Many of us watched the Leafs blow the playoff series. It was pretty painful to watch. They were skilled and dazzling during the regular season, but when it came to the playoffs, they just couldn’t get the job done. The loss exacerbated the pain of losing that fans have felt for a long time. People want to be connected with a winner. Seeing your team lose year after year is painful.
St. Paul was going through similar challenges with the community in Corinth. Today, Paul is a giant of our faith, and much of our New Testament is written by him. But back in his day, all he did was struggle. Paul had begun the church with great demonstrations of God’s power. But over the years, he experienced failures, setbacks and many afflictions and suffering at the hands of others. He was driven out of cities, including Corinth, by people who hated him. In other words, he was not a winner. He was rather a loser.
Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, a major port and center of commerce in the Roman Empire. It was a place that valued success and appearances. They believed that faith should demonstrate visible power. This is why they were very concerned with spiritual gifts – they wanted to see visible signs of God’s power. To them, any real spiritual leader should spiritually successful, and be a spiritual winner. Failure and weakness meant that maybe something is wrong with the leader. Paul looked like a failure, steeped in weakness. And what’s more, he was not very eloquent, refined or polished. In many ways, Paul was quite an embarrassment to these cosmopolitan big city dwellers.
Judgements and Confidence
The Corinthians made judgments based on what they could see with their eyes.
We too are very driven by what we can see with our eyes. We judge things by how they appear. Our confidence goes up or down depending on what we see with our eyes or experience with our senses.
This is particularly the case in a social media age, especially for our young people. The world of social media is built on appearances. So much energy is poured into building this attractive appearance. You look at people’s profiles, and they exude success, polish and confidence. Each post is carefully curated for the world. In this world, your confidence goes up and down with the number of likes or follows you get.
During this whole time of COVID, our moods and confidence have gone up and down with the news of openings and closing. By this point, people want life to open up and resume. We believe that things will be better once things are open. I’m all for this, and I can’t wait for that too. But is our confidence tied to circumstances we can see with our eyes? Where does our uplift and confidence really come from?
St. Paul was very peculiar. Despite all the failures and setbacks he experienced, we see great confidence exuding from him. In fact, the more failure he experienced, the more confident he became. How strange! What was the source of this confidence?
Paul begins today’s passage with this statement:
“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.” (2 Corinthians 4:13)
Paul is referring to the previous verse where he said:
“So death is at work in us…” (2 Corinthians 4:12)
He is talking about death in many ways: death of our bodies through suffering and affliction; death of our spirit that comes from persecution; death in our relationships; death of hope. Any death of this kind brings about painful silence. When suffering hits us, we are levelled into silence. But Paul is saying that because of the faith he has – the kind of faith shown in scripture – death cannot silence him. Because of faith, he has the confidence now to speak a new word of hope and boldness.
This faith came from what he saw. Paul saw and experienced death – it was very real for him – but he also saw something greater at work underneath that surface: he saw God’s power. Underneath his afflictions and hardships, his weakness and failure – he saw God’s power at work.
What we See
Paul had a different kind of vision. He had the eyes of faith. With his physical eyes he saw death, but with eyes of faith he saw life arising from that death. Where there was affliction, he saw glory. In terrible darkness, he saw God’s power at work. Seeing God’s power at work in the midst of his failure and weakness gave him true confidence.
We are so affected by what our eyes see. But what eyes do we see with? Our eyes often deceive us. They don’t reveal the full truth. They often don’t see beyond what we see on the surface.
One remarkable thing about this time of COVID is the extent to which hidden or buried truths have been unmasked. We’ve seen things about ourselves that we were previously able to bury underneath busy schedules and distractions. We see the global inequality in vaccine distribution – where the richest countries have been hoarding the majority of vaccines globally. We saw the reality of racism unmasked through the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement and the reality of anti-Asian racism. The world was shaken out of its complacency over the suffering of Palestinians that was quietly hidden from view. And this week we were confronted with the reality of the horrors of the residential school system with the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops. COVID has revealed the sins of the world and the sins of humanity.
The ground-penetrating radar that was used to discover the unmarked graves in Kamloops exposed the sin that residential schools and Canadian society buried. There is national reckoning going on now, because we cannot hide from this truth that has been unearthed and exposed. As I reflect on this, I realize this: the first thing that eyes of faith see is the sin that is buried within us. Eyes of faith are like ground-penetrating radar for our souls.
Rev. Kim preached about sin last week. Sin is that negative force that diminishes us, and keeps us from being who we want to be. That negative force remains buried within us, often unseen with our eyes, and therefore easy to ignore. But it affects our entire being and keeps us diminished.Eyes of faith are like a ground-penetrating radar into our hearts. We see the power that sin has over us. But sin is not the only thing that eyes of faith see.
St. Paul says this in Romans:
“…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
He saw his sin very clearly. But he also saw God’s grace that abounds even more than sin.
And that was the truth that he saw in the cross: that God’s grace is greater than sin. To the physical eye, the cross is where sin and death are victorious. The cross symbolizes all the pain and difficulty we see and experience in the here and now. It does not deny it. It takes on this suffering. But with with eyes of faith, we also see on the cross God’s greater power and grace at work. Power that overcomes sin and death. Power that brings forth new life. This is why the cross has power for us, and why we cling to it.
