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Afflicted, Not Crushed

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
Sep 27 2009

God is good! All the time!

All the time! God is good!

I know and you know that it is often easier to say those words than to believe them in our hearts.

Honestly compels us to admit that these are words of faith, not certainty. They are also, however, words of defiance, not defeat. You might say that these are fighting words, the words of one’s who dare to stand with God, side with God, trust in God, even when God is illusive.

God is good! All the time!

All the time! God is good!

On any given Sunday, there are a fair number of people in any a worshipping congregation who come in asking the bottom line question: Is it true? Is it true that God is? Is it true that God is good? Is it true that God is good all the time?

If we were in a science lab and we wanted to know if something were true, we would design and conduct experiments and try to get at truth in that way.

Christian faith doesn’t work like that.

Instead, Christian faith is a hand-me-down. We receive it from someone else. We try it on before it belongs to us, before it fits, before we have actually grown into it.

To put it another way: Christian faith is a communicable thing … it passes from person to person.
We receive it, at first, by relying upon reliable people … witnesses, one’s who have been there, whose life experience we trust, whose words are believable because they are believable.

When Thomas Jefferson wanted to know if there was an easy water route to the Pacific, he chose his old friend and neighbor, a man he knew, whose word he trusted, whose integrity was unquestioned: Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis, in turn, reached out to an experienced frontiersman with a solid reputation, William Clark.

Lewis and Clark plunged into the unknown. They could have reported back anything. They could have made it all up. Or, they could have screwed it up by being lazy, imprecise, inept ...or in any number of ways.

Lewis’ and Clarks’ maps and notes were believable because they themselves were believable. They were deemed to be trustworthy, worth investing in, worth gambling on.

Christianity exists because of the eye witness testimony of believable people: the disciples and friends of Jesus … people like Peter, James and John, people like Mary and Martha … and, the Apostle Paul… people who plunged into the unknown and who then reported back on what they saw and experienced … of the ways of God.

In his letter to the Corinthian Christians the Apostle Paul is reporting back on his explorations.
He is saying: I made it out there, beyond the Rockies …I had a near death experience, I was beyond saving, I was a wreck and this is what I saw … and this is what happened to me. I met God. I was made whole. I was loved. I was saved. And here I am to tell the tale.

Paul does not begin out there, however. He begins where the people are… here, now. Looking out over the congregation, knowing their stories, their lives, what ails them, what frightens them, what causes them despair he writes: “We are afflicted …We are perplexed …We are struck down …”

And the congregation nods knowingly. This is territory they recognize.

It is because Paul is so honest in these spare, raw verses that these verses are so often read at funerals.

The congregation hears these words: “We are afflicted, brothers and sisters, in these bodies of flesh and bone. We are perplexed, brothers and sisters, in the face of death. We are struck down, brothers and sisters, by the Grim Reaper’s scythe … “ and the family in the front row sharing a box of tissues, weeps and nods. And the widow wearing black for the first time in her life nods. And the old, old friend, the one who grew up with the deceased, the one with gnarled, arthritic fingers and a bent back, nods. “We are afflicted …We are perplexed …We are struck down …”

We are earthen vessels, Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians. Clay jars are useful, to be sure.
But they are brittle things, fragile, breakable. So, too, are our human bodies … useful, but frail, easily broken, not so easily mended.

But Paul is writing to them not merely to confirm what they know. But to report back on what they do not know … on the new territory he has explored.

The important word, the pivot word, on which today’s passage turns and depends: but!

“We are afflicted in every way,” Paul admits, “but not crushed. We are perplexed”, he confesses, “but not driven to despair. We are struck down”, he reports, “but we are not destroyed!”

And the people in Corinth tried on this faith, this trust in God, this hope in resurrection … and it fit, it the people’s faith deepened … and the faith was passed on from person to person, because Paul was believable … and when they tried it on, this hand-me-down faith, they, too, experienced it to be true.