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“Power in weakness… Power in the Cross!”

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style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt'>May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen 

You might be surprised to know that Churches can be about the strangest organizations that I have ever been a part of

I have been on sports teams, a variety of jobs and workplaces – but churches; once you get inside, inside and see how things tick… they can be the strangest of all organizations

What do I mean by this… well, what I am referring to is:

      The driving ‘purpose’ of any organization and measuring up against that ‘purpose’

You see with a sports team – the purpose is the competition – building up towards that the goal of participating and competing

With most businesses, its purpose is providing a product or service – all efforts are measured by the organizations ability to do this

Yet when church staff: pastors, ministers, program coordinators get together – you would be amazed what they sometimes talk about – or in fact what they don’t talk about…

            I think that the purpose of a church is… God

It is the proclamation of the Love of God, The Kingdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ – in whatever form possible or available – by word and/or deed

            It is about providing for spiritual growth

Ultimately it is about being an influential power in the spiritual well-being of those in and out of the church

And so when church leaders get together, I would think that since we are all on the same team, there would be an encouraging of each other for ‘our purpose’… our ministry – if you like,

whenever experiences are shared

            But this is far too often not the case

                        Maybe because we are ‘on the same team’ there is a feeling of competition within

But I have often been part of gatherings where all that seems to be happening is boasting in individual achievements

You will be glad to know that I am speaking more about my days as an Anglican cleric and not much about the ministerial that I am involved with here in Brantford

And maybe it was the fact that we were all Anglicans that made the competition greater – we were all offering a more similar offering than when the ONEchurch ministerial gathers

But the boasting that was happening, although true, was almost always presented out of context

We would hear about only the wonderful things that were happening – but rarely the struggles or the trials of ministry  …and almost never about our purpose

You can see why I started off by saying that Churches are about the strangest organizations that I have ever been a part of

It might be because churches have been such an integrated part of people lives for so many years that understanding their purpose gets lost over time

It might be that we are focusing on the different worship styles that the confusion of purpose is there

It might be that, unlike in business where unproductive members are either re-trained, re-appointed or dismissed… churches are people – not buildings… and measurement of purpose is hard to do – and so purpose can get confused along the way

It is this boasting in confusion of purpose that we meet up with our passage from 2nd Corinthians today

It is about confusion of leaders while in the role of being an influential power in the spiritual well-being of the church

The city of Corinth, like many ancient cities, was inundated with the images of power

·         The impressive temple of Apollo under the brow of the acropolis greeted all visitors to the city.

·         The biennial Isthmian Games featured contests of athleticism and feats of power.

·         Corinth, the “master” of two harbors, was an economic trade center and power-broker for much of the Mediterranean world.

Hence, it is not surprising that the cult of power was alive and well among Corinth’s citizens

And even among the Christians who responded to Paul’s preaching.

Through-out 2nd Corinthians, St. Paul is defending his authority against attacks of false apostles.

They have come to Corinth proclaiming a picture of Jesus that is at variance with the gospel the Corinthians first heard from Paul and in which they believed and placed their trust for salvation.

So to establish their own authority and power, the usurping apostles spread disparaging comments about Paul.

His letters, they say, are weighty and strong, but when you see Paul in the flesh, he’s not so impressive.

And when you hear him preach, his speech is weak and of no special merit, and you see him for the fool he is.

So Paul responds, in so many words, “If you take me for a fool, then I’ll play the fool.

What does a fool do? He boasts. (Exactly what the false apostles have been doing.)

So I will boast, matching the false prophets boast for boast.

They claim to be sons of Abraham; so am I. They claim to be servants of Christ; so am I -- and hear how much I’ve suffered in Christ’s service.”

Then he says, “If you think I am weak and a fool, I’ll show you just how foolish I am.

I’ll boast, not of my strength, but of my weakness.” For only a fool would boast of weakness.

Paul keeps the details of his weakness strictly between himself and the Almighty.

He speaks of it only cryptically, as “the thorn in [his] flesh.”

Whatever the thorn was, Paul is able to boast of this weakness because this thorn in his flesh turns out to be a blessing.

When Paul boasts of his weakness, he has turned the false apostles’ criticism against them.

