what God calls us to. To release us from the things that keep us from God. To release us from the shame, the anxiety, the guilt, the greed, or anything else that keeps us from freedom and wholeness. To release us from the idea that our worth is tied to our productivity, or our activity or our business. To let go of these elements of our money story that prevent us from fully living in God’s abundance. And trusting God’s promise - that God will save us. That God will provide for our daily needs. All of this, so that we might then let go of our abundance in love, to serve our neighbor.   

It’s a stunning idea, isn’t it? A terrifying one, too! Yet maybe this is the invitation God is giving us. To simply let go and become part of the great festive banquet that God has prepared for all of God’s people. The banquet, the party, that is a sign that God is acting at last to rescue God’s people and wipe away all tears from all eyes. Or, as Tom Wright says, “Give us this day our daily bread” means simply, “Let the party continue.”

So, let go. Release yourself from whatever keeps you from trusting God's promise. Then, come! And join the party!  

Preached August 30, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 13
Readings: Luke 11:2-4; Psalm 145:10-18

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Our Money Story: Remember

This morning we begin the first of three weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. We also begin four weeks thinking together about stewardship. Now, you may say that connecting these two things  makes no sense whatsoever. How in the world does money connect with prayer? 

Well, if you’re at all like me, this makes perfect sense. Because for many of us, I would imagine, at some time in our lives we have spoken a desperate prayer to God, asking for money. Maybe it was at the end of the month, when the money from our paycheck was no more. Wondering how we might make it to the end of the month. Put food on the table for our families. Pay our electricity bill to keep the lights on. I dare say that the connection of money and prayer makes perfect sense.

So, today, we read the Lord’s Prayer, not as we generally know it, from Matthew. But, from Luke. A shorter, more condensed prayer. To the point. Just like the direct conversation about money we will be having over these next weeks. 

For us to think and to speak directly of money is to automatically invite tension into this space. We quickly want to avoid the conversation. Yet, money and possessions are one of the most common topics in scripture. Jesus talked about money more than faith. Or prayer. So, our money story is a spiritual story. Over these next weeks, you will be invited to explore your money story. To compare it to God’s money story. And to consider making your own stewardship practices a fuller expression of God’s story. And of who you are. And what you believe. 

So, we begin today, reading three short verses that we will be using for each of these weeks. Today, I am reading from the Common English Bible translation. 

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
--Luke 11:2-4 (CEB)

We begin today by considering the first verse. “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”

In our book club this month, we read a lovely book written for middle school children - One Crazy Summer, by Rita Garcia-Williams. It’s the story of 11-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters. And of their experience in the summer of 1968 traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with a mother they barely know. When they arrive in Oakland, they learn that their mother has taken on a new first name. They’ve only heard about her as Cecile. Yet, she has changed her first name to more fully reflect who she is. Nzila. A poet’s name, she says. “A poet who blows the dust off surfaces to make clear and true paths.”

This is not something appreciated by 11-year-old Delphine. Just a few pages later, Delphine notes that a “name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it’s a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can’t be knocked down. Your name is who you are and how you’re known even when you do something great or something dumb.”

Your name is who you are and how you’re known. Isn’t that why Jesus begins his prayer the way he does? With a name that tells us who he is and how he knows God? Father. Parent. In the Aramaic, Abba? This is how Jesus addresses God and how he invites his disciples to address God. Up to this point, it was unusual to name God in this way. The Hebrew scriptures sometimes compared God to a father, but it is rare that they referred to God as Father. Jesus uses this title to reshape the disciples’ thinking about who this God is. Shifting their understanding from the angry God that the Jewish people had come to know. And instead expanding their understanding and relationship with God as one of parent and child. Giving them permission to call God, Father. And to claim their protected position as God’s own children.

Now, for some of us, to call God, Father, can be difficult. Especially if we have not had good relationships with our fathers. Or have had negative experiences with patriarchy. Yet, it’s important for us to understand that as we are created in the image of God, so God is in the image of human beings, possessing both male and female attributes. Parental attributes. Loving, compassionate, nurturing. Yet firm, establishing necessary boundaries for their children and in their relationships with their children. To call God, Father, or Abba, is to simply view God as parent.

