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June 10, 2018

Sermon II Corinthians 4:17 . . .“Bible places:  a place of testing”

“Bible places:  a place of testing”

II Corinthians 4:17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Ever heard of Underwriters Laboratories?  Actually, you have!  And actually, your life depends on it.  And while the name might not sound very familiar to you, the two letters “UL” probably do.

So what is it?  It’s a company, based on the west side of Chicago, that tests things like lamps, batteries, smoke alarms, and electrical appliances of all sizes, shapes, and kinds.  

It all started more than a hundred years ago, back in 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Apparently Nicola Tesla was lighting up the fair, consuming three times as much electricity as the rest of the city of Chicago, and setting buildings on fire.  And insurance adjusters wanted to know why.

So they hired an electrical engineering grad from MIT, a man named William Merrill, to find out why.

And after discovering quite a lot of short circuits, faulty wiring, and shoddy manufacturing, he thought it’d be a good idea to stay in Chicago and start a business dedicated to testing electrical products and writing safety standards for them.

And as you can imagine, Underwriters Laboratories tests are pretty tough.  For example, every refrigerator that comes in for testing has its door opened 300,000 times, just to be absolutely sure a child could never get trapped inside.  Then they bang it with a heavy metal ball and examine its wires.  They even set it on fire!

They say, “We have to understand what humans do.  And everything your mother told you not to do as a child, that’s what we do here.”

And we’re glad that they do!  So next time you plug in a lamp or a microwave or a toaster or a pizza oven, (and it doesn’t blow up!), you can thank Underwriters Laboratories.

In our second reading for today, the apostle Paul talked about testing too.  Listen again to the words of our epistle lesson, II Corinthians chapter 4:  “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

The church in Corinth was a church in trouble.  If anything could go wrong, it did go wrong.  One commentator wrote:  “The city of Corinth was at the heart of an important trade route in the ancient world.  And like many cities that thrive on trade, Corinth had a reputation for sexual immorality, religious diversity, and corruption.  And the church that Paul planted there floundered under all of these influences and began to divide over various issues.”

There was pride, jealousy, factions, and outright sin.  That’s why Paul wrote in his first letter:  “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  And even now you are still not ready.”

But in this his second letter, he meant to strengthen and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.  That’s why he wrote in this text:  “So we do not lose heart...For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

In his book, In the Eye of the Storm, author Max Lucado writes, “Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming.  One second he was peacefully perched in his cage.  The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.”

It all started when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner.  She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage.  Then the phone rang, and she turned to pick it up.  She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in.

The bird owner gasped, slammed down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and tore open the bag.  And there was Chippie--still alive, but very stunned.

And now that the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced him to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held him under the running water.  Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do--she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering.

“Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore--he just sits and stares.”

It’s easy to understand why.  Sucked in, washed up, and blown over--that’s enough to steal the song from even the strongest heart.

How well any of us know.

Think about the problems we face--single-parent households, drug and alcohol abuse, violence in schools, materialism, lack of education, poor nutrition, conflict, lack of money, lack of energy, and lack of time.  The list could go on and on.  It’s as if there’s a storm raging all around us, and we’re caught up in the middle.

Yet even in the middle of the storm, Peter writes in his first epistle:  “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

In the words of C.S. Lewis:  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.  It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  And in the words of Martin Luther:  “Adversity is the very best book in my library.”

Do this for me--take all the suffering of this life, all the pain, all the heartache, all the rejection, all the misunderstanding, all the evil we encounter, all the hatred directed at us, all the malice we endure, all the sadness, all the tears, all the sleepless nights, all the fear, all the doubt, all the worry, all the confusion, all the perplexity, all the sickness, and all the broken dreams.  Then add it all up, total it to whatever fantastic sum it may come to; then add to that the sadness of every funeral you’ve ever attended at the death of someone you loved, think about all that it’s taken from you, then make that sum as large as you can, and place it on one side of the ledger.

Now place on the other side these things...the Word of God, the promises of God, the love of God, the power of God, the plan of God, the wisdom of God, the kindness of God, the sovereignty of God, and the grace of God.  Then add to that the death of the Son of God with its infinite transforming power toward us who believe, then add to that the resurrection of the Son of God who came from the tomb undefeated, alive from the dead, holding the keys to death and hell, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Factor it all in, then add to that the indwelling of Holy Spirit, the down payment on all the promises that God has made, and the guarantee of our salvation.

Now put that sum on the other side of the ledger.

You do the figuring.  Which is greater?  Your sorrows or the vast and immeasurable promises of God, made in His Word, guaranteed by His Spirit, and purchased for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

On April 5, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for his resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany.  He had spoken out against the Nazis for several years, and it finally caught up with him.  As he saw his country sliding into an abyss, he felt he had to say something.

Then, two years later, just a few weeks from the end of World War II, he found himself in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, facing the death sentence.

On Sunday, April 8th, he led a service for his fellow prisoners.  And shortly after the final prayer, the door opened, and two soldiers entered.  “Prisoner Bonhoeffer,” they said.  “Come with us.”

An English prisoner who survived the war described the moment.  He said, “He took me aside and said, ‘This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.’”

The next day, he was hanged at Flossenburg prison.  The doctor who witnessed his death called him brave and composed and devout to the very end.  He said:  “Through the half-open door, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer still in his prison clothes, kneeling in fervent prayer to the Lord his God.  The devotion and evident conviction that I saw in the prayer of this intensely captivating man moved me to the depths.”

God isn’t looking for educated people.  And neither is He looking for rich people, talented people, or beautiful people.  

Instead, He’s looking for those who have passed through all the trials and troubles this world has to offer, yet are stamped for all to see, “Tested and approved by God.”

In the words of James:  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

 

Dear Father, You have promised that no test we face is more than we can bear.  Give us the grace and the strength we need, that we may stand firm in Your Word and will, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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