2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Rev. J Michael Solberg
Sermon from the 10:45 a.m. Service on May 17, 2015
(2 Corinthians 6:1-10)
When I was about 11, I really wanted a skateboard for Christmas. It was the mid-seventies and, as I am sure you remember, skateboard technology was really taking off. Gone were the days when skateboards were literally boards with skates attached, and there was a whole new world of hard polyurethane wheels, heavy duty ball bearings, machine tooled trucks, and molded decks. To have one of these skateboards was to be cool.
I woke up early on Christmas morning, was the first one into the living room, and looked around under the tree, but didn’t find any package that was likely to be a skateboard. After a several anxious minutes of opening disappointing presents (I must have been such a brat!), I learned that I was going to get a skateboard, but my parents had decided that rather than giving me a skateboard under the tree, I needed to choose the skateboard myself. Somehow, probably assuring equality with the cost of my brother’s and sister’s gifts, they said that I had $17 dollars to spend on a new skateboard.
So the day after Christmas we went to the store, and I faced what seemed at the time to be the biggest decision of my life: what skateboard was I going to buy with my $17? I remember holding the actual bills in my hand, three fives, two ones. It seemed like a huge amount of money. It didn’t take me long, though, to realize that skateboards came in a wide variety of prices, and $17 was actually kind of the low end, and my parents were not about to budge on the price limit. After careful examination of all the boards, I found one that seemed tolerable for less than $17, but I also found one that would be awesome for $29.99. Seeing that I really wanted the expensive one, my parents offered me a choice. I could buy the $17 dollar one now, or I could wait until my birthday in April, combine my $17 with my birthday money, and get the $29.99 skateboard I really wanted. They helpfully pointed out that it was the middle of winter, that a skateboard really wasn’t very useful in January and February and by the time the snow melted it would practically be my birthday. That made perfect sense. But I couldn’t wait, chose the $17 skateboard, and took it home that day.
It turned out to be a really crummy skateboard. I rode it around on the concrete floor of our unfinished basement, and found that I couldn’t maneuver well, because the trucks were too tight, the deck was weak and sagged too much in the middle, and by the time the snow melted outside I knew that showing up at my friend’s house with this skateboard would not be considered cool at all.
Sadly, I was immature and impatient enough to go ahead and buy the cheap skateboard, but I think, at age 11, for the first time in my life, I was also aware enough to realize what a dumb decision I had made, and that it was my own fault. If only I had shown a little patience I could have had a really cool skateboard. It was a real learning experience for me. If you control your impulses and have a little patience, you can wind up better off in the end. Short term pain, long term gain.
A little later on, I learned that basically the same thing applied to athletics. Swim practice wasn’t always very much fun, but if you wanted to go faster when the big meets came along later in the season, you had to show up for practice and work hard in practice. Short term pain, long term gain.
A little later on, l learned that basically the same thing applied to academics. I never had any problem understanding things, but I wasn’t very good at the organizational side of school, keeping up with homework, turning stuff in on time, studying for tests early enough to avoid last minute cramming, but eventually I got it. You had to do the work and do it in reasonable time in order to get good grades. Short term pain, long term gain.
A little later on, I learned that basically the same thing applied to being a decent boyfriend and husband. I didn’t always particularly feel like going grocery shopping, but it needed to be done, not just because we needed food in the house, but because Janine was also working full time and she didn’t want to do it either, so to eat, and to have a good relationship, I did it. Short term pain, long term gain.
A little later on, I learned that basically the same thing applied to being a decent human being. It’s not always fun to fulfill your responsibilities in life: to go to work every day, to show kindness to friends, to control your expenses and save a little money, to keep your promises, to forgive, but if, in the end, you want to have a sliver of self-respect, and make the world a better place, you need to fulfill your responsibilities in life. Short term pain, long term gain.
A little later on, and now we are up to the past few weeks as I have been thinking about this sermon, I learned that basically the same thing applies to being a decent follower of Jesus, which is not really all that different than being a decent human being.
A really big part of being a Christian is learning to take on short term pain for the sake of long term gain. As I put it in my sermon title today, in the context of the Christian faith, this is truly revolutionary patience.
I want to say before I go any further here that I am not talking about accepting abuse from others. I am not talking about the pain that comes from an abusive relationship or any other destructive force in one’s life. Different considerations come into play when the short term pain is involuntarily imposed upon you by another. It is hard for any long term gain to come a situation like that.
I am talking about the short term pain that we choose for ourselves. As the examples I used earlier show, I am talking about the short term pain of delayed gratification, of an investment of hard work, of putting one’s integrity ahead of one’s pleasure. I am talking about a burden, if you will, that we take on ourselves, for the sake of our own well-being, the well-being of others, and the well-being of the world.
It’s sort of buried in perhaps overly theological language, but revolutionary patience, short term pain for long term gain, is what Paul is talking about in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians. Actually, he’s not so much talking about it, as living it. As Gary mentioned in the introduction to the passage, the early church community in Corinth had pretty much stopped trusting and respecting Paul. In simple terms, they were no longer sure that his version of Christianity was the right version. Most of their doubt came from the fact that Paul just wasn’t all that impressive of a guy; he didn’t do miracles, he wasn’t a great speaker, he wasn’t rich, he didn’t show real visible gifts of the spirit. In fact, he often caused trouble when he went to new places, he got thrown in jail, he had big fights with the original apostles, and he hadn’t bothered to go visit the Corinthians for a long time!
Many people considered Paul to be weak, unpopular, poor, joyless, and even an impostor. And the Corinthians were beginning to believe them. But Paul “sucks it up” you might say. He has a vision of who Jesus was, and what Christianity is all about, and he is sticking to it. Paul may look weak and unpopular and poor, but, after all, the Lord he serves was rejected by everyone, and executed by the religious and political authorities. Paul’s goal is to be true and faithful, not well-liked. And that requires that he take some short term pain, in the form of people doubting and questioning and distrusting him.
But that’s not the end of the matter of course. From the short term pain comes long term gain. In the eyes of God, Paul is doing exactly what he needs to do. Although treated as an impostor, he is yet true in the eyes of God; although unpopular, he is yet well known to God; although punished, he is alive and free in the eyes of God; although seen as sorrowful, he is yet always rejoicing; although seen as poor, he is yet making many rich; although he has nothing, he yet possesses everything.
I hope we can see Paul as an example in all this. In the context of our Christian faith, short term pain for the sake of faithfulness, gives us long term gain in our relationship with God.
But I think this isn’t just a uniquely spiritual reality. But rather our willingness to remain true to God, even when it is not popular or easy or successful, is important for the world in which we live. This world desperately needs people who just keep on doing what is right, come what may. This world desperately needs people who are willing to take short term pain of being Christ-like, exactly so that the world can have the long term gain of seeing what faithfulness to Christ looks like. That’s the kind of patience that could lead to a revolution of faithfulness, a revolution which would make the world a better place for everyone.
And to bring it back to even more basic terms, learning that it would have been a good idea to pass up a $17 skateboard today, for the sake of a $29.99 skateboard later, is a really good lesson for a kid to learn. Apply it to your diet. Apply it to your job. Apply it to your marriage. Apply it to your parenting, and teach it to your kids. Apply it to your financial life. Having real patience, taking on short term pain for the sake of long term gain is going to make your life and faith better today and tomorrow, and it is going to make this world a better place as well.
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