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A Fare-Well Sermon

The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, October 23, A.D.2011 – Rev’d Elijah White
first read Psalm 92, Job 38:1-11 & 16-18, 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; hymns 564, 587/1, 562

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I first preached this sermon in S. James Leesburg, S. James Warrenton, and here at Our Saviour back in September of 1968 before taking off for three years’ missionary work in Fiji 10,000 long air miles away -- I never board an airplane without being prepared to die, so I preached it again here on June 13, 1982, before Anita and the girls and I took off for a three-week visit back to Fiji – I preach it again today before taking off for what I hope will be an enjoyable, active, and godly retirement: the same sermon, to remind us all that the Good News of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, whether 43 years ago or 4,300 years in the future, adamantine truth, the Word of God unchanging because God does not change. Doing so I honor a motto I’ve seen in several sacristy vesting rooms: “O priest of God, proclaim the Gospel this day as if it were your first sermon, your only sermon, and your last sermon.” So be it always.

In Second Corinthians S. Paul writes to a congregation who’ve suffered hard times even as he has. In the first chapters he addresses a question crucial to them and to each and every one of us today: ‘How do we keep on going, keep on giving of ourselves, keep on loving, keep on hoping, in a world so painfullty shot through with the works of Satan, sin and death, a world of illness and aging, shipwrecks and accidents, international wars and our own personal failings?’ – the same question posed by the Book of Job, today’s first lesson, where Job has lost everything but his life, his unhelpful ‘comforters’ who spend 30 chapters blaming him, and his worldly-wise wife who challenges him (2:9) “Dost thou still retain thy integrity (thy faith)? Curse God, and die.” Constantly and incessantly we too face the same literally existential question, “How can we hang in there in spite of everything?”

We heard God’s Old Testament answer to Job, chapter 38: explicitly, I am God; implicitly, you are not; inference, Trust Me, I’m in charge. Paul’s New Testament answer in Second Corinthians chapters 3-6 adds the whole new dimension of Jesus Christ.

First he reminds the suffering Corinthians [and us] that we do not have to face this outrageously destructive world alone: God will be with us to uphold us, if we’ll let Him: He even sent His Son Jesus Christ to make sure that we know this saving truth and to make it fully available to us. We need not be in this mortal coil alone, we don’t have to make it all by ourselves on our own abilities we fear may not be equal to the task and the tasks: chapter 3 verse 4, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God, not that we are sufficient of ourselves, [but that] our sufficiency is of God.”

No matter what this world throws at us, including our own errors, failures, weaknesses and sins, we can face the worst with absolute confidence because we trust, not in our own self-sufficiency but in God’s all-sufficiency. God cannot fail, so on His side we cannot finally fail because He will not fail us. Now there’s confidence – and in this confidence we can relax a bit now and look forward to His ultimate victory which will carry us with Him: chapter 3 verse 12, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold;” 4:1, “Therefore we do not lose heart,” Paul writes to the Corinthians’ problems from the midst of his own physical illnesses, dangerous travels, imprisonment, official persecution both by secular and religious authorities.

Like that congregation, like Paul, once we choose God (which really means accepting the fact that God has chosen us to love and even die for, that such faith as we do have is indeed itself a gift from God) then we too, verse 8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed – perplexed, but not driven to despair – persecuted, but not forsaken – struck down, but not destroyed.” That’s how we hang in there through it all.

Paul is a realist – he should be, because like any Christian he learnt from Jesus the master Realist. Paul knows first-hand the sorrows of this uncertain world but he also knows the certainty of God’s higher reality and so, again in verse 16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day, for this slight momentary affliction {by which he means human life in its entirety!} is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” verse 17, bringing us up to today’s text declaring The Good News.

Paul the realist looks around him at raging increasing chaos and writes, 5:3, “Here indeed we groan.” Speaking of these temporary bodies, verse 4, “for while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety,” yet “we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands” [verse 4] “so that what is mortal (look it up: living, but bound to die) may be swallowed up by life” (eternal, perfect, everlasting life in God).

“Swallowed up by life!” There’s the Good Word to hang onto when things look darkest: whatever afflictions, whatever disasters we face in this life, whether thrown at us from outside or brought on from within ourselves, we Christians know that they are transitory: however painful, they are passing by at 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, while we are plugged in to God who passeth not away. “Therefore,” verse 6, “we are always of good courage” – once we get our priorities straight, like an aircraft having to land through thick clouds and squalls, once we get our landing radar signal homed in on God, we press on confidently through the stormy darkness to touch down safely – not flying blind but a guided instrument landing, illustrating verse 7 “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” How can we who routinely place our lives in the hands of fallible mechanical devices and human pilots not place all the more trust in the loving infallible hands of Almighty God? I mean, Whom do you trust?

“Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God,” remember, knowing that “our sufficiency is of God.”

We stand, not on our own merits but on His.

We glory, not in our own worthiness but in that God freely chooses to love us and to forgive us anyway and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This, then, is the word I leave with you – absolute confidence: rejoice, and give thanks, for God is going to win. God has accomplished for us what we could never do for ourselves – He has revealed Himself to us, bared his very heart to us, given Himself for us and to us, on the Cross, in His Holy Communion, in our souls and deepest hearts – our very faith is a gift from God which we can only return to Him in love and service, now and by His mercy forever.

“Swallowed up byTo be sure, the way is often dark before us… but God is with us: what greater gift, guidance, protection can we desire?

We will stumble and fall – only to be lifted up.

We will go astray – only to be sought and found and carried safely Home.

We will know sorrow and pain and failure, betrayal, separation and loneliness and loss – only to be calmed, and healed, and finally cheered by the love of God in Christ.

We will doubt, and question, and complain, and fear, and despair even as the disciples did – only like them to be finally given His peace which passeth understanding, ‘for we have no rest until we rest in Him.’

We will die – only “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

So amidst it all we do stand up for Jesus and sing, “to him that overcometh a crown of Life shall be / he with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.”

“So, we are always of good courage,”

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.