But, as young Delphine notes in the book we read, one’s name is not just who one is, but also how one is known. However we address God as parent, we are invited to regard God’s name as holy. As God is holy. The Hebrews believed that the name of God was so sacred, that they used the word Jehovah. A word that in Hebrew could be pronounced without any consonants. Like a breath moving through their lips. Yehovah. A name spoken with whispered awe. Awe appropriate for such a powerful and deeply loving heavenly Father. A Father whose reign is not just limited to the heavens. But, a powerful and loving Father who seeks to pour out God’s heavenly reign into this world. “Bring in your kingdom,” Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. Bring in your kingdom of peace and justice. Your kingdom of love. Bring it to this world, this earth, this planet, this ecology, to these animals, to these people, even to the industry of our world. So that you, Father, might be fully experienced here. Just as in heaven. This is the prayer Jesus teaches the disciples. And what Jesus was living out on earth, offering and living into an economy, as Walter Brueggemann writes, “that was sure to collide with established economic patterns and with those who presided over and benefited from these patterns.” Jesus’ term for this alternative economy was “kingdom of God.” A social practice. And a set of social relationships there were consistent with the God of the covenant. The God of Israel. To mention this “kingdom of God,” was to call on Jesus’ disciples to remember who this God - this Father - was. [1]

It’s the same God we remember every time we celebrate communion and hear the Great Thanksgiving - the words that precede our receiving the bread and wine, the body and blood. In this thanksgiving, we remember how God moved over the waters. How God led Israel with a pillar of fire from bondage to liberation. We remember that still, small voice and then the prophets, proclaiming a new way - a new Messiah. We remember Mary and Joseph and the angels. The blind man and the leper. And the crowds that Jesus healed. Him walking on water. The little children running to him. We remember the justice he preached. The hosannas and palm branches. The love that changed the world. We remember this each and every week so that we do not forget who this God is. And so that we remember who we are. And, what our money story is to be.

So much of our beliefs and our behaviors are rooted in stories. Narratives that are personal, familial, societal, cultural, and religious. We subconsciously absorb and construct many money stories. Perhaps our money stories are about scarcity. Coming from or living in stories of fear and shame. Of never having enough. Perhaps they are stories that the church is dying and no longer relevant. Or the stories that our actions in this world won’t have any impact. 

How might we begin to unpack and reconstruct these stories to make them a better reflection of who we know God to be? Who we remember God to be. The God of scripture. The God who meets Israel in the wilderness with manna. Who, even in the midst of desperate and fearful prayers, provides. Abundantly. An extravagantly loving God. Never content with just a heavenly kingdom. But who pours out that love into a Spirit-breathed creation. To bring life and freedom. This is the God we remember.

May we, over these weeks, begin to tease apart our own complicated money stories. To rewrite them if necessary. So that they more fully reflect what we believe. Who God is. And who we remember and know this God to be. Our Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Amen.

Preached August 23, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Luke 11:2-4; Psalm 103:1-5

[1] Brueggemann, Walter. Money and Possessions. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016). 23.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Who We Are: Generosity

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, we made it! We have been in 2nd Corinthians for five weeks as of today. Immersed in this letter that is considered one of Paul’s most theologically dense writings. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of exhausted. Yet, today, we come to the place really where the “rubber meets the road.” For the first seven chapters, Paul has been trying to explain to the church in Corinth the nature of his apostolic ministry - a ministry patterned after the life of Christ. And, in turn, what the nature of their ministry is to be. And my ministry. And your ministry.

So, this morning we see how all that Paul has talked about up to now is manifested in the most practical of ways. We read from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 8.

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much, 

    and the one who had little did not have too little.” --2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (NRSV)

Throughout all of 2nd Corinthians, Paul uses these themes of giving and receiving. Of reciprocity. If we think back to the first week, when our focus was on the word, consolation, we learned that within the body of Christ our suffering is mutual. When Christ suffers, we suffer. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are bound together in suffering and in consoling one another. There is reciprocity - a sense of suffering and consolation, of giving and receiving. An interconnectedness.

