The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
July 5, 2015
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
(Children’s sermon: Children are given thin sticks and asked if they can break them. We can break the stick when it’s by itself. But when we bundle it with a bunch of other sticks – we can’t break them. Bound together in God's love, we experience power - even in our weakness and brokenness.)
We are at the end of our sermon series “Finding Jesus Finding Us,” and today we’re focusing on finding Jesus in the midst of our weakness. As St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
What an odd statement: power is made perfect in weakness. It seems like a contradiction. We would think that the phrase should be: power is made perfect in strength. But that’s not what Paul said. He’s talking about the thorn in his flesh (that’s where we get the phrase – a thorn in my side, by the way). We don’t know what he’s referring to – some kind of physical ailment or injury? Some ugly growth on this skin? Or perhaps it’s a weakness for something – some temptation that causes him to give in. We don’t know. All we know is that he prayed for the thorn to be removed. And God’s response is: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
This week on Facebook, I posed the question: What is your weakness? And how have you experienced God’s power in that weakness? One Facebook responder gave a list of different ways we experience weakness, including: depression, lack of clarity, financial fear, stress from parenting, and broken relationships. She said that experiencing weakness feels like “God is closing a door and not opening a window fast enough.”
You’ll see at either end of your pew that there are slips of paper. I want you to think about what your weakness is and write it on that slip of paper. Don’t put your name – just write down what your weakness is. Whether it’s your pride, or a health issue, or your stubbornness, or your addiction. Just write it down and fold it up tight.
As you’re doing that, I’m going to ask Mike Mertz to come up and share with you his testimony about where he has experienced God’s power within his own weakness. Mike is one of the biggest, strongest guys I know. I remember the first time I met him here at church when I came here four years ago – I thought the church had hired a bouncer! Mike is a trainer and specialist in sports medicine. The more I've gotten to know Mike over these years, I learned that he has a very deep faith – faith that has been tested by times of weakness. And he has learned a thing or two about what it means to experience God’s grace and power made perfect in weakness.
[Mike’s testimony: see video for full story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJbWLwwxqN4&sns=fb Mike's portion starts at 6:19. Summary - Mike was a golfer who was prepared to turn professional, but two weeks before he was to start, he broke a bone in his hand, which ended his career before it started. He was devastated at the time, but eventually followed the path of sports medicine and give thanks to God that he has been able to help so many adults and kids.]
Here’s the thing: Mike literally experienced a pain in his wrist that was like a thorn in the flesh. It was a career-ending injury. He would no longer be able to pursue his dream of becoming a professional golfer. But through this weakness, God’s power was made perfect in Mike. He has touched the lives of probably a thousand adults and young people as a sports trainer, and has helped them either avoid injury, or recover from injury. Mike understands sports medicine on a very personal level, knows the importance of keep one’s body in good shape and playing sports the right way in order to minimize injuries. God’s power of healing has been made perfect in Mike’s weakness.
Remember – I’m not saying that God caused Mike’s injury so that he would follow the path of sports medicine. That’s not how God works. God is not like a master game player up in the sky, deciding to afflict some people just to achieve a certain outcome, no matter how positive. If that was the case, it would mean God is arbitrary and manipulative and cruel. No – God is not up in the sky making things happen. God is here below, among us, accompanying us no matter what we face, no matter what circumstances arise, and creating something new out of our brokenness.
When I was a hospital chaplain I had the occasion to visiting a young woman in the oncology wing who was facing a recurrence of cancer. She was very frustrated – just like Paul. This person had prayed fervently that the cancer would resolve itself. Lots of people were praying for her, all over the world. So she had strong confidence that God would keep the cancer away. So when the test came back positive, and it turned out that the cancer was back, this person was understandably shaken. She was doubting the power of prayer, her own faith, and doubting God. As I sat with her, I remembered this verse from 2 Corinthians and read it to her – “My grace is sufficient for you. Power is made perfect in weakness.” I asked her to imagine a way that God’s power might be made perfect even in her illness.
She thought for a while, then answered: “Maybe if - no when - I come through this surgery, I can help other cancer patients who are facing the same thing as I am. I know there is a cancer support group here at the hospital. Maybe I can volunteer with them, maybe become something like a cancer coach, helping people go through what I’ve experienced. No one understands cancer better than one who has been through it.”
I thought this was a very wise and faith-filled response. I don’t know what happened to the woman, because after she left the hospital, my chaplaincy ended. But I felt certain that God would find a way for that divine power to be made perfect through her weakness.
That’s what Mike has learned over the course of his life. Power is made perfect in weakness. Notice – God did not magically make everything the way Mike wanted it to be after his injury. But when we walk with each other, help others by sharing what we’ve been through, it’s like bundling these sticks together – there is incredible strength. Every fault, every sin, every failure, every affliction can eventually be an opportunity to walk alongside someone on the same path, embodying Christ’s presence, compassion and grace.
Here’s what I invite you to do. As we sing the hymn, I invite you to come forward and make an “offering of weakness.” Put your folded up piece of paper here in this basket – remember, no names. At the end of the hymn, I will say a prayer over the offering of weaknesses. We will pray together that God’s grace will be sufficient for you and for our congregation. And that we might, together – like sticks banded together, weak by themselves, but united in strength – that we might experience God’s power through our weakness.
As the Facebook responder wrote: “When I am weak, He is strong! I lean harder on Him! I wait patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently) but I remind myself of God’s love for me. I remind myself that God is bigger than my problems! That He is Jehovah Jireh, Lord Provider; Jehovah Shalom, Lord of Peace; Jehovah Sabbaoth, Lord of Deliverance! And I have learned when the storm clouds roll, I send my praises up and they break apart those clouds and the blessings come down! Praise is the weapon and I have never seen it fail!"
May God's power be made known to you through your weakness today. And may we, as a bundle of brokenness and weakness, be a witness to God's power through Jesus Christ. Amen.