Lectionary Year B
July 9, 2000
2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Step VI: Contemporary Address

NB: As an exception to the rule of not publishing a step VI sermon text without the fruits of steps I-IV we are offering the following on the basis of the disclosures in this communique, which we wish to support:

(BE) I am writing to you from Brazil.(1997) Today I am in Brazil on a mission trip. Things are great. Loving my time here. I have preached here once on 2 Cor. 12 and am sending that text now. I will write down the actual exegesis later. I am going to preach on it two more times in the next two Sundays, a different message each time, and will try to send each to you for the web page.


The context of this sermon is a small Brazillian congregation starting a new church in Fortaleza, Brazil. They are poor and could never have completed this building even within ten years without our assistance. They are sponsored by a larger church in Purimbo, Fortaleza. Within a 3km space there are 250,000 people. Mission outreach is a hallmark of this place.


"The Crossroads at Our Horizon"

      In the book of Revelation, John was commanded by the Christ to write a letter to seven churches. Each one of these letters begins by establishing the authority of the Message-Giver; then it offers praises to the church; and finally it points out a problem. Had such a letter been written to the Presbyterian churches in Fortaleza it might sound like this: "These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perserverance. I know your afflictions and your poverty. You have persevered and endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary. You have welcomed strangers and treated them with loving kindness. Yet I hold this against you: When the strangers from Tuscaloosa came to visit, you made them work with their finger nails." Obviously, I am just joking with you and am in fact speaking in human terms, from a human perspective. That is the best any of us can do, to speak from a human perspective, but the question is: should we be limited in this life by the boundaries of that perspective, by the horizons of our strength? Should we settle for what we can do or should we strive to experience and to live a life which lies over the horizons of our strength?

      In our passage, the Apostle Paul is struggling with the limitations of a human perspective. The church in Corinth has accepted the very human boastings of some "super-apostles." We experience this even today. Sometimes they are claims made by a church, sometimes by a person, but always centered away from Christ and towards the self: self- elevating, self-serving.. I don't know what your examples of this might be, but I'm sure they would not differ significantly from ours. Take as an example the construction that our team is doing. We have worked very hard these past few days and so it is only natural to be proud of that work. We say things like, you should have seen the rock that I moved, it was huge, or, wow - we really got a lot done today. Ironically, as we arrive we are greeted by three workers, as we labor they take the hardest jobs, as we leave they remain, and when we come back we benefit from the work they have done in our absence.

      Similarly, the "super-apostles" of the church in Corinth have no difficulty in finding achievements of which to boast. But it is Paul who established the church, Paul who continues to work for it, and Paul whose work benefits these imposters to the faith. And Paul, must make a decision: should he play the fool and boast of the things which he has accomplished thereby gaining the human confidance of the church at Corinth and rescue them from the corruption of the "super-apostles" or should he refuse to proclaim his achievements and risk losing them? Paul is at a crossroads, the one that comes when we must decide where to place our faith and trust. In our own designs or in those of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where do you place your faith and trust? Is it in the size of your congregation, the achievements of your pastor or church, the programs you sustain, the church you are building, or is it the well-springs of life-giving water of our Lord Jesus Christ? Our church is also facing a building campaign. Just yesterday, we received an e-mail message to the effect that construction has begun there as well. If you ask me, we have taken off a bigger bite than we can chew. If you ask me, the pledges we have obtained are not sufficient security to go forward with this project. If you ask me, this project will saddle our church in Tuscaloosa with an unmanageable debt service within the next two years. But, if you ask me should we go forward with the project? Yes - Why? Because our horizons don't stop at the boundaries of our strength and power. Am I crazy? Last February, our church held its World Missions Conferance to raise money for this trip. We needed to raise over $30,000 to make it happen. We also needed people to pledge to the building campaign and to give money to the regular operating budget of our church. The average amount of money that had been raised in years past through this conference was $17, 000. We had to send Guido the money for the property, we had to purchase $17,000 worth of airline tickets. After the conference we had about $10,000 pledged. If you ask me, should we go forward with the project? Yes - Why? Because our horizons don't stop at the boundaries of our strength and power. This congregation, Nova Metropole, and Purim Boo. If you ask me they can't possibly make a significant difference in Fortaleza. If you ask me, the building for your congregation will never be completed within the next two years or even ten, assuming that the city will bend the rules of construction in your case.

      If you ask me, your efforts are not sufficient. But if you ask me, should you go forward with this project? Yes. Because the horizons of this effort do not stop at the boundaries of our strength and power.Paul understood this to be true, and he understood that those boundaries that we face serve as our greatest allies. They serve us because they allow us to see that the glory is the Lord's, and that the glory is not hidden from us but is before us and with us and after us, carrying us over the horizons of our strength to new places and opportunities. Paul faced a crossroad with the church in Corinth and he faced it by choosing to delight in his own weaknesses because it is there and only there that Christ's power could rest on him. Are you facing a crossroad today. It could be that the horizon for you seems to be coming up quickly. But if you ask me - the Lord said to Paul "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

God bless you all in your laboring with the Lord.--


The Lion of Judah

      The Lion of Judah (pointing to the open door of the church!!!). You see, only the little ones turned to look out the door with wide eyes. The faith of children. Ah, the day will come. The day will come when the Lion of Judah will come again and walk among us. So what is the difference that our religion makes? Why should we bother to work so hard in this life? What is God doing now? There is a once popular song in America in which the chorus is: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle, the Lion Sleeps Tonight. Do you think the Lion is asleep tonight?

