The Reverend John Allison
Proper 6B, June 13, 2021
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Christ Church, Hudson
“We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
These words from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians speak to the age-old dichotomy of matter versus spirit, of the material versus the immaterial—of body and soul. I say “age-old” because the question of how we are to inhabit these bodies and at the same time yearn toward God’s promise of salvation and release from suffering is one that is still very much with us, just as it was for Paul’s original readers. Indeed, Paul often writes of this split between body and soul, and his words are sometimes interpreted as favoring the spiritual over the physical. Some early Christian sects even used his words to support their belief that the material world was evil, that our bodies are evil, and that we are just biding our time here on earth until we can go be with the Lord. I would venture so far as to say that there are some contemporary groups of Christians who believe something very similar. We even see this dichotomy in contemporary arguments between science and religion with some believing you cannot be both scientific and religious because, after all, Paul says, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”
To see this split in such stark terms, however, as an either/or proposition is to deny a central aspect of our faith—God comes to us not as spirit but in the flesh, in the person of Jesus: in the Incarnation. Ours is an embodied faith.
I’ve been thinking much this week about what that means in world where suffering abounds, where so much is not right: war, famine, poverty, disease, systemic racism and evils of all sorts that make life difficult to say the least. What does it mean, in such a world as ours, to say that God is with us? What does it mean to say, we walk by faith and not by sight?
For some critics of our faith, to walk by faith and not by sight means that we Christians have our heads in the sand. Or that Paul’s assertion that we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord means our eyes are so focused on the heavenly realms that we fail to be present to what is happening all around us. But no, that is not our faith. That is not the new creation that we are called to be.
Paul says, from now on, in this life of Resurrection, we regard no one from a human point of view. We see with new eyes. In Christ’s resurrection everything old has passed away; everything has become new. A human point of view, as Paul understands it, cannot get beyond the suffering, the seeming hopelessness, and sees the world with a kind of sneer. With cynicism. With disdain even. To see with new eyes, to be God’s new creation, is to embrace God’s hope now. To see with new eyes is to see evil unmasked and seek to live into God’s goodness and peace—now in this world.
Waiting for God’s judgment is not about waiting for God to act. God has already acted in Christ, and our call is to participate. We are called to act, to enact what the Kingdom of God envisions for our world—justice and righteousness for all.
In our better moments, we do that. We minister to those in need. We witness to God’s all-inclusive love through our embrace of the stranger. We proclaim the Gospel with our actions and in our lives. We do all these things, faithfully, even though there are times that the world’s suffering overwhelms us and our actions seem to make little difference. But it’s here, in those moments where what see around us, the brokenness and discord, is most discouraging, that we walk by faith and not by sight. We trust that God’s Kingdom has come. As Jesus says in our Gospel today, the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.
The Kingdom of God is not about us achieving righteousness on our own by doing good deeds that allow us to earn a reward later. No. It’s about receiving God’s righteousness, God’s love, as a gift that is to be shared. That is the end point toward which we are all traveling. It’s not always easy to see and we don’t know the details of how it will happen but, in being faithful, in trusting God’s vision for us, we become agents of the Kingdom.
There is a series of children’s stories called Frog and Toad, and in one of the stories Frog gives Toad some seeds to plant. He tells him, you’ll have a garden quite soon but also cautions him that gardening is very hard work. Toad plants the seeds and then sternly says, “Now seeds, start growing.” They do not. He repeats the order again and again but nothing happens. Frog tells him the seeds are not growing because his shouting and ordering them to grow frightens them. He says, just leave them alone and let the sun and the rain do their work.
But Toad doesn’t hear that last part about letting the sun and rain do their work. He only hears that he is frightening them so he begins a whole series of actions that he thinks will calm the seeds and encourage them to grow. He reads them stories, sings them songs, quotes poems to them. He even lights candles at night so they won’t be afraid of the dark. He does this until he is completely exhausted and falls asleep. When Frog returns he finds Toad still sleeping and the garden flourishing. When Toad wakes up and sees the plants growing he’s elated but says, you right, it was very hard work. Of course, the lesson is that all the hard work had nothing to do with the growing.
God’s work is a mystery. It comes, the farmer “knows not how.” We may be anxious. We may be discouraged at times over what looks like a complete lack of progress toward God’s kingdom. But we trust. To walk by faith and not by sight is to trust that God’s love is at work in the world even when it is not obvious to us. It doesn’t relinquish us from God’s call to us. Quite the contrary. It’s in those moments when we can accept that God is working in us even when we can’t see it, that we are at home with the Lord—that we have found a home in God and that God has found a home in us. It’s when we trust that small seed of faith that God plants in our hearts will grow into something much larger that we glimpse the new creation we are in Christ. May we all have perseverance to live in hope for God’s future, to trust that through God working in us we may be more than we can ever ask or imagine. Amen.