Sermon delivered on Trinity 6B, Sunday, July 8, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.
Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I will boast of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The letter of St Paul to the church in Corinth that we read today prompts me to say a word about weakness. In our culture weakness is anathema, we don’t like it; it’s to be discouraged and to be avoided at all cost.
But there is some good news in weakness. What’s the good news about weakness? We’re more likely to see weakness as bad news. We don’t like to focus on our weakness; we prefer to talk about our strengths. When you go for a job interview, employers want to hear about your strengths, what are you bringing to the table, not your weaknesses. Keep your weaknesses under wraps. Dismiss them, minimize them, try to make them go away.
But weakness is standard equipment on every model of human being or society. We’re familiar with our weaknesses: fear, selfishness, judgmentalism, temptation, depression, disorganization, low self-esteem.
In our text for today, Paul says, “I boast of my weaknesses.” Paul is giving us a crucial insight into faith. He’s saying that his weaknesses are an important part of his faith. Paul had plenty of ego strength. It was obvious that he was enormously talented as a leader, theologian, and writer, but he says “To keep me from being too elated [prideful, arrogant], a thorn in the flesh was given to me.” We’ve long wondered what exactly was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It was surely more than a tiny splinter stuck in his little finger. Whatever his ailment was, it lingered with him, and Paul prayed over and over for God to take it away. It was not removed. You see, even St. Paul got the answer “no” to his prayers. However, Instead, God gave Paul the strength to bear his pain. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s a paradox of faith: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Whatever limitation Paul faced, his weakness helped him rely in a deep way not on himself but on God. He began to see his weakness as a pathway to God’s grace.
Power is made perfect in weakness, the Scripture says. As a nation and as individuals, we find our inner authority, our spiritual center, only when we face our weaknesses.
That’s why Jesus was always hanging out with powerless people—those who were hurting and oppressed. His mission was to invite weak and wounded people, ordinary people, to enter the Kingdom, the Beloved Community of love, forgiveness, justice, and restored life. But his starting point was weakness.
Jesus’ own life was filled with weakness. In the Gospel lesson today Jesus is rejected by his own relatives. They took offense at him: “Is this Joseph’s son?” And the text says, “He could do no deed of power there, except he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mark 6:5) Even as he was being rejected by his own people, he found some power in his weakness. He found that when he was weak, God’s grace came pouring into him and through him.
Jesus focused first on people who are weak. He was in the business of transforming weakness into strength. The question for us is whether we will allow God to turn our weakness into God’s strength.
Pain can become a source of healing. We can allow our pain to widen our sensitivity to others; we can allow our pain to connect us to the suffering of others and to activate our compassion. The central symbol of Christian faith is a cross, what do you see on the cross?—it was a symbol of weakness and defeat. But God turned the cross into a symbol of love— strength in weakness. A symbol of victory.
God is in the business of turning our personal defeats into victories, our disappointments into hope. But the first step is to trust that God will help us deepen our weakness until that weakness becomes a path to God’s strength.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.