New Life, Inside!
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
April 15, 2018
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:5 (MSG)
13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
5 1-5 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
I love Paul’s giddiness this morning in our text. I chose the Message version to emphasize this point:
“We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life.”
When the message is this exciting, there is no containing oneself. I think we all can relate to this at one time or another. The news is so good,
· the announcement of the birth of a child, our a grandchild,
· that promotion at work or new job,
· that unexpected grade or comment,
· that visit or phone call with exciting news,
· you name it, it cannot be contained!
But what specifically was Paul not able to “keep quiet” about? To understand that we need to go back to verse 6 just prior to our text where Paul explains:
“It started when God said, “Light up the darkness.” And our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.”
Paul realized that something had happened inside of his heart – a Light had been lit! A healing had taken place. An inner change had occurred.
What Paul had experienced was very similar to someone we are very familiar with in Quakerdom – and that is George Fox, the founder of our society of Friends. Here is his experience in his own words,
“Christ it was who had enlightened me, that gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope…revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and his grace, which I found in the depths and in weakness.”
Fox’s experience was very similar to Paul’s. And let’s be honest, with all these “aha” moments and enlightenments there must be a back story.
Fox said, “I found” this “in the depths and in weakness.” If you have ever taken the opportunity to read George Fox’s Journal you will find it paints a picture of struggle, development, and slow painstaking growth. Fox says this in his journal,
“But my troubles continued, and I was often under great temptations, and I fasted much, and walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and went and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came in; and frequently in the night I walked mournfully about by myself, for I was a man of sorrows in the times of the first working of the Lord in me.”
Paul described a similar experience just before our text today in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (again let me read it from the Message).
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
Folks, in this world there is going to be suffering.
· For some of us it is going to be physical suffering.
· For others of us it is going to be mental/spiritual anguish (the sorrowful life that George Fox described).
· And still others it may be persecution for what we believe and think.
Yet, I don’t want to dwell on this aspect very long, because the HOPE is so evident in each of these stories.
The HOPE that the Apostle Paul and George Fox experienced is the very life God is working to bring to fruition in our lives!
George Fox was enlightened – and found grace and the revelation of God’s own spirit within him and it moved him to change his world.
Paul and the people of Corinth realized that God had not left them, even though they were broken completely. They were coming ALIVE from the inside and it moved them to change their world.
The good news in all of this is that it is coming alive in each of us, as well!
Our suffering in this world is being transformed into vibrant LIFE – if we are willing to see it and go through it.
When God breaks through – when the light comes on in our hearts – when brokenness starts to heal – we become like Paul exclaiming “I can’t keep quiet!”
That may sound a bit weird for us quiet, contemplative, silence-loving Quakers. I rather like to think that Paul was beginning to quake in the spirit (as we say). He was being nudged to speak out to allow what God had put in his heart to be spoken aloud. Much like when you or I are in waiting worship and we begin to feel uncomfortable – you know that feeling – when God has put something on your heart to say, and you begin to kind of quake inside – until finally you have to stand and share what God has put on your heart with the gathered meeting. Often those moments are life giving and life altering and filled with hope!
This is what Paul and George Fox and many since them have experienced.
When our faith is bolstered, our life has meaning, it is then that our light begins to burn brightly! As our text said for this morning…
“Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!”
Folks, this is what I sense and believe is happening right here at First Friends!
Because when you and I see it begin inside ourselves – soon we realize that we cannot contain what God is doing. The light that goes out of this place each week in the lives of each of you is making a difference in Greater Indianapolis.
Yet, please understand, as our examples have shown us, this is always a process to get to that place. I’ll be honest, sometimes my Inner Light is rather dim – it seems at times to have even gone out. Maybe that is because life is often harder than we expect or that we allow our life to snuff out the joy building up in our hearts.
Life throws us troubles, brokenness, sorrow, and pain…you know what it is for you.
