Sermon in the Community of the Resurrection Church, Mirfield on Sunday 5 July 2009: TRINITY IV PROPER 9 2 Cor 12.2-10 Mark 6.1-13
In the reading for today St Paul says,‘Power is made perfect in weakness’
Now I’m well into my seventies I’ve noticed how my contemporaries like talking together about their ailments. These appear to increase as the years go on, as Benedict said to me when I celebrated my seventieth birthday, ‘It gets worse’.
He certainly experienced that and like some gallant souls he rarely talked about his bodily troubles. It seems to me that once we fall into the physician’s hands we never get out of them.
But we ought to be grateful for our much maligned NHS. Unlike most people in other countries we receive such excellent care.
But can we agree with St Paul that power is made perfect in weakness? For him it was a matter of faith. He explains what he meant by weakness. God, he says, allowed a messenger of Satan to torment him, a thorn in the flesh. Although he prayed for deliverance three times, it wasn’t removed. Some misguided Christians think that all sickness can be cured if only the sufferer prays in faith. Here we have an example of an apostle who was not cured.
We don’t know what kind of malady Paul suffered from.
It may have been a bodily or mental illness. Perhaps the Christians who knew Paul had some idea.
Apart from this thorn in the flesh St Paul mentions other causes of his weakness. ‘I am content with weaknesses,’ he says ’insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak then I am strong.”
These sufferings arose out of his ministry and preaching of the Gospel (as he says ‘for the sake of Christ’). He was nevertheless strong because of Christ’s power who worked through and in spite of Paul’s suffering to achieve great things.
In his First letter to the Corinthians 1.27 Paul wrote ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.’
The supreme example of this truth is the Passion and death of Jesus when he appeared utterly weak and powerless but we believe that it was then, in and through his sufferings, that our Lord achieved his victory over evil and won for us salvation and life eternal.
There are other instances in his life when Jesus was apparently weak. One occasion is given in today’s Gospel.
At Nazareth Jesus could do no mighty works because the people there did not believe him capable. As far as they knew he was just a carpenter, certainly not educated to be a Rabbi and in calling him the son of Mary there is the insulting hint that they thought him illegitimate.
Like Jesus the disciples are sent to preach in the villages of Galilee in great simplicity, they have nothing to offer except the Gospel of the kingdom of God. They are dependent on others for food and shelter.
I recall that the students of the Federal Seminary when we were in Pietermaritzburg were required to copy the disciples for a few days as part of their pastoral training. They had to go off in pairs into the local communities with just 50p and beg for food and accommodation. I remember hearing how two students called at a house and were told by the wife to return after her husband had gone to bed. She left the kitchen door open and told them they could sleep there but be sure they left before her husband got up. It isn’t surprising that we abandoned this experiment after two years because it was too dangerous.
The Gospel was spread by Jesus, by Paul and by the first disciples in weakness not by the sword or by wealth. The Church hasn’t always followed their example but it remains the model for Christian evangelism. We believe that the power to save people is God’s and not ours. He uses weak tools to achieve wonderful things.
This is a comforting truth when we feel pretty useless and we can apply it not just to individual people. When our Community or indeed when the Church as a whole seems weak and futile, God especially then has the power to do great things. Holy is his name.
Crispin Harrison CR