Far more than smoke and mirrors!

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Far more than smoke and mirrors!

Preached by Revd Keith Underhill on 7th June 2015.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

A week ago tonight, it was the final of Britain's Got Talent on ITV — over 4 million people voted for their favourite act.

At stake a prize sum of £250,000 and a place on the billing of the Royal Variety Show performing in front of the Her Majesty, the Queen.

The final saw the twelve most popular performers battle it out against each other — eventually there were just three acts left; Jules O' Dwyer and her amazing dog Matisse that entertained everyone with a comedy sketch, Cor Glanaethwy, an amazing choir from Wales who sang an inspiring version of the song "Alleluia" in Welsh and Jamie Raven a spell-binding magician.

In third place were the choir and the difference between first and second place being down to just 2% of the vote. It was the dog that came first!

However by the very next day, the whole thing was embroiled in scandal and uproar!

Had those who came first and seconded cheated?! Things apparently were not what they seemed or as they first appeared!

In the part of the sketch where the dog walked along parallel ropes 6 feet off the ground it emerged that this was done not by Matisse, but by its stunt double by the name of Chase that nobody knew about and who was kept out of sight apart from when doing part of the routine.

Jamie Raven who had done a really impressive trick that left everyone speechless was under-fire because some viewers said that they thought could see how he did it!

Now I can understand the complaints about the dog stunt double — but about the magician?!

After all, magic by its very nature is all about slight of hand, deftness of touch and smoke and mirrors.

Magicians are not magical, they are not able to defy the constraints of our universe, (what they do are but tricks, good ones at that when done well), but the laws of physics and science have not been bent, broken or temporarily suspended — it is simply a case of we have been fooled by that which we cannot see!

If you want to see me change water into wine then stick around for the All Age service at 10:45am!

It is what we do not see that is often so important and explains how Jamie Raven's trick is done.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul writes to his beloved church in Corinth, conscious of his own suffering and persecution and wanting to give hope to this fledgling church that often found things so difficult and who were often struggling and divided.

He writes to give them hope in the midst of their own trials, difficulties and suffering.

Paul in the verses prior to where our set lectionary reading for today begins says; But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

A number of commentators cite the quote: (without being able to attribute who first wrote it): "the power to persevere comes from gazing intently at what you can't see".

This is what Paul is going on about — We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed — all because "we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

In 1997, there was a hit record called Tubthumping, by the group Chubawamba in which the chorus says;
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
Paul is saying, that no matter what is happening, no matter what is going on, no matter what we experience, no matter how bad it gets, we do not loose heart.

Why?

Because — we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For you it may well feel that in this moment in time you are immersed in the events of Good Friday, but Paul is saying, hang on in there, do not lose heart for Easter day is just around the corner — or as the hymn writer so poetically reminds us "but lo there breaks a yet more glorious day".

I am reminded of how in Jeremiah chapter 32, the prophet is told to buy a piece of land. Nothing too strange about that you might say, except of course this request is put to him in the midst of a war!

Buying land in a time of war is to put it mildly, a high-risk gamble but by the time this transaction took place, this piece of land was already under enemy control. The enemy is on the verge of overthrowing the entire country, so who in their right mind would go ahead with such a purchase?

Yet that's exactly what God asked His prophet to do.

Jerusalem was under siege, on the brink of falling to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah was in prison because he had been preaching that the nation was going to fall and that God wanted them to surrender.

While he was in prison, with the sound of the enemy army just outside the city walls, Jeremiah's cousin came and offered him the family right of redemption to purchase a piece of property in Anathoth, which was already in Chaldean control.

In spite of what seemed to be a hopeless situation, God told Jeremiah to purchase that piece of land as an enacted parable, a prophetic drama to emphasize to Israel that God would keep His gracious promise of restoring them to the land.

That although things looked bleak to say the least, that although the enemy were at the gate and all seemed lost, that what everyone could see said that this was a lost cause, this was nonetheless, a sound investment for the future because God would in a time yet to come, restore his people to this land.

It is all about that which cannot be seen — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

In a few minutes time we will together be sharing in bread and wine — here it is, it is ordinary, it is everyday, nothing particularly special — and we can fix our eyes on what we can physically see, or we can fix our gaze on that which is unseen but lies at the heart of all we will be celebrating and remembering.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The bread of life that will satisfy our hunger — Jesus said, "I am the bread of life, those who come to me shall not hunger and those who believe in me shall never thirst"

For in these visible symbols, there are to be found the invisible truths of our faith and God — in bread and wine, we find God's truth and God's hope and it is in them we place our hope.

Paul is giving us hope and strength and he is pointing us to the glory that is still and yet to come — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Amen.

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