      There is good reason to think so. One of the things that is striking to me in driving around Brazil is the number of walls. Every house has a wall with spikes on top and often times with bars on the windows. In a world of walls and bars, can the Lion of Judah be awake?

      There are so many walls which come between us. A big one is the wall of language. As we try and speak to one another, even as this sermon is translated, I am never quite sure whether communication is actually taking place. Even for the ones with us who speak Spanish, there are many "false friends". We have a lot of girls who frequently say "I'm embarassed," which in Spanish is the same phrase for "'m pregnant."

      Many other walls surround us as well. For our group, and yours, there are financial walls which would keep the project at Jardin de Iracema from happening. As I explained to the Jardin de Iracema Church last Thursday, for many months the prospects for paying for this trip where few and far between. This was a considerable source of worry for our financial secretary back home in Tuscaloosa. Is the Lion sleeping?

      In our passage, the apostle Paul is facing some walls as well. In the church in Corinth there are relational walls which have built up because other false apostles have taken Paul's place in his absence. Now as Paul plans to come home to visit that Church, he wonders how he will be received and in what situation he will find the church. In his heart, he must wonder what difference has he made - he must wonder whether he will find there any walls to keep him out. Was the Lion sleeping?

As many of you are aware, this church here at Nova Metropole was visited by a group from our church two years ago in much the same way that we now visit the Jardin de Iracema Church this year. Like Paul, we wonder how you are doing and how your church is bearing its fruit. There are many people back home in Tuscaloosa who left there hearts here with you and within these walls. And we see that the building of this church was not a mistake. We see that you have grown, and that your faith is alive. We see that the Lion is not asleep, He is here in your midst.

      If only Paul could have seen what we see. We come here as though looking through a crystal ball and we see the work of the Lion in the church at Jardin de Iracema. We see the future. Many here look at our group and at the people of Jardin de Iracema, and they see the future for your next congregation becoming a church. There is an expression in the United States: the future is so bright that I gotta wear shades (sunglasses).

      Our passage tells us that Paul was taken up to the third heaven and there he saw and heard things which were too sacred to be uttered here on earth. Perhaps what Paul saw was the mighty way our Lord Jesus Christ would be working in this world. Maybe that vision gave him the strength to continue on in his ministry and mission despite the constant danger. Paul worked very hard, went to prison more than most, was flogged severely and exposed to death again and again. Five time he received the 39 lashes from the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day in the open sea, and more.

      You have the same vision. You are sitting in it now, you are watching it being built around you. And who is the builder? Is it Tuscaloosa Presbyterian Church? Is it the Purimbo Presbyterian Church? No, it is the Lion of Judah. It is the Lion of Judah working through all of us as a community of the faithful, working around our strength and through our weaknesses. Through our financial troubles, through troubles in our community, through troubles in our own faith.

      As Paul discovered in his lifetime, the Lion of Judah prefers to work through our weaknesses. Paul was given a thorn, and he says that the purpose of this thorn in his flesh was to remind him that the Lion of Judah is God, and not Paul. You all know the story of the walls of Jericho that came tumbling down. Those walls, those giant walls of stone and mortar. How big they must have seemed to the people of Israel. How foolish and weak the Israelites must have appeared attacking these great walls with trumpets of praise to God, how foolish they must have felt marching around and around those walls each day without firing so much as an arrow. But they kept marching and marching, and playing and playing, and those walls came down.

      There was an article in your paper today about the residents of Purimbo having to pay money for protection from the gangs. At Purimbo church we saw the young women taking their maternity classes, facing their future alone, and with the responsibility of a child at so young an age. In the community there we saw the government housing in which so many people are being crammed. What should you do? Pick up your trumpets and play. Continue to do the things which standing alone seem like putting a pinch of salt in the ocean. Continue to pray to the Lion of Judah, and keep your faith on Him. There are no false friends in Jesus Christ. The language of Jesus Christ is love, and the language of love is universal. By your actions and by your faith, as weak as these might be, the power of our Lord will be clearly seen.

      While we are here, we are enjoying the sound of the trumpets playing around us, it is pleasant to our ears and it gives us the strength to play our own trumpets more loudly. When we return to our homes in Tuscaloosa, we will tell them of the trumpets you are playing here in Fortaleza, and we will remember the vision we found here among you.

      The song we will play will sound something like this: the walls which face the people of Purimbo are strong, but the Lion of Judah is stronger; the differences between us seemed large, but the Lion of Judah brought us together; the future for Fortaleza - it is in the hands of the Lion, and that gives me joy.

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