Afflicted But Not Crushed

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
October 4, 2015 – World Communion Sunday & Jo Wasson’s Birthday
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

“Afflicted But Not Crushed”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

I love these celebrations of people’s special days, don’t you? It started two weeks ago with Ruth Ann’s 90th birthday celebration. And last week, during Fellowship Time, when Fern Imbody said to Bev Turner, “Aren’t we doing something for Jo Wasson’s birthday?” and Bev came to me, and I went to Fern, and it was settled! Daniel and Fern signed up to provide food and decorations—thank you, Daniel and Fern and your family!—and a team went to work to get me Jo’s favorite hymns and favorite scripture, and here we are! Happy 86th birthday, Jo! It was your birthday on Thursday, and we’re all going to head downstairs after worship and help you celebrate your birthday week! Because your birthday week last year wasn’t quite so pleasant, was it? (We’re going to come back to that.)

But while we’re on the topic of people and events to honor, Bev and I also learned last Sunday that Daniel and Fern Imbody (our Fellowship hosts today) are moving back to Pennsylvania in early November. So we also decided to honor them, on the last Sunday of October—October 25—with a special service in their honor, and a potluck for fellowship afterward. I’ve got their favorite hymns and scripture from them already, and I’m sure we will all pitch in to provide a wonderful celebration that they don’t have to provide J to send them on their way.

(While I’m in “announcement mode”—October 25 is the day we will also be receiving new members into this congregation. Four people have approached me already about joining, and if you would like to be added to the group, please let me know.)

Now, at last, on to our scripture—the scripture Jo chose as the one that has meant the most to her. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

We all know that around this time last year, Jo Wasson suffered a major stroke. I was the first one there at the hospital with her that day—grateful to have received the call—and glad that I was in town, especially because Kevin and Cathe and Dru were not. I was there with Jo when the doctors explained to her the procedure they could do—but they had to do it right away if they were going to do it at all!—that could possibly restore some of her physical capability. I was there when Jo said yes to that procedure. Of course Jo said yes to that procedure. Because Jo is a fighter. She is not a quitter. And she was not going to give up on life just because of a stroke. If there was something that could be done to keep her going, by all means she was going to have it done. And, to a large degree, it worked. Jo has full use of the left side of her body, full use of her mental capacity, partial use of the right side of her body, and some ability to express herself with her voice. And those who know her well would also tell you that she has pretty much retained the ability to fully express herself, even without the use of speech!

Take, for example, the day I visited her in her home about a week and a half ago. She knew I was coming, and so she had, sitting on her dining room table, the scrapbook she had made about a year or two after the death of her beloved husband Doug. She had pulled that out specifically to share it with me. And we spent the next hour and a half looking through the pages, Jo reminiscing and me living for the first time their many years together of faithful and selfless ministry to the body of Christ in several states, spanning several decades, in a variety of ministry settings and capacities. They were advocates for the Heifer Project, La Puente, and various hunger-relief causes. They were pastors at the Church at Woodmoor in Monument and other churches; they were leaders and teachers at Bible colleges. They were recognized for their true ecumenical spirit, their deep commitment to building up, not tearing down.

And there were the cards. From Doug to Jo, on birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day—sweet, tender, sentimental. Cards of commitment and love, and praise to God for bringing them together … and there was that one unsigned Valentine card that Doug had bought for Jo but had not had a chance to sign because his stroke occurred on Valentine’s Day, that year. Doug was with Jo for quite some after that, and she cherished those days—cherished them enough to spend many hours after he was gone compiling that great book in his honor, in his memory, as a tool of closure for her.

And Jo has chosen as her favorite Bible passage, the words of the Apostle Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not despairing. Persecuted but not forsaken. Stricken but not destroyed. Why? Because even though we carry in our bodies, in our lives, experiences that sometimes feel like death, we must remember that death did not keep Jesus down! Even though we carry the marks (in Greek, the stigmata, source of our word “stigma”), of Jesus, we must remember that he overcame those marks; he rose again from that suffering; and in his power, with his help, so can we.