The cross symbolizes our new eyes and sight: we see death, but even more we see life. This is what it means to be a Christian: to see and experience our lives differently from what we see with our eyes. We don’t ignore our difficulties, our ugliness or pretend like they don’t exist. We see them and acknowledge the effect they have on us. But that is not all we see. Even more than these negative things, we see God’s power and grace at work. In any circumstance, we believe in and see that the positive power of God is more powerful than the negative things we see with our physical senses. When we see that power, it becomes our confidence.
We need to cultivate eyes of faith. To see the power of God at work in our lives. St. Paul says this:
“we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
The world cannot see it with physical eyes, but with our eyes of faith, we see the power of God at work in us.
Cultivating Eyes of Faith
How do we cultivate eyes of faith? First, you need to honestly confront the sin in your life. That is a truly difficult thing. It’s much easier to live life burying it and living life on the surface. But that can never bring about an abundant life. You have to want to confront the truth in your life. If you’re content to just keep things buried, then it’s already done. ***Ground-penetrating radar for our souls*** Only an honest desire to confront the sin in your life will open up the door to cultivating eyes of faith. There is no one way or single method. Find a way that works for you to honestly examine yourself and reflect on what is blocking you from being the kind of person you wish to be. It can be through honest meditation, writing in your journal, quiet time of prayer, reading scripture or whatever works. But making intentional habits will help with this. Secondly, we need to practice seeing God in our lives. Just like it takes practice to learn piano, seeing God takes spiritual practice and discipline. We cannot see God physically, so we need to cultivate the spirituality of seeing God underneath the physical surface. Again, there is no one method. Meditation and prayer practices help. Reflecting on our lives through critical study of Scripture helps. Here’s one idea: when you are going through something, is there a praise song that resonates with you? If so, let that song speak for you. Those songs are words of faith that help you see God at work. When there is difficulty and struggle, songs of praise help us to see God at work. After I got ordained, at my final Hi-C retreat as youth pastor, the Hi-C kids made a book for me. On one of the pages, they listed a personalized praise playlist. They were: Gracefully Broken, Broken Vessels, and Ever Be. My kids knew me so well! And they were so right. Those songs really express how God has been present in my struggles in life. They allowed me to see God’s power and grace at work in my life. Instead of just seeing struggle and difficulties in my past, I can now see my past as filled with the grace-filled love of God. I may not have seen it then when I was gripped by my circumstances, but now I see it. This is why music is such a precious part of our worship and people’s faith. They help us see God at work. They cultivate our eyes of faith.
The concluding part of today’s passage is so beautiful. I won’t read it, but will paraphrase in my own words. With eyes of faith, we never lose heart, we do not shrink back. Even though our daily existence in this world brings about hardship, I am renewed daily by God’s loving presence and grace that I now see and believe. The afflictions I face today are real, but slight and momentary compared to the eternal glory of God’s love and power. What we see with our physical eyes are all temporary; but what we see with our eyes of faith – the love, power and grace of God – are eternal. With my eyes firmly fixed on this eternal love, I have confidence to face anything in life until I am called home by my Maker.
In Our Community
We are reflecting on our 25th anniversary over the summer and fall. A group of our oldest 1st generation members wrote their stories that will be published this summer. I read through them, and I could feel sorrow, melancholy, and a sense of how hard it is to find joy in this world. I shed many tears reading them. Most of them were born in the 1930’s. They lived through occupation, division, war, poverty and immigration. They lived such difficult lives. They eked out an existence, raised families, and are nearing the end of their life journeys. When we look at them individually, they are small, insignificant lives full of difficulty and struggle. But when I look through eyes of faith, I see great beauty in their collective stories. Out of the broken pieces of their lives, God stitched together something new – a new existence for them and their families here in Canada, and this beautiful community that we get to enjoy. The focus of our 25th anniversary reflection is what God has done in and through this community. It is looking back with eyes of faith, so that we can also see where God is leading us in the future. What I see is God taking these people – who were broken and went through so much, yet have a tenacious will to survive – and creating a beautiful gift for us – the gift of the church. And I believe this unique gift is given to us to be a gift to the world. Their story is summed up by St. Paul’s declaration:
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Yes, our 1st generation seniors were clay jars, but God created something beautiful and lasting through them. And I can see God at work now in all of us. I believe God will create more beautiful things for the next 25 years. My prayer and hope for us and the generations to come, is that we can more and more really live out the way of Jesus. This is how Paul described himself and his companions:
“always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be visible in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11).
Yes, I pray that the life of Jesus may be visible in our bodies. That we may give ourselves up for the weak and vulnerable just like Jesus did. And that in offering our lives, the life of Jesus may shine through. We ourselves are not that significant in the eyes of the world. Even our church is pretty quiet, small and insignificant. But for me, that is to our advantage. In fact, like St. Paul, I hope we can be even less glorious or significant, so that God’s glory can shine through our church. I don’t want to be a megachurch. I want to be a faithful church. We don’t need to live mega-lives, just faithful ones. Let us have eyes of faith. Don’t worry about whether your life is shining brightly. Have faith that God is shining in your life. And let that faith be the source of your confidence.