Summary: The gospel is the announcement of a love that has changed the world, a love that continues to change the world; a love that takes the people who find themselves loved and transforms them, sending them off to live and work in a totally new way.
Writer Parker Palmer tells of his first experience on an Outward Bound course in his book, The Active Life. He says, "I took the course in my early forties, and in the middle of that course I was asked to confront the thing I had fears about since I had first heard about Outward Bound: a gossamer strand was hooked to a harness around my body, I was back up to the top of a 110-foot cliff, and I was told to lean out over God's own emptiness and walk down the face of that cliff to the ground eleven stories below.
"I remember the cliff all too well," Palmer says. "It started with a five-foot drop to a small ledge, then a ten-foot drop to another ledge, then a third and final drop all the way down. I tried to negotiate the first drop; but my feet instantly went out from under me, and I fell heavily to the first ledge. 'I don't think you quite have it yet,' the instructor observed astutely. 'You are leaning too close to the rock face. You need to lean much farther back so your feet will grip the wall.' That advice went against my every instinct," Palmer continued. "Surely one should hug the wall, not lean out over the voice! But on the second drop I tried to lean back; better, but not far enough, and I hit the second ledge with a thud not unlike the first. 'You still don't have it,' said the ever-observant instructor. 'Try again.'
"Since my next try would be the last one, her counsel was not especially comforting. But try I did, and much to my amazement I found myself moving slowly down the rock wall. Step-by-step," Palmer said, "I made my way with growing confidence until, about halfway down, I suddenly realized that I was heading toward a very large hole in the rock, and--not knowing anything better to do--I froze. The instructor waited a small eternity for me to thaw out, and when she realized that I was showing no signs of life she yelled up, 'Is anything wrong, Parker?' as if she needed to ask. To this day, I do not know the source of my childlike voice that came up from within me, but my response is a matter of public record. I said, 'I don't want to talk about it.'"
Palmer continues, "The instructor yelled back, 'Then I think it's time you learned the Outward Bound Motto.' Wonderful, I thought. I am about to die, and she is feeding me a pithy saying. But then she spokes words I have never forgotten, words so true that they empowered me to negotiate the test of that cliff without incident: 'If you can't get out of it, get into it.' Bone deep," Palmer says, "I knew that there was no way out of this situation except to go deeper into it, and with that knowledge my feet began to move."
As we continue in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians this morning, Paul reminds us that in the face of all of our trials and tribulations, transformation is possible when we invited Christ into our lives and allow him to make us a new creation from the inside out, subtracting all our anxieties, doubts, and fears. And the spiritual life is not unlike Parker Palmer's experience on the edge of the cliff. When we are able to lean upon a God as near to us as our very breath, the God dwelling inside us, waiting to be discovered, then the work of re-creation and transformation can begin. And what Paul wants us to understand more than anything is that this renewal, this new creation is as drastic as the original creation, because it comes as a gift from God and God's abundant grace.
But what is the beginning of this new creation? Paul says it begins with faith; like that moment Parker Palmer finally overcame his natural instinct telling him to stay close to the rock face and trusted that he had to lean out a little further. "We live by faith, not by sight." Paul knew that to consider only that which is seen is a sure way to be misled about what is really important and what is truly going on. Faith is how we know Jesus in this life, even when we are "at home in the body and away from the Lord." By its very nature, though, faith is the opposite of sight. It is hard trusting day by day and believing things we don't see, isn't it? People tell us we're idiots to go on believing the things we do: "Where is the evidence?" they ask. But if everything were obvious, if everything could be proved in some way, where would faith be? We even have to be wary of any suggestion that the Christian faith brings the kind of complete "certainty" that people often crave. If we have that kind of confidence and certainty, we no longer need faith in God.