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Sermon for Ordinary 10

Paul and his Tent

The Reverend Canon Charles Royden

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

I was reading the news this week when I saw the headline ‘A Louisiana televangelist is convinced that God wants him to own a fourth private jet.’ Now you and I know that you have to be careful when you read headlines in newspapers. Sometimes the real news is almost the opposite of the real story. So I went to the website of the TV Evangelist Jesse Duplantis to watch his TV programme in which he was speaking to viewers about his jets. What he wants is to own a Falcon 7X, a luxury plane that’s reported to be worth at least $54 million. He was on the website with fellow evangelist Kenneth Copeland speaking about how God wants them to have their own private jets. Duplantis claims he needs the private plane with seating for up to 19 and an optional onboard shower to efficiently spread the gospel.
“I really believe that if Jesus was physically on the Earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey,” Duplantis said in a May 21 video posted on his website. “Think about it for a minute. He’d be in an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world.” Hhe said that God spoke to him and told him that he was to have the plane and his friend Kenneth said that it would be wrong to get on a normal airplane because it would be like 'getting in a long tube with a bunch o demons.'

All kinds of things come to mind when you watch these programmes, the exploitation, the greed. I was reminded about the Apostle Paul who we have been studying in the Bible Study Series over the last two weeks and I decided that I would look at his text this morning from Corinthians. You see what made me think of Paul was that he travelled around just like those Amercan TV Evangelists. It is said his mission tours took him over 13,000 miles and many of those were extremely difficult and dangerous journeys. We know that he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten up and generally worn out as he travelled around. We often speak of Pax Romana and how the peace which Rome brought enabled the gospel to spread. Well indeed that is true but we must not get carried away, the world was still a very violent place and Paul suffered beatings and imprisonment and was eventually probably beheaded in Rome under Pax Romana. He had no jet, he never asked people to become send cheques to pay for his lavish lifestyle. Indeed he was proud of the fact that he worked with his own hands on a trade. He was a tent maker he would have worked with canvass and leather to make all manner of things probably from tents and canopies to scenery for the theatre.

He was an incredibly brave and courageous man, he changed from being the great persecutor and killer of Christians into the strongest advocate for Jesus. He spread the Good News Gospel that all people could become Christians without the need to become Jews and it is down to his work that Christianity came into being, as opposed to what Jesus left behind which was a sect of Judaism.

We don’t preach on the Epistles very often these are those letters in the New Testament written mostly by Paul or attributed to him, written to young Christians communities by Paul or his group. So this week I want us to turn to the letter to the Corinthians which we have in our readings. Paul was writing to a church which he had established in Corinth. Corinth was a most unlikely place for the Christian message to take hold. The people there were surrounded by a strong influence of other gods, not least the impressive temple of Aphrodite where you went to worship by having sex with the hundreds of male and female prostitutes. It was a cosmopolitan port with temptation everywhere and for a church to take root was a miracle.

We know that Paul loved the people there and yet when he left things started to fall apart and others came along and challenged his authority. He felt undermined and had to talk about his bodily appearance which was unimpressive or even weak. These churches which Paul established were full of the same kinds of problems which we have in our churches today. Just because a church was started by the Apostle Paul didn’t mean that there were no problems. There were breakdowns in the way worship was conducted and it wasn’t just that some people didn’t like the hymns, in the Corinthian church there were people getting drunk at communion !

Paul had amazing courage and leadership, he had used this to track Christians down and kill the Christians, with this dramatic change of heart and mind he became the most amazing apostle. He might not have been a brilliant orator but he had a brilliant mind and that enabled him to write these amazing letters to the churches. Remember he was not writing systematic theology, an organised body of material to say how to be a Christian. He was instead writing letters to specific churches with particular problems. So his writings should not be understood as God’s eternal message for Christendom.

In your Bible notes this week I mention how he wrote to the Christians at Corinth about women in worship and how they should not speak. We know that this was in response to a problem in that church and that was how he proposed to resolve it. However we also know that this was not intended to be his authoritative prescription for all women in all churches because we know that Prisca and Phoebe were both leaders in the church who Paul encouraged. But such has been the influence of Paul that people have thought that if they could show Paul agreed with their particular prejudice you could claim divine approval. Things he wrote have had huge significance and influence throughout the last 2,000 years. We reflected in our study group this week that men still do not wear hats in church, and many women do, because of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about headgear.

So it is that we look on this small man who was a giant of the church and who stands out in history as the most influential person after Jesus. But today I want us to think of him in a slightly different way as well.
In Chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians which we read today we see Paul write twice using the words
We do not lose heart.
In Chapter 4 Verse 1 he says
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

We do Paul an injustice if we think that there were times when he was not tempted to lose heart as we are. He was just like the rest of us. He would have felt despondent feared for his life and the lives of his friends. He faced all manner of dangers and he would have been ill and weak at times, and feel like he couldn’t go on. In the passage today he gives a very graphic description of things were going for him physically. Remember he was a tent maker by trade and for the decay he feels in his body he says it is like the tent is wearing out. The canvass has worn thin, the colour is faded the ropes are frayed and missing. This tent is passing its useful life and for Paul he feels that his body is the same.

He describes that he feels as though God’s treasure is in clay jars. When you look at archaeologists digging around Jerusalem one of the things they always seem to find is clay jars, but they are broken clay jars. Clay jars were cheap, you didn’t keep things in clay jars because they got broken and thrown out. Paul says that we are like clay jars, but God puts his treasure inside us and in so doing shows that it is not something good about us which causes the Gospel to have power. It is all down to God.

Paul might have been unimpressive in appearance, but God’s treasure was inside him and that had power to change lives and start churches and do amazing things. It never made him immune form physical pains and human assaults, but still God’s power spoke through him. Iin his mission and ministry Paul drew strength from God promises. If he relied purely on human resources then the game would have been up for him.
Paul is filled with hope. The God who raised Jesus is at work in us - we should have hope. Trust in God's promises for the future

All things being equal, this sounds like the rhetoric of a defeated man. But “defeat” is a far cry from Paul’s tone here. Yes, it is at least as bad as Paul describes it here, but yet he is able to dismiss all that as 'a light and momentary affliction.' Really?! Sounds miserable enough to me. How can Paul keep his chin up, keep going, carry on for the kingdom of God when his earthly tent is in undeniable tatters? Because through Christ Jesus he knows a larger truth: there is a divine Tentmaker who is even now designing and fashioning something quite wonderful for us all. This earthly tent is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.

Fixing our eyes on the eternal things of Christ helps us to not lose heart, not ultimately, not finally, not as the last word on anyone’s life. Few people need a preacher to convince them that our earthly tents waste away in one form or another. What they need is the Good News that we possess inside our saggy tents an eternal life. The Good News that there is a heavenly Tentmaker who has prepared for us new tents that will not wear out. This tent is not God's final word, so for those who are discouraged at the death of a loved one, or mourn for the passing of a freind, or who fear the oncmong and relentless march of time, we are not to lose faith in God's promise of eternal life.

 

Henri Nouwen
The sister said to the brother, ‘I believe there is life after birth.’ Her brother protested vehemently, ‘No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing to do but cling to cord that feeds us.’ The little girl insisted, ‘There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light, where there is freedom to move.’
The sister continues to try and and convince her brother of what is to come, to no avail.