And Paul knows we at times just want to give up. Listen again to what he said,
“…we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.”
· Maybe you feel like you are getting too old, that you are worn out, that life is just not working out the way it used to.
· Maybe you feel like you are falling apart emotionally or spiritually, and you can’t seem to keep it together.
· Maybe the plight of struggling people in our world, our current political situation, the onslaught of 24/7 media has you feeling down and defeated.
· Maybe you are failing at work, or desperately in need of a new job or career, and simply just trying to make it.
· Maybe life makes no sense right now from the outside.
Paul and George Fox both say that no matter what is happening on the outside, God is still at work – working on you from the inside to make new life come forth.
The text says, “Not a day goes by without God’s unfolding grace.” Do we notice it?
Folks, let’s be honest…that is something to be excited about. That is something to proclaim.
· God is still at work in your heart.
· God is preparing you right now – in this present moment – for all that God has in store for you.
· God is birthing NEW LIFE inside of you at all times. This is what our personal incarnation looks like!
The question that we have to ask ourselves is…
Will we recognize God making that new life in us…or will we ignore it, suppress it, neglect it, even stifle it…by not responding to that of God inside ourselves?
We are so concerned as Quakers about seeing that of God in others – but have we seen that of God in ourselves, first?
We may not be able to see all that God is doing – or has been doing – right now. But as God works in our hearts, incarnates himself inside of us, and turns on that light within us, we begin to see the eternal being birthed inside us. This isn’t something for when we die, no this is the life we have been called to now. This life God is working inside us to bring us alive so that others can come alive as well.
It is what I believe Paul grasped when he wrote the words in 1 Corinthians 13:12:
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”
Most people take those words to mean someday – or in heaven. But I think God is incarnating himself in us as we speak. Right now, things that were unclear are being worked out. The fog is lifting, the hope is shining inside of you! And as we share that light inside each of us – others begin to see God more clearly as well!
Looking back on my own life (something I suggest you do every once and a while – like, at least once a year), I always find how much I have changed and grown. I see the places where God has turned on a light inside of me and it could not be contained.
I remember a conversation with a friend in my driveway during high school that changed my view of the role of women in leadership in the church. God was turning on a light inside of me. It took several more years for me to acknowledge it – but I had to make some changes in my life to be a voice for women in leadership.
I remember reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown on vacation one summer and weeping as God enlightened me to the plight of the Native people’s in our country. That was only the beginning of an ongoing discovery of the plight of other people groups in our history that are still suffering from genocide, racism, misogyny, and lack of basic civil rights.
I remember when my views began to change on LGBTQ rights and I found the light inside guiding me to stand with, instead of against -- and beginning to understand because of the persecution I, myself, endured in welcoming and affirming these friends.
And these are just a few of the many times God has turned on the light inside my heart and I could not, like Paul keep quiet! NOT ON MY LIFE!
So to conclude this morning, I want to share with you a favorite poem by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim theologian and Sufi mystic (which many consider the Quakers of the Muslim faith). In this poem Rumi shares a dialog with Love (who I believe we could call God). The interaction illustrates well all I have pointed out this morning. May you sense what Paul, George Fox and Rumi sensed inside of them – coming alive this morning!
i was dead
i came alive
i was tears
i became laughter
all because of love
when it arrived
my temporal life
from then on
changed to eternal
love said to me
you are not
fit this house
i went and
to be in chains
you are not
fit the group
i went and
you are still
imagination and skepticism
i went and
and in fright
from it all
you are a candle
gathering every one
i am no more
a candle spreading light
i gather no more crowds
and like smoke
i am all scattered now
you are a teacher
you are a head
and for everyone
you are a leader
i am no more
not a teacher
not a leader
just a servant
to your wishes
you already have
your own wings
i will not give you
and then my heart
pulled itself apart
and filled to the brim
with a new light
overflowed with fresh life
now even the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
i have become
the giver of light”