Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, although we live in a world that we often don’t understand, over time You make things clearer. Over time You resolve the contradictions of life and thus bring us peace and understanding. Today, as we live amid such contradictions resolve them even more quickly with copious amounts of Your forgiveness, love, and truth—given to us by the quickening Spirit. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO BRINGS HARMONY TO OUR LIVES!
TEXT: 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
My Webster’s dictionary lists this as the definition of a paradox: “something contrary to expectations, a tenet contrary to received opinion and common sense and yet is perhaps true.” This all stems from the original Greek word: paradoxos which means: “incredible or unusual.”
One of my favorite paradoxes in the bible is the passage: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Try telling that one to a nonbeliever! To them it is contrary to all human reason. They might understand “something” when it comes to living in Christ and reaping blessings during one’s lifetime as a result; but gaining even more upon death? For them death is nothingness. Gains over life are an impossibility. Yet, the Christian understands this phrase very clearly. That’s because faith in Christ makes the reality of heaven an eternal fact.
Today, St. Paul lays before us another paradoxical phrase that is meaningful only for believers. It is:
THE COMFORTING PARADOX OF PRAISING GOD
All human beings have an ego. All human beings like to talk about themselves and draw adulation from others. Hence, the popularity of our current “celebrity culture.” One of the hallmarks of false religions is what we call “the cult of personality.” That is, ego-driven people promote some sort of religious faith based on themselves. It feeds their ego. This goes for everything from Scientology which elevates its founder: L. Ron Hubbard, to Mormonism which holds Joseph Smith up as the mouthpiece for God, to the followers of Jim Jones who drank his Kool-aid and committed mass suicide for him.
How different from all this are the words of St. Paul! “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Neither Paul, nor Peter, nor John, nor any other legitimate preacher of Christ has ever sought to overshadow Jesus. Recall St. John the Baptist’s words: “He must increase but I must decrease.” The very word Paul uses here for “servant” literally means: a slave. Willingly giving yourself over into slavery is antithetical to the human ego, isn’t it?
So, why would any sane human do such a thing? Well, Paul tells us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” There’s another pesky paradox! Light shining out of darkness? How can that happen? And yet it has and does in Christ and it fills believers with joyous knowledge, truth which changes sinners into saints, truth which kills the ego and replaces it with joyous dependence upon our Savior, who became a slave to our sin in order to free us from such ego-driven slavery.
Now comes another paradoxical statement. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Of course, the jars of clay is a metaphorical reference to the human body which is comprised of the dust, the clay, of the earth. Human bodies imbued with faith are the humble vehicles God uses to disseminate the Spirit’s power in this world. Human preachers who are humble and ordinary are used by God to spread an extraordinary message: “God’s Son has died in our place and freed us from sin, death, and the devil because He loves undeserving sinners that much!”
Paul goes on even more in this paradoxical vein: “We are hard pressed on every side, (referring to the opposition, the persecution that comes from an ego-driven world), but not crushed; perplexed (at their opposition to God’s love) but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Over the centuries, secular historians have marveled at how Christianity always flourishes when it is strictly opposed and persecuted.
Likewise, when it is in the majority and social acceptance of our faith has become the norm, it begins to dwindle and lose strength. Humanly speaking, based on the self-preservation instinct of the ego, the opposite should occur. But it doesn’t! Why? You know why.—“He must increase, but I must decrease!” Praising God finds itself when human pride loses itself. A paradox!
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”
What audacious language! Life is the opposite of death. In fact, they are polar opposites, aren’t they? Yet, Paul says that all Christians, “praisers of God,” carry around in them Jesus’ death for the purpose of revealing His glorious life! All Christian praisers of God are slowly but surely dying in order to thereby show the power of His resurrection! How is all that possible? Again, you know the answer. In all our praising of God—through our Christian lifestyles, to our singing of hymns, to our prayers of thanks, to talking to our neighbor about Jesus, to our visibly showing up each week in His house—what we’re saying by all that is: He must increase, but I must decrease. What we’re saying is: The meaning of life isn’t found in me, it is found in Him. What we’re saying is: I cannot create my own comfort zone, because I’m a sinner, but in love He has created that zone and given it to me! Or, as Paul says in another place: “in Him we live, move and have our very being.’
The last phrase of our lesson is another Christian paradox. “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” How can the working of death lead to and create in another the working of life? But, of course, it does in Christ. Each day each of us is trudging toward death. Each day it is getting closer and closer. But, as we praise God with every aspect of our lives, those seeds of life are spread and then give birth to life in others. Moreover, the Christian, whose ego has been rendered void by Christ’s self-sacrifice rejoices in this fact because for the first time in his or her existence life becomes bigger than just their little corner of the world. In fact, in Christ life becomes eternal.
I entitled this sermon: The Comforting Paradox of Praising God. I did so because the more we praise God by loosing ourselves in Him the more comfort we experience in a world filled with discord, frustration, and despair. Yes, the more our sinful ego dies via daily repentance, the more His new life of comforting love replaces it! And never forget that the gospel itself is a paradox to us but makes perfect sense to God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord.” Isn’t it nice to know our God is bigger than we are? Isn’t it nice to know He is wiser than we are? Isn’t it nice to know He’s more loving than we are? Yes, praise God from whom all blessings flow! Amen