In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the + Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us pray. Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit, who writes the preached Word into our hearts so that we may receive and believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
A reading from 2 Corinthians 4:
It is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, “Let there be light shining out of darkness,” who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.
We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus too may be shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
This is the Word of the Lord. R.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Bible is a hard book, no two ways about it. On my daily commute, I’ve been listening on Audible to the Scriptures, and I’m up to 2 Chronicles now. As I listen I keep making mental notes along the way: “I need to check this out, and that, and the other.” The list so far will probably take me the rest of my life. And did I mention I’m only up to 2 Chronicles? Sigh. Yes, the Bible is a hard book.
But the conviction of St. Paul in today’s reading is that the God we meet in the pages of the Old Testament, the God who right there at the start spoke “Let there be light” is the God we meet in Jesus. You see, when Paul says we proclaim Jesus as Lord, you have to hear that like a Jew. He’s not talking what evangelicals refer to as Lordship theology, as in "He’s your Savior, but have you made Him your Lord." No, he is saying something far more radical. We proclaim Jesus as Lord means we proclaim Mary’s Son, this man who walked the earth, as Yahweh, as the Great I Am, as the very God we do meet in the perplexing pages of the Old Testament.
And that’s actually very helpful. Jesus is the light then that shines in the darkness, even in the darkness of our understanding, our minds, in the darkness of the darkest pages of Holy Scripture! He’s the light that illumines them. And isn’t there something quite symmetrical about the perplexing story of salvation that is enshrined in the Scriptures and the perplexing way He works in our lives? Luther once captured it: By putting to death, He makes alive. To bring you to heaven, He sends you to hell. Through death into life.
On Thy Strong Word, we just wrapped up Genesis and had plenty of perplexing moments, but what an ending! When God decides to save that wretched bunch of sinners known as the children of Jacob, He lets them betray their brother Joseph, sell him as slave, and then in Egypt, falsely accused of attempted rape, tossed into the prison, and then forgotten. And Joseph must have been right there with St. Paul wondering what on earth God was up to? Was this how He would fulfill the great promises He had made? Turns out the answer was yes, as you remember. Joseph exalted, made Pharaoh’s right hand man. And instead of getting even with his brothers, he forgives them. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, for the saving of many lives alive!
And then we take the Gospel and hold it up to that story and we go: Wow! Jesus’s cross. His horrible suffering and death. His cry of abandonment from Psalm 2: Eli, eli lama sabachthani? And yet through the darkness, the suffering, the death, the perplexity, God was busy doing His life-giving job for the very ones who caused the suffering. Even for you and me!
Paul sees this wild way God has of working to be the literal pattern of our life in Christ. It’s not just how He worked in Joseph’s life. Not just how He wrought our salvation in Christ. It’s how He still chooses to work in us. Listen again:
We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus too may be shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Yes, there’s a lot of perplexing things in Scripture, and a lot of perplexing things in how God governs your life. You who hold the treasure of Jesus in your earthenware jars, baptized into His name, see the Scriptures and your very life illumined by the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ: God puts to death in order to make alive. Under the bright light of the hope of the resurrection, you receive the hardships of your lives just like St. Paul received the hardships of the apostolic ministry. Even when there are no answers to your problems, you do not despair. You know the end of His work in you will be glorious! To our ever-living and reigning Lord Jesus, be all the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn 538 “Praise Be to Christ”
Responsive Prayer I, p. 282