For the hallmark of a true apostle is found, not in his strength, but in his weakness.

Consider the following: John the Baptist’s declares, “I must decrease that He may increase.”

And Jesus commanded us, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

When we read Jesus’ words alongside Paul’s, we realize that the light of God’s power is revealed in the weakness that always accompanies even our best good works, …and God is glorified through us. [1]

The Good News I bring you this afternoon is not a eulogy for virtue as you can see.

I do not come to praise the power of your knowledge or perseverance or patience.

On the contrary, this is a eulogy for weakness.

You see, whatever you contribute in your life of faith this summer, its source is not your strength or your virtue or your excellence,

But its source is your weakness.

Its source comes when you surrender your ambitions and allow God to reign

For as Paul tells the Corinthians, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”[2]

You may interested to know that Bible is filled with unanswered prayers … and unanswered prayers from heroes of the faith

Moses prayed let me go into the Promised Land – God said “no”

David prayed ‘God save my child’ – God said “no”

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane ‘let this cup pass from my lips’ – God said “no”

And then today - Paul prayed three times ‘take away the thorn in my flesh – God said “no”

                        God said no to their purposes

The point is this: true holiness is not a matter of personal power—it is a matter of God’s power in the midst of personal weakness.

Throughout 2 Corinthians, as Paul has been up against a group of religious pretenders, sheep-stealers who’ve discredited Paul by slinging mud.

They resort to boasting about their ecstatic religious experiences to boost their image further.

Paul makes it clear that boasting about such experience does no good.

Religious experience is by definition personal,

Any true encounter with God is always an act of God, initiated by God.

It does not indicate anyone’s superior level of faith or spirituality -- which is why you can’t brag about it

The more serious we become about being salt and light in the world, the more devoted we will become to mission and justice,

The more concerned for the least and the lost,

The more stubborn about forgiving those who don’t want our forgiveness,

The more determined about exposing the works of darkness

-- and the more we will suffer.

And yet, ironically, if ever we’ve suffered in this way for the sake of Christ,

Then we know the power of weakness, that spiritual force and joy of obedience that energizes us to endure the suffering with grace. [3]

It is what enabled St. Paul to declare:

"Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

Another way understand all this talk about weakness, is to consider how we are saved

            We are granted salvation by the once, perfect sacrifice of Jesus

All our sin, both committed and in the future – us, generations past and generations to come - all is forgiven by the substitutional atonement of God in Jesus the Christ

The servant ministry of Christ – once, perfect, complete – makes us Holy justified to God

In Christ, all our transgressions are wiped away and we are made right with God

Yet considered from a perspective outside the church – this would seem like complete foolishness

How could someone who was executed by the ruling power – someone who appears to have no power…is weak – how can this provide salvation

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

The Cross is expectations of this world, turned on its head

This world is all about the appearances of power and the Cross is the surrendering of power, and into servitude

Jesus predicted what He was to do and declared His purpose …and ours… as we read in John 12

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:24-26)

Jesus also said:

You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  (John 13:13-15, 34)

To the world – to be a servant is weakness

            To the world an instrument of death, the Cross, is foolishness

But God shows us … and St Paul declares “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

God declares that the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven – comes when we love one-anther just as Jesus loved – in service of one another

I will conclude with a brief story…

A minister was visiting patients at a convalescent home; it was a nice day and one of the men the minister had come to visit was sitting in a chair out on the lawn.

The old man was leaning over one arm of the lawn chair patiently stroking a cat Cats like to be stroked, you know. It calms them and makes them purr.

The cat in this case, however, was definitely not purring. It was complaining rather loudly and pawing the grass.

As the minister drew closer, he immediately saw why.

The old man was stroking the cat from back to front, rubbing it the wrong way and he was saying something softly to the cat.

The minister bent over to listen. The man was whispering over and over: "Turn around cat!", "Turn around cat!"

God's grace is sufficient. If we aren't experiencing it in the trials, tribulations, and thorns of life, perhaps we are not standing in the right relation to God.

We need to turn around, and let God's grace gently stroke us and soothe us.[4]

Thanks be to God - Amen





[4] Illustration Sourcebook III - # 2119 - GRACE

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