7th Sunday of Easter
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our risen and ascended Lord, dear friends in Christ, 3 winters ago. Remember it? It was my first winter here in Bemidji and I remember standing up here and taking credit for it because it was an unusually mild winter. There weren’t those long stretches of negative degree temperatures or months of never getting above 0 for 24 hours. It was fairly mild, remember that? Well, this last winter…not so mild J I won’t take credit for it. This last winter was long and cold. I don’t know how many complaints about the winter I heard not just coming from my mouth, but even from some of you who have lived here for decades. Supposedly, this past winter was the “worst” winter in like 30 years or something. Now, this is difficult, but try to remember what it was like…that bitter cold, that frigid arctic blast, that snow that kept coming and coming…and coming and coming, the icy, snowy, slippery roads, remember all that? Now, how did you survive the winter? Some of you fled to warmer temperatures – nothing wrong with that. But what got the rest of us through it? Wasn’t it knowing that eventually summer would come, eventually the cold temperatures would leave, eventually we could go outside and not wear a huge winter coat? Sure! But can you imagine what a winter would be like, if you seriously didn’t know whether or not it would ever end? That there could very well be no end frigid cold temperatures? Can you imagine what that would be like? Bitter cold would just go on and on and on. Well, in a way, wouldn’t that be somewhat depressing? Even if you’re someone who enjoys the cold, if there was never any change would it really be that enjoyable?
Well, aren’t our lives kind of like that? In life, it’s impossible to travel somewhere to escape all of life’s troubles, difficulties, hardships, disappointments, un-pleasantries. You can’t go to warmer temperatures to get away from growing old, getting sick, difficult relationships, hurt feelings, etc. And since we can’t escape, since we will never be able to have a life free from problems and difficulties it can be easy for us to become sad or disappointed or discouraged or upset at life or frustrated or bitter or angry or exasperated or full of consternation. So are we stuck? Are we stuck in this “never-ending winter” so-to-speak in our lives? What’s the answer? Is there an answer? Is there a cure for being disappointed in life, a cure for our frustrations, a cure for being depressed or discouraged?
Let’s consider the apostle Paul for a moment. The letter of 2nd Corinthians outlines at several points some of what Paul suffered simply because He was a Christian and was sharing the message of Christ with others. Among others we’re told about his beatings, imprisonments, floggings, sleepless nights, hunger, coldness, nakedness, he received the forty-lashes minus one five times at the time of this writing, he was beaten with rods 3 times, he was stoned once, in 3 shipwrecks on the open sea, he was constantly on the move because his life was threatened, in constant danger from both people and the elements, he was falsely accused again and again, and he had a constant concern for all of the churches that he started. And 2 Corinthians was written years before his death and things got a lot worse for him near the end of his life.
And notice what Paul calls all of his troubles: “light and momentary.” No doubt the pain and the hurt from being lashed on the back 39 times lasted a lot more than when that scourge was actually hitting his back. No doubt, he struggled with the effects of having been stoned and left for dead his whole life – didn’t his troubles seem like an eternity? Like a heavy burden? How can he call them “light and momentary”???
When you or I watch a loved one die, it sure doesn’t seem “light and momentary;” it seems heavy and eternal! When you or I are sitting in the doctor’s office awaiting the diagnosis or sitting in the hospital room, it doesn’t seem “light and momentary,” does it? When the bills are piling up and we can never quite get ahead, it sure doesn’t seem “light and momentary,” does it? When work seems monotonous, when there’s conflict in a relationship, when we have a headache, it sure doesn’t seem “light and momentary,” does it?
It might be easy for us to look at the life of the apostle Paul and think, “You know, if he were to complain or get frustrated or get discouraged or become depressed or bitter or angry, surely God would give him a pass on that, I mean, just look at what he went through!” Or, maybe, think, “If he can go through so many difficulties without becoming discouraged, he must be a far better Christian than me, I could never do that!” But to have sort of this defeatist attitude toward life and make excuses to defend our complaining, our frustration in life, our discouragement, our bitterness, our anger in life, that’s sinful and we need to repent of our sin.
The Apostle Paul was no better or worse a Christian than you or I. He knew something that you and I know and he put it into practice in his life. He knew the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and what it meant for his life. He knew that Jesus’ resurrection has secured the cure to every disappointment and trouble in life. He knew that God who raise Jesus from the dead WILL also raise us with Jesus and present us with him in GLORY. You see, Jesus’ resurrection is the proof positive that this life is not all there is. Jesus’ resurrection is the proof positive that there is more, far more, more than we can even imagine, great and far better than we can ever dream of awaiting us with Jesus!
Picture what God tells us about heaven. Streets of translucent gold, the river of the water of life, no more pain, sorrow, sadness, difficulty. No more sin and its effect. Just absolute peace, joy, gladness, fulfillment, contentment in the presence of our Savior! That’s the unseen reality that awaits you and me!
Although outwardly our lives, our bodies may be wasting away. Each day is a day closer to our death and God’s makes that clear to us as our bodies get weak, as we get sick, as we take our medications, as we’re unable to do the things that we used to once be able to do easily. Yet inwardly, in our spirit, in our hearts, in our souls we are constantly being renewed. How so? By recalling Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and what it means for us. It means that we know for sure that we have a home in heaven forever. This life, with all its problems and difficulties and disappointments, is smaller than a speck compared with eternity.
Think about what a difference that will make in your life this week if you constantly took what God tells you in these verses to heart and saw what is not seen, rather than what is seen:
When work is seeming long and monotonous or you’re having difficulty dealing with a fellow co-worker – see what is not seen, not what is seen. Remember that you have a home in heaven that will always be enjoyable and wonderful and awesome. Remember that in heaven there will be no more conflict or trouble but perfect peace with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that Jesus rose not just for you but also for your co-worker and you can treat them as such. Seeing what is not seen, not what is seen gives you a certain joy, a certain peace, a certain hope that affects your life at work.
When you’re at home and you’re watching the news and you hear about another disaster, another death, another scandal, another piece of bad news – see what is not seen, not what is seen. And you’ll remember that this world groaning from the consequences of sin. You’ll remember that this world that we see is simply temporary, we’re just passing through, our real home is in heaven with our Lord where there are no more disasters, sin, or death. Seeing what is not seen, not what is seen gives you a certain joy, a certain peace, a certain hope that affects how you view events in this world. When family problems come, when financial difficulties come, when health problems come, see what is not seen, not what is seen. See the eternal glory that is already yours that far outweighs any and every difficulty of this life.
And then seeing what is not seen, not what is seen will also be reflected in your life as you have more joy and peace- even in the midst of difficulties. I once heard it said that when an unbeliever gets cancer God allows a believer to get cancer so that the world can see the difference. Our difficulties give us prime opportunity to do what Paul said here, “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” We speak volumes not just with our words but with our actions as we live in difficult circumstances. We speak with our joy and peace in life as we see what is not seen – the eternal glory that awaits us, not what is seen.
Last winter might have been longer than expected and if we just focused on the cold, the frigid temperatures, the icy roads we were discouraged. But when we saw the unseen, saw the beautiful summer weather coming, we rejoiced. So in life with all its un-pleasantries, don’t see what is seen, see what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Amen.