Paint Big

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Paul says to us: “We do not lose hope.”

I want to know:
Does he know how hard
the uphill climbs
of life can be
when he says that?

This week a friend was telling
the story of someone
who went for a bike ride
and became utterly exhausted mid-ride.
They had miles left to their end point,
but every pedal push became a struggle.
The friend told me –
there is an official biking term for that.
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“Yes,” she replied, “it’s called bonking.
That person bonked.”
Bonking is the moment
when your body is depleted of
all carbohydrate and energy.

Have you ever bonked?
Not in the biking sense,
but in the everyday sense?

Have you ever reached a moment
when your soul was weary
and you struggled to find
the energy to continue on?
Maybe your carbohydrates aren’t depleted
but your patience is
or your joy is
or your goodwill is.

What do we do when we find ourselves
in a slump on the ride of life?

Writer Tom Ryan tells the story of working
day after long day,
on his job at a local newspaper
in Newburyport, MA.
He reported on the corruption
that ran rampant through the local politics.
Although fiercely dedicated to his job,
after a number of years there,
he found himself
needing a reprieve
as he discovered
both his body
and soul were
born-weary tired.

What happens when we bonk in everyday life?

I am riveted by this question
because I wonder if
Paul and the Corinthians
know what it is to experience
mid-ride exhaustion.

I say this because,
behind them
are their first fresh days of meeting.
I imagine, perhaps,
initially both being enamored with each other.
I see the Corinthians
reveling in the good news
that Paul brought of
forgiveness and new possibilities.
I picture Paul, in turn, delighting in
their enthusiasm and energy.
With great joy,
this community commits to the way of Jesus,
moved by Paul’s stories
of the living God
who brings freshness
in places that are stale and stagnant.
Then Paul leaves to start other churches.
Now, the Corinthians have to find the path themselves.
At times,
it is hard.
At first for communion, in this community,
people bring their own food
and the wealthy feast
while the poor look on with hunger.
In a letter,
Paul tells them:
This is not okay.
You all have to eat the same thing,
because you are equal.
In another uphill climb,
the Corinthians became enthralled
by an alluring group of showy pastors.
Paul sarcastically calls this group the “super apostles”
because they think they are better than others.
These false teachers dress fancy, talk eloquently
and make a production
of their preaching.
In light of their show,
the Corinthians begin to lament
that they only have Paul
as their founding pastor.
Paul and the Corinthians
are both facing a moment
when they start to bonk,
when their initial energy wanes
and they wonder:
How do we stay fresh?
How do we live the Gospel day to day?
How do we sustain that which we started?

It is in response to these questions
that Paul says: “We do not lose heart.”

Paul continues, writing:
“Even though our nature is wasting away,
our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
… We look not at what can be seen
but at what cannot be seen;
for what can be seen is temporary
but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

In his moment of weariness,
he remembers what matters.

Sure, the super apostles might have fog machines
and a captivating stage persona,
but this is not what matters,
this is not what lasts.

What matters is our heart,
what is precious is what happens
with our one and only fragile life,
what is priceless
is the way,
that even when we don’t expect it,
we find our way, even if slowly, back to life again.
What is a true treasure trove
is how the refreshment of God finds us
even in the most unexpected moments.

Fix your heart, Paul says, on that.

Paul’s way of highlighting what is essential
reminds me of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
O’Keeffe is known for painting flowers
in as large of form as possible.
An entire canvas would be but
a close-up of one blossom.
When asked, why she painted like that,
she said,
no one has the time
to see the flowers around them,
so she paints what the flower is to her,
but she paints it big
so that people will be surprised
into taking time to look at it.
She wanted even busy New Yorkers
to take time to see
what she saw in the flowers –
their beauty and their magnificence.

Do you see? She asks in her works of art.
Do you see what matters?
Do you see what is lasting?

Similarly,
as the Corinthians find themselves lost
in the flood of their daily lives,
Paul paints big what gives life to our souls.
As they struggle with the ride of life,
Paul points them to the truth
that what they are doing,
as a nascent Jesus community,
matters.
The grace you are sharing, Paul reminds them,
changes lives.
Your church, Paul tells them, is a beacon
of transformation,
of truth,
of fresh starts.

