2 Pentecost Proper B5
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Sermon
June 10, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice)
TLH 14 "All People That On Earth Do Dwell"
TLH 277 "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say"
TLH 376 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
YOU WON'T FIND PERFECTION AMONGST US
TEXT (vs. 16-18): “16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
When you show up for worship on a Sunday morning, you have a fairly good idea of what's going to happen. The worship service is printed in the bulletin. I know what to say and when to say it. Angie as she sits at the organ knows what to play and when to play it. You know when to stand, sit, sing, speak, and pray. Not a whole lot happens that would throw you for a loop. We do things within a fairly consistent framework.
Last Sunday was an interesting one, to say the least. If you were here or watching us on TV or the Internet, you might have picked up on a few difficulties we were experiencing. So to let you in on a few of the "behind the scenes" situations, allow me to explain what was going on.
I prepare the bulletin at home. I have various bulletin forms saved on my computer, so all I have to do is pull up whatever service we're doing, and plug in all of the proper information. I usually do this on Saturday afternoon. Then I Email it to Roger at the office so he can get it printed, assembled, and folded. That's how you got what you're holding in your hands right now.
Since last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, we had something a bit different. We used the Athanasian Creed. Because it's so long, it took me quite a bit of extra time to organize everything so it would all fit together. But I made it work. Then I sent it off in two separate Emails, because the bulletin is too large to sent it all at once. A while later, I noticed that there were a couple of very minor formatting errors, so I corrected them and sent the second half file again, or at least I thought I did.
Then sometime in the early morning hours, my phone rang, waking me from a dead sleep. It was Roger. He asked, "Since this is Trinity Sunday, aren't we doing the Athanasian Creed?" Well of course we were. Then when he told me what else was in the bulletin, I realized I had sent him the wrong file.
So I stumbled my way to the computer, fired it up, and through blurry eyes I found the "Trinity Sunday" file for the second half of the bulletin, and sent it off. All should be good now, right? Wrong!
As I was leaving, my phone rang again. This time, Roger asked me, "Why are we singing the same hymn twice?" Now I was really confused! I had double-checked the hymns, and they seemed okay. But I shrugged it off, and told him what the other hymn was supposed to be.
However, it wasn't until I got to church and there was about 15 minutes before the service was to start that I discovered what had happened. I sent Roger the bulletin file from Trinity Sunday of the previous year, 2011! That's why the hymn was wrong. But all of the readings were incorrect, and my sermon theme and text were incorrect as well. That wouldn't have been so bad, except the Old Testament Lesson was quite a bit longer than the appointed one. Because of our television broadcast, I have to time things fairly close, and this little error added about another seven minutes or so to the service.
Then to add the final bit of frosting to the whole mess, when we put the service on video, we forgot to switch to camera 1 for the sermon, which is aimed at the pulpit. Instead, it was inadvertently left on camera 2, which is aimed at the altar. So if you saw our television broadcast from last week, I'm over to the left side of the screen and even off camera sometimes as I'm preaching.
Okay, so why am I telling you all this? The answer is quite simple. If you're looking for perfection, you won't find it amongst us. That's absolutely correct. If you are searching for the proverbial "perfect fellowship," this isn't it. In fact, we're about as far from perfect as we could be. That's the unvarnished truth of the matter.
Why is that? Why can't we be the church that is full of perfect members? The answer to that question is found in our Old Testament Lesson for this morning. This is the account of what happened after Adam and Eve committed the very first sin. God's perfect creation had become corrupt. And why? It was because humanity invited it with open arms. Adam and Eve willfully and blatantly made the conscious choice to disobey God. And disobedience to God is sin, pure and simple. What God intended to be perfect was perfect no longer.
Here are a couple of Bible passages to consider: Romans chapter 5, verse 12: "...therefore, just as sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..." And Psalm chapter 51, verse 5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."
So when Adam and Eve sinned, this brought something into the world that God had not originally intended. Unfortunately, sin is here amongst us. It is something that we have inherited, as will our children and all future generations for as long as the world exists.
Think of it this way. We all know what a photocopier is. We can take a written document, lay it on the copier, push a button, and voila! You have an exact copy of that document. But say that there is a mark on the copy, or perhaps a misspelled word or two. Every copy you make will contain that very same flaw. A photocopier can make copies up into the hundreds, thousands, and even millions. But each copy and every copy of a copy will also contain that same flaw. That imperfection just keeps multiplying.
