Sunday, July 05, 2009

Made Perfect in Weakness

Mark 6: 1-13; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
******** United Church of Christ
July 5, 2009

(Because I am responding to a specific event in the life of this congregation, I decided to preach from notes rather than from a prepared manuscript in order to rely on the same grace about which I am preaching.)

Have you ever seen one of those optical illusions that appears to be one thing but if you look at it a different way, you see something entirely different?

In today’s epistle lesson Paul offers us a different vision of weakness. First he tells of an experience of being swept up in a spiritual experience, of being caught up into Paradise and of hearing revelation of such an exceptional character, that it could not be repeated, even if he wished to boast.

· To keep him from boasting, from thinking of himself as better than others, God gave him a thorn in the flesh, a weakness.
· Paul pleads with God to remove this weakness, this ‘messenger of Satan’ that torments him.
· God responds that grace is sufficient, that power is made perfect in weakness.

Often we see weakness as just that: something that drains us of power, something that is lacking in grace. But Paul writes to the church in Corinth that it is through our weaknesses that God is able to make us perfect, to make us complete, that we are able to experience God’s sufficient gift of grace.

Last week we had a congregational conversation, perhaps the first one this church has ever had—not a congregational meeting where a vote may take place, but a time to be informed and to converse about matters that concern the whole church.

Many things went wrong, some of them resting on my shoulders. I ask your forgiveness. Many suggestions have been made as to how things would go more smoothly the next time and they have been duly noted. EL (the moderator) and I have spoken and acknowledged what could have been done better, we have learned some important lessons, and we have put it behind us.

But I’m not here to talk about what when wrong. I think we all have a pretty good idea about that. Instead, I invite you to see that conversation in a different way. I want to talk about what went right. And that what went right is just as important as what went wrong.

· You were respectful of each other.

· You were honest.

· You were responsible with your emotions.

Some of you were worried about the impression that meeting would have made on a visitor. You weren’t pretending to be perfect. Your weaknesses and mine were highly visible. We were not of one mind. We were being very human. And in my experience, when that happens in the midst of a congregational gathering, I begin to suspect, and I hope a visitor would too, that this really might be the body of Christ.

“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

The Christian story is full of weakness: a birth in an animal manger, no room in the inn, witnessed by fragile human beings, a poor rabbi who roams from place to place, teaching truth and love in the face of those who seek to destroy him, living with and touching, healing the outcasts of his time (and ours too).

Even Jesus, a transition man himself, preaching in his hometown, is met with opposition, confusion, insults, and disbelief. He sends his disciples out by twos and orders them to take nothing with them, that they would be dependent on nothing, save the grace of God.

The story ends with the ultimate failure—crucifixion and death. Yet God works through all this weakness and more to show us that there is new life, that there is grace, to save us from ourselves, from thinking that it all rests on our shoulders.

When our weaknesses are visible, it is then we can work on them. God doesn’t call us after we’ve gotten it all together. If that were so, there would be no one in the church. Jesus came to heal sinners, not gratify the righteous. No, as it is with grace, God calls us as we are and invites us to relationship and to minister as we are, weaknesses and all.

Many folks of this church have been touched by addiction, one way or another. Each Sunday we pray for all those dealing with addiction and for their families. This church is host to hundreds of people who come here for weekly meetings. And you welcome with open arms and open hearts anyone who is seeking a closer relationship with Christ.

Some might consider all that to be a weakness, but you know it is not. But in light of this weakness that makes you a strong witness for Christ, I would like to make a proposal: I suggest that this congregation use the twelve steps and the Serenity Prayer as its guiding principles during this transition process. I suggest this for one reason: the steps and the prayer are all about taking the power and control out of our hands and putting God in the driver’s seat. I don’t think committee meetings or worship should look like a twelve step meeting; rather, that the steps and the prayer would be part of why we do church and how we do church: “to practice these principles in all our affairs”.

The transition process brings our weaknesses, our defects of character to the surface so that God can heal them, so that we can forgive ourselves and each other, so the past can be laid to rest, so that we can be ready for whatever the future may hold. But of course, the first step is admitting that we are powerless, that it is God’s power that is made perfect in our weakness and in the weakness of our sisters and brothers. The first step is admitting that we are in deep need of God’s grace.

Thanks be to God, that God’s grace is sufficient! Amen.

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