Holy Cross, Calgary

O God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Deliver us from the death of sin and raise us to new life in him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

A few weeks ago, we as a parish celebrated two baptisms. If I said that by the washing of Baptism, we received these two children into the family of God, you would all nod your heads. That is what happened.

But what did we see? We saw the parents and Godparents gathered around the font, we saw Kyle pour water over the kids. We didn’t see him scrubbing the kids down, though. When we talk of the washing in the waters of Baptism, we’re not talking about Kyle or whoever is administering the baptism cleaning the person, we’re talking about God, who is unseen, washing them.

Kyle made the sign of the cross on their foreheads with Chrism saying “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own for ever.” It is an outward anointing of the baptismal candidate. But in Baptism, God marks us as his own. He marks us permanently. The oil of Chrism can be wiped off the forehead of a child, but the mark of Baptism, which is unseen by us, is known to God.

Baptism is a reminder that what is visible to us often isn’t the full story of what God is doing in any given situation.

The Pauline Context

In our epistle reading today, we hear more from St Paul about the distinction of what is visible and what is unseen: our inner and outer natures. He is writing to the Christians in Corinth again for several reasons. In the beginning of this second letter to them, he writes about how he has experienced difficulty in his evangelistic missions around the region. In some cases, persecution, and in other cases simply physical hardships. He responds to the attacks against his ministry, which seems to have come under attack in Corinth,[1] by explaining how his ministry and authority come from God.[2] Just before our passage today begins, St Paul begins to discuss the idea of suffering and endurance among the Corinthians,[3] and continues in that theme in the passage we heard today. It is a theme permeated by a hope: the hope for things unseen.

Apart from the challenge of persecution, this theme of hope also addressed a second challenge, common in the early Church, namely that many people thought Jesus would be returning Tuesday. There is a very real sense in which that is the correct way to live. We should lay down at bed tonight, prepared for Jesus to come again in glory in the morning. What was happening in the early Church that wasn’t so great, though, was that people were getting confused and upset. Why are we getting sick and dying? If Jesus is coming next week and I die today, am I going to miss everything? We thought he was coming before we would have to endure anything like this.

Maybe some of us have had similar questions in our own lives? Where is God in this? Why am I sick? Why is my wife or husband or father or mother sick? These were the types of questions coming up for many early Christians.

Endurance and Hope

St Paul’s writings here speak into all of those concerns and many more. He exhorts the Corinthians to have faith. He reminds them that God is faithful. That God keeps his promises. St Paul reminds them that, “everything is for [their] sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”[4] Here when St Paul says grace, it is a reference to nothing less than the demonstration of the love of God.[5] He is exhorting the Corinthians to endure their struggles so that God’s grace may be shown through them, so that they may become more thankful to God for that grace, and so that God’s glory may be visibly seen.

I think St Paul recognizes that alone that is not yet much hope. “Well, things may be going poorly for you, but don’t worry, God’s grace will be displayed through your suffering.” That seems cold comfort. So, St Paul continues with a reminder to the Corinthians: there is hope. Not just fleeting hope, but sure hope. Sure hope rooted in the faithfulness of God that he had just reminded them of. This hope may be unseen, but it is no less real, no less sure or no less significant in our lives.

He contrasts the slight period of suffering with the eternal hope of glory to which the Corinthians ought to aspire.[6] In effect, he’s saying to them, fix your eyes on Jesus. We may now face setbacks. We may now face trials. We may suffer. But Christ, who is faithful, has promised eternal salvation.

Often when we’re having a bad day, a friend might say, “don’t worry; tomorrow could be better.” That’s not quite what St Paul is saying here. He’s saying, “don’t lose heart. Today might stink. But it is nothing when you remember that God has promised a better tomorrow. And not just tomorrow. But every day after, for all eternity.” That is the nature of the love of God. That is why he sent his son to die for us. That is what St Paul means when he talks of God’s grace. The Corinthians might not have been able to see the hope of what the future would look like in the way they could see their present troubles, but St Paul reminds them that the eternal unseen, promised by their loving Father God, is far better than even the best they can see now.

His words are words of absolute comfort and hope to the Corinthians, and they remain words of hope and comfort for us today.

