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March 8, 2020

Sermon II Corinthians 5:7 . . .“Paul said:  ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’”

“Paul said:  ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’”

II Corinthians 5:7

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

Born in February of 1972, forty-eight year-old Danelle Umstead of Park City, Utah, loves to ski.  In fact, ever since her father first took her skiing back in 2000, her life has never been the same.  She said, “Once I clicked on my boots into the skis, it transformed my life.  It was like a light switch.  I just started living my life, and skiing is the amazing feeling of freedom and excitement and exhilaration and adrenaline, for sure.”

Since then, she not only married a ski instructor, she’s gone on to compete at the women’s slalom, the giant slalom, downhill, and the Super-G.  She won bronze medals in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014.  And after competing in Pyeongchang in 2018, she was also a celebrity contestant on Season 27 of Dancing with the Stars.

There’s just one problem.  She’s blind.  Back in 1985, when she was only 13, she was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition called, “retinitis pigmentosa,” a disease that eventually leads to blindness.  Maybe you can imagine what it’s like to ski downhill at seventy miles an hour.  Think of what it’s like to do it blind.

Her husband and her guide, Rob Umstead, skis some five feet in front of her, and calls out her commands.  He said, “My job is to be her eyes.  I’m basically thinking out loud and telling her everything that’s happening.”  And he said, “If I do my job well and give her a good description, she can be aggressive and really anticipate what’s coming.  If I don’t do my job well, she’s kind of second guessing everything.”

Named “Athlete of the Year” in 2010, Danelle’s motto is, “Living the impossible every day.”

When I think of her, I think of the words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians chapter 5.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1228.  II Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 1:  “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

“So we are always of good courage.  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” (II Corinthians 5:1-7).

I’ll stop there.

It’s been said that the book of II Corinthians, more than any other letter, reveals Paul’s heart.  It’s where he not only opens his heart, but pours it out to the Corinthian believers.  As one commentator wrote:  “More than any of Paul’s other letters, II Corinthians conveys the words of a pastor.  And while Paul has had a rocky relationship with them in the past, he continues to patiently love them.  And even as some question his apostolic authority, he preaches a gospel of reconciliation.”

It’s in this book that we find words like these.  In chapter 2, he wrote:  “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”  In chapter 4, he wrote:  “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”  And he wrote:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

Now here in chapter 5, Paul encourages them and even implores them to look at the world, not with physical eyes, but with spiritual eyes.  And the heart of it is found in the words of verse 7:  “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Think, for a moment, of the things we can’t see, still we know they’re real.  

Think of the wind.  Even though we can’t see it, we can feel the breeze on our cheeks and see how it moves the leaves on the trees.  Blow on a pinwheel or on a dandelion that’s gone to seed, and you’ll know that wind is real.

Think about the air we breathe.  We can’t see it either, but as we inhale and exhale, we know it gives us life.

Think about music.  Though we can’t see it, we can hear the melodies and the harmonies it brings.

And think about bacteria and viruses.  We can’t really see them either, but catch a cold or the flu, and we know they’re real.

So it is with things that are spiritual.  What is sin and grace and love and everlasting life?  Though we can’t see any one of them, we know they’re as real as real can be.

As the writer to the Hebrews put it:  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  And Martin Luther wrote:  “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”

You’ve heard of Nik Wallenda?  He’s an American acrobat, aerialist, daredevil, and high wire artist.  Back in February of 2012, he walked on a tightrope across Niagara Falls.

But he wasn’t the first.  In fact, more than a hundred and fifty years before, way back in June of 1859, a man named Charles Blondin became the first man in history to walk across the Falls.  Over twenty-five thousand people gathered to watch him walk 1,100 feet, suspended on a tiny rope, 160 feet above the raging waters.  Working without a net or a safety harness of any kind, knowing the slightest mistake would prove fatal, he safely reached the Canadian side, as the crowd burst into applause.

And in the days that followed, he walked across the Falls a number of times.  Once he walked across on stilts.  Another time, he took a chair and a stove with him, sat down halfway, cooked himself an omelet, and ate it.  Once he carried his manager, riding piggyback.  And once he pushed a wheelbarrow, loaded with three hundred and fifty pounds of cement.

But one day, when he asked his cheering spectators if they thought he could push a man sitting in a wheelbarrow, the crowd roared in approval.  And seeing a man cheering loudly, he asked, “Do you think I could safely carry you across in this wheelbarrow?”

