Whatever Happens, Keep Rising Up

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Resurrection changes everything. As we follow the Risen Christ, we anticipate the power of life rising up within us, between us, and around us. During Eastertide, we are in a series called The Uprising. Followers of the Risen Christ have been part of revolutions for two thousand years. So far in this series, we have explored the uprising of fellowship, discipleship, worship, and partnership. This week we are exploring the uprising of stewardship. In Christ and with Christ, we live in the power of life, facing the suffering of the world head on, and proclaiming new life for all. Resurrection happens. 

Next week is Pentecost, which means this is our final week in our Uprising series. And the point of today is that no matter what happens, God calls us to keep rising up. A very simple message, but very hard to actually do. No matter what happens, keep rising up. Easy for me to say. I’m not living your life. I don’t know what keeps you up at night. I’m not dealing with your chronic illness or navigating that relationship or agonizing over those finances. “No matter what happens, keep rising up!” (thumbs up, cheesy smile)

That’s the problem with what is now called “toxic positivity.” There’s nothing really helpful in it. It’s just a command that is totally disconnected from your actual experience. You know what is helpful though? When that encouragement, not command but encouragement, comes from someone and you know they understand. It’s a different story if I say, “No matter what happens, keep rising up!” and you know that I have had seasons when I couldn’t get off the couch because of physical pain and mental illness, that I’ve lost someone I love in a tragic and unexpected accident, that I’ve had a spouse leave me, that I have watched loved ones suffer and been totally unable to do anything to fix it, that I have been utterly financially dependent on the generosity of other people, that I have had a dark night of the soul when I just couldn’t believe this God stuff anymore. If you know that about me, and all of those things are true, then it might sound a little different to you if I encourage you, “No matter what happens, keep rising up.” 

This is what we get from the apostle Paul in several places in the New Testament. We’re not going to read them this morning, but if you’re following along in We Make The Road By Walking, you’ll be directed to the verses where Paul shares his experience of being beaten and shipwrecked and whipped and run out of town and imprisoned. The verses I would like for us to read together this morning come from the book of Second Corinthians (which we read together last week), chapter 4, verses 7 through 18. These are some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. So let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the Word and wisdom of God.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I trusted; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of trust, we also trust and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 

This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

Friends, you have often heard from me that it is not God’s job to make our lives easier, to fix all the things that trouble us. I wish it were true, but I just can’t square that circle, neither from what I see in the world, nor from what I read in the Bible. This is why the traditional Christian doctrine of sin and the fall is helpful. It give us a way of talking about the fact that something is really wrong here. Things are not as they should be; they are not in line with the goodness we know God built into the world. Things are hard. Life is hard. And it’s hard for different people in different ways, for no good reason as far as I can tell, and so comparisons are not helpful. Life is just hard.

And we shouldn’t be fooled by the idea that life will be easy if we do the right thing. In fact, Jesus is very clear that the more we live in line with the Kingdom of God, the more resistance we will get from the world. In John chapter 16, near the end of his life, when things are about to get really hard, Jesus tells the disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. (Guaranteed.) But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Whatever happens, keep rising up.

So, if everything is already hard, and living in the Kingdom will likely bring more resistance, then it’s fair to ask, “What’s the point?” I think that’s a fair question. I’ll give you my answer. For me, I keep following Jesus, keep trusting in Jesus, keep trying to live in the Kingdom, because there’s nothing better out there. The alternatives are 1. utter despair and just giving up trying to do anything or have any hope OR 2. switching over to the world’s values: caring only about my own comfort and safety and power, and getting as much of those things as I can, regardless of who I step on as I do it. Living for myself. And you know what, in some ways that really would be easier: not caring about justice or mercy or humility, just doing what I want when I want how I want. But beloved ones, deep in my soul, I know that’s wrong. I know it’s empty. I know that God has made us for community and compassion and a purpose larger than ourselves. So no matter what happens, I keep trying to rise up. I keep trying to live into fellowship, discipleship, worship, partnership, and stewardship. I keep putting my trust in a crucified and risen Savior who shows me exactly what the Creator is like. No matte what happens, I keep trying to rise up. 

So. We’re talking about a couple different things. First is that life is just hard. I don’t know what else to say; it just is. And although God doesn’t seem to be particularly active in fixing our individual woes, God is deeply active in helping us get through the hard times, helping us redeem the hard times by bringing goodness in the midst of them, giving us hope for the future. The book of Romans says that in all things God is working for good and that we are called to partner with God in that.

Second, living in line with God’s Kingdom can be hard. This is because the systems of the world are oriented towards injustice. The New Testament book of Ephesians says that in this world, our battle is not against flesh and blood—against other people, but against powers and principalities— Our institutions, systems, ideologies, corporations, and bureaucracies, they have an energy, a spiritual essence, that transcends the individuals who are technically in charge. We are contending against powers and principalities that are naturally oriented toward greed and violence and religious hypocrisy, and we when we try to do things differently, we are going to clash with those systems and it’s going to hurt. Living in line with God’s Kingdom is also hard because it’s hard to do something new. Throughout the Bible, the authors use the image of birth: something good is happening, something good is coming, but the process of bringing it to life is painful and scary. It’s not easy.

So thanks be to God, we don’t do any of that alone. Together we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. If we want support and community, then we have to be willing to admit when something is wrong and allow others to care for us. Our daily individual capacity for rising up will change, and that’s OK. That’s why we do it together.

And together we live in line with God’s Kingdom. A life pursuing justice and mercy and humility is the only life that is really worth living, reaching for something beyond our own comfort and safety and power. If we want to birth more of God’s goodness in the world, we have to find all the partners we can, even if we don’t agree on everything. We have to work together wherever we can. Together, no matter what happens, we keep rising up. Amen.

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