Good News for Today

Today, we might think about how it applies to us in our own context. In our own parish, we are unlikely to face anything like the persecution faced in the time of St Paul. Yet we might think of Psalm 116 which St Paul quotes from in his letter to the Corinthians. He quotes the Psalmist who is suffering in a non-descript way, but a form of suffering beyond their own ability to respond. Only God’s power, only God’s healing, only God’s love can save the Psalmist. And so the Psalmist believes, has faith, and calls out to God.

Is anyone here sick? Is anyone here wasting away?

When I read this passage the first time, especially, verse 16, I could not help but think of my mother. I come from a very loving family. Great parents who never shied away from letting me know how much they loved me and how proud they were of everything I accomplished.

Over a decade ago now, my mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She only just turned sixty-five earlier this year, but it’s quite apparent how advanced her disease is. She cannot speak, she has trouble understanding what is happening around her, and she had lost most of her long-term memory before she lost the ability to speak. When most people hear her story, one of their first questions they ask is does she still know who I am?

As much as she loved me, there are times when I wonder if she knows who I am when I come to visit. I’m just a guy who shows up week after week to spend time with her, and she’s far more interested in the sing-along I take her to and the chocolates I give her than she is in me.

But I know recognizes Jesus.

Many of the other residents in her nursing home do as well. One of my favourite things to do when I visit is attend church with her. I have been given glimpses of what is unseen in her when she perks up from her slouch during the Lord’s Prayer, or when the entire congregation, which has been slumped silently throughout the service, comes to life when Amazing Grace or another classic song is sung.

Though my mother is outwardly wasting away, what is unseen, what only God sees is being maintained, strengthened and renewed by a faithful God. I may have lost her, she may have lost the ability to see me as she does waste away before me, but she has not lost faith, she has not lost hope. Neither have so many other residents whose bodies have failed them.

St Paul concludes our passage today with a reminder, that if our earthly bodies are destroyed, God has offered us eternal life. That life is not dependent on our bodies. It is not dependent on our jobs, or our health or anything else in this world. Eternal life is dependent on Jesus Christ himself, the bread of life, who offers himself to us.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Papal Preacher, says that St Paul introduces a new standard of measurement that, “makes crosses and trials seem light and momentary: Eternity.”[7] In the same way that God’s goodness makes the goodness of human beings pale in comparison, this new eternal scale makes what we today endure in faith seem insignificant.

Conclusion

St Paul here does not give us a message of ease. He doesn’t give a message that tells us everything will always be okay. He does not promise that everything in this life will be perfect. What he reminds us, though, is that in the midst of our suffering, God will be present, renewing our Spirit. He reminds us that God’s presence and grace have been promised to us, and that God is faithful and loving.

He reminds us that what we are called to do is remember those promises and to believe. To believe in Jesus Christ. To receive the grace that he offers.

Is anyone here sick? Is anyone here outwardly wasting away? Jesus Christ himself is present in this place. He offers you the bread of Life, his own precious body and blood. In a few moments we will celebrate the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. We each in turn will kneel at the rail and extend our hands, and we will be offered Christ’s body and blood, and the traditional words of administration will be used, “preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” It is a reminder of exactly what St Paul is describing here.

Dear friends in Christ, have hope. Have a sure and certain hope in the promises of God, manifestly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of his only begotten son Jesus Christ who became incarnate not simply for the sake of the whole world, but for your sake specifically.

Jesus did not just come to offer eternal life to humanity as a collective, but to all people individually! God cares about the details of your life. Through the incarnation, Christ knows your suffering; Christ is present with you in your suffering and endures your suffering with you. Even though we may not always see him now, through what has been seen before we know the truth of these promises and the certainty we can place in that unseen hope today. Jesus Christ, the son of God, loves you.

By that love for you, he has offered to you the way of life eternal. Though we are outwardly sick and suffering and wasting away, inwardly the love of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, renews us and sanctifies us and heals us, drawing us ever closer to his all holy and perfect presence.

May we who are inwardly being renewed never cease to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, him who is renewing us.

Amen.

[1] II Cor ii. 1-11

[2] II Cor iii, iv. 1-6

[3] II Cor iv. 7-12

[4] II Cor iv. 15

[5] Later in the epistle he makes clear that grace is a reference to the condescension of Christ who died for our sakes. See II Cor viii. 9 and ix. 8

[6] II Cor iv. 17

[7] Cited by Nicky Gumbel, https://www.htb.org/bioy/commentary/2647

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