We Do Not Lose Heart

Jun 06, 2021

Sermon 6-6-21
Second Sunday of Pentecost
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     “So,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “we do not lose heart.” Are those words on your lips? If they are, what is on the other side of the “so”? In other words, what is the reason that you do not lose heart? For Paul, who wrote the passage we read from 2 Corinthians, it was because of his confidence in God’s power.
     Depending on when the subject is raised, most of us would agree that there are plenty of reasons to lose heart. I can think of three specific events that happened during the past two weeks that would justify those involved in “losing heart,” … “giving up,” … “being overwhelmed,” … “embracing despair.” They may have seriously questioned their ability to keep going, as well as God’s power, presence, and, perhaps especially, love.
     It’s tempting to think that the Apostle Paul could write, “So, we do not lose heart,” because he never had any reason to do so during his life as a Christian missionary.  EXCEPT that if we look ahead in his letter to Chapter 11 we read: “Five times I have received from the Jews the 40 lashes, minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was ship wreaked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for the churches.” (11:24-28)
     Obviously, Paul was on a dangerous mission; both death and life were at work. In the midst of it, all God is … what is the most positive, comforting, strengthening adjective you can think of? There are multiple descriptors, but it all boils down to this - God is.
     And, astoundingly, God chose to work through fragile, imperfect people and circumstances. Paul had faith that God, who raised Jesus from death to life, will also raise up those who are in Jesus – both as we live and when we die. That gave him the strength to face any hardship.
     God has the power to transform frail bodies. Paul wrote, “even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” When he referred to the outer nature of people, Paul meant that which is subject to suffering - broken bodies, damaged hearts, confused minds, traumatized emotions. Yet even though “wasting away” happens, there is hope. Our inner nature is renewed day by day; the Holy Spirit strengthens us, transforms us, empowers us, making us God’s new creation in an on-going process in this life and the next, until the day of resurrection.
     “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house made not with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Commentator Scott Hoezee reflects on the image of an outward tent wasting away. “The fabric is torn, rain gets in, the more vibrant color of the original tent fabric long ago faded away to now some full gray, pale looking thing. I’ve lost half my tent pegs and two of the supporting cord ropes have frayed to almost nothing. One strong gust of wind could knock this old tent down to a flattened mess.” (1)
     Perhaps you can identify with that.  If not physically, then perhaps financially or relationally or due to the state of our country or the world. But, the falling-down tent is not the end of the story; a “building from God” will replace the tent. A new story begins at baptism – as is true for Nick and John today – and continues forever.
     In his Chronicles of Narnia series, at the end of The Last Battle, the children, who are the main characters, learn that they have died in a train wreck. Here is what Lewis writes about them: “For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great story, which no one on earth had ever read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (2) 
     So…we do not lose heart. I have read so many moving, thought-provoking books this year, including ones written by Anne Lamott, Susan Straight, Kate Bowler – the list is long. The one I want to mention now is titled Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle.  It is a memoir and often is challenging to read due to its unflinching descriptions and honesty.
      Early in the book, Glennon describes being overwhelmed by alcoholism and bulimia, which are destroying her life and negatively impacting her loved ones. Her outer nature, her earthly tent is in significant danger. She has not opened her heart or mind to seeing that the renewal of her inner nature is an on-going option.
     She’s a young woman in her 20’s, sitting on her filthy bathroom floor staring at a positive pregnancy test. Glennon has lost heart many times … still … she remembers a “chance” encounter with a candle-wreathed statue of the Virgin Mary in a Catholic Church she stumbled into a few weeks earlier. She went to talk with the priest, at her parents’ insistence, but felt drawn to Mary’s alcove. Now, listen to her words:
      “As I stare at that little blue cross, it is impossible for me to deny that someone decided I was worthy. Someone, something, sent this invitation. So many things are true at once: I am empty, alone, addicted – and still invited. I wonder who this persistent inviter is. I think of Mary and her baby and her approval of me. I think of how she invited me toward her just as I was. I think about how she passed out forgiveness and worthiness like grace was a free-for-all. And I get stuck on that phrase as it runs through my mind. Free for all. Maybe grace is free. Free for the taking. Maybe it’s free even for me…”
     “I decide to believe. The God I decide to believe in is the God of the bathroom floor. A God of scandalously low expectations. A God who smiles down and says, ‘There you are. I’ve been waiting. Are you ready to make something beautiful with me?’” (3) And, so, the renewal of Glennon’s inner nature, or at least her awareness of it, began.
     We each have struggles to face; they are not the same Glennon’s, but they are just as real. And, also as real, as real as it was to the Apostle Paul, is God’s power, God’s presence, God’s love. That is why, like them, the words on our lips can be: “So, we do not lose heart.” AMEN.
(1) “Proper 5B, The Lectionary Epistle, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1” by Doug Bratt, Center for Excellence in Preaching
(2) Same as #1
(3) Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle, 2016 Flatiron Books, pg. 64