II Corinthians 5:6-7, 16-17
September 20, 2020
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
Last week, Stu Smith asked me why during the summer I had called my sermon time a “reflection” instead of a sermon.
“What’s the difference?” he wanted to know.
I told him, “Reflections are short and sermons are long,” but honestly, the difference between the two is more than just the length. I think of a sermon as, and forgive the lingo, a crafted homiletical exhortation that follows a particular narrative construction. In other words, for me, a sermon requires research and in-depth biblical study, and the construction of a strong outline that moves listeners from point A to point C by way of point B.
A reflection, on the other hand, is just me talking to you about what I think.
From March to August when I was sitting in my car Zooming to you during the shutdown, I was just talking to you about what I was thinking. The pandemic has been a new experience for all of us and if I had delivered carefully constructed sermons during all of those weeks when our lives were being turned upside down, it would have felt dishonestly confident to me. I’m feeling my way through this along with the rest of you and so it felt more honest to say that I was “reflecting on events” than to pretend I have all of the answers. Now that I’m out of my car and back in the pulpit, you can see from your bulletin that I thought I would be ready to go back to more traditional sermons but I was naive in thinking that things would settle down enough to return to anything approaching normal. Fires are still burning in California, new storms have hit the southern coasts, and this week Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, leaving us not only grieving for the passing of an amazing woman but also once again raising the temperature on our already divisive political debates, so here I am again, throwing out all sermonic techniques and today I will just be reflecting on where faith fits into a world that right now feels like it’s being held together by scotch tape.
During these days, I have found Paul’s words to the churches of Corinth very helpful. Maybe it’s because the Corinthian Christians were also embroiled in controversy, arguing heatedly among themselves, or maybe it’s because Paul himself was a man who constantly faced hardship and changes in fortune. If Paul, in the midst of strife in the churches, challenges to his authority, false accusations, imprisonment, shipwrecks, and physical ailments, could still find hope in his faith, then surely we can learn from his example. Paul believed that Christ changed (and changes) everything, and that the change he experienced in Christ was what enabled him to get through, but what exactly is it that Paul believed faith changed? After Paul dedicated himself to Christ, his life didn’t magically improve. His prayers didn’t stop centurions from beating him; so we would be naive to think that all we need to do is pray, and brutality and injustice will instantly disappear from the face of the earth. Paul’s faith didn’t pave a yellow brick road under his feet to the Emerald City; he still had to endure the ravages of nature and the dangers of travel in the first Roman Empire. Nor did his faith bring his fellow Christians together in a wonderful Kum By Yah moment where every church goer was instantly generous, kind, humble, and helpful. As the challenges of this year batter my spirit and I am tempted to wonder what good it is to be a Christian when it doesn’t seem to be fixing anything, I remember Paul. For Paul, faith didn’t change the world; faith changes us. Faith gives us the strength to bear the world, and the courage to work to try to change the world ourselves.
In II Corinthians 5, Paul says the moment of change came when he realized that Christ loves us so much that he went all the way to the cross for us.
“From now on, therefore,” he said, “we regard no one from a human point of view…. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
The power of Christ’s love, Paul said, won’t miraculously change the world but it can and will change us because that is what love does. How many times do we read stories of people in concentration camps who were able to keep going because they held the image of a dearly beloved in their hearts? How many parents have found the strength to move heaven and earth to obtain care for a suffering child? Love — not sentimental Hallmark card love but deep unbreakable love that gives everything on our behalf — changes who we are because when we realize that such love has been poured out for us, we see ourselves differently. We can no longer believe that we are just nobodies buffeted by the winds of an indifferent universe but instead we realize that we are people worthy of an infinite holy divine eternal love. As human beings, we are excited if a celebrity takes notice of us; how much more moving it is to discover that the God of the universe not only notices us but loves us; that Christ poured out his life for you, for me. Christ’s belief that we are worth giving his life for changes who we believe we are, who we believe we can be, and what we believe we are capable of becoming, and so it makes us into new creatures as unbreakable as that love that formed us. Christ loves you, and died for you, and rose again so that his love could continue to be poured out upon you and through you, and when you grasp that love with desperate hands, you will discover that it is the rock on which you can stand even when the storms of life are raging.
This is what Paul meant when he said that as Christians we walk by faith and not by sight. We are able to bear all things, believe all things, endure all things, and hope all things because we keep our eyes fastened not on the changes and misfortunes of the world but on Christ and his love for us.
“Trust in Christ’s love,” Paul said. “Trust that he is with you. Trust that he believes in you more than you believe in yourself and keep your eyes locked on that love. Don’t be distracted by the sight of faces contorted with hatred; don’t fixate on the doubts that claw at your heart; don’t obsess over the news and despair that your life is inconsequential and there is no hope for tomorrow. Keep your eyes only on Christ and your feet grounded in his love for you, and walk through this difficult world by faith, and not by sight. When we keep our eyes only on Christ, we may still not understand it all, and we may not know where the road is going or how Christ intends to get us from Point A to Point C or which Point B we might have to go through to get there, but it doesn’t matter because we are walking with him, and we are letting his love pour out upon us and through us and doing the work he calls us to do, and in faith, we will believe that somehow we will make it through all this and that in the end we will have made a difference.
We walk by faith not by sight. For the protestors calling for social justice who are blinded by tear gas and wonder how what they are doing can possibly matter when they can’t even see clearly enough to walk across the street, Paul says, “We walk by faith not by sight.” For those of us whose eyes are blinded by tears, grieving at the divisions in our country and the insults people throw at one another across Facebook, who wonder how love can possibly penetrate the darkness of hatred, we walk by faith, not by sight. For those whose view of tomorrow is clouded with smoke, by rainstorms and hurricanes, who can’t see how they will make it through these literal storms, we walk by faith not by sight. For each of us so weary of this heartache that we want to pull the covers over our heads and keep our eyes closed to the unrelenting bad news, we walk by faith not by sight.
The gospel doesn’t try to answer all of our questions, nor does it promise that God will magically make all of the world’s problems disappear, but it does assure us that we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things if we keep our eyes on Christ and walk this road with him.
This week when you feel blinded by despair, repeat these words, 100 times over if necessary, “I walk by faith, not by sight,” and may you sense the presence of the Christ who loved you so much that he poured out his life for you walking by your side.