This is another one of my favorite Bible passages – sublime stuff; although usually reserved for death beds or memorial services. I remember a particularly robust man, now less than 100 pounds, curled up in his hospital bed. “As our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” (v. 16) I loved thinking about this man’s inner nature getting all ready for the passage.
But these verses are not for the dying, but for the living. For every passage of life has a bit of dying in, a letting go; things change all the time. I don’t mean to be morbid, in fact I am hoping to be uplifting (we shall see) – but every day is a passing, every moment is a movement away from something and towards something else. And when we recognize the fact that we are in constant transition, it makes us vulnerable to consider deeper things and better appreciate the here and the now.
Today we celebrate those graduating from high schools and colleges and universities. A time of turning from and turning towards, of heading into adventures unknown, leaving family perhaps for the first time and really growing up. I remember my 20’s to be both the best of times and the worst of times. Coming to find your own calling and identity and place in this world is exciting but not easy.
As I watched the graduates of Heights High cross the stage last Monday, as I watched Meg graduate I thought – am I really that old? Two of my kids are now out of high school. It is a passage for them and a passage for Deanne and me. A HUGE part of my identity is going through transition – I dare say “wasting away.”
Within the last few weeks I have had conversations with some of you about your child entering school, about college choices, about what the future looks like, about marriage, parenting, retirement, about moving from homes to retirement communities, about having to learn to live alone now that a spouse’s mind and memory have withered away, or a beloved partner has died, about living with a terminal illness – all these are passages, changes, moving from and towards. It can, when you are in the midst of it, be overwhelming. You lose your bearings.
This morning I want to remind you, and remind myself of the dynamic and wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ that, when I allow myself to be captured by it – literally moves me from fear, worry, and panic to hope, joy and courage. It places me on a peak of trust and contentment that lets me rise above the valley of anxiety and then move into it. The everyday ups and downs take on a levelness as they are interpreted by memory and hope.
The gospel of Jesus Christ places you and me in this large continuum of grace. We have a past, a narrative, a story of the spirit of God bringing people through – out of slavery, out of oppression, out of despair and into the promised land, into the new world, beyond death. The passages of life are not always easy – but there is promised resolution, promised delivery.
As the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” declares: “It is grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will bring me home!”
So you and I need to start a daily discipline of reminding ourselves from whence we came. If God has brought me through THAT – will I trust that God will bring me through THIS?
I remember going to my spiritual advisor, Tom Uhle. I forget the dilemma I was in but I do remember feeling overwhelmed, ill equipped, and down. He asked me: “John, do you remember other times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, ill equipped and down?”
I said, “Sure, I gotta million of em!”
He asked, “What happened?”
“Well,” I responded, “I got through them.”
He pressed me. “Do you believe that God was present with you during those times?”
I said, “I might not have known it at the time, I felt God, but now looking back, yes, I believe that God was with me. Those crises were pretty important for my development.”
Tom finished: “If you believe that God used those times to continue your growth, your refinement, so to speak, can you believe that God is using this time for the same purpose?”
“Yes,” I said. That conversation has given me a whole new outlook.
So faith in Jesus Christ, trust that God is using whatever to move us along – grounds us in a past. We have memory and experience. “This too shall pass,” as my mother used to say. And she was right.
But faith in Jesus Christ, trust that God is using whatever to move us along – grounds us in a future promise as well. We have hope and imagination.
I don’t know what you believe about life after death – but our faith is grounded on the hope that we are moving towards some new dimension of resolution, or reconciliation, of reunion, of being; “because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence.” (v.14)
That is very encouraging to me. We have a past and we have a future. We can’t see it, St. Paul writes, but we can imagine it with the eyes of hope. And we allow that future hope to help us keep our eyes on the prize, or perhaps on just getting through.
I think of the heroes who pressed for civil rights… in the darkest days of oppression in this country there were those, most of whom were Christian, who remembered the story of liberation. There were those who kept hope alive and used their imaginations to think about the day when all God’s children had access, and all citizens could vote. Yes, they even imagined a day when a little black boy could be President. I don’t care what your politics are but we have this real instance in our history of crisis moving us to a new reality, becoming possible because the past was remembered and the future was hoped for by persons of faith. Not nostalgia and fear which seems to fuel our current culture, but memory and hope!
And this is where you and I are encouraged and invited to live – grounded in a story of deliverance and perched on the precipice of hope, a future that cannot be seen but can be imagined because we trust that Jesus Christ is Lord and “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
Birth, graduation, marriage, first job, retirement, moves, joys, tragedies, triumphs, deaths – the myriad of “slight momentary afflictions,” especially those that don’t seem so slight or so momentary: What are you going to give your heart and head to during the transitions, as your outer nature is wasting away? Because no amount of exercise is going to keep you firm forever!
Keep your eyes on the “eternal weight of glory,” remember and hope.
And may God bless you for the living of these days!