25 February 2018
2 Lent - Sharing our Doubts Together
2 Corinthians 4:5-12; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10
Matthew 5:1-12 (focus on v. 5)
For our third stop in our series, exploring our Lenten theme, “Sharing our Doubts Together,” we have a familiar lodestone verse, to guide us, from the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Certainly it doesn’t take us long, especially these days, to find the doubt-point with those words. For, to me, most likely, to you, too, these words are the exact opposite of what we experience daily, in a world where the meek and gentle seem far, far from a state of blessedness, and rather, the bombastic, the blowhards and loudmouths and bullies of all stripes, they are the ones running things in the world.
I have an acquaintance who is like this. Whether or not he is invited to share, he loudly (and often) states how wealthy he is, that his car cost over $100,000, that he paid over a thousand dollars for his little dog (gotcha there … Ruadh was more expensive than that!!!!), that he spends lots of time on his yacht, that he inherited millions and he loves to engage in the sport of litigation, because he has the money to throw around.
People like that, admittedly, push my buttons … my anger rises, along with my blood pressure.
One of the lessons we learn in Family Systems – and, if you’ve been paying attention here over the past few years, you know that this is an area in which I’ve invested much time and resources – one of the lessons we learn in Family Systems, is to determine why certain people push our buttons.
For me, there are a few outstanding factors:
· being the firstborn, and therefore, the child with the high responsibility and loyalty streak;
· but also, I’m the grandchild of my maternal grandmother … and her story stands in such start contrast to that of my acquaintance.
My aunt always said that grandma could stretch a dollar further than anyone she knew. Well, there was a reason for that. She left home at 19 because of constant conflict with her at times violent, alcoholic father … married a man over twice her age, who soon left her, so she raised my mom alone, until her parents … that same violent dad, and his wife, my great grandma, took her child from her, and raised her themselves … then, marrying again a much older man, she got mom back, and moved from North Dakota to Oregon … that marriage ended in divorce, as did her next two; and her last one … number five, if you’re keeping track … ending in an annulment. Along the way she had another child, my aunt, who she had to raise once again as a single parent … doing ironing and laundry and other odd jobs besides her main job, as a matron in a nursing home; she took on these additional jobs, just to make ends meet … and meanwhile, that daughter, my aunt, gave her a lot of trouble, and ended up in what we in Portland used to call “JDH” – juvenile detention – when she was 14.
In the 1970s grandma ended up on welfare, and food stamps, before she finally was granted disability retirement due to a long standing heart condition that nearly killed her several times. I remember sitting with her in the Oregon DHS office while she was put through the oftentimes humiliating experience of applying for and justifying the public assistance she needed to receive, to simply survive.
And yet – and yet – Grandma was always the bedrock of faith in our family. She’s the main reason I stand here before you today … she insisted that the family move from the ‘church of Lombardi’ on Sunday mornings (pre-Seahawks, my favorite team was always the Packers) … she got us to go to the closest Lutheran church, my brother was baptized, I went to confirmation, my parents became active members and eventually what you would call “pillars of the church,” serving on committees and congregation council; my mom was one of the first female congregation presidents at St. Mark’s Lutheran in SE Portland.
And grandma, she presented me to Bishop Knutson, publicly, to begin our ordination service 24 years ago.
So no wonder blowhards hack me off.
Ah, but we’re not here to discuss me today … in the Apostle Paul’s words, we do not proclaim ourselves … we’re here to talk about … clay jars.
Our introductory scriptures today are some treasured verses from the Apostle’s second letter to the Corinthian church.
The infant church in Corinth was – surprise – conflicted!
(A church congregation? Conflicted? GASP!)
There was conflict over place – who had been there longer, and didn’t ‘time put in’ equal ‘more rights?’
There was conflict over means – wealthier members lorded their wealth over the poorer ones, bringing fancy foods and drink – lots of drink, which they consumed to excess – they brought this to the “agape meal,” that feast in which the community of faith gathered each week – think uber-church-potluck – and it was a meal which concluded in the Lord’s Supper.
There was even conflict over Paul – people questioning, what authority did he have to preach and teach as he did?
So this second letter – actually, 2 Corinthians is an amalgam, made up of fragments of several different letters – Paul wrote this (these) letters to respond to all this conflict.
And his central point – in and through these words – was, is to point out that it’s not all about us … us being the Corinthians then, or us, you and I, today.
