2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Sermon – Walking the Walk Part III

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Walking the Walk: Part III
Today is Part III of this Walking the Walk sermon trilogy.  Two weeks ago we heard from Paul who told us to respect the otherness of people to gain as many as possible for Christ.  Last week we learned we have to be training to be fit as Christians in order to run the race of life that is in front of us and that no matter what we keep moving forward.  Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, we once again hear from Paul but this time from 2 Corinthians.  Here we get another image.  The first week it was an image of a chameleon and last week it was a sports analogy.  This week though we get a lot of talk about light.
There is a lot of discussion about how many letters Paul actually wrote to the Corinthians.  It seems that Paul carried on a lot of correspondence with the churches he started in Corinth.  He wrote at least four different letters, maybe more.  Depending on what scholar you talk too, the passage we read today comes from Paul’s forth letter to the Corinthians.  Some say it may be his third but it depends on whether you believe Paul’s letter of tears is part of what we are reading now or a missing third letter that we don’t have in our Bible.  Which if that is the case it would be Paul’s third letter and not his fourth.  Most scholars believe that this is actually his forth letter to the Corinthians though but we don’t need to get caught up in that debate today. 
Today we need to concentrate on what Paul is telling the people of Corinth and if it has anything to do with us.  There are two basic sections of this piece of scripture.  Verses 3 and 4 talk about those on the outside of the faith and verses 5 and 6 talk about those who are in the inside of the faith, or us believers.  Let’s first look at what Paul says about those on the outside.
Paul says that the gospel is veiled from those who don’t believe it.  Those who don’t believe it are so blinded by the gods of the world that it keeps them away from seeing the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.  It seems like Paul is saying that anyone who doesn’t understand the Gospel isn’t saved.  They are all still outsiders and only the insiders know what the gospel looks like under the veil.  This seems a little harsh for our modern sensibilities but Paul doesn’t really pull any punches.  In Paul’s time this linear argument makes sense.  It is simply a standard way of presenting an argument.  If this is true then this is true.  The most logical conclusions are the answer.  But that seems really black and white.  We live in a very gray world.  Not everything is black and white.  Hard and fast lines that are drawn in the sand tend to be erased very easily.  So how do we deal with this part of the passage as modern day followers of Jesus Christ?
Let’s take the phrase “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.”  This is very relatable in our current society.  How many people in here are on Facebook?  How many use Google as their usual search engine on the internet?  How many have no clue about what I am talking about?  Well for those who spend time on either of these sites you may not realize that your world might actually be getting smaller.  The idea behind the internet is to have the world at your finger tips but the reality is through certain algorithmic filters that sites like Google and Facebook use the world actually may be smaller than it use to.
Let me explain a little bit more.  Eli Pariser gave a TED Talk in 2011.  If you haven’t heard of TED it stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  It is a place where ideas are worth spreading.  They have a fabulous website that has thousands of TED Talks about all kinds of subjects.  In the eleven minute talk that Pariser gave he goes on to explain what happened on his Facebook page.  He calls himself more liberal but likes to talk and interact with people who are conservative and moderate in their political views as well.  But he started to notice that his more conservative friends were disappearing from his Facebook News Feed.  What was happening was that he tended to click on status updates and website links of his more liberal friends.  So Facebook, without consulting him, started to weed out the more conservative friends from showing up on his news feed.  Have you ever wondered why you haven’t heard from some of those friends you have on Facebook?   Facebook might have decided they weren’t worth your time in seeing what was happening with them.
Google does the same thing.  Google looks at 57 different factors (whether you are logged in or not) to specifically tailor your search results.  That means if I site down at my computer and you sit down on yours and you on yours and we all search for the same thing, we will all get a different looking search page.  Google looks at what we usually click on, where we are in the world, what computer we are on, and what our browsing history is and then custom makes our search answers.  When asked about this Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said this, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”  Paul says, “The gods of this age have blinded the minds of the unbelievers.”  The gods of this age, known as Facebook and Google tell us what we want.  They are limiting our vision to the rest of the world and we may not even know it.  How can we access information about the rest of the world when these filters are up?  How can we know and see God in our midst when our comfortable little world with all our interests, our likes and our loves are tightly around us?  How do we see the glory of God in Jesus Christ who was high on a mountain top far away from our comfort zones if we cannot escape what makes us feel comfortable?
