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The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2012
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Sermon: "Hope!"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel

The Epistle:

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.

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.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1


Hope!

A psychology professor was giving his students an oral pop quiz. He asked one question concerning manic depression. ”What would you call someone,” he asked, ”who walks back and forth screaming at the top of his lungs one minute and then sits in a chair and weeps uncontrollably the next?” One of the students shot up his hand up and answered, “A basketball coach.”

Coaching basketball must take a terrible toll emotionally. Coaches, though, are not the only persons who have to deal with extraordinary worry. Consider that candidate for sheriff in Hamilton County, Tennessee a few years back. He was a winner in a Coca-Cola promotional contest. You may remember the contest. Certain cans of Coke were fixed so that when you pulled the tab to open them you won a prize. The sheriff candidate won ten dollars. Then he sued the Coke Company.

It all started when the candidate noticed something funny about the can of Coke that he was about to open. It just didn’t feel like a normal can of Coke. Then he remembered a recent death threat that he had received in connection with his political campaign. That led to a call to the bomb squad. They, in turn, recognized the prize for what it was and opened the can for the nervous candidate. He then promptly filed suit explaining that his ten dollar prize had inflicted untold personal and personal stress and anguish. I can’t say that I sympathize with him, but worry does take its toll.

In the early 1900’s the top ten killers of humankind in the United States were nearly all infectious diseases. Now, it’s been estimated, several in our current top ten are mostly stress-related. Given the hurried pace of life we live, and the uncertainties of our economy and just life in general, we all understand how we’ve gotten here. The stresses and worries of just getting from one day to the next take their toll on us. Is there anything we can do, any wisdom we can glean from somewhere that will give us a better way to cope and maybe even conquer in this life? Our Epistle lesson from Paul’s Second Letter to The Corinthians this morning can help. Paul knew what it was to face the stresses and worries of this life. After recounting some pretty harrowing events in his own life he writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.”

By our “outer nature wasting away,” Paul is acknowledging that life takes a toll on us, physically, emotionally, and mentally. That toll is even greater thanks to the extra burden brought on by that most vexing of all demons, worry. Every problem we have is magnified by the amount of anxiety with which we surround it. And it shows on us. As a family friend of ours in Beverly Hills has put it, “If nobody knows the troubles you’ve seen, you’ve had a face-lift.” So how can our inner person keep growing stronger even as life takes its toll on us? Paul gives us two ways.

First, he calls us to have hope in the future. He writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen…” Hope, in other words, is an inner spiritual tonic for the worry that would waste us away.

Of course, some people consider hope a weak substitute for hard-headed assessments of reality. There may be some truth to that. A team of neuroscientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London have presented their findings on the human propensity for hope and even optimism in the face of grave circumstances. The study suggests that most of us are hard-wired for optimism. That is, that our brains tend to fail to encode errors when those errors should call for pessimistic conclusions; thus leaving us to view conditions more hopefully than might seem warranted. Some news reporters, attempting to draw conclusions about the research, immediately dubbed optimism as a brain defect.

Yet hope is necessary for life itself. One researcher, coming to the defense of the study, had this to say. “Without optimism,” she wrote, ”our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.” The study in suggesting that we, as a human race, are tilted toward hope, suggests that the evolutionary process may well have selected hope because, on balance, positive expectations increase our odds for survival.

Biblically speaking, hope, along with faith and love, make up the “big three” of our Faith. They are the things that Paul said, in First Corinthians 13, remain when all else fails. He meant that when we look for the qualities that are distilled from the experience of the believing life together, these three things are the solid footing on which we stand; even if we hope for a future that is seen now only darkly as though through a dull, distorted mirror.

The truth is, our Faith has never determined reality based solely on just what we can make of the events of this life. That’s illustrated by a church sign I was reminded of recently. It read:

EVENINGS AT 7 IN THE PARISH HOUSE

Mon: Alcoholics Anonymous
Tues: Abused Spouses
Wed: Eating Disorders
Thurs: Say No To Drugs
Fri: Teen Suicide Watch
Sat: Soup Kitchen
Sunday: Sermon at 10:00 A.M. “Our Joyous Future in Christ!”

Our Faith is actually quite realistic about the difficulties of life, but it insists that those difficulties are not what define where we are finally headed when we are following Jesus. We are to have hope in the future.

That leads us directly to the other way Paul gives us to have inner renewal: He calls us to have hope in God. Says Paul, “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.”

As Walter Brueggemann, the brilliant Hebrew Testament scholar has put it, “[The Bible] voices the oldest, deepest, most resilient grounding of hope in all of human history, a hope that has been claimed by both Jews and Christians…The hope articulated in ancient Israel is not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in God’s promises.”

It’s like a construction crew that was building a new road, knocking down trees as they went. A superintendent noticed that one tree had a nest of fledgling birds. He marked the tree so that it wouldn’t be cut. Several weeks later he came back to the tree. He got into a bucket lift so that he could peer into the nest. The fledglings were gone. They had learned to fly.

When the tree was cut down, the nest flew clear and some of the material the birds had used to build it was scattered about. A piece of that material was a scrap of paper torn from a Sunday school pamphlet. It read, “He careth for you.”

That’s the good news for this day. The same God whose eye is on the sparrow is watching over you and me and this community of faith. That is why Paul could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;…We do not lose heart.” Hope, in the future and in the Lord, will strengthen your inner person, so that the worries of today will not keep you from the joys of tomorrow. Do not lose heart. Hope!


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