Then, in week two, we heard Paul talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. How Paul could have, in his anger and hurt, walked away from the Corinthian congregation. But that he didn’t. And instead, he moved in. Closer to them. Forgiving them. And seeking to be reconciled with them. A true and reciprocal witness of Jesus and of Jesus’ own love and reconciliation for us.

In the third week, we listened as Paul compared us to earthen vessels. Cracked and broken clay jars into which God has poured God’s Spirit. This treasure, this life that God has worked and continues to work in us that points to Christ. A life lived reciprocally, in response to the gift - the gracious gift of God’s mercy and love.  And a life that, as we heard last week, through which we walk by faith, trusting in the steadfast love of God, and shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Today is where all of this comes to fruition. Manifested through the reciprocity of love. If we truly believe that God is love and that the nature of this love is manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - love poured out for us in grace, then our only response can be love. Love that manifests itself in the most practical of ways. In generosity. By caring for one another, for our world, and for all that God has created.

There had been a desire, a plan generated in all earnestness by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, including the congregation in Corinth. A plan to gather a collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, whose members had been experiencing economic hardship. Titus, Paul’s associate, had agreed to take the lead in organizing this collection from among the churches - gathered, as Paul had suggested, by each member setting aside a certain amount every week. Then gathered by Titus and delivered by Paul to their Jerusalem sisters and brothers in Christ on his next visit there. 

This is the reciprocity of love. As we have received, so we give. But note that this is not a one-way giving. Because one-way giving, one-sided giving, has the very real tendency to create a power imbalance, where those with wealth to distribute hold power and status over those without. Paul, instead, stresses equality and reciprocity. We have all been given gifts in abundance by God - gifts that may be manifested in different ways. Paul is seeking a fair balance, a fair distribution in wealth and of other gifts given to them by God. So that one with much doesn’t have too much. And one with little doesn’t have too little.

What are the implications of this for us? For us as the body of Christ in this time and place? Perhaps it is to be open in our giving. But, not to only be open and generous in our giving, but also to be open and generous in our receiving. Open to receiving the gifts God has given us and to others without resistance. Without fear. Without shame. Without trying to one-up one another’s gifts. Where all is grace. Grace that is modelled after the upside-down kingdom of God, where God’s grace is poured out generously and abundantly for us in love in Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It is through this reciprocity of generosity - a generosity of receiving and giving - that in us and through us, God’s destiny is ultimately fulfilled. Amen.

Preached August 16, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
12th Sunday after Pentecost.
Readings: 2 Cor. 8:1-15; John 13:31-35

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Who We Are: We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

In these weeks that we’ve been reflecting on what was happening in the church in Corinth, on the conflict there, not only between members of the community, but between the community and Paul himself, one of the issues Paul has been dealing with is that of his apostolic authority. His ministry has come under attack. He, personally, has come under attack, with false apostles and members of the congregation challenging his attributes as a leader. That he is not polished enough. That he is not refined enough. That his speaking skills are inadequate. 

What Paul understands by these attacks is that the church in Corinth does not yet grasp the full meaning of apostleship. Not just his apostleship, but theirs, as well. 

And so, we begin this morning in the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians, where Paul continues the idea from last week of the treasure we have in earthen vessels. Paul’s theology was deeply grounded in the life of Christ, specifically in the death and resurrection of Christ. As this first part of today’s reading opens, we see Paul using metaphor - images familiar to him and to those in the Corinthian church - in order to help them understand the nature of life and death. We read, beginning with verse 1.

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. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling — if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.  --2 Cor. 5:1-10 (NRSV)

Paul begins with the metaphor of a “tent,” something that, as a tentmaker by trade, he would have been familiar with. And an image that the Corinthians would have been familiar with, as well. Many people lived in tents at this time. Paul begins with this phrase: for we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed…” The word translated as tent can also be translated as tabernacle. This is something Paul does, too, in his writing. He will use a word or a phrase that just by its very use conjures up a much fuller picture. For example, to use the word tabernacle immediately connects Paul to his Jewish-ness. The tabernacle, or tent of meeting, was the structure constructed by Israel following God’s design, which was to be dismantled and moved with them throughout the wilderness. The tabernacle was the place where God promised to be present with them on their journey.

Then, the second word Paul uses here, is the word translated “destroyed.” When used, though, in tent-making imagery, this word really means dismantling. As one would dismantle a tent. 

