Week 3: “So We Do Not Lose Heart”
The Triune God opens our hearts to care about our own sin and the world’s pain, fills our hearts with grace and mercy that cannot be killed, and so makes our hearts God’s heart for the world that will change everything.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Wednesday, 11 March 2015; texts: 2 Corinthians 4:1-16a
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
You have to have a heart to be concerned about losing it.
Paul’s beautiful encouragement today in 2 Corinthians only matters if we are so engaged in our lives and in the world that our hearts are committed and open.
There is much about our lives that is not what we are created to be. We are not always the loving person toward God and toward our neighbor Christ Jesus calls us to be. If we care about that, our hearts are at risk.
There is much about the world that is not what it was created to be. The suffering, pain, and evil we see in our city, nation, and world has damaged the good creation the Triune God made. If we care about that, our hearts are at risk.
There is much we fear about what we can’t control, including death. If we care about that, our hearts are at risk.
When our hearts engage with our own lives, with this world and its problems, with our fears, we risk losing them, having our courage fail us, falling into despair. But if we don’t engage our hearts, we lose everything of value to life in this world.
There’s a tremendous grace that helps us here, received when we gather together as Christ’s community: we find our hearts in the heart of God.
Here our hearts are opened and aligned with God’s.
Unlike most of the rest of our lives, we are called outside ourselves when we come here. We hear a Word from the God who made us, an external voice that calls to us to open our hearts to the truth so that we care.
Here we are reminded of our sinfulness, our flaws, our brokenness. That we keep coming back, knowing we’re going to hear more of that, means our hearts are being engaged. We are learning to care that we aren’t what God would have us be. Instead of ignoring that pain and pretending we’re just fine, as much of the world would, we come here for the truth, and it opens our hearts.
Here we are reminded of the good of God’s creation and the broken mess we have made. That we keep coming back, knowing we’re going to hear more of that, means our hearts are being engaged. We are learning to care about how God would have the world be. Instead of looking only to ourselves and ignoring the rest of the world, as much of our culture would, we come here for the truth, and it opens our hearts.
Most importantly, here we find the truth answering those deepest fears about what can harm us, what we can’t control. For here, in Word and Meal and community we receive the heart of the Triune God. We receive the love of God for us and for the world that led God to take on our existence and even suffer death on our behalf. Here we learn that God brings life to the world in Jesus’ resurrection, and we are loved fully, in spite of our flaws, our death, and the world is loved fully, in spite of its flaws, its death. We learn God’s heart is even more engaged with bringing life to death and brokenness and sin than ours ever can be.
We come here and are changed by this. Our hearts are shaped to be like God’s, to care as God cares.
That’s when the pain starts. The only way to avoid pain is to stop feeling. We can’t do that, now we care about our own brokenness and the world’s. So now we’re ready to hear Paul’s good news.
It sounds like Paul starts with the opposite. He says we’re fragile.
We’re like clay jars, easily broken. We face affliction, perplexion, persecution, even death, he says, because our hearts are engaged in the ministry God calls us to do, in ourselves and in the world. Fragile sounds like a bad thing.
It’s not. Paul’s helping us let go of that last protection we want. He’s saying if our hearts are engaged as Christ invites, expect it’s going to hurt. In other parts of the world Christians know this, as some are persecuted in horrible ways for living their heart-led, Christ-shaped ministry. In our safe country we’ve taught ourselves to expect no negative impact from committing our hearts and lives to serve Christ in the world. Paul says that’s foolish.
We’re fragile, breakable, clay jars. We’ve got no power or strength on our own. Which of course we already knew. The reason we shut off our hearts toward growing deeper as disciples or shut off our hearts toward the pain of the world, is that deep inside we realize we aren’t very strong. Imagining how we could become more Christlike in our loving in our personal lives, how much work that would take, how many things we’d have to change, is daunting because we know we aren’t strong enough. Imagining how we might make a difference in a world of evil and pain, how much work that would take, how many things would have to change, is daunting because we know we aren’t strong enough.
Paul says, Good. Now you’re starting to get it. You don’t have the power to do this. Now you’re ready to hear what’s really good about this news.
Here it is: we don’t need to have the strength because we are filled with the treasure of God’s grace and mercy.
This isn’t about us. It’s about God’s hope and dream. When we consider our own brokenness and sin or the pain of the world, no matter how huge a task of healing it seems, it doesn’t matter. We, fragile, clay, jars, carry in our hearts the death-destroying, eternally forgiving, unstoppably loving heart of the Triune God. We can risk our hearts engaging ourselves and the world because even if we are wounded, even if it costs a lot, even if we break to the point of death, we have God’s heart inside us giving us life.
We do not proclaim ourselves, Paul says. It’s not about us. We are vessels of the grace and mercy of God we have come to know in Christ Jesus, and that is all we need.
This treasure transforms us into completely different people.
We see everything now through the lens of God’s grace and mercy that is poured in us.
So we never look at our own problems the same again. So many, even in the church today, see their own issues and sin and difficulties and rarely ask, “What is God going to do about this in me?” There is nothing wrong with us and our lives that God cannot heal and transform. This is God’s truth that changes us.
We never look at the world’s problems the same again, either. How often, even in the church today, do people discuss what needs to be done, what problems ail society and the world, and rarely ask, “What is God going to do about this through us?” There is nothing wrong in this world that God cannot heal and transform. This is God’s truth that changes us.
So we do not lose heart.
We do not lose heart, even when we consider the work we each need to do to be people who love God and love neighbor with our every breath. God will make this happen in us. We do not lose heart, even when we consider the depth of work that needs to be done in this world to make it whole and at peace. God will make this happen through us. We do not lose heart, even when we see all the fearful things we can’t control, even death. God will bring life to us and the world in Christ Jesus; God will make this happen.
It is by God’s mercy we are engaged in this ministry, and we have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear – to us and to the world – that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. It’s in God’s hands, always has been. We’re just blessed to be the vessels, fragile as we are, carrying God’s healing of the world and of our lives.
Now we get to see that grace extend to the whole world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen