November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.

November 1, 2017- For All the Saints, The Great Cloud of Witnesses- Hebrews 12 1:2 and Revelation 21:4

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12 1:2 (NRSV)

Today we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses- those who have gone before us- those have done so much to form our faith and lead us to life in Christ. The saints who have gone before us are cherished gifts to the saints here on earth who are still running the race and dealing with the trials of life.  Because of them we have learned how to live lives that (however imperfectly) honor and glorify God.

All Saints’ Day is one of the more difficult observances of the church year. We honor and thank God for those who are departed, but we mourn them also. Knowing that the ones we love are no longer bodily present with us makes us even more aware that we live with one foot in the earthly kingdom and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. We long to hear our departed loved ones’ voices and to be gifted with their presence. Remembering them makes us painfully aware of their absence, even if we know in our hearts that their absence is not permanent, but only a temporary sojourn.

Of course our faith is not just in our hope of eternal life with Jesus and with those who we love who have gone before us. Our faith is also for now- for our relationships with others, for our celebrations and trials, for our vocation and purpose while we are here.

Perseverance is the key to holding on to Jesus and not letting go of His promise to us. The Holy Spirit is always available for us, interceding and stepping in the gap for us, because we are weak. We lose heart.  We get depressed, and on days like today, more often than not, we mourn.  We sin and we fail, but we also remember that today is a new day and that all things are possible for he or she who trusts in Christ.

There is nothing wrong with remembering and thanking God for our loved ones who are no longer with us. It is good for us to consider their example as well as to remember that they are living in the fullness of the heavenly kingdom.  The “not yet” waiting is over for them, and Jesus and heaven are their only now. Their joy is complete.  Our joy is divided, at least for now.

We are still running the race they have already finished. There is abundant life for us now, but our life and our joy is made complete beyond the end of the race.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)