Proper 5

“Life at the Intersection”
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak,14because 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.15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5For 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.

In 1934 two theological heavyweights took swings at one another. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner had a very public argument about where the point of contact was between God and human beings.

Barth believed that the point of contact was necessarily ‘outside’ of ourselves, it was literally beyond us because God was so completely ‘other.’

Brunner, on the other hand, saw the point of contact inside us. There was, as others describe it, a divine spark, a tattered remnant of Eden still inside our heart, soul, and mind.

You might think that this kind of argument is inconsequential. I read articles and listen to people who say that preaching misses the mark if we concern ourselves with such celestial matters.

I wonder though, what you think. Where is your connection with God? In your life, where is that point of contact? Is it somewhere inside? If I asked you, where is God, would you point to your chest? Or, would you point away from yourself to the heavens perhaps?

Before you answer, let me tell you about something that happened to me. It was more than 15 years ago. I was directing a 3rd and 4th grade Church Camp at Hartman Center, a place like Mench Mill, our church camp, only it is in Penn Central Conference. The directors sleep in the cabins with the children. So every evening I would take my place in a bunk in the boys cabins. The first night, I was tired. I had no idea that 15 third and fourth graders could exhaust an adult so thoroughly. Anyway, sometime during the night, sound asleep, I became aware of a strange feeling that I was being watched. I slowly opened my eyes to discover a half a dozen boys with their faces about 2 feet from mine. I startled. Then my son Thomas told them, “See, I told you it wasn’t a bear, it was just my dad snoring.”

Now, this experience of being aware that someone is staring at you is not exactly the same thing as sensing the presence of God, but it is like it. It is easier to tell this kind of a story and have others nod their head in affirmation than to say to someone, you know when you were talking about planning a mission trip for church, well, I heard God speaking. I realize it was your voice, and I know you think it was your idea, but what I heard was God speaking.

Have you ever thought of someone right before the phone rang, and then when you picked up it was that very person on the phone? More than once I’ve been thinking about one of you for no particular reason. I might pick up the phone and call, or I might stop by. I can tell, by the content of the conversation, that I somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time. This doesn’t always work, but it works frequently enough that I know to trust it when it occurs. Too often I have not acted and only later found out I should have.

Now, I do not know what this strange power is. If I was a woman, I’d call it something like ‘women’s intuition.’ Because I am not, I call it my pastoral antenna.

There is an old story about a Spiritual Director and their student. The student asked, “Where should I find God?”

“Here,” the teacher said.
“Then why can’t I see God?”
“Because you do not look.”
“But what should I look for?” the student continued.
“Nothing. Just look,” the teacher said.
“But at what?”
“At anything your eyes alight on,” the teacher said.
“But, but, must I look in a special way?”
“No, the ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look in the ordinary way?”
“No, you don’t,” the teacher said.
“But why not?” the disciple pressed.
“Because to look, you must be here. Usually, you are somewhere else.”

In the movie “The Gray,” Liam Neeson plays the role of a professional hunter, hired to protect pipeline workers in Alaska in the wild interior as they work from wolves and polar bears. It’s a job he despises. Relieved from duty, he and some of the workers climb aboard an airplane for some time off. The plane crashes, and a eight of the workers survive, including Neeson. As they make their way across the wilderness they are picked off, one by one, by a pack of wolves that hunt them down. The director gives several of the men extended soul-searching discussions about God’s existence (or not), about owning up to one’s fears, about the precarious nature of love.

Throughout the movie, Neeson’s character manages to survive. Finally, only he is left. In despair he sits down in the snow and looks to the heavens, cries out to God, asking for a sign, for God to demonstrate presence. When no answer is forthcoming, at least to his liking, he mutters to himself, “ok then.”

It seems to me that much of life, although not as dramatic, follows the plot lines of this movie “The Gray.” Better yet, it follows the plot lines of these short verses in Paul’s Second letter to the Church in Corinth, here, in verses 13 through 18. We live at an intersection of sorts, between the presence of God which we often cannot see, and the presence of our physical lives that so often eclipse the power of the almighty.

I am not signing up for that ancient Gnostic heresy, believing that the physical part of life is nothing but evil. Neither am I saying that our Spiritual lives are the only aspect of living that is worthwhile. We live at an intersection. We are whole people, body mind, and spirit. This intersection is often beyond the veil of our comprehension. But at the core of it is a “glory beyond all measure.” To receive it in the here and now requires that we not only look beyond ourselves, vis-a-via Barth; it also requires that we pay attention to what is going on inside, vis-a-via Brunner. I have this daydream that St. Paul would tell me that I am right, that God’s presence and power is both within us and working outside us, as the resurrected Christ, who is alive and in our midst, before our very eyes, works at creating a new heaven and a new earth. It is a place that is already, and not yet. The question is not so much “do you believe this,” but is that where you choose to live?