The second part of this text talks to those of us who are believers.  Paul says, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  So right after Paul gives us some characteristics of the unbelievers, those who have no clue about the gospel, he gives us guidance on how to preach.  Yes, I used the right word there.  I said us and not me.  We all are preachers.  In confirmation class this week we talked about when we become members of the church we are all ministers of God’s work in this world.  That means that each of us have the responsibility to go out and preach the gospel.  We all have the responsibility to walk the walk of faith by proclaiming, preaching, teaching, reaching others for the sake of the gospel.  We ALL have the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the world.  Are you getting it, we ALL have this responsibility. 
Now some are called to do it weekly at a certain gathering of believers in a building that holds a number of people sitting in uncomfortable benches until those said people are soundly asleep.  Others are called to televise their talks to millions of people who were stopped on the channel because they can’t stand to watch fishing shows or political pundits talk.  These are people we usually think of when the think of ‘preachers.’   But we all are.  So let’s talk about how to become a good preacher.
Before we get there though let me remind you of this light.  This is a 1000 watt work light I use in my garage when I’m working on a car or something.  It provides a ton of light.  When Peter, James and John followed Jesus up the mountain on the day of Transfiguration I don’t think they thought they would be starring into such a bright light. But there, on that mountain top, Jesus turned a brilliant white.  Some gospels said that his face shown like the sun.  Kind of like this.
Now light is a familiar illustration or analogy that is used when we talk about faith and God.  We talk about Jesus being the Light of the World.  During Christmas Eve we talk about this light coming to the world to get rid of the darkness of sin.  Here Paul refers to light around five times in these four verses.  It is common and we are familiar with it.  I like this physical reminder of this light because when I turn it on we have to avert our eyes.  It is painful to look directly at which is exactly what it was probably like for the three disciples up there on the mount of Transfiguration. 
We as Christians should be sharers of this light.  Good preachers are to point to the light and show it in our midst.  But that is not always the case.  Sometime when we preach we do this.  We stand in front of the light.  Yes others know it is on but there is something between them and the light, me or you.  When we make the light about us it is not effective.  This is why Paul says “for what we preach is not ourselves.”  We love to talk about ourselves and there are times when I am sure I have mentioned myself more than I mentioned Jesus when I stand up here.  Our culture of self-made men and women enjoy talking about ourselves and what we can do or what we cannot do.  We tend to make church about us or me or I instead of them or Him.  Paul says we need to get out of the way of the light and we need to truly preach about Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants of Jesus. 
Do you know where a servant would stand in relation to this light?  Behind it.  Or they would become so transparent that the light would shine right through them.  That is our goal as followers of Christ.  That is how we can perfectly walk the walk.  We learn how to live our life as such a servant to Jesus that Jesus’ glory shines right through us.  We know people like this and there are some in this church right now.  They have such a heart for Christ that Christ’s light just beams through them.  We are affected by these people because we are moved by the light that shines through them.  It isn’t them but Christ that moves us, inspires us and calls us out to live better lives.
My mom use to have one of those make-up mirrors.  I recently saw some of them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  They have a circle of light and in the middle there is a mirror.  On side is just a regular mirror but when you flip it over there is a 10X zoom mirror on the other side.  Bored one day, I looked into one of those mirrors to bring up memories of my childhood.  I was scared to death at what I saw.  I really do not want to see what my nostrils look like magnified by ten.  My pores look like the size of pot holes and my nose hair the size of oak trees.  I realized for the first time that I was growing dark hairs on top of my nose not just in it.  I do not see how anyone can have a good sense of their own body image if they look at one of these things all the time. 
