Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sermon for June 23, 2012; 2 Corithians 6:1-13

Rev. George Miller
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
“Ears of the Heart”
June 23, 2012

Anyone who’s attended Emmanuel UCC over the last two years has heard me admit that most preachers only have 3-4 sermons that they repeat again and again.

Anyone who’s been truly listening knows that many of my sermons are about overcoming life’s obstacles.

I’ve preached about the wilderness, chaos, and the storms we survive.

Last month at our Staff Meeting I stated that I was done preaching about those things; that instead I wanted to focus on the sunshine moments of our lives.

Well, there’s an old saying that goes “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.”

I think God has been laughing a lot at me, and I’m not sure if I like it.

If you read my most recent K.I.T. you know the things that have been going on. My 49 year old neighbor was found dead, it was the anniversary of my cat’s death, Ruth W. is in Good Shepherd Hospice, Richard was taken to Palm Beach to have his aorta valve replaced, I was asked to pick up Carol’s ashes, and we had her funeral yesterday.

When it rains, it pours, which it has been literally been doing for the past few days.

Whenever we have a funeral for someone like Carol who was active in the community, we get lots of folk from other churches, and we get to hear a plethora of theologies that we may not always agree with.

One theology I heard yesterday was that our mortality is under God’s control. That we die when God decides it is time for us to die.

I don’t totally believe that train of thought. When people said Carol’s death was in God’s time, it made me think “Really?”

Did God really look upon Carol as she was driving down Manatee and say “Now is her time”? Really?

The day after Carol discussed Hurricane Preparedness, the Feed My Sheep Jeep and a back-to school drive was the day God decided it was best for Carol to die?

And in the way she died, in a car accident, in an event that has forever changed the life of another driver who is still in his 20’s?

If that is God’s version of grace and time, then God has a lot of explaining to do.

But that’s my own personal feeling, maybe you disagree, or maybe like most of us, you are left wrestling with it all.

As a pastor I encounter a lot of different beliefs that I want to question.

Perhaps the two biggest beliefs deal with what it means to be a Christian and why bad things happen.

There are people who think that in order to be a Christian they have to totally change their lives and they have to be perfect and blameless every day for the rest of their life, which is impossible for anyone who breathes.

These may be the same people that when they feel like they have sinned or done something wrong, they assume they are unworthy to enter the doors of a church.

Then there are others who think that if you are a Christian, bad things will not happen to you, that bad things should only happen to bad people.

So when they or someone they love gets sick or has an accident or a tragedy occurs, they can’t understand it.

The notion that bad things should never happen to good people is not only untrue, but it is also unbiblical.

Throughout the Bible we discover that often time things can become more difficult for a person who is trying their best to lead a Godly life.

You may give your life to Jesus, but there are still trials and temptations and things that go wrong.

For ultimate proof, all you have to do is look at the path that Jesus himself led, and how that path led him right to the cross.

So if Jesus himself, the Son of God, could not avoid trouble in his life, then why do we assume we should?

Still, many assume that only blameless people should attend church and all Christians should have a charmed life.

All the proof we need about the destructive power of these two theologies is to simply look around at the empty seats we find in not only our church but almost any Christian church.

There are hundreds of people who have decided they could not go to church today because of these beliefs.

And in believing they can not attend a house of worship, they miss a chance to hear about the never-ending grace of God and the ever-present compassion of our Lord.

Thank God there is always another Sunday to go and hear the Good News.

So, last month I had hoped I could spend less time talking about life’s storms, but it is hard to avoid when life happens. That’s in part what is going on in today’s reading.

Paul is writing a compassionate letter to the church in Corinth. He is trying his best to help them realize the amazing gift of grace they have received.

But closely read this letter and you can sense some of the anxiety Paul himself is feeling about his life and ministry.

He writes about the afflictions he has endured: beatings, arrests, hunger. And he’s not making this stuff up; you can read about them in the Book of Acts.

Here is Paul, who had his own personal experience with the resurrected Christ, sharing that he too has had sleepless nights.

It’s comforting to hear that even he, as religious as he was, could experience such things.

But the trick is that he does not blame God for them. He doesn’t assume that his new found faith will equate a care-free life.

What he does instead is find a way to focus on what his faith in Jesus has allowed. He has discovered that day after day we are all given a chance to make a change.

That there are gifts to be received from the Holy Spirit. He finds that even in the midst of his storms there are moments of knowledge and patience, power and truth, holiness and kindness.

There is the grace of God, and in Christ there is life even in the midst of death.

And because of this, Paul encourages the church to open their hearts. To receive God’s grace and to hear the Good News that is being shared.

I like this message that Paul is bursting to share; I like this news that in Christ, we are not alone in this thing called life, but that we are together, each supported by one another.

It’s as if all we have to do is to listen with the ears of our hearts, and we will discover the goodness of God.

I believe that Paul would tell us today that trials and tribulations will occur, but we are not left helpless; that through our faith we always have choices on how we can respond.

There are ways in which we can persevere.

Sometimes we find that strength within ourselves. We do the things that give us comfort. Perhaps it is a bowl of popcorn and a trashy reality show.

Perhaps its garage sales, Dove Chocolates and doing things for God’s sparrows.

Perhaps it is prayer, physical exercise or escaping into a good book.

Sometimes we find that strength in the church community, where we learn how to be vulnerable and honest with one another; where we learn to ask for help and to humbly accept assistance.

It is in church where we praise God for what has been done; where we can listen to a word of hope spoken from the scriptures; where we gather in a time of fellowship and mission.

Ultimately, we find our strength in Christ.

In the knowledge that Jesus knew just what it was like to be human, to experience times of temptation, to experience times of scorn, and to walk the daily paths we walk.

Because Jesus lived his life knowing it would eventually lead to the cross, I believe that he too understand the chronicity of life and what it is like to face the reality of death.

And because of this, the presence of Christ is always there for us to draw upon, for us to speak to, for us to claim.

That even in the moments of despair, we can call out to Jesus because he knows just how we feel, and his grace gives us the ability to not only survive, but to find ways to thrive.

In conclusion, in our world there are a lot of theologies. Some are helpful, others are hurtful.

But at the end of the day, we are called to listen to that Still Speaking, Ever-Present voice of God that says “I am with always, until the end of time.”

That voice that assures us that no matter what we face, no matter what we endure, we are not alone, we are not forgotten, we are not victims, but we are victors.

In Jesus Christ, we have been claimed as Children of God, doing the best that we can, living in the face of death, finding joy in a life overflowing with grace.

If we just open up our hearts and listen with ears directed towards God.

In doing so we are rich with what matters; and in Jesus Christ we truly will have “enough.”

For that, we can say amen and amen.

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