Walk by Faith, not by Sight
2 Corinthians 5:6-21
1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
We are continuing to follow two chapters in 2 Corinthians. Last week we looked at chapter 4, and learned that we are clay jars. Even though we are fragile and prone to brokenness, God chooses to dwell within us. And God sends us out to a fragile world that is also prone to brokenness. Sometimes we receive a difficult call to radical justice. This can be unnerving. But God gives us - fragile clay jars - the strength and courage that we need to bring God’s transforming justice to the world. Today we will be looking at chapter 5 and thinking about executing God’s transforming justice.
Thinking about God’s transforming justice has brought to light the weight of shame I feel at the injustices happening in the United States. Growing up in school, I said the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag every day: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I took that very seriously. That last bit about the United States being a country with liberty and justice for all is embedded deeply in the core of my identity. As I watch what is happening to the United States under the current administration, I see that liberty and justice are being dismantled on all levels, from policy to personal. We have families fleeing for their lives to the United States for safety, only to have the government separate parents from children at the border. We also have deeply embedded racist attitudes given permission to grow and flourish, to the point that white folk shout “Nigger!” to black folk with the antagonism that flourished before the Civil Rights movement. When I look at my country I see that it is in a time of darkness and I often pray the Psalms of Lament: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget us forever? How long will children be separated from their parents?” And the end of Psalm 88, “My companions are in darkness.”
This week I was listing to Krista Tippet’s podcast called “On Being”. In a recent episode she interviewed America Ferrera, who is an actress and an advocate. She said that she saw the darkness in the United States as the darkness of the tomb, that our country is dying. But then her friend said, “What if it’s the darkness of the womb? And we are awaiting the birth of the United States?” (https://onbeing.org/programs/america-ferrera-john-paul-lederach-how-change-happens-in-generational-time-jun2018/)
That’s an encouraging thought. But the thing is, we don’t know. Is this time in the U.S. the eve of going down a very dark path for a long time? Or is it a temporary period of darkness that will force a cultural shift toward a more authentic and long-lasting identity as a country with liberty and justice for all? This uncertainty does two things to me emotionally. I feel a manic urge to do something, anything to fix it and at the same time I feel paralyzed by grief and trapped by the inability to do anything at all.
As we encounter Paul again in 2 Corinthians, in chapter 5, we see him reveal some of these same feelings of action and paralysis. We see his humanity, some of his frailty. We often think of Paul as stalwart and strong, but here, he is fragile. And I want to quote a summary from David Fredreickson in one of my commentaries that describes the contradicting feelings that Paul expresses in the reading this morning. (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3717) Dr. Frederickson is asking Paul about these feelings. He wrote:
“You tell us you are caught both by recklessness and by the coming undone that comes from grief’s just wanting to fall asleep. Reckless, you trip over your own feet rushing forward; yet weighed down, you can’t throw off the bedclothes, can’t sit up, can’t plant your feet on the floor. How is this walking [by faith] possible when you yearn and groan, always about to fall off the edge? You rush onward and you long for rest. Boldness trips up. Sadness paralyzes. In that state, how do you manage to walk so evenly, so temperately?”
Sometimes in life, things happen around us that we have no control over and we feel both reckless and paralyzed at the same time. How do we walk by faith in the middle of this? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, in the middle of his struggle, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Both our 2 Corinthians passage and our 1 Samuel passage talk about the importance of looking not at outward appearance, but instead focusing on the heart, the core, inner things. And it’s funny because our 1 Samuel passage shows us just how hard it is for us to do that. In verse 7, God is giving Samuel advice about how to determine who God is calling to be the next king. God says, “Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And then, in verse 12, how does the Bible introduce David? “Now, he was ruddy [which mean he wasn’t pale; he had colour in his skin], and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” It just goes to show that even when God says, “Don’t focus on the outward appearance,” that this is just what we want to do.
