1 Samuel 15:34-16:13– Samuel anoints David and the Spirit falls mightily upon him.
Ezekiel 17:22-24– I will dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. The high tree will be brought low, and the low high.
Psalm 20– Some take pride in horses and chariots, but our pride is in the name of the Lord God.
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15– The righteous shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. (Ps. 92:11)
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17– We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord
Mark 4:26-34– The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which so small, yet grows and provides branches for the birds to make nests. For an earlier post on this text by Pastor Don Carlson, check out June 17, 2012 (DC).
Last week’s text ended with 5:1: “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.” This week’s text begins five verses later, continuing the theme, “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.” (5:6-7)
While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. It is this view beyond the temporal world that gives Paul the freedom to walk by faith, and not by sight. He would rather be home with the Lord. This may be a perspective borne of his sufferings. Next week we will hear (6:4-10) of some of Paul’s sufferings:
…as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Later, in 11:23-29, Paul will spell out more of the things he has endured in his missionary work:
Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?
Have you suffered? So did Paul, and Christ for that matter. You are not alone. The words of our Scriptures are not naïve with regards to suffering. So Paul can yearn for the day he is at home with the Lord.
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. (4:8-10)
Pastors have the privilege of being with people at the point of death. It is a sacred privilege. In over a quarter century of ordained ministry, I have heard many words uttered on death beds. Joy and sorrow. Hope and regret. Not everyone is ready to let go of this mortal coil. To them, Paul’s words probably seem strange, surreal even. Sometimes death comes too soon, like a thief in the night. The hardest thing most pastors will ever have to do is bury a child.
Other people, however, are quite ready for death. Some pray for death to come with joy. Some even express frustration when it doesn’t come. After 65 years of marriage, Margaret’s husband died. Up in years herself, she had no desire to live. At 94, JoAnne had lived a long time. Her body was giving out on her little by little. She had aches and pains that she knew would never go away. “I’ve had a long life. I’ve experienced more love and joy than I had a right to expect. I’ve had hardships, but the Lord has seen me through. It’s time.”
Brian Gigee, a pastor in Pearland, a suburb of Houston, recently shared a letter written by his mother entitled, “To Be Read at My Funeral.” He crafted it in song. https://youtu.be/wQ6wcXtIZmc
Don’t cry for me now, now that I’m gone
I’m not far away in God’s heavenly home
Any tears you may shed will just water the seas
As God blesses and grows our family tree
They said we were poor, my family and me
Nine brothers and sisters, I know they’ll agree
Through hardship and troubles, not silver and gold
God made us all conquerors with riches untold
Your father and I, we’re together again.
We’ll sit side-by-side. He’s still my best friend.
And we’ll watch over you with each night and day.
The bright torch you have carried will light your pathway
Each generations, babies new cry
We enter life’s mystery and often ask why
And soon you’ll discover, faith makes you strong
In the arms of our Savior we’re never alone
Don’t cry for me now, now that I’m gone
I’m not far away in God’s heavenly home
And the story of God’s love, won’t end with this song
Don’t cry for me now, kids, God’s grace keeps us strong
In the presence of Jesus, we’re already home
Our lesson concludes with verses 14-17:
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!
Not nearly enough is made of Paul’s understanding of the love of Christ. It is this “love of Christ” (v. 14) that drove Jesus to endure the cross. It is this love that reshapes Paul’s understanding of faith and community. The law of Moses, written on tablets is now the law of love, written on our hearts. Without this love (1 Corinthians 13) nothing else really matters. Without this love, our preaching is just noise, faith is nothing, and even sacrifice means nothing.
Paul lives in the mystery of the crucifixion. Because Christ has died, we have all died. In Romans he said all who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death. We all die in Christ, so that we may no longer live for ourselves. We live to love one another and serve God. This is not an eschatological “pie in the sky when you die” theology. We die to ourselves to live for Christ in this world. This death means we are called to love one another and serve the Lord, whether we are away in the body or at home with the Lord. In life and in death, for Paul, all is Christ.
Following Christ, then, means nothing less than a shift in consciousness. It is a way of seeing the world, not through the lens of the moment, the lens of wealth or the lens of power, but through the lens of love, that transcends life and death. We walk by faith and not by sight. We live in love, seeing beyond our current circumstances to the bigger picture.
The lectionary does not appoint the last part of chapter 5 for our reading, but it may be worth including. In fact, I would consider reading the entire chapter. Here’s why. The last verses form the implications for what Paul has said. As N.T. Wright says (in his book 2 Corinthians), a new creation means a new ministry. The new creation means nothing less than a ministry of reconciliation, with us as ambassadors. In Christ we are reconciled to God and to one another. This returns us to love of God and neighbor as the heart of Christianity.
For a great video on seeing the world with new eyes, through a new lens, check out this $15 video at sermonspice.com: http://www.sermonspice.com/product/14972/get-service
What might it mean to walk by faith, or live by faith? What do you think it means to walk by sight? What is the opposite of faith, doubt, fear, despair?
What might it mean for you to live your life with a ministry of reconciliation?
What might it mean for your church to carry out a ministry of reconciliation in your community?