In my last post I had the privilege of ministering to a gentleman called David as he approached death. He had been the Verger at the church for a number of years, known by everyone at Church and in the wider community. He was a man of deep faith, integrity, with a rich sense of humour and a true Yorkshireman. It was a humbling, emotional and profound time – one in which I was invited into and welcomed by his family. There are many precious moments from that time I will treasure; times like when we gathered around his bed in the early hours of morning in hospital and we laughed, we cried, we prayed and we sang songs. And the person who led the singing was David, with what was to be his last breath. Even the hospital staff recognised there was something different, something other in that room – in some ways it was as if we were standing on Holy ground because the presence of God was palpable.
That brings me to our first reading today from 2 Corinthians. It is perhaps helpful to remember that Paul faced significant opposition in Corinth, and he also had to endure the weakness of his gradually failing body. Paul’s life had not been an easy one and he was no stranger to adversity. He experienced beatings, prison, floggings, snake bites and being shipwrecked and it is believed that he was ultimately beheaded in Rome, dying a martyr for his faith. Despite adversity and the near constant prospect of death, Paul like David had confidence God would raise him and his fellow believers just as He raised Jesus. For Paul and for David, the temporary troubles of life faded in light of the eternal glory that was waiting for them. Therefore they did not lose heart. Though outwardly they were wasting away, yet inwardly they were being renewed day by day. They fixed their eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
The only way that you can possibly hold such a perspective in life is to dare to look beyond, and to look to God and his eternal glory. The vehicle that makes that possible is hope and a gritty determination to refuse to let our present circumstances dictate to us what we should believe. The question I want to ask you today is where is your hope? What has that hope looked like over the course of this pandemic? A believer’s hope is not in this world. A Christian’s hope is not in the here and now, in any trials and adversity we may be facing. Nor can our hope be founded in the power and wealth that can be accumulated on earth. Instead, a Christian’s hope is in Christ—someone who cannot be seen at the present moment (Romans 8:24; Hebrews 11:1). That is why Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live by faith and not by sight (5:7). The Corinthians were to take their eyes off of this world—for the troubles will soon be over. Instead, they should fix their eyes on the Almighty, the One who possessed all power, for he will bring joys to come that will last forever.
When non-Christians encounter Christians manifesting such hope in times of adversity, there can be 2 possible reactions. Either they think we are insane, or they find something so utterly compelling about this faith we hold, this hope we profess and this love that we share that they want to find out more. To someone possessing no faith, the actions of Paul or my former Verger David in their times of adversity will have made little if any sense. For me the fragrance of Christ filled that place.
Shortly after Jesus had commissioned and appointed the twelve disciples, he went into town and entered a house – quite likely Peter’s house in Capernaum and the demands of the gathering crowd were such that he and the disciples “were not even able to eat.” This flurry of activity and the demands of the crowd made little sense to Jesus’ family and they, we are told, thought he was out of his mind. Christ’s ministry and the message and teaching that he brought was divisive. Some people embraced that teaching and became his followers, some (like his family) had to journey from doubt to belief, and finally others rejected him and plotted to kill him. That rejection involved uttering lies and falsehoods. The teachers of the law accused him of being possessed by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
For Christ, for Paul and for David it had to be God first and if we are willing to look at things from an eternal perspective we can see why. This time will pass. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Jesus brought a clear rebuke to the teachers of the law by saying “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” I said earlier that the vehicle that gives us an eternal perspective is hope. What gives us that hope is if we know Jesus as our Lord, Saviour, Redeemer and friend. With these thoughts in mind I leave you with 2 readings from the Bible for you to ponder…
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)