Identity: You’re Sometimes Down, But Not Out
June 21, 2015
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
In front of my grandparents house runs the absolute most wonderfully magical creek! I say that partially because of nostalgia and partially because it was a place where my brothers and I allowed our imaginations to run wild. It flowed through the entirety of their neighborhood and beyond. It probably goes without saying that in the heat of the summer that low lying, cool, gently flowing creek was the absolute best place to explore and play. Rest assured, we were told on many occasions that we were not allowed to play in it, but we did anyway! In the heat of the summer we would climb down into that creek bed that was filled with sand, rocks, moss, surrounded by flood walls, and filled with flowing water. There we would set our imaginations free and there we would work on what we thought was possible. We would gather together rocks and sand and mud. We would pull from trees and bushes around the yard green branches and lively leaves. With all of those materials we would begin our work. With great care we would place the rocks and wedge them into carefully considered spots across the creek. We would use the mud, leaves, and sticks to try and fashion patches for all the minuscule gaps that would inevitably be between the larger rocks we had placed. For hours we would work to stop that creek from flowing. For hours we worked diligently trying to create for ourselves a deep pool of that cool water, that cool water, that would offer us so much sanctuary from the heat of the summer sun. We never succeeded in stopping the creek. Either our construction would give way and the stream would find new gaps or we would simply watch the water level rise the few small centimeters we had built only to rush over the top of our makeshift dam. No matter how diligently or how often we would work we never quite made it to making a deep pool. We never stopped the water for more than a moment.
It is undeniable that there are magnificent moments where we can revel in the certainty of the presence of God in our lives. They are the times where for whatever reason we have gathered that deep pool of God’s grace and feel as though we are able to swim in the assuredness of God’s love. Where the presence of God seems tangible to us and we can cry out with great joy our faith in God. Those moments offer us a deep sense of renewal and can serve to fill our souls. When they happen the ideal would be to never have them end. We hear in those moments God calling us to life and we rejoice! There we find ourselves wishing that we could simply dive into that deep sanctuary of cool water that offers us shelter from the heat of the summer, that we could knowingly rest in the absolute tangible grace of God without it ever becoming intangible.
The realities and surprises of life offer us a painful truth. The dam that holds the deep pool of God’s grace does not always hold. We are not perfect and eventually something happens and a piece of us breaks and the water rushes on through. We are surprised by the realities of the world and we find ourselves facing the fearful uncertainties of life. Someone we love and care for dies, we or someone we know receives a painfully difficult diagnosis, we are submerged in the depths of depression, in a sea of sorrow or sadness, and we can find ourselves grasping for the tangible grace and love of God that had just before seemed so easily found. We wake up to the reality that racism draws into Charleston the shadow of death and the cruelty of violence, and the nightmare that it is only one instance among countless others. In the midst of all of our brokenness we can find ourselves fearing that the grace and love of God which we have experienced so tangibly has run out. Where once we swam in that deep pool now we find the water down to our knees.
Sisters and brothers, Paul knows this uncertainty. Paul writes to the Corinthians the painful realities of his ministry and his life with God. He openly recognizes the difficulty that is “hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger.” Unabashedly, he calls to their attention the pain and verbal abuse, the punishment, anguish, and poverty he has known. The path that he has trod does not only consist of those great moments of joy where the presence of God is clear and undeniable but it is persistently filled with moments where the difficulties of life make themselves known and abundantly clear. Regardless, he claims that these circumstances the “problems, disasters, and stressful situations” that took the form of “beatings, imprisonments, and riots” have been met with “great endurance” despite their difficulty. Paul offers to them all of these examples after imploring the Corinthians to wholly accept the grace of God. After begging them to not accept it vainly, rather to accept God’s grace in a deep and meaningful way. His examples only serve to highlight that as he and his fellow disciples journeyed through the abuse and pain they found themselves finding life and hope and strength in God.
Paul begs them to not receive the grace of God in vain. He does not do so out of some understanding that to receive it whole heartedly would remove from them the pain and difficulty of their struggles and problems. Rather, it is by accepting the grace of God that he has been able to endure so very much. It is through that grace that Paul and his fellow believers have come to find a new hope. They cling to the hope and faith of Jesus and from there the pain and stress, the struggle and anguish they encountered was wrapped up in the great joy of God. It did not mean that everything was alright or that they were always smiling. They found their renewal in the grace of God. Not simply renewal to continue bearing with the realities of life but renewal to change those realities.
This is the great joy of the stream. The waters that flow, the grace that flows, does so without fail. Even when through all of our brokenness the dam fails and there is no longer a deep pool of God’s grace, God is still present. It may be harder to touch, to feel, or to be certain of but the grace of God is still flowing amidst all of our broken pieces. It is a stream that will never stop being poured out. It is beautiful that whenever and wherever the dam breaks, where we are broken, the water of God’s grace flows through and surrounds us.
We bear witness to Paul’s plea. We hear the echo of Paul’s words through time. While they are part of a letter not written for us, while they are written to a community far from Greensboro, N.C. in culture, geography, and time we hear them ring through this space and the call is just as important. People of God, do not receive the grace of God in vain. Be renewed by that ever flowing stream of God’s grace and love that is poured out continually. Be renewed to endure the painful realities but more importantly be renewed to action. Just because the dam is broken does not mean it is beyond repair or reshaping. It does mean that we must honestly look into the gapping holes that have been punched through the dam. It means that we must whole heartedly stare into the gapping wounds of hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, and oppression that all exist with so many others. We must sit in the stream of God’s grace, recognize our wounds for what they are. We must rest in that stream and for a time lament, weep over what has happened. Then, after a time, with God and with one another only after we have clearly seen the depth of brokenness we can begin working to heal that brokenness. Because our identities as children of God means that we are always in the stream of God’s grace. It means that we are always to some degree caught up in the hope that flows in those waters of God’s grace that will never stop flowing. It means that whatever the circumstances we are not satisfied with the status quo of life, rather that we see the brokenness and work with God and each other to seek out God’s kingdom.
So whether we are awash in the deepest pool of God’s grace or we can barely feel the water of the creek over our toes let us work together so that all might find that deep deep pool of God’s love and Grace.