Sermon from September 22: We Do Not Lose Heart

“We do not lose heart.”
Pentecost XV (O. T. 25); September 22, 2019
II Corinthians 4:1-18

As part of this sermon, the ACE Puppet Troupe performed a piece called “Brave.” Since I cannot reproduce it adequately, I’ve removed portions of the sermon that set it up and responded to it, and left intact the bulk of my thoughts on the subject.

The Apostle Paul had all sorts of reasons to give up. A conservative Jew, when he became a follower of Jesus and started hanging out with Gentiles he was branded a race-traitor. Many of his fellow Christians were suspicious of him, said that he shouldn’t call himself an apostle, and spread rumors about him. Of course, he was frequently in trouble with the authorities, and in one catalog of his sufferings he notes that on five occasions he’s been whipped 39 times, three times beaten with rods and once subjected to stoning (II Corinthians 11:24-25). In the course of his work he also dealt with hunger, shipwreck, and other troubles.

So why did he keep going? He could have made a good living as a teacher, or making tents. Why did he keep preaching the Gospel and founding churches? Why do you and I keep going? Our times are not particularly friendly to a Christian agenda and even church people can be hostile to folks who are honestly trying to follow Jesus. Why do we keep going?

We read this entire chapter from Paul’s letter today because it both starts and ends with the same phrase: “We do not lose heart.” Paul certainly could have lost heart, but he never did. At the beginning of the chapter he said that he did not lose heart because “it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry.” He had a strong sense of calling, and when you truly believe that the work you are doing is God’s work, that’s a powerful motivator to keep going. And at the end of the chapter, he said he did not lose heart because the suffering of this present time is stripping away our sinful human nature to make us ready for the glory of eternity. So we do not lose heart.

Part of what kept Paul going was the sense that he was responding to God’s call to him. Another part was anticipating the eternal weight of glory. Yet the key, I’m convinced, is in the heart of the chapter: “The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). Let me focus you on the big picture and the small picture. The big picture is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” Sometimes you need to know that the garbage you’re digging through today connects in some way with a larger, meaningful whole. Paul could keep going because he was convinced he was serving the God who created the universe – and you can’t get bigger than that.

I remember a story in a publication for ministers in which the writer described the lives of clowns in the circus. Apparently the chief occupational hazard was being bitten by chimpanzees. And the writer described the constant annoyances that pastors have to put up with as “chimp bites.” Why put up with them? Because if we didn’t, then we wouldn’t be in the circus! You and I hang in there – we do not lose heart – in our struggle to live by the ways of God because we believe we are living for the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness.”

But the small picture is equally important: that light shines in our hearts in the face of Jesus Christ. A particular person, a carpenter who liked parties, a teacher who took time for children, a suffering Messiah, a risen Savior who invites us to eat and drink with him: that one shines in our hearts, and so we do not lose heart.

My friend and I read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning together, a reflection on his years in a Nazi concentration camp. You heard Steve Bhaerman refer to it last week;[1] he told us that Frankl and his friend vowed to find something to laugh at every day. Another thing in the book was that the writer said that what kept him going every day was that he found a sense of meaning. And it wasn’t something big and grand and glorious: his meaning in his daily existence was the hope of seeing his wife again. The image of her face in his mind kept him alive. It was the small thing.

We do not lose heart if we speak up against racism or bullying, if we join the struggle for the earth, if we love God and neighbor in acts of service, teaching, and salvation… we do not lose heart because it’s about Jesus. This isn’t about me; this isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. And when we remember that the light shining in our hearts is the light of the Creator, shining in the face of Jesus Christ, then we do not lose heart.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

 

[1] Comedian Steve Bhaerman spoke at our 10:30 service on September 15 on the subject “The Healing Power of Laughter.”

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