And then, Paul continues on. Using additional metaphors of clothing and, especially, the contrast of being naked with being further clothed. 

So, what is Paul getting at? We, in the Western church, have become much more concerned about where we go after we die. But, the early Christians weren’t as concerned about this. Their focus was on God’s kingdom. And the unveiling of God’s kingdom here. “On earth as it is in heaven.” So, their groaning is not to be released from this earthly tent, but that a new and promised house might be placed over it - a house not made with human hands, but one made with God’s hands. And one that is forever. 

Paul uses these metaphors to provide a framework for the Corinthians and us to understand, not only his ministry, but ours, too. A framework that is centered around the Trinity. That the power of the Creator, who raises Jesus from the dead, is at work in us. Dismantling the battered old tent to place a new, free one over it - the new, free person God is making us into. Clothing our nakedness in new, permanent clothing. Crafting the eternal being God is making us into. 

The death and resurrection of Jesus shapes us. And prepares us for when he will come again on earth to judge. Us. And all people. Because how we live into this freedom we have been given matters. Otherwise, we simply cheapen the grace God has showered on us.

So, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is us in our downpayment. Our security. Our promise and foretaste of this new creation. Working in us and through us to create new life. Life that often bursts in upon us. That surprises us even in the midst of trouble and suffering. We, like Jesus, move from death and suffering to life. Because we are image bearers of Christ.

This is where Paul continues, beginning with verse 11.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  --2 Cor. 5:11-21 (NRSV)

This reforming, this re-clothing that God does in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, changes the way we look at the world. Giving us a new lens with which to view the world. Through the resurrected Jesus. Seeing glimpses of the long-promised new creation bursting into our world. And a hope that is perhaps best expressed in the words of Rev. Juanita Rasmus, pastor of St. John United Methodist in downtown Houston:

I think all things are going to be made new. You know, if nothing else, we can look at nature. You see a pine tree, experiencing some decay. And over time it falls to the ground. And over time it begins to house various animals that live off of the substance of that decay. Then, over time, that pine tree falls and crumbles. And, then, it becomes the floor of the forest and, in the midst of all of that, it becomes the basis for a new pine tree. So, yeah, if we can see that in nature, then we can see that in our own nature - in our human nature. That, indeed, all things can become made new. 

That gives me hope. That gives me hope, because I see a lot of people suffering. And I know that, even in my own suffering, God gives me an opportunity to dig down deep past all of the pain, and the disappointment, and the hurt, and the rejection, and the injustices. And in the midst of that, he'll let me see just a glimpse of something life-giving. That's what gives me hope. Hope not only for me, but for everybody.  Hope for the young African-American men who get shot because they wear hoodies or their music is determined by somebody as being too loud. I have to have hope. I don't know how I'd live if I didn't. 

So I trust that the same power that was able to resurrect Jesus will resurrect me. And that person who would shoot another person for their music being too loud. I don't want to be surprised when I get to heaven. I want to see this man redeemed. I want to see Hitler redeemed. I want to see slave masters redeemed. I want to see that. I long to see that. Because I think that is the hope that Christ offers me. That, if that pine tree can in the midst of decay become the ground of new life, then so can I. So can we. 

So, yeah, that's what I hope.*

May we walk in faith, not by sight. Even in times of deep struggle and pain. Trusting in the power of God’s steadfast love to work death out of life in us and through us, that we may become the ground of life in our world. Amen.

Preached August 9, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 2 Cor. 5:1-21; Mark 8:22-26

*Quote from Rev. Juanita Rasmus taken from a video interview, entitled The Massive Living Program, found online at The Work of the People (

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Who We Are: Treasures in Clay Jars

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about baptism. Perhaps, in part, because of the vast quantities of water we’ve received in rain over the past few days. Or, perhaps, it is because of all that we’ve seen and heard over these past few days about Congressman John Lewis and heard how he lived his life, with such integrity and humility, in much the same way we are called to live out our own baptismal promises.

