... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Day of Pentecost 5 Year B Father's Day,
Message July 08th, 2012

Strength in Weakness

Text: Samuel; Psalm 48; 2Corinthians; Mark 6:1-13

The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic scriptural expressions concerning strength and power, this passage should cause us great concern in 21st century civilization where we, as Church and nation, have become so prosperous and powerful. We must continue to ask ourselves, “How are we fulfilling God’s purposes?” “How is power to be exercised?” “What role does faith play in the power struggles of the world?” and, “Where do we fit in to the great scheme of things?”

Unfortunately, what we hear in the scripture readings for today cannot simply be transposed to our situation of the present. Israel, in David’s time, was a theocracy wherein the religious community and state were inseparable. In Jesus’ time Israel was an occupied country under Roman authority and in Paul’s life the church was deemed a sect or break-away group without voice or power and, persecuted both by the state and the accepted religious authorities of the day. In our life the church is an accepted part of society. Christianity ranks among the great religions of the world and, notwithstanding the North American situation, still has a fair amount of authority and power.

Despite these cultural and temporal gulfs, however, there still exist some lessons which we would do well to heed. And not only heed, but take to heart and incorporate into our very beings. Much debate has centered on what it means to be weak and what it means to be powerful. The Old Testament continually admonished Israel about its place and relationship in the world as well as its relationship to its covenant with God. Whenever the nation deemed itself powerful and proud there was a tendency to drift away from a reliance on God and go its own way. The consequences of this tendency always landed them in hot water.

The nation, having come through difficult times and being without a king as their neighbouring nations were, pleaded with God for a king putting forth Saul as a powerful choice. However, it proved to be a poor one and thus the Lord chose David – a boy a shepherd, a weakling against the likes of Goliath. Yet it was this young boy who became the agent of God’s forces defeating Goliath and going on to become Israel’s greatest king. Despite all his weaknesses and despite his wrong doings David was ever ready to submit to the Will of God understanding his relationship in the covenantal plan. David, chosen by God and anointed by Samuel, brings together the political and theological dimensions which had always been Israel but never fully realized. David was the cement between God and the chosen people. It was never David’s own strength or cunning which secured this union but rather God’s imaginative expressions spoken to and actuated in David.

This was an important concept for the early church and is in part why it was imperative that people saw in Jesus this Davidic connection, for as in David God’s power was experienced so in Jesus God’s power was perfected. Mark’s message of Jesus’ inability within his home town to be recognized was the illustration of the true weakness of humanity. It was also a way to reveal to his early listeners that God doesn’t usually rule by force or flamboyant excesses. To the contrary, God works in mysterious ways and in Jesus’ weakness – i.e. crucifixion – God’s power in salvation was fulfilled or made perfect.

Paul’s understands Jesus’ death and resurrection as the Divine ‘strength in weakness’ of God’s design and was the basis of his argument against his detractors at Corinth. These antagonists had refuted Paul’s claim as an apostle on several points: he had been a persecutor of the early Christians; he had not known Jesus personally; he had not been part of the early movement; he had not boasted of particular divine encounters per se; he had not been rich or powerful as some of the other preachers had been. Within this context Paul parodies his opponents refusing to boast in various strengths or accomplishments. Instead he gives his audience at Corinth something to ponder by his boasting of his weaknesses, showing both his vulnerability and God’s power to utilize the human adversity to accomplish the divine purpose.

Part of what Paul tells us is that his weakness is ‘a thorn’ and ‘a messenger of Satan’. While much has been speculated as to the infirmity – from visual repercussions of the Damascus experience to malaria, from marital or sexual troubles to physical stature - the point was that God often uses these faults as a means of accomplishing what cannot be brought about by force.

In this sense weakness is neither timidity nor subservience to humanity. It is not self-deprecating nor incapacitating. It does not mean a lack of stamina or of boldness. What Paul declares as weakness and what was seen as the stumbling block of the wise and powerful is that quality of humility, flexibility and, openness to God’s instruction. We have all heard of Aesop’s fables and the various stories covering the power of the sun over against the wind or the strength of the mighty ash versus the spindly willow. The sun in its warmth coaxes more than the howling of the wind. In the storm the mighty oak is broken while the weak spindly willow bends and survives. David had known when to flex, when to listen, when to walk with humility and, when to display anger. He had been open to God, ever willing to repent and, to think outside the box. Jesus had been the perfected agent of God in whom God’s plan for the salvation of the human race was fulfilled.

God’s power is often seen in human trial and weakness. Even our entire humanity is a testament to this. Perhaps of all created animals humans are the least able to physically survive. We can tolerate only a narrow temperature range, we can only run at best 10 mph, and then not able to sustain it for long. We have no sharp claws or powerful talons. We cannot swim well nor can we fly, yet we have populated every conceivable habitat and we have tamed most other species having them as pets; we can move faster than any other animal we can fly and we can stay on and in the water.

Weakness opens us to other possibilities including the otherness of the divine will and power. Our weakness will never bring us defeat. Defeat will come whenever we believe ourselves powerful and mighty trying to rise above our allotted station as God’s appointed stewards of creation and God’s agents of Divine presence.

May we ever realize our weaknesses and be ever open to allowing those weaknesses to be the avenues by which the strength of the Gospel and God’s will can be manifested.