Last November, Canadian actor Michael J. Fox was interviewed by People magazine. It is not often that I am drawn to these kinds of interviews but the fact that I grew up watching Fox on Family Ties and in the Back-to-the-Future movie franchise made me pause to read the headline. Then the highlighted quote, “My gratitude is deeper now, from having gotten through the darkest times” got me hooked on reading the rest of the article. At the young age of 29 Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In this interview, however, he discussed how a tumour was developing on his spine and he needed surgery which would render him temporarily paralysed. Over a four month period he learned to walk again- but he was still unstable. He fell and badly broke his arm. He said, “I was leaning against the wall in my kitchen, waiting for the ambulance to come, and I felt like, ‘This is as low as it gets for me.’ It was when I questioned everything. Like, ‘I can’t put a shiny face on this. There’s no bright side to this, no upside. This is just all regret and pain.’ “The interview was due to the fact that he released his 4th memoir entitled, “No Time Like The Future: An Optimist considers mortality.” Fox turns 60 this month and despite his failing body, optimism helped him have hope. He says, “Optimism is sustained when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance. Accepting that this thing has happened, and you accept it for what it is…Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on.” I am so moved by the fact that Fox could be angry that his body is falling a part and yet he turns to optimism, gratitude and acceptance instead. I have trouble doing that with my minor aches and pains. I don’t know if Fox is a man of faith. But his experiences and wisdom can help us in understanding the message underlying Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.
To say that our passage this morning from Paul is only about failing bodies does not give it the power it is due. However, when Paul says, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” I could help but think about the various conversations I have had with so many of you about ageing. About how our bodies and minds don’t always do what we want them to do. About how we can have genuine frustrations and emotional pain because our bodies are changing. And Paul’s words can give us hope when he says, “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!” In this I find the optimism when it comes to failing bodies.
But as I mentioned this passage isn’t limited to Paul’s feelings about physical bodies. Really, the entire passage speaks to Paul’s confidence in the power of God. I’ve noted before that the church in Corinth was a troublesome church. Paul’s letters talk of not only external pressures but internal disagreements that risked splits within the church. The church was often influenced by the Greco-Roman culture that surrounded it and Paul was constantly trying to bring them back from the secular or the profane to the sacred and the holy. I actually think that the modern church could likely identify best with the church in Corinth. And as our denomination begins to meet for General Assembly, to discuss the possibility of full inclusive of our LGBTQ+ members I acknowledge that our denomination is risking a split that could decimate us. But no matter how troublesome the church in Corinth was through these letters we are provided with an abundance of blessings because their troubles, inspired some of Paul’s best work. We would do well as a denomination to return to his words of wisdom. Wisdom which rests assured in God’s eternal power!
So whether it is referring to our frail bodies or our frail denomination Paul is saying, that our suffering should not deter us from testifying to God’s power. And Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. In fact, at the beginning of this letter Paul says that he experienced some affliction in Asia (2Corinth 1:8). He says that he was so utterly, unbearably crushed that he despaired of life itself. Later on in the book Paul will recount beatings, shipwrecks, and other near death experiences. So we know that Paul has endured some dark moments since he last wrote this congregation. Underlying all of this is the faith that Paul has in his calling and confidence in God. It is this certitude that gives Paul strength, and likely optimism, to face hardships. But it is also Paul’s certitude that all of these hardships are only slight momentary afflictions compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
At the beginning of the pandemic one of the mantras shared was, “This is not forever but this is for now.” At the time, most of us definitely thought that the “for now” time frame would be only a couple of weeks or months- but we now know it’s longer than that. Yet, we all still have hope, and the science backs us up on this, that it is not forever. Paul’s words help us do something with this anticipation that our current circumstances are not forever. Paul starts this passage by saying we believe and we speak. None of our current restrictions prevents us from doing these things. We believe in a power over our lives that is greater than a pandemic. Note that I am NOT saying this means we compromise the health of others because we believe that our rights have greater power rather, because we believe in a greater power we speak to the hope that is found in life, eternal life, with Jesus Christ. We speak to hope.
New Testament professor, Carla Works actually touches on how this hope is manifested in Paul’s life. She writes, “For Paul, hope is worth allowing oneself to be exposed to hardship in order to proclaim the good news of God’s acts of redemption…Paul can express hope in the midst of adversity…The Spirit’s very presence is his assurance that God is at work creating life and redeeming creation.”
Paul is asking the church in Corinth, and conversely asking us, to think it terms of God’s heavenly realm. Paul refers to an earthly tent versus the building from God, human creation versus God’s creation. And I believe this is what we need to do, focus ourselves on God’s creative power. However, I will also say, that if we are unkind, or intentionally destructive to this earthly tent then what makes us think we are entitled to God’s heavenly building. So, a focus on God’s creative power does not mean ignoring the suffering or need around us. What it does mean is that we speak to the hope found in the salvation story.
Through communion both our physical bodies and spiritual selves our nourished so that we can speak and believe in the good news of God’s creative power of life over death. Whether it is our bodies or our institutions, or both, that are experiencing frailty we must refocus ourselves on the optimism found in hope. God is absolutely at work in our mortality so that eternal glory may be made known. Amen