GOD'S PERFECT POWER
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. July 6, 2003. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.
. . . but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9
One of the things that almost everyone needs is some affirmation of who we are and what we do as people. We need to hear some appreciation from others that we are important to them, that at least part of the time we do things right, that we are missed when we are not there. Things like that. And even if we are one of those rare creatures who believe that we do not need that, we still want someone to agree with us, don’t we?
And so we are social beings who make friends and join groups where this can happen, and we also watch movies and television, and read things such as the newspaper and books, and all these activities can provide certain kinds of affirmation for us. Many people get married to make a life together, and they make vows that that they will “love and cherish” each other – which normally includes a certain amount of affirmation. In the Bible we find a great amount of affirmation as we read about God’s love and care for people, and of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
On the job people need to hear from time to time that they are doing their work well. Like other people, ministers too need some affirmation in their work. I can recall some people I have known in other places who would sometimes say, “That was a good sermon, Reverend; it’s too bad that the people who needed to hear it weren’t here today.” The irony to that, of course, was that I thought that the person speaking was exactly the one who needed to hear it. But then I also remember a woman named Dorothy Ferguson. Dorothy never came out with one of those “good sermon” statements. But every once in a while – maybe once every two or three months – after church she would say something like “You helped me this morning,” or “You know, I never thought about things that way before.”
So, I believe, we all need some affirmation in our lives and in the things we do, and when we read the scriptures, we can find there a great deal of that affirmation.
But then, affirmation is not the only thing we need in life, is it? We also need some challenge, don’t we? From time to time we need to be brought up short – to have to come to terms with something that we would rather not. And that too can happen through our friends, and through the person we are married to, and in our work, and in the things we read.
Today’s scripture passage from 2 Corinthians is such a case, for it challenges how we think about God – and how we should think about ourselves. Paul speaks of how – when he was glorying in and boasting about all the revelations he received from God, he was given what he calls “a thorn in the flesh.” Now who among us has not had a thorn or a splinter or a metal filing get lodged under the skin and we can’t get it out? And so it hurts, and festers, and irritates us. We just want to be rid of it, don’t we?
Paul is clearly using this as a figure of speech. The fact is that no one really knows exactly what Paul was referring to. All we know is that it was a nuisance for him, so much so that he prayed to the Lord three times to remove it. “But,” Paul says,
he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is made perfect in weakness." So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Now here is a challenge for you and me. We think of God as being all powerful, yet here God says that his power – and ours – is made perfect in weakness. This is hard for us to fathom, you know – similar to when Jesus said that the master must be servant of all. This idea of power being made perfect in weakness is a difficult teaching – one that many of us do not easily grasp and apply to ourselves. Rather it is something that we have to live into, and it can take a lifetime to do that.
Paul apparently was able to embrace this teaching, for he went on to say,
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, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (12:9b-10)
Such a paradox this is, yet such hope it can give us. For what it means is that God is able to work through our weakness as well as our strength. That God is not finished with us yet. That God accepts us as we are. And let us not forget that key line in verse 9 which says “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we are praying to God for all sorts of things, let us remember – his grace is enough. It is sufficient for all we need. It is by God’s grace that we are affirmed and it is also by God’s grace that we are challenged. And that grace is enough. It is sufficient. Thanks be to God whose grace is all we need, and whose power is seen in the weakness of Jesus on the cross. Let us each one look for – and see – all the ways that God is at work in us when we are weak as well as when we are strong. And let us allow God to work in us and through us, so that both through our strength and our weakness, God’s love and God’s grace may be known by everyone. Amen.