“Of course I do,” the man answered.

The Great Blondin replied with a smile, “Then get in!”

It’s one thing to believe a man can walk across the Falls by himself, and it’s one thing to believe he could safely carry you across.  But it’s something entirely different to get into the wheelbarrow yourself.

Faith is what singer and songwriter Michael Card once wrote of in the words of a song:  “To hear with my heart, to see with my soul, to be guided by a hand I cannot hold, to trust in a way that I cannot see, that’s what faith must be.”

The sea was quiet now.  There was just enough breeze to push the boat along.

The disciples were quiet too.  Andrew was steering.  He had taken over for Peter, who sat wrapped in a cloak, exhausted and lost in thought.  He was soaked to the skin.  The rest were bailing out the remaining water.

And Jesus was sleeping.  Again.

James knew that sea.  He and his brother John had spent most of their lives either on it, or in it.  Their father, after all, was a fisherman.  So were most of his family and friends.  In his mind, he remembered the faces and the names of those who had lost their lives in its unforgiving waters.

A seasoned fisherman and boatman, he wasn’t alarmed easily.  But he knew a man-eater when he saw one.  And this storm had opened its mouth to swallow them all into its abyss.

He saw the terror in his brother’s eyes when he grabbed him and yelled, “We have to wake the Master!”  Together, they stumbled to the stern.  How Jesus could sleep through a storm like this was beyond wonder.  Still they woke Him shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”

Until the day he died, James would never forget the look on Jesus’ face.  No trace of fear.  Always in command and control.  Afraid that Jesus would be pitched overboard, he reached out to grab Him, just as He shouted:  “Peace!  Be still!”

  And no sooner had those words left His mouth, that the wind died down and it became completely calm.  Each disciple stood right where he was, completely dumbfounded at the water and the sky and what had just happened.

For a moment, Jesus’ gaze lingered on the steep hills along the western shore.  Then He looked around at the Twelve and said, “Where’s your faith?”

Where’s your faith?  When Jesus first said it, he felt its intended rebuke.  He trusted God.  At least, he thought he did.  But the storm proved that all the trust and confidence he felt was nothing more than a fair-weather faith.

But the more he thought about that question, the more he felt chastened and ashamed.  “Where is my faith?” he asked.  It was in what he could see with his eyes, and feel in his heart.  But in that moment, Jesus had changed everything.

That’s when he remembered the words of the psalmist:  “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.  He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired rest” (Psalm 107:28-30).

It’s easy to trust God when the sun is shining and the sea is calm.  But the moment the wind howls and the waves break over the boat, that’s when we need to trust and to not be afraid.

One more thing.  Back in December of 2016, at a little after two o’clock in the afternoon, a ride called, “Sky Cabin,” suddenly broke down at Knott’s Berry Farm, stranding twenty-one people, including seven children, 148 feet in the air.  When firefighters arrived on scene a few minutes later, they tried to reach the passengers using a massive ladder, but it was too short.  So they had no choice but to lower each passenger, one-by-one, harnessed to a single rope, from 148 feet in the air.

Fire Captain Larry Kurtz said, “It sounds scary, but we have very, very strong ropes that have 9,000 pounds of breaking strength on them.”

Imagine you’re one of the passengers, let’s say seven-years-old, and you’re scared.  One hundred and forty-eight feet is a long way down.  Yet with a calm, steady voice, a firefighter looks you in the eye and says, “Trust me.  Your life is very precious to me, and I’ll have you on the ground before you know it.  I won’t let you go.”

What do you do?  Do you stay right where you are, or do you risk trusting him, his harness, and his rope?  He is, after all, your only hope.

But when you do, a few moments later, you land safely on the ground.

Faith isn’t simply a wish, a thought, or an idea.  Faith is powerful, because it rests on a powerful God.  It saved three men from a fiery furnace, and a man named Daniel from a lion’s den.  It made it possible for Peter to walk on water, for Samson to have one last great act of courage, and for a widow’s oil and flour to never run out.  It’s the hand that grasps and the heart that rests on the unchanging, unrelenting promises of God.

As Paul once wrote to the Corinthians:  “So we are always of good courage.  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.”

 

Oh, for a faith that will not shrink, tho’ pressed by many a foe, that will not tremble on the brink, of any earthly woe.  Lord, give us such a faith as this, and then, whate’er may come, I’ll taste e’en now the hallowed bliss, of an eternal home, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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