(This will be my last post until Aug 16th as I am leaving for sabbatical.)
Year B Pentecost 2 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
This may shock some of you, but camping is not my thing. I like the idea of camping, but not the actual sleeping on the ground part. I blame my dislike of camping on some early childhood experiences. You see my family was never big into preparation—like checking weather. One of my earliest memories was when we lived in Belgium. For some reason we decided to go camping right before a huge storm. All 6 of us were in one tent, which was not nearly strong enough for the rain and the wind. My dad and oldest brother held the tent up while the rest of us slept. I was only 4 or 5 at the time and didn’t recognize how hard that must have been for them. I just remember waking up periodically in the night, seeing them, and having no doubt that we would be safe.
|Photo by Jarhead Core|
Paul used the image of the tent when talking about our earthly existence. It’s not surprising that he used this image since he was a tent maker. He was probably intimately aware of the usefulness of a tent, while also mindful of its limitations. A tent was never meant to be a permanent home, much like our earthly bodies are not meant to be a permanent home.
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul was attempting explain to the Corinthians why we can’t use human standards when trying to determine the success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or our success as disciples. In the first part of the letter, he spent a lot of time defending himself and his suitability as a leader.
Since his first visit, the people of Corinth had been wooed by false prophets—ones who spoke more articulately, looked more powerful and performed numerous miracles. These prophets also told the people of Corinth what they wanted to hear. Paul wasn’t impressive in speech or appearance and he never told people what they wanted to hear. It was usually quite the opposite. Therefore it is understandable that the people of Corinth had wandered off the path.
As a result, Paul had the rather Herculean task of convincing these people that suffering and hardship wasn’t a sign of failure or weakness—it might even indicate you are doing things right. Suffering was and is inevitable when following a crucified Messiah.
To make his point, Paul contrasted our outer natures and our inner natures. When Paul referred to our outer nature, it was more than just our bodies. It’s all that is ephemeral—all that is passing. That includes our bodies, our minds, our social networks, our homes, our victories and our defeats. It’s everything that is seen. The inner nature is the new life we experience when we come into a relationship with God.
We might assume that when Paul refers to our inner nature, he is talking about the afterlife, but that is not the case. He is clearly describing the present when he writes, “Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” That inner nature is what gives us the strength to handle what is happening all around us—what is happening to our outer nature.
He then wrote, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen…” I found myself quite enraptured by the phrase “eternal weight of glory.” I always associated that phrase with heaven and eternal life. But if we have an inner nature that is being renewed day by day —right now, we must therefore have a portion of that weight of glory right now as well. It’s not the eternal weight of glory, but it is glory none the less.
But what is the weight of glory? It is the thumb print of God on our souls. It is the part of us that cannot be touched by all the stuff that life throws at us. It’s the weight that holds our tent upright. So even when our tent is falling apart, even when the world seems to be falling apart, we do not lose heart.
As Christians, we live in this in-between place. We are in a place where our bodies limit us yet our hope remains in that which is limitless. Right now our bodies are fragile and not meant to last forever. Most of us have seen evidence of that in our own health. But it’s not just our bodies that our fragile, it’s our whole world.
The fragility of our world has been abundantly clear over the last year. Most of the things that we took for granted were compromised by a virus. Entire industries and governments were brought to their knees. Even those things we hold sacred, our houses of worship and our families were separated from us. We lost people who were incredibly important to us and some were denied the opportunity to mourn in our Holy spaces. Yet, we do not lose heart, because we carry (right now) the weight of glory.
That is what Paul had that the false prophets could never convey, a faith that no matter how bad things get, pain and suffering never has the final word, not when you are grounded by the weight of glory.
We have a tradition at the Annual Council of our diocese where we read memorials for people who have died who were active in the diocese, whether as clergy or lay people. After the names and stories were read, we would have a moment of silence and then our previous bishop would say, “May they rise in glory.” I always liked that phrase. It sounds triumphant. Here on earth the weight of glory steadies us. It gives us a strength that only God can give. But when we die, then that glory allows us to rise into a new life with Christ.
As Christians, we are in an in-between place and sometimes that feels precarious and exhausting. Yet God doesn’t abandon us in this in between world. He gives us something, something that never decays, never wastes away. He gives us an inner nature that is being renewed day by day and a weight of glory that holds us up so we can stand against even the greatest and most unexpected storms. Today, may we all stand with the weight of glory holding us up. One day, may we all rise with the eternal glory of Christ.