But that is the difference between the light we create and the light from the Creator.  The light we create illumines our world.  We can see where we are, where we are going and what we look like.   But it only shows us what we look like on the outside.  It is still that veiled interpretation of who we truly are.  But the light that comes from the Creator, the light found on the mount of Transfiguration, the light from the Son of God Jesus Christ comes from within.  That light shines through us and shows the world more about whose we are than who we are.
What we as Christians need to realize is that most of the time we need to get out of the way.  When we get out of the way we can free God’s light to transform the world.  There is too much in this world that blinds people from God’s glory.  When we get stuck in our own little cozy world we would never make a journey up to the mountains.  Yet if we walk the walk of our faith, then we can let the light of God’s glory shine out of our souls and into the world to transform the world.  All we have to do is get out of the way.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Sermon – Walking the Walk Part II

Follow Jodie on her 100 mile journey.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Walking the Walk: Part II
Here is the second of three installments on this little sermon series entitled Walking the Walk.  Last week we heard from Paul about how we are to interact with those in the world.  We are to accept little differences, respect the otherness of others in order to win as many as possible for Christ.  Today we hear a sports analogy about the Christian life and how we are to approach this journey in front of us. 
Out of my three sisters, currently my youngest sister, Jodie, is the craziest.  I jokingly say that with all love and admiration for all three of my sisters but Jodie, the youngest is crazy.  She will be running the Keys 100 in May at the, that is right in the Florida Keys she will be running 100 miles.  The race starts May 19that 6:00am.  She predicts that it will take her anywhere from 24 to 32 hours of running to finish.  Did you get that?  She will finish the race Sunday morning or afternoon.  The plug will be pulled at 36 hours.  That is a day and a half of running.  100 miles.  That is leaving the church here and running to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane and then turning around and running back. 
I asked her to give me a little insight to the wackiness that is inside her head.  I asked her what is driving her to do this.  Anything over 26.2 miles is called an Ultra Marathon.  David Embler ran a 40 mile race a couple of years ago so we have one of these people in our midst today.  What is driving my sister to do this is the idea of the impossible becoming possible.  She wants to see if she can push herself to do this.  She has run a lot of marathons and loves them because of the challenge involved and after reading about the Ultra Marathons she was ready to put herself to the task. 
In this passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is doing the same thing.  We pick right up with where we left off last week.  Paul says he does everything for the sake of the gospel and then gives this sport analogy.  He talks about runners and boxers.  When there is a race what is the purpose of the race?  To win the prize.  When we watch sports on TV or play them ourselves what is the goal?  To win.  Ask any professional athlete and I am sure that they will tell they play because they love the game but that all of them would love and desire to win the big game.  I don’t think Tom Brady was happy only to play in the Super Bowl, no he wanted to win it.  Let’s face it Carolina players really wish they would replay the last two minutes of Wednesday night’s game.  Although they played really well and mopped the floor with Duke for most of the game, the one who walks away a winner is the one who has the most points at the end, no matter if it is 15 or 1.
Paul wants us to be ready for our race.  To call ourselves a follower of Christ is not a simple thing.  To say we are Christ Followers means we have to put effort into it.  We cannot simply accept Christ and then think we are finished.  When we say the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are professing our calling to help the Kingdom of God exist in this world.  When we call ourselves Christians we have to walk the walk and to do that means we have to train ourselves in order to become better.  A leaner, cleaner, fit, fast, agile, mobile, and wise follower of Christ.  That takes practice.
My sister’s husband is one of those people who can sit on the coach for a couple of months and then think to himself, “I think I am going to run a couple of miles,” and then he does it.  His body can handle that most of the time.  I on the underhand am not like that.  I ran one road race.  I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC in 2006.  It was a 10K or 6.2 miles.  I struggled but walk/ran it and was proud of myself.  My struggle is the mental part of running.  It is the telling yourself you can keep going and then keep going.  I have that great feature inside my head that when something starts to hurt I stop doing it but that is not what a person who is going to run 100 miles thinks.  They have to get themselves out of that mindset.