So what we have in the world is the continual influence of sin. It will be this way for as long as the world exists. So for us, we will have to cope with sin's effects for as long as we are alive on this earth.
This morning, I'm basing my sermon on the Epistle Lesson from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian congregation was experiencing problems, the likes of which we couldn't even imagine. It was a sorry state of affairs indeed. There were infightings, dissensions, arguments, doctrinal differences, and moral issues, just to name a few. Things just weren't too pleasant, and the people were getting discouraged.
In society, things were bad too. People were being persecuted for their faith. There was wickedness amongst the people and corruption in the government, the likes of which we have never experienced. It's no wonder that people were restless. Sin was taking its toll on everybody.
One of the reasons I told you about the "comedy of errors" we experienced last Sunday, is because that in a sinful world, things will go wrong. It might not always be bad things, maybe more of an inconvenience. But still things can and do go wrong.
In our own lives, we see it too. We have aches and pains. We get sick. There are things that upset us, or make us angry, or make us despondent. And so we have to face the fact that we are sinful people living in a sinful world. Sin affects every fibre of our being, and it isn't too pleasant.
In our Epistle for today, Paul gives some words of hope as he assesses the whole situation. Listen once again to verses 16-18 from chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians: "16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
The whole idea is that the things of this world are only temporary, or transient. They will not last. The imperfections and problems we know today are not things that will be in the future of the Christian. Therefore, we have to look at the things to come, and not sit and dwell on the problems that plague us today. That's the kind of stuff that really makes us miserable. We need to have hope.
As Christians in the Lutheran tradition, a lot of our theology deals with sin. We hear about it a lot. Even Dr. Martin Luther stressed that we "daily sin much." One of our Lutheran Liturgies begins the confessional service with a quotation from 1 John, chapter 1 verse 8: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." There's no mistaking those words. And even though this is a general truth amongst humanity, John wants to make sure that every Christian is fully aware of it too. John even carries it out a bit stronger in verse 10 when he talks about a person who claims to be without sin is actually calling God a liar!
So like I said, if you're looking for perfection, you won't find it amongst us. What you'll find is a group of sinful people who are looking for forgiveness and hope. And that's where the big difference comes in. That's what sets us apart from the rest of the unbelieving world.
In verse 9 of 1 John chapter 1, John puts a very important sentence of hope in there. He writes, "But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
As Lutherans, we might talk about sin a lot, but our main emphasis is upon God's grace. Sinful and imperfect people like you and me cannot look to ourselves or to other sinful people for hope and forgiveness. We're not righteous towers of religious truth and perfection. We're sinners who need forgiveness.
Going back to our Epistle Lesson from 2 Corinthians chapter 4, listen to verses 14-15: "14 [We know] that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God."
The hope that we have is centered on one key concept, which is God's grace. Everything that God does, he does according to his grace, or his undeserved love. In our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, God promised a Saviour who would crush the head of Satan the serpent, once and for all. This Saviour would bring an end to sin and evil for every believer. This Saviour would be the one to bring pardon and peace to us.
The New Testament shows us this Saviour, who is Jesus Christ. Jesus has paid the price of the wages of sin. He suffered for the sins of everybody. The entire world, which is steeped in the effects of sin, would not be the hopeless end for people. Through faith, sinful humanity could look to Jesus and find the peace the world could never offer or provide.
So if you are looking for perfection amongst us here, you aren't going to find it. In fact, you won't find it in any congregation. That's because every congregation of people of any description are sinful. And if they somehow claim that they're perfect or lead you to believe that, then they're calling God a liar. That's what the Apostle John reminds us about.
I began this morning by detailing for you the comedy of errors that happened here last week. They weren't serious in nature, or of any major consequence; they were more like inconveniences that caused a few hiccoughs in the road.
There's one story from my past that I'll share with you. When I was in college, I was an organist. One Sunday, I made a particularly bad goof; it sounded like I was playing with my elbows. After the service was over, I apologized to the Pastor for my mistake. He smiled at me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said: "Don't worry about it. The Holy Ghost cleaned it up."
In a sinful world, we can expect things to not always go smoothly, or always go according to plan. We make mistakes, and accidents can happen. That's human nature, and we have to live with that. We live in an imperfect world, so we can't expect perfection out of anybody.
But as Christians, we have one thing that the sinful world does not have. We have Jesus Christ our Saviour. We look to him in faith, the faith alone that saves us, apart from any good works. He has defeated Satan, and he has promised to give us eternal perfection in the life to come.