SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Common English Bible (CEB)
13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.
16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.
5 We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.
SERMON: The Eternal Optimist, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 June 10, 2012
--- Don't expect too much of human beings. We were created at the end of the week when God was tired and looking forward to a day off.--Mark Twain
---Fred Astaire once said: Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.
There’s no way around it; our days are numbered. Almost imperceptibly, they pass by, and our years increase incrementally. We look into the mirror and see that our "outer nature is wasting away" (v. 16). And as our own mortality becomes an ever-present reality, moment by moment thoughts of decay can begin to dominate our view of the future in such a way that hope grows faint. Yet in the face of that harsh certainty, the apostle Paul offers an exhortation that refuses to surrender to that bleak outlook "because we look not to what can be seen but at what cannot be seen" (v. 18).
"So we do not lose heart," the apostle Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians. This came at the conclusion of a passage in which he summarized the troubles he and his coworkers had faced: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..." (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
In a study published in the October 2011 issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London present evidence that people who are naturally optimistic learn only from information that reinforces that rosy outlook.
That would seem to apply to Paul. He clumped all those troubles into the category of a "slight momentary affliction" that "is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure" (v. 17). That "eternal weight of glory" outcome was so bright that Paul could disregard his present troubles as indicative of anything about the future.
The study actually suggests that many of us are hardwired for optimism as well. "Our findings suggest that this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain's failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates," the study authors wrote. Paul was clearly the eternal optimist!
Optimism seems necessary for personal progress. We have to be able to imagine better realities. “Without vision, the people perish.”
Optimism, particularly when it's tied to ultimate outcomes, is often a synonym for hope. Biblically speaking, hope is one of the "big three" of Christianity along with faith and love. They are the things that the apostle Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 13, remain when all else fails. "And now faith, hope, and love abide," is how he put it, and he meant that when we look for the qualities that are distilled from the experience of the believing life together, these three things are the solid footing on which we stand -- even if seen now only darkly as through a distorting glass.
Christianity itself presents us with a view of life as seen from the end. While we can't see that ourselves, we trust that God can, and thus we base our hope on that "eternal perspective" (God's)." That view directs us to the fully-come kingdom of God and says to us, "This is how you will understand it when it is all over."
This end-view is of supreme importance to a life of faith because without it, we have nothing to look forward to beyond whatever we ourselves can make of this life. Theologian Emil Brunner said, "the fate of humanity is dependent on its supply of hope."
So is Christianity mere optimism?
Is Paul engaging in wishful thinking when he says, "For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens"?
Interestingly, Paul himself considered this question. Responding to some who said Christ had not been raised from the dead, the apostle wrote in 1st Corinthians that if such were the case, then their faith was "futile." He then added, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Christianity is realistic about the difficulties of life, but balances them with Christian hope based on God’s Word. It insists that these current difficulties are not what define us. This is can be illustrated by the following church sign:
EVENINGS AT 7 IN THE PARISH HALL
Mon: Alcoholics Anonymous
Tues: Abused Spouses
Wed: Eating Disorders
Thurs: Say No To Drugs
Fri: Teen Suicide Watch
Sat: Soup Kitchen
SUNDAY SERMON 9 A.M.
"Our Joyous Future in Christ"
What can we say about hope? First, we can take a look at the Ground of our Hope. We can remind ourselves that the hope to which Christianity clings is not based on a mere bright outlook but on promises of God found in Scripture. Old Testament Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that it "voices the oldest, deepest, most resilient grounding of hope in all of human history, a hope that has been claimed by both Jews and Christians ...
The hope articulated in ancient Israel is not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in [God's] promises to Israel."
In addition, the New Testament clearly articulates the same confidence in and expectation for the future, rooted explicitly in God's promises to all who follow Jesus.
The Ground of our Hope is God as presented to all humanity in the pages of this book; our Bible.
Can we increase our Hope?
There is much we can do to build up our hope. Spending time with one another, as we share our lives and stories, joys and griefs, hopes and disappointments. We stand stronger when we stand together.
We can also recognize that every time we recite affirmations from the Christian tradition, such as the Apostles' Creed, we're hearing the testimony of those who staked their lives on hope. When we repeat those words, we declare our belief that the One who sits at the right hand of the Father will come "to judge the living and the dead." We declare our belief in the "forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."
Memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, Scripture passages and the like serves to give us hope during the dark days of doubt or confusion. Part of the human condition is that we all have our ups and downs but hope springs eternal.
Even the pessimists among our congregation speak the creed, and in doing so, they join the optimists and the realists among us in affirming that God isn't done with us and that when human history moves to its final stage, we can stand with Christ.
In addition, powerful personal testimonies from people who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death inspire and encourage us. We know of people in our own congregation that lived in joyful hope and expectation, no matter how bleak their earthly existence became. They’re ‘eternal optimism’ as it were, restores our own hope.
The late Henri Nouwen, wrote in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, that “Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things -- the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on -- will get better.
Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God's promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”
All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like.”
Christian Hope is based on God's promises, the historic creeds and the testimony of those who have died believing that "what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." The Bible and the experience of generations of the Faithful declare it is real. Like the Apostle Paul in his life and writings we can develop Christian hope; eternal optimism. Amen.