Thursday, August 12, 2004

Sermon: Thursday of Trinity 8 (Pentecost 9)

12 August 2004 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: 2 Cor 1:1-11

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

As St. Paul the pastor greets his flock in the City of Corinth, so now I greet all of you here in Metairie: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

In our text, Paul preaches about affliction and comfort. He tells us that we Christians will suffer, and yet we Christians will receive relief – relief by which we are free to comfort others.

By the world’s standards, this is a strange sermon, isn’t it? Why talk about things like suffering and affliction at all? It doesn’t exactly make the Christian life look appealing. Why doesn’t Paul say that by becoming a Christian, you will be popular and wealthy, you will never have school problems, parent problems, or friend problems, no acne, nothing physical about us to be made fun of, we will never lose a sporting event, or be embarrassed? Why doesn’t Paul guarantee us no problems of health, no problems of sin and guilt, and especially, no death itself? Why bring up the “suffering” thing at all?

According to our culture’s ways, shouldn’t St. Paul try to sell the message of Jesus the way TV ads sell french fries and athletic shoes? Maybe the Church should hire McDonald’s and Nike to help us make Jesus and the Christian life more marketable, more acceptable. Maybe Paul should do a better job of telling us what we want to hear. In the eyes of the world, this Christianity stuff is really pretty stupid.

But the beauty of Christianity is it tells us the truth. While our popular culture snuggles up next to us and whispers in our ear just what we want to hear, that we can have it all, we can be rich without responsibility, we can be popular without being merciful, we can buy whatever we want, and enjoy youthfulness forever – the reality is different. The serpent hisses sweet lies to us, tells us what we want to hear, and sells us a false Jesus, a Jesus who is a genie in the bottle, a Jesus who does not tell us to take up a cross, a Jesus that looks and sounds like a Hollywood celebrity or rock star.

But St. Paul tells us the plain truth. It may be a truth we don’t want to hear, but it is the truth. We will “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” Because of sin in the world, ours included, we too will be bullied as was our Lord. We too will have our own cross, as did our Lord. We too will die – just like our Lord. And the world laughs at such a silly notion. Why would anyone be part of such a religion of weakness, when one can be “empowered” by crystals and mysticism, or by money and possessions, or by doing whatever we want whenever we want?

But the truth doesn’t stop with our suffering and death. No, St. Paul promises us “comfort… salvation… unshaken hope… deliverance…. blessing.” Through Jesus Christ, God truly empowers us in a way no silly crystal or sports car can: for since we “rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead,” we Christians have already overcome everything that will hurt us: including death itself.

Our culture tells us to rely on ourselves. But there has never been a self-reliant person who was able to walk out of his own grave. But Jesus Christ, relying on his Father, did just that, and gives us the same gift of eternal life. Because we have been transformed by his Flesh and Blood, by virtue of having been baptized into his death and resurrection, we are indeed more than conquerors, able even to overcome death and the grave.

This is the comfort Paul gives us. It’s not about you at all. It’s not about your strength. It’s not about your ability to be perfect. The Christian life won’t eliminate your problems, but rather Christ himself will carry you through the good times and the bad. My dear friends, let us remember that all of the burdens and struggles we will face together in this coming year are for the purpose 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.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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