Whatever has triggered it, I’ve been thinking about baptism. So, it led to me turning to the order that we use for baptism in our church. There are five parts to it. And I invite you to take a look at it more closely sometime. Within it, there’s a part called the Profession of Faith, or sometimes it’s called the Renunciation. Perhaps you remember it - it comes before the actual act of baptizing someone and is a series of questions asked of parents or sponsors or, in the case of an adult baptism, of the one being baptized. These are questions that come to us from the earliest centuries of the church. 

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?

The answer to each of these questions in our own baptisms was likely the phrase, “I renounce them,” or something similar. But, that’s really easier said than done, isn’t it? Throughout our lives I dare say we feel the push and pull of these forces. Forces of evil and those that defy God. The powers of the world that rebel against God and seek to draw us from God. The sins we commit that bring us shame and can separate us from God. Yes, living into our baptismal promises is so much easier said than done.

It’s really the same challenge that the church in Corinth was dealing with. In fact, in the first part of our reading today, it seems that Paul makes reference to these very things the Corinth believers had also renounced. As in our baptisms. They, too, are experiencing the pull on the church from all sides. They are on the verge of being divided by many different factions, both internal and external. This is a new, fledgling church trying to find its way and not doing well. 

And so, as we’ve heard before, Paul has had to correct them, sometimes harshly. Yet, he knows that what they need now is not more correction and teaching. Instead, what they need now are words of comfort. And of hope. Words to help heal the wounds and guide them forward, against the pull of these forces of evil and the world and sin. Words that may feel especially written for us, too, in this time. Words to guide us. To give comfort and give hope. To heal our wounds and help us go forward. 

Which brings us to our reading today, from chapter 4 in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

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, because 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. --2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (NRSV)

Paul begins by reminding the church in Corinth - and us - how both of us got here. Solely by God’s mercy. It is nothing we have done, but what God has done. And Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that God is our foundation. Our center. Around whom our lives revolve.

Then, Paul continues on to make five important points. Creedal points almost - that serve as the basis for the lives and ministry of the Corinth church. And for ours, too.

First, Paul reminds us that our ministry is to be done out in the open. Transparently. Anytime we are fighting the powers that be, they will be on the watch for anything that can be used to tear us down. So, we are to be open and honest in the work. To be transparent in everything we do because it’s about integrity.

Then, Paul reminds us that everything we do should point to Christ. It’s so easy for us to want to be in the spotlight - in the center - of things. It’s natural. And human. But it’s not the way of Christ. And if we fall to this temptation, it has the potential to risk everything. 

Third, Paul writes that we are not impervious to pain. We are human. Made of mortal materials like that fragile clay jar. And, while we may want to hear only the positives here - that we are “not crushed, ...not driven to despair, ...not forsaken, ...not destroyed,” we cannot ignore the reality that in doing this work we will be “afflicted, ...perplexed, ...persecuted, ...and struck down.” I FaceTimed this week with one of our members who has been in lockdown in a nursing home since March. We mourned together the isolation she was feeling in this time. To acknowledge this to recognize our mortality. And our pain. Yet, Paul writes that this pain will not have the last word. Neither will death have the last word. Life - God - will.

Then, Paul writes that our faith is not silent, as he quotes from Psalm 116, these words: We believe and, therefore, we speak. When we see works in our world that are opposed to the way of Christ, our faith calls us not to be silent. But to speak out. To challenge the forces of evil at work in our world.

Finally, Paul’s last point is that while the fruit of our labor may be hidden, it is there. It can be easy to fall into despair when we don’t see the immediate fruit of our work. When we don’t see the world immediately changing. When it seems as though there is no improvement. We may begin to wonder if everything we do or have done is in vain. This is where point number two is important. Paul writes to help us remember that we are in this work and in this ministry as God’s people for the long haul. To trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. It may take a long time to sprout. So long, in fact, that we may not live to see it.  But, as Paul writes at the end of the chapter - in the same way he began it..."We do not lose heart." 

So, do not lose heart, dear friends, dear people of God. Even in the midst of all the troubles we are experiencing know that similar troubles and challenges have been experienced by believers and the church before. And know that, just as God promised life in Christ through Paul to the early church, God continues to promise life, through Christ, for us. And life is what will come. May we hold fast to this promise. In this time. Amen. 

Preached August 2, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; Matthew 5:13-16