My sister says the endorphin high you get from running is pretty great and that is what keeps her coming back to it.  There is joy and excitement found in crossing a finish line.  But how can you keep yourself going when you pass the mile marker for the first marathon and know there are three more to go?  Hardcore running is more mental then it is physical.  Christianity is a lot more mental then people give it credit for as well.
Now you might be thinking I am mental in that statement but the truth is how we live out our Christian lives starts here in the brain not just in our heart.  We have to train our brains to start to think like God before we can see the world like God and then act like he commands.  Think of it this way.  We live in the south where racism still exists.  We may not like it but it is still around.  Today, racism is moving from a black and white thing to a black, white and brown thing.  It is now an English speaking vs. Spanish speaking thing or even a strait vs. gay thing.  But the lines that were drawn 50 years ago still exist today.  But no matter what the color of our skin the Bible tells us we are created in God’s image.  We are created and loved and if we want to be true followers of Christ we have to start seeing everyone, EVERYONE like they are a child of God.  That takes mental toughness to look around at the people we are raised to hate and to think, “how does God see that person?  That is a child of God who was made in God’s image.”
John Wesley concentrated a lot of his ministry on the pursuit of holiness.  In his eyes we could achieve perfect holiness, or Christian Perfection.  This meant that if a Christian pushed him or herself to the limits he or she could be made perfect in love of neighbor and of God.  John Wesley said this about being made perfect, “to be ‘sanctified throughout;’ even ‘to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God,’ (to use Archbishop Usher’s words,) ‘as continually to offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.’ In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, to ‘show forth his praise, who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ O that both we, and all who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity, may thus ‘be made perfect in one!'”   
We have an end goal, we, as Christians, desire to have eternal life with God.  But until then we need to work on living this life to the best of our ability.  We need to look at what we need to do to be the best person that God has called us all to be.  That is found in this idea of Christian perfection.  We have to believe that every thought, word, and work in our head can be acceptable to God through Christ.  If we don’t then what is the point.  It would be like playing professional baseball and never wanting to win the world series or being a pitcher who never wants to through the perfect game.  That is just insane.  No one competitively runs a race hoping to never finish or to finish last.  Even those who know they will never be fast enough to beat a Kenyan in a marathon have personal goals to beat to run their own perfect race.  If we are not seeking that perfect game, that perfect goal then what is the point?  Lukewarm and mediocre?  I don’t think God calls us to the mediocre and we are told in Revelation that those who are lukewarm will be spit out?  If we don’t believe it can be so then it will never be.
Paul states that we have a purpose.  We don’t run the race with out a goal.  We don’t box like we don’t have an opponent.  As he says in verse 27, “Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.”  Paul calls us to find self-disciple for the purpose of the gospel; in order to be better followers of Christ.
As Jodie is now less than 100 days away from her 100 mile race her training is starting to pick up.  She says, “The toughest part for me with the 100 miler training is the amount of training. During the week is pretty manageable, but the weekends are just unreal. Last week I did a 31 mile race here in Charlotte as my training run.  I’ve run every other hour from 6am to 6pm (running the last 2 hours) and covered 34 miles total in that 12 hour time span. This weekend I will not sleep on Friday night. I have to keep myself awake all night long and then run a half marathon (13.1) on Saturday morning. It’s a great mental test and helps me to get a feel for how it will be to run exhausted. That’s not it though, Sunday afternoon I will run another half marathon (13.1 miles).  Monday it’s back to work. The balance between regular life and training can be hard. But I push through because I know each and every training is important. They are small building blocks to prepare me for the big event.”
