Despite Calvin's best efforts, his descendants have not been able to make society look like the kingdom of God. But we keep trying. We just have to remember what Calvin said about power. We have to remind every pastor and every politician to be careful, because all power comes from God and all people who are in a position to use that power will be held to account by God. In fact, it was Calvin's insistence on the total sovereignty of God and the supreme lordship of Christ that gave one Reformed theologian by the name of Karl Barth the strength and courage to stand up to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Luther's focus on faith—not the Church's faith, not the pope's faith—but the individual believer's faith was the fuel for the fire that became known as the Reformation. But it's impact went far beyond the Church. This new focus on the individual is arguably the foundation of modern Western Civilization. From individual faith comes a belief in individual rights and from a notion of individual rights comes a yearning for political, economic and religious freedom and from freedom comes the long march to democracy. So regardless of religion, on the inside of every American is a little bit of Martin Luther.
Paul tells them that this is a test. Paul is testing the genuineness of their love against the earnestness of the Macedonians. And how will he measure their generosity? By a very big yardstick, the standard set by Christ, who "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor." Against that standard, no gifts are too big. But Paul is not preaching to billionaires. He is saying that if the eagerness is there, if their hearts are really in it, then there are no gifts too small, either. Their gifts will be measured according to what they have, not according to what they don't have.
Ministry isn't the only vocation that requires a lot of different kinds of gifts. Any job worth doing requires more gifts than we've got. But that's just God's way of reminding us, in Paul's words, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Being human is very humbling, and what we humans ought to think is that none of us can have it all. None of us can be it all. And none of us can do it all. Doing what is good and acceptable and perfect is not something that any one of us can do by ourselves. To be "perfect in love," as Wesley used to say, is a group project. We may each have a few marks of the true Christian, but we need the whole Church in order to be remarkable.
I am convinced that the same can be true for us, that all the losses we experience in life will be totally eclipsed by the love. The Son of God is one Sun you can look at, and you don't need special goggles to do it. You only need the eyes of faith to see that, nothing—or as Wayne Williams used to say, absolutely nothing—in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yea God!
Trevor's mom suffered a lot in her life, but she showed him how her suffering produced endurance and her endurance produced character and her character produced hope and hope did not disappoint her because the love of God had been poured into her heart through the Holy Spirit that was given to her. We don't have to be "born a crime" to know that suffering can be a gift, but each and every one of us is going to have to unwrap it for ourselves.
By using such ordinary things to talk about something that is quite extraordinary, Jesus shows us how absolutely anything can point us to heaven. All we have to do is look at it in the right way. Jesus uses images that were familiar with the people of his time. But not many of us are farmers anymore. Not many of us bake our own bread or catch our own fish. We need some new metaphors, and so over the years, this pastor has tried to preach some new parables.
The resurrection of Christ is the climax of the story of our bodies, but not the end of it. By resurrecting the body of Jesus, God made clear that God loves our bodies enough to resurrect them, too. That was the message that Paul was trying to preach, but he had a little trouble getting that idea across to the Greeks. They didn't have the Books of Moses. They had Plato and Socrates. They didn't think much of physical bodies. They called them cesspools of lust, prisons of pain and dungeons of decay. They didn't believe that God had ever created them or that God would ever want to save them. The Greeks yearned to live in a disembodied, purely spiritual world, and so they waited for death when they would be released from their bodies. You might think this is a very old-fashioned way of looking at things, but I'll have you know this way of thinking is still going strong today.
I want to be clear. We don't confess our sins because we want to feel bad about ourselves. We can do that easily enough without confessing to anything. We confess our sins because when we finally stop denying the truth and living the lie, we're going to feel much better about ourselves. The Gospel is good news because God's forgiveness sets us free to be ourselves. It is very possible to be a happy sinner, because only sinners get a Savior.
But what we can't get from a self-help book or a weekend seminar or a long silent retreat is the messy, noisy, life-saving grace of community. At its best, the communion of saints is a community of mutual support and accountability. We need the communion of saints to support us in our search for God and to hold us to a higher standard as we try to live for God. You see, we can’t be saints in single file. We can’t be holy on our own. Wesley said that “Christianity is essentially a social religion” and “to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.” [“Sermon on the Mount IV”] Me-Myself-and I is a pretty sorry substitute for the communion of saints.