Pastor Eric Schroeder

Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

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If you have ever read any books or seen any television programs about the elite military warriors who make up what are called the Navy SEALs, then you have probably heard of Hell Week. If you haven’t heard of Hell Week before, I can give you a brief description of what I know. Hell Week is just one part of the qualification process, and by all accounts, it is one of the most difficult stages, designed to test the physical and mental toughness of the candidates. This testing is constant, as Hell Week consists of 5 ½ days of continuous training: for more than 20 hours of each day teams of four or five men swim for miles in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, or paddle inflatable boats into the rough surf, hoist logs above their heads and carry them around, and run more than 200 miles total, most of the time soaking wet and covered in sand. They do get plenty of food to eat, but you can read stories of guys who literally fall asleep in their food, since they are only allowed to sleep four hours—not four hours a day, but four hours for the entire week. By the end of Hell Week, on average, 75% of the candidates will walk, stumble or crawl over to the bell that follows them everywhere. Ringing the bell is their way of letting their instructors know that they give up. Their Hell week is over, but so is their dream of becoming a SEAL. What about the 25% that make it all the way through? This is from the Navy SEAL website. ”It is often the greatest achievement of their lives, and with it comes the realization that they can do 20X more than they ever thought possible. It is a defining moment that they reach back to when in combat. They know that they will never, ever quit, or let a teammate down.”

What does this have to do with God’s Word, and what does it have to do with us? It might sound like a strange comparison, but I suppose we could say that the Apostle Paul is like the Navy SEAL of missionaries. Later on, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian congregation, he lists off some of the ways he had been tested in his ministry up to this point, and it almost sounds a little bit like Hell Week. This is what he writes in chapter 11 of the book: [In comparing himself to other preachers, he says,] I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned [like, with stones], three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

But despite all this, Paul didn’t ever quit. He refused to give up. And in our Christian life, it is good for us to hear Paul tell us why—what kept him going, what kept him preaching and teaching and living and sharing his faith. It’s God’s inspired word, and it is God’s will for our lives, too. And let it be our prayer that God uses these words to strengthen and encourage us so that We don’t give up what God has so graciously given us to have and to do. 

We can cover the first paragraph relatively quickly, since Paul makes it sound so simple. 13It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because 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. 15All 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. 

Paul’s motivation is simple, and we shouldn’t overcomplicate it, either. Paul says the reason that we keep speaking about salvation through Jesus is because we believe in salvation through Jesus. And Paul is actually a lot stronger than most people in his use of the word belief; his belief is not just his opinion or what he prefers to think or what he personally likes. These days you hear people talking about “my truth” and “your truth,” as if everyone gets to decide for themselves. Paul wouldn’t say, “this is my truth;” he says “this is THE truth.” He says 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. There is no question. Jesus died and rose again to take away the sins of the world; Paul was confident that everyone he met was included in that number. He believed it, and so he told everyone who would listen. He also knew that through that very message the Holy Spirit was working to bring others to believe. 

What about us? I have a feeling you are going to be challenged here. I know I am. As soon as the sermon ends, we will say the words of the Apostles’ Creed. With many voices united into one, each of us will say, “I believe . . . I believe . . . I believe . . .” But how often do we speak, not just here in this safe space, but out in the world, to our family members, or friends, or neighbors, or coworkers who don’t know Jesus like we do, but need him just as much as we do? Don’t overcomplicate it. The truth is that if no one had ever told us about Jesus, we would be on our way to hell—not just for a week, but for all eternity. As it stands, right now, you know people who are headed that way. But . . . you believe . . . so speak! Trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to work through you, as you share what is not only “your truth” but “the truth” about Jesus and his love for sinners that led him to suffer and die for you. Through faith in him you are forgiven of every sin, no matter how big, no matter how many, even the times when you selfishly kept quiet when you could have shared your Savior with someone else. You believe, so don’t keep it to yourself. Keep on speaking, don’t give up speaking, and see how as Paul said and as Paul saw, the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

It’s that simple . . . but to be honest, it isn’t always easy. Some won’t listen, some will hear and get angry, some will do whatever they can to silence you, but why keep trying? Why keep speaking? Listen to what Paul writes. 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So 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.

In what we observe and what we experience, the longer we live, the more we realize that life is hard. If we expect it to be easy, if we expect everything to go the way we want it to, we find ourselves disappointed and discouraged over and over again. The Navy SEALs have a saying that is meant to remind them to expect difficulty; it goes like this: “The only easy day was yesterday.” They are conditioned to work for everything, to expect complications, to be ready for the worst. We have something far better. Yes, we expect temptation, and difficult times, and even suffering in this world, but we have eternity to look forward to. As Paul writes, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Light and momentary? Some of us might be tempted to question that . . . In this room there are people with troubles that don’t seem light or momentary: abuse, shame, loneliness, loss of loved ones, financial hardship, broken bodies, broken families, broken lives. While we suffer the consequences of sin, they don’t feel light and they don’t seem momentary . . . Unless, that is, we weigh them against the everlasting glory of the heaven that is waiting for us, the heaven that is already ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Whenever we are tempted to give up, to give in, to quit trying and quit hoping and quit believing, let’s take Paul’s words to heart. 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. Logically, that doesn’t make any sense. How can we fix our eyes on what can’t be seen? Only through the eyes of faith. As God feeds our faith through Word and Sacrament, he directs our focus away from our observation and our experience and onto what He promises—the liberation that comes with our soon-to-come resurrection, when all our suffering, shame, and sadness will be part of an everlasting yesterday, with only joy, and peace, and gladness filling every today and a never-ending supply of tomorrows. 

Whatever you are suffering, physical, emotional, or spiritual, or any combination, it will not last forever. But the glory and joy of heaven will. Life will be tough, but our God and Savior is tougher. Jesus paved the way through life and death for us. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the one who takes us by the hand and leads us ever homeward. This is what we believe, by the grace of God, and now by the strength God provides, may the message of Jesus Christ be what we speak, as individuals, as a congregation, as the Body of Christ to reach the lost in our world. As he lives in us, we live in him, and we don’t give up. AMEN.