How are you training to run the race in front of you?  What are you doing to build yourself up and ready yourself for your own match?  How will you gain perfection within this life?  We start where Paul tells us to, with self-discipline.  It is self-discipline that make or breaks the mental game that we all play in our own heads.  It is telling yourself that reading that chapter in the Bible before bed is much better than watching the late show.  It is deciding it is more important to find time to pray daily because when you do you feel better about life in general.  It is coming here to worship in a community and to remind yourself of the goal we have in life to welcome in the Kingdom of God here and now and to ready ourselves for eternity in God’s presence.  It is seeing the people that surround us as God sees them.  It is reaching out to the least and the lost.  It is living into the example that was perfectly given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jodie also said these words which I think I needed to hear this week.  “Pain is another factor. All this exercise takes a toll on my body, especially big weekends like last weekend with 31 consecutive miles. I see a chiropractor/sports therapist once a week. I also get a massage from his assistant after big events like last weekend. That’s helps with the physical side of things.  Usually the mental side is bigger.  For me it’s quite simple – I just have to keep moving forward. No matter how much my feet already hurt after running for 5 hours, I have to keep them moving. Even if my legs ache and my muscles are getting tighter with each passing minute, I have to keep moving forward.  No matter how slow I become (because as the hours pass by my body naturally gets slower and slower), I just have to keep moving forward. As long as I don’t stop I know I can finish. Sometimes my mind is consumed with how much something hurts. I may have to take an extra walk break or my run becomes more like a slow jog. Even as I dwell on how much something hurts – I still move forward.”
Life can get us down.  It can tear us apart and make us not want to do anything for God.  We can take punch after punch and feel like we are running mile after mile while life keeps bringing the hurt.  But we still need to move forward.  We still need to realize we are not alone and God is walking, crawling and even at points carrying us through our lives.  We are never alone and we are always loved.  No matter how hard the fight is, we can rest assured that we can continue on.  We can make it a little bit further.  We can live the life God calls us to live no matter how big the sacrifice, no matter how impossible it sounds or feels in our hearts.  We can, because God made the impossible possible through his Son and we are called to pick up our own crosses and follow him.  We continue to walk the walk, mile by mile and sometimes inch by inch, but always forward towards our prize.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Galations 1:11-24

Here are some thoughts on the lectionary text this week that I will be preaching about:
· Paul writes to the Galatians to ward off bad theology that the Galatia church have encountered. These ‘rival missionaries’ are Christian Jews who are telling Gentiles they need to participate in circumcision and other Jewish acts now that they are followers of Christ. Paul writes to tell them his case, which he declares is from God and not through others in Jerusalem.
· There are two different ideas that this letter came out before or after the Council of Jerusalem, found in Acts 15. It is suggested that if it came out before the council then this letter was probably to the churches in south Galatia congregations and that Gal. 2:1-10’s visit to Jerusalem was Paul’s trip there to discuss famine relief. The other idea and one that most scholars side with is that this is written after the Council of Jerusalem and that it was to the northern churches in Galatia.
· In this opening chapter Paul defends his authority, like he does so often. He talks about his past life in the Jewish faith and how God transformed him. God showed him Christ in order to give him a new task, a new commission in life.
· Paul echoes the quotes of Isaiah and Jeremiah in verse 15. This is one place where Paul suggests the idea of predestination.

Point for the congregation:
· One point that I got was Paul’s strong feelings that his words came from God. He was not taught them by the apostles in Jerusalem. He did not get special teachings from ‘man’ to talk about God. Thus Joe and Sue Laity do not need high education to talk about how God has interacted in their lives. To be witnesses to Christ, to tell the story, to evangelize is to tell others how God has interacted in your personal life. Formal education is not necessarily needed to do that. You should not be afraid of professing God’s work within yourself.
· Using Paul as our example we can see how awesome God’s grace can become. It can completely transform us. This transformation doesn’t merely touch what we do on Sundays but reaches into every aspect of life and makes it different, makes it new. Saul was a holy man before he changed his name [to be accepted by the gentiles better] to Paul and he continued to be. What changed though is where he gives credit. In the beginning of this text he talks about me and I. I advanced in Judaism beyond… Later he talks about God’s work in his life and beyond. The focus turned from me and I to God. Paul was so transformed that he always give God the credit for what happened in his life and we should follow that example.