2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Changed from Glory into Glory: To Be Continued…
Have you ever been watching a movie or TV program, and you are to that really awesome, intense part, and things are getting just so good – and then the screen turns to black, and up pop three words: to be continued. Groan! How frustrating is a “to be continued,” when you really want to know how something will end right now? I will confess to you that I am a person who usually flips to the end of the book and reads the last few pages of a novel, to see how it ends. Of course, I still read the whole book anyway, and I have never thought of it as something that ruins the book for me – I love to read! But I like to know where I’m headed – I like to know where the story is going. And so I just take a bit of a peak at the ending. But with some book series, and with tv or movies, I can’t skip to the end. Sometimes, I might even have to wait years for the next one to come out. I might want to know where we’re going, but I just have to wait and see how things will unfold.
I’ve shared with some of you before my own call story, my call to become a pastor. The process for ordination for United Methodist elders is rather long. I started the process officially when I was 18, and I was finally ordained when I was 27 years old. I literally spent a third of my life at the time in “the process.” But as I was finally nearing ordination, I had to remind myself, that just because I was about to achieve a particular goal, even one I had worked for so long and so hard, it didn’t mean that I could just be finished with responding to God’s call. When it comes to God’s call on our lives, there is always another chapter, always a to be continued, and as far as I can tell with life, there is just no way to skip ahead and read pages we haven’t gotten to yet so we know where we’re going.
In our epistle lesson from 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing about faith that perseveres through incredible difficulty. In the section right before our reading from today, Paul says, “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.” Paul sees his suffering as a way that Jesus can be made more visible to others. That’s the theme that our text continues with today. Paul writes, “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.” Everything Paul does is in hopes that God’s grace, God’s unconditional love, is experienced in all its fullness by more people.
Over the last three years, I hope you have heard me talk about a few things. First, I hope you have heard me ask you lots of questions. I received a card from one of you this last week that said something like, “Thank you for letting me ask all those questions, and thank you for your responses. Well, you really just asked me more questions in return, but thank you for making me think.” I think asking questions is a way we explore the breadth and depth of our faith. And the biggest question we can ask is the one that we start asking as children: Why? Why? Why? Why? As a congregation, the “why” I’ve wanted you to ask is this: Why do we do this thing? Why church? Why bother? Why, when things are so challenging, do we keep at it? When we face struggles, why not just call it a day, close up shop, and go off to other congregations and communities of faith where things are not such a challenge? Why? How would you answer that question? Paul answers that it is worth preserving through everything so that the number of people who can experience God’s grace, which is always available to us, but which we don’t always reach for, just increases and increases.
Second, I hope you have heard me say a little bit about how I would answer the “why” question, at least one answer. We have tried, during the last few years, and will always try to be answering questions about how we understand God’s vision for our work. What is your vision? What is our vision? What is God’s vision for us? And my answer has been and is this: I want this church to be a place where people’s lives change because they’ve encountered the living Christ. I want our experiences of God to turn our lives upside down. If you come here to praise God, and you praise God with your whole heart, and if you find that your life is changed by knowing God more, then why wouldn’t you want to share your experience with others? My vision for this congregation is that it is a community of faith where being a part of God’s family is so meaningful that you can’t help but want to talk about it with others. I hope you are so grounded in your faith that it is simply a part of how you live and move and exist in the world, so that is it part of every decision you make. You feed the hungry because you were deeply moved by Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 and can’t stand to see more people starving in the midst of abundance. You care for children because you understand that children have the easiest time seeing God, and you want to see through their eyes. You visit shut-in members because you understand what the apostle Paul means when he talks about us being essential parts of the body of Christ. If your life has meaning it didn’t have before, if you have purpose, and if you have this unfailing love of God – how can you not share that, share your life with others? I want your life to be your witness in the world.
My hope for you is that like Paul, you find that God’s grace is so worth sharing that you see your struggles not as obstacles, but as one more way, one more opportunity, one more avenue that will help you make it easier to share God’s grace with people who are already hurt and struggling, people who are already lost and lonely, who are just waiting for someone to reach out and extend to them the invitation to God’s kingdom.
Friends, these three years have been just one chapter in God’s unfolding story. My story, your story, the story of First United, and beyond that, the story of God and God’s people. God invites us to be co-authors, writing together the story of Jesus and his love, a story that is for all times, all places, and all people, a story that is always to be continued. Thanks be to God. Amen.