As they have been drawn in by the super apostles,
they have found themselves, so badly,
wanting to measure up –
after all the eloquent speech a
was a high currency in that day.

Yet, Paul reminds them that even those things pass away,
and there is something that
has an even higher currency.
As they find themselves “bonking”,
Paul paints large for them
the reasons
that they set their heart
on this Way in the first place.

Paul bids them remember the moments
that the Spirit set their hearts on fire,
that God stirred their souls,
that the salve of Jesus came upon their lives.

Remember these moments,
Paul says and paint them big.

Hold on to them in your heart,
write them on your doorways,
tattoo them on your hearts,
post them on your mirrors,
chalk them on your streets.

For what comes from God is eternal,
and it renews us, day by day.

Do we see the glory of God
that is before us?

I was pondering that question recently
as I read a story by Greg Boyle,
a Jesuit priest who works
with gang members in LA.
He tells the story of taking two gang members,
Mario and Michael, out shopping.
They have recently been released
from a detention facility
and need new clothing.
They stop at JCPenneys
and Greg sends them forth
to pick out the clothing they need.
“Aren’t you going to supervise us?” Mario asks.
“Yeah,” Michael adds, “We’re used to being supervised.”
Greg walks with them and shops with
and occasionally stops to “supervise”.
Soon their arms fill with merchandise,
as they head to the cashier and get into the line,
it occurs to Mario that he forgot something.
“I need a belt,” he says.
“Hurry,” Greg responds and
Mario dumps his merchandise in Greg’s arms
as he heads to a nearby belt section.
Mario begins draping the belts around himself,
sizing up their fit.
As Michael and Greg approach the register,
Mario is still in the belt section,
still undecided.
“I don’t know,” he calls out,
with a belt draped loosely around his waist,
“what do ya think?”
Greg is about to tell him,
when suddenly Michael says to him,
in perfect King’s English,
“You look splendid!”
Greg turns to Michael,
the look on his face saying, splendid???
Everyone in the line has scrawled on their faces: Splendid?
The clerks say aloud: SPLENDID???
Michael looks around and murmurs,
“I don’t know. I heard it on a TV show once.”

The story reminded me that,
when Jesus looks at us,
Jesus sees that we are splendid.
Jesus sees our splendor
– even when we don’t see it ourselves –
and keeps coming to us
to remind us of it:
in parables and presence,
in stories and grace,
in resurrection and new beginnings.
Jesus reminds us of our eternal worth in stories of
a woman seeking a precious lost coin,
a shepherd leaving an entire flock
to find a dear, wandering sheep,
a parent racing down the pathway to embrace a child.
God’s love, Jesus tells us, is like that.
Jesus paints big God’s care for us
that we might be startled into seeing
— the glory within us and within one another.

Do we see the splendor that is all around us?

I was pondering that question this week
when I read the story of Tom Ryan,
the weary newspaper reporter
that I first told you about.
Tom tells the story of working at a nursing home.
He encountered a woman in her nineties
named Eunice Sharpwood.
Eunice was bright and robust and also ornery.
She often launched into tirades
and could be difficult with those around her.
One day,
when she was screaming at people to get away from her
and wielding her cane like a sword,
Tom turned to her and asked,
“Eunice, why are you so angry?”
The rest of the staff glared at him,
like who cares, just calm her done
Eunice lowered her cane,
surprised that someone had asked her something
and said,
“Why? I’ll tell you why!
Because no one will dance with me!”
“I didn’t know you liked to dance,” Tom said.
“That’s the problem.
No one here knows anything about me
because no one here cares.”
The next day at lunch,
as the residents gathered at the dining room,
Tom turned on Sinatra and walked over to Eunice.
“May I have this dance,” he asked
“It’s about time,” she responded.
They danced the hour away.

Even when we are ornery or weary,
God sees our splendor
and invites us to keep dancing
until we see our own.

And so we do not lose heart.

For Paul reminds us —
Keep dancing. Keep singing. Keep watching. Keep praying. Keep lighting the candle and doing the next right thing for even in hard moments, glory comes. Life comes. Beauty comes. Freshness comes. Resurrection comes.

And when it does, paint it big.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Leave a Reply