Normally, when we learn about this idea of not looking at outward appearances, but looking at the heart, walking by faith, not by sight, we talk about how this applies to individual people and we are taught not to judge. This is good, true, and right. But today, I want to talk about how this applies to injustice that we see. Just taking the refugee issue, what we see are headlines and heart-shredding photos. We see apathy, we see outrage, we see stubbornness, we see disempowerment. When we focus there, on what we can see about these issues, it’s overwhelming, and I think of Psalm 42:7 when the waves sweep over us and we feel flooded. When we are flooded, we can’t be what God is calling us to be because we are so focused on what we can see that we cannot walk by faith.
Walking by faith and not by sight has a different focus. It starts with remembering what God is calling us to be. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 and 21, God is calling us to be ambassadors for Christ and the righteousness of God. As ambassadors for Christ, we are called to bring the good news about the resurrection of Jesus to the world in word and in deed, and we are supposed to be the righteousness of God. This word that is translated as righteousness has three meanings. First, to live an ethical life, second to be in right standing with God, and third, which is really the primary meaning of the word, to bring justice where there has been injustice. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ AND the righteousness/justice of God. When we think of all this in light of an injustice in the world, and what Paul said in verse 17, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, everything has become new!” What this means is that as we go out as ambassadors for Christ, as we go out as the righteousness of God, we have to follow God so that we can find what can’t be seen and work with God together to bring new life where there has been death, to bring light where there has been darkness, so that the old suffering can pass away and the present can be a new beginning.
Let me tell you a story about walking by faith and not by sight. A story that you all are in the middle of right now. It is quiet. It is patient. When I started a Briarwood a year and a half ago, I learned about the West Island Network of churches. I wasn’t sure how Briarwood fit into it and I started praying for God to help me learn how we fit into this network. I started sending to the Outreach Committee all of the things that the West Island Network was sending to me. There was one thing that resonated with them and the Outreach Committee brought it to you: Big Brothers and Big Sisters knew of a refugee family in crisis who needed help for the 2017/2018 school year. They needed help paying for food for snacks for their children at school, and also needed help paying the school fees and the lunch supervision fees, as well as bus passes for the mother. The Outreach Committee asked you once for money to help this family and you gave over $1,000 and we were able to help this family with everything they had asked for during their crisis.
During this work of helping this family, we learned that the French school where these children attend had many families in the same situation, who are unable to pay their school fees and lunch supervision fees. I have since learned that this is happening in many, of the French schools. I asked the secretary at my kids’ current school if they have new refugee families this year who can’t pay their fees. She told me that they have 65 newly-arrived families with either refugee or asylum-seeker status. They come predominantly from Nigeria, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Somalia. The secretary told me that they are the people who are walking over the border from the United States into Canada.
I’m grateful for the faithful work of the Outreach Committee quietly, patiently finding out what we can’t see. So that we can walk by faith, they are praying over the summer for God’s guidance so that we can discern how to walk by faith and not by sight. So that we can discern how God is calling us to respond as ambassadors for Christ and the righteousness of God in our local outreach moving forward. I hope that you will pray for wisdom and discernment for our Outreach Committee. The current members are Marilyn Scott, Jim Murray, Fred Goodfellow, Penny Gibb, Stevie and myself.
For me, personally, I see hope for ways that I can be an ambassador for Christ and the righteousness of God, and also to live out the liberty and justice-for-all that is the core of my identity as an American. Helping refugees fleeing from the U.S. into my neighbourhood is something I can do. I’ve been working with my neighbours to raise funds for the newly-arrived refugee and asylum-seeking families who can’t pay their book and lunch supervision fees. In addition to supporting PWS&D, which works to stabilize life for families who live in countries in turmoil prevents people from becoming refugees in the first place. They also help people who are living in refugee camps in other parts of the world. This seems manageable, but at the same time it feels like it is not enough. Another aspect of walking by faith and not by sight, is trusting God. Trusting God enough to do what God is calling us to do, so that we can faithfully do our small part in God’s big work. We can’t see God’s big picture and we can’t see where our small contribution will lead us, but we can walk by faith, trusting that God is leading us on paths of righteousness for God’s name sake. Amen.