The Apostle Paul, of all people, had justification to get down in the dumps. Later in 2 Corinthians, he described what he had been through for the cause of Christ: “Five times I have received thirty-nine lashes. [That’s because it was illegal to give forty.] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from [strangers], danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” The Apostle Paul clearly bore the death of Jesus in his body, amen?

Few, if any, of us will most likely be called upon to endure such things. Few, if any, of us will most likely be called upon to give our lives for Jesus. I can’t imagine the terror those courageous students felt when the shooter in Roseburg, Oregon, said to them this week, “Are you a Christian? Good, because you’re gonna see God in about a second,” just before he pulled the trigger. I pray to God that none of us will be called upon to go through something like that.

But that’s not to minimize the impact on our daily lives of the things we do go through. Any combination of factors in life can conspire to make us feel like the bottom is falling out. And we’re holding onto the sides but somebody smeared them with motor oil, so it’s impossible to get a grip. And below us is a giant porcelain bowl that’s making a deafening whooshing sound. Sometimes things just do not look promising for us. But in Jesus, we are overcomers. With Jesus, we can find that “peace that passes all understanding”—peace that surpasses anything we can understand or reason through. Peace that defies logic. With God’s help, the life of Jesus can shine through in the times we feel like we’re dying. We don’t have to go it alone. Because he already went there—for us. Jesus has been there, done that, and bought us the tee-shirt, amen?

Every day, in our Christian journey, we don’t have to go it alone. And that’s what’s so beautiful about the church. The Rev. Frank Schaefer writes about how 1st-century Christians were regarded as a “new race,” a “third race,” because of their intense love for one another. They truly were one, just as Jesus prayed (a phrase that I love, from this congregation’s Bylaws). The fact that this unity was observed in the early church—even from people on the outside who had never witnessed that kind of behavior before—is evident in a letter that is extant from the early 2nd century. The letter is titled The Mystery of the New People. We don’t know who wrote the letter, but it was addressed to Diognetus, a Roman official at that time. The author writes:

To His Excellency, Diognetus: I understand, sir, that you are really interested in learning about the religion of the Christians, and that you are making an accurate and careful investigation of the subject … You would also like to know the source of the loving affection that they have for each other.

         The author goes on to explain that that source, of course, is love, and that love, of course, is because of Jesus. Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of John, prayed to his heavenly father that his followers would all be one, and in the 1st century at least, they were living that out. They were holding each other up in prayer, in words of encouragement and exhortation, so that they, like Paul, would be, when afflicted, not crushed. When perplexed, not despairing. When persecuted, not forsaken. When stricken, not destroyed. … So that they would all be one.

Today is also World Communion Sunday. It’s the day each year that tens of thousands of Christian brothers and sisters around the world come to the Lord’s Table to remember our Lord, to celebrate his victory over death, and to proclaim his message of love, of unity, of inclusion: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes shall be saved!” Whosoever! Anyone who believes! That’s what it means to be the church!

Schaefer writes, “We are all children of God. We are to be one in Christ; we are to be the new race made up of a multitude of diverse people. We are one, and in our oneness lies our strength; in our oneness will the world see the difference in us; through our love will the world see the love and grace of Jesus Christ.”

Let us pray:

Almighty and Ever-Present God, on this World Communion Sunday, help us examine our hearts. We confess our sins to you. We are truly sorry for our wrongdoings and shortcomings, for sins of commission and sins of omission. Forgive us, we pray, in Christ’s name.

Empower us to serve you fully, to share the resources we have with those who have less, to weep with those who weep, and to laugh with those who laugh. Help us to be good stewards over the earth you have placed in our care; help us to unite in love and concern for one another, not just in our local community, but with brothers and sisters in all the world.

As we draw near to your holy table, we thank you, Lord, for providing the Bread of Life for us. As we partake, impart to us your grace and mercy, unite us with Christ, our Lord, and with one another. May your kingdom be established in all the earth. Amen.