God Shining in Our Hearts – February 14

A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on February 14, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Out of the four Lectionary texts offered for this morning I chose the Second Corinthians text because it mentions hearts. I felt THAT heart full text was apt on Valentine’s Day. I did, though, also consider a non-Lectionary Old Testament story. I wanted to see if I could connect Adam and Eve to the holiday. I thought I was taking a shot in the dark when I Goggled “Did Adam and Eve ever have a date?” But the answer came pretty quick, “No, they did not have a date, they had an apple!” I almost accepted that answer until I remembered they shared a side of ribs which suggested a dinner date. Later it came to me it must have been a game night date because Genesis tells us God gave them a paradise.

So, anyway, we are lifting up and looking at a few verses in 2 Corinthians 4 on this fine Valentine’s Day. It will not surprise most of you that, just like other Sundays, love is at the center of this service and sermon. It’s there because that is the heart of Jesus’ message, early Christianity’s message and Paul’s message. By love, I do not mean the romantic love that Valentine’s Day typically centers on, I mean the caring, compassionate tending to the well-being of others Love that’s central to the Bible. That Love is the primary characteristic of God, the heart of Jesus’ Way and the supreme expression of Christian faith.

In Second Corinthians Paul’s addressing concerns at the church in Corinth, in particular concerns about competing versions of Christianity and the inability of many to see and know the actual message of our faith– which is the caring, compassionate tending to the well-being of others Love which Paul had taught them in person, and was still teaching them by letter. Paul taught them a version of Christianity whose message included – as the Feasting on the Word commentary puts it, that Christians are

“to be discontent with brokenness, injustice, scarcity, exploitation, violence, and death, and to believe that God seeks to increase community, wholeness, justice and peace.” ( R.J. Allen, at p 450).

Most of us should recognize that as very much a part of the message in this church. But after Paul left the church in Corinth others appeared and taught a Christianity with a different message. It was a message about feeling good about self with little, if any, need to care beyond self. The Feasting on the Word commentary points out this other version of Christianity was about a belief

“that God’s purpose was to create a religious experience . . . that allowed one to feel good within oneself without seeing the need for social change.” (Ibid.).

The difference between the two forms of Christianity is drastic. Paul taught a Transformation-of-the-World Gospel, the others taught an Escape-from-the-World gospel. One was love of neighbor as self, the other was love of self.

While we track the former, it is not what all Christians tracked in Paul’s day, nor track today. The drastic differences in Christianity from Paul’s day, in one form or another, continue on today. The earliest churches and Paul, the first Christian writer, confronted them. We confront them. We try and conserve Jesus’ Way like Paul; AND follow a progressive gospel that teaches love of God and neighbor in Jesus words. Or in God’s word, from Micah 6, seeks justice and loves kindness on a humble walk with God.

Today we find some in Christianity still tracking the feel good within oneself approach, like prosperity gospel centering on material and financial success for self. But prosperity gospel followers are not alone in making self the center of faith, some focus on self-salvation as the primary function of faith. Justice seeking and kindness loving become secondary at best. At worse blustery brash holier-than-thou-selfish walk results.

The troubles in Corinth are an early display of what now seems like a never-ending dispute in Christianity. Even though Jesus and Paul made it clear, two thousand years later we are still facing the questions. Is Christianity about caring for others as we care for self ? Or is it about caring for self above all else? To put it into Christian witnessing terms from my youth, do we bring Jesus into our heart to save creation from a lesser way of being in life? Or do we bring Jesus into our heart solely to feel good about our self and save our self in the afterlife?

Paul helps answer this heart question in our lesson. First he points out that those who miss the meaning of the gospel are “blinded by the god of the present age . . .” This god Paul speaks of is a small “g” god and represents earthly ways that keep us from heavenly ways of the capital “G” God. Material things and even self-care without much care for others are gods of the present age that can blind us from, as Paul puts it, “the splendor of the Gospel showing forth the glory of Christ, the image of God.” Paul goes on to point out that Christians do not preach for self-sake but for the sake of Jesus as sovereign, and as Christian workers bound to Jesus. It is NOT self-centered.

We talked about this last week from a “being like Jesus” perspective. We are to serve Jesus by serving others as Jesus served others. As Paul put it in our lesson ours “is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ . . .” And it is that God “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ.’” In other words, God tells us to be lights in the darkness, to shine God in our hearts to show others God’s in the face of Christ whose acts we do now as the Body of Christ.

God taught us to be lights in darkness. Jesus taught us to be lights of the world. Paul’s teaching that too, noting that God shines in our hearts so we shine the light on the face of Christ in our actions as Christian workers bound to Jesus. God does not shine in our hearts for us to – in turn– have material and financial success for self, or for self-salvation alone in life or afterlife. God shines in our hearts so that we in turn shine with Christ making God known in and through us.

That shining is done by the light of love. Signs that love light is shining in our faith is when Christians are “discontent with brokenness, injustice, scarcity, exploitation, violence, and death, and . . . believe that God seeks to increase community, wholeness, justice and peace.” Humans claiming to teach or follow versions of Christianity without those precepts have long confounded the teachings of Paul, and Jesus and God. The message of Jesus’ Way is – and always will be– the caring, compassionate tending to the well-being of others for the salvation of all creation, including others, as well as self. Here. And. Now. That’s the Love Paul teaches the Corinthians. That is the Love Christians are to have in their hearts on Jesus’ Way.

AMEN – and Happy Valentine’s day!