Most of you know my wife Andrea works for a local hospice organization. While she’s not free to talk with me about the specifics of her clients, I know that her work involves people of all ages. Though more rare, some are young children – facing sickness and death. Some are middle-aged, facing a death and end far sooner than they had imagined. And of course, many are very old – a more acceptable timeline, yes – but nevertheless struggling with how to conclude their lives.
What are the priorities for one who is weakening and coming to the end of their days? How does one get their affairs in order? How should pain be managed? On each hospice team is a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, and someone like Andrea – a spiritual counselor or chaplain. As a team they attempt to choose the proper client need on which to focus on any given day.
What should one focus on?
At our wedding we received a card from good friends that said “May you become rich in all things that money cannot buy.” We immediately appreciated that card, it’s message, and have often thought about those words over the past decades that we’ve been married.
Here too, we recognize that the issue is one of priorities. What should a young newly-wed couple focus on? What should be most important for them?
In our text for today Paul speaks of these same priorities and talks about the need to focus. In verse 18 we read “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Why does Paul write like this?
First, in verse 16 he gives this reasoning:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Here Paul uses an easy to understand example of the human body. Just as the human body wears down, weakens, and moves toward death, it’s amazing to realize that there is also an inner portion, an eternal, unseen portion that is renewed, resurrected, and continues into eternity…
Andrea has shared with me some amazing examples of people who, seemingly trapped within bodies that no longer function well, nevertheless display amazing spirits of joy and even growth. Often times even as the visible and physical body shuts down, the invisible spirit opens up in new ways, sometimes resulting in reconciliation, forgiveness, and renewed relationships with family. Perhaps some of you know of examples like this – where an individual who is suffering from dementia suddenly “comes alive” or becomes surprisingly clear when they hear a familiar hymn sung or scripture read.
In verse 17 Paul continues:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
Paul says that our troubles and the many trials we have – those things that COULD discourage us and cause us to lose heart – have meaning and function – they prepare us for eternal glory.
Whether it’s hospice patients, or newly-wed couples, or discouraged Christians… Paul seems to be saying that the thing to focus on (invisible and eternal) – is our relationships. Our relationship with God, which will affect our relationships with others, and with ourself. In verse 14 Paul says:
“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 in his presence.”
Paul has written throughout this chapter of the power of the gospel, the power of God in the midst of weakness. Here, too, his confidence is not that “everything will be OK”, or that if he tries hard enough, he’ll succeed. No, his confidence is in God – the one who raised Jesus from the dead, who will also raise us.
Whatever we build ourselves, whatever we try to control ourselves, whatever we can see, is subject to decay, aging, weakening, and death. But we need not be discouraged and lose heart…. Why? Because there is an eternal glory, an eternal goal that we have that will NOT end or simply decay. That’s eternal life, the power of God in Jesus and also in us. Our lives, even the struggles, have meaning and are connected to eternity as long as we focus on the right place.
Here are two examples of what it might mean to move our focus from the temporary to the eternal:
- A child receiving gifts at Christmas focuses on those toys, the things he receives and can play with, and can see. This is normal and exciting for a child. Later, however, that child becomes an adult and begins to focus on what gifts he would like to give others. The initial joy as a child is with the temporary and visible. The later focus and joy as an adult is with the invisible (bringing joy to others, the relationships which are expressing love, etc.).
- JCC – Paul’s description of the human body could also refer to us as a congregation. JCC (the outward and temporary) is weakening, diminishing, aging – whether we consider our buildings or our members. We could focus on that and lose heart. Or we can choose to focus on the inner side of our congregation. The relationship side. The continuing relationship and leading of God over these 120 years. The love-based relationships we share with each other. The new things that God has YET to do with us.
Jesus taught in a different place, in different words, a similar truth:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume. (the visible and temporary) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. (the invisible and eternal)
Seek first of all the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (the invisible and eternal) and all these things (the visible and temporary needs) will be provided for you!
What do we choose to focus on this week?
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship time on June 6, 2021.)