Rather, it’s all about Jesus, and our place in the divine-human relationship of love which Jesus comes and lives, suffers and dies, and rises again, to perfect, to complete, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Paul’s main point, is that the life of following Jesus, is a life of humility:
But we have this treasure in clay jars …
Clay jars were the “disposable containers” of Paul’s time. They were used everywhere, for everything from wine to olive oil to other more expensive oils and perfumes. The point wasn’t the container, but rather, was the contents carried within it.
So it makes sense that Paul, in writing this second letter to the Corinthian church, would make this comparison, of people to clay jars … for even though we … people … if we were to choose a container to be like, we would choose to be more sturdy, perhaps indestructible containers, containers which are not as risky, containers which do not fail … but we, you and I, are like clay jars. Our bodies are fragile, somewhat impractical, risky, subject to failure and breaking, just like clay jars.
But in these clay jars of our bodies, Paul says, we carry a treasure … all that we have and all that we are, all that we can feel and see and touch, our very spirits, what others see and sense about us … all that, the very gift of our lives … are all bound up with these risky containers, these clay jars in which we live our lives on this earth.
This same clay jar in which God chose to come to earth, as one of us, as Jesus the Christ, to completely, fully, live our life, with all its joys and sorrows.
Thus giving us the freedom, the power, to live this life as his meek followers. Not bombastic blowhards. But slaves of Jesus.
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Through our meekness, following the meekness of Jesus, empowered, en-Spirited, by the Spirit of Jesus, sent to us through means, this water and Word, this bread and wine and Word, this gathered community and the Word that sustains us … through our meekness, others will be shown, given, life. Full, rich, true, and complete. The paradox of God at work, which Luther called “the theology of the cross.”
And in the next section of scripture, Paul makes this even clearer – pointing out, making clear nine adversities, and nine virtues, that have happened to him:
in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors,
sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
These, Paul says, these have been my lot in life, Corinthians … and they will be those of many who follow Jesus’ call. Perhaps, probably, not in the way that Paul did … but remember, as we discussed last week, grieving and mourning come for many more losses than just death … and so ‘afflictions and calamities” and so on, for those who follow Jesus, can come in many different ways, too. Sometimes that’s simply the consequences we receive for standing alongside and with the marginalized of this world … the poor, the sick, the elderly, the immigrant … even while the bombastic blowhards of this world rant and rave on about their wealth and power, and denigrate anyone who gets in their way.
And Paul continues, and points to the Cross. And anyone who has followed Jesus in the Way of the Cross knows of what he speaks.
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
One who knew this Way of meekness very well, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As we’ve turned to him each week at the close of our message, so today, we turn to him as well, in his words from his work, Discipleship, on this “blessed” –
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
No rights they might claim protect this community of strangers in the world. Nor do they claim any such rights, for they are the meek, who renounce all rights of their own for the sake of Jesus Christ. When they are berated, they are quiet. When violence is done to them, they endure it. When they are cast out, they yield. They do not sue for their rights; they do not make a scene when injustice is done them. They do not want rights of their own. They want to leave all justice to God. What is right for their Lord should be right for them. Only that. In every word, in every gesture, it is revealed that they do not belong on this earth. Let them have heaven, the world says sympathetically, that is where they belong. But Jesus says, they will inherit the earth. The earth belongs to these who are without rights and power. Those who now possess the earth with violence and injustice will lose it, and those who renounced it here, who were meek unto the cross, will rule over the new earth. God does not abandon the earth. God created it. God sent God’s Son to earth. God built a community on earth. Thus, the beginning is already made in this world’s time. A sign is given. Already here the powerless are given a piece of the earth; they have the church, their community, their property, their brothers and sisters – in the midst of persecution even unto the cross. But Golgotha, too, is a piece of the earth. From Golgotha, where the meekest died, the earth will be made new. When the realm of God comes, then the meek will inherit the earth.
The realm of God comes. O, it comes!
And here, we are a sign of that coming. Here (font), and here (table), and here (gathered community).
So come – come and be filled in your clay jars – come and be filled with the extraordinary power of God, which will be enough … which will be enough … for us, in our journeys of faith and doubt, suffering and love … walking in the shadow of the Cross of Christ, through whose life we are given Life, life to live, life to share, in his meek and humble way.
Thanks be to God!