Reflecting on the First Sunday in Lent, Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 17
Old Testament: Job 1:1-22
Gospel: Luke 21:34—22:6
God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio and Pastor of Polk UMC, Polk, Ohio.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words (Psalm 17:6).
I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend prolonged seasons overseas a few different times in my life. Once was when I was in college and got to take in France for six weeks, and the other was when I spent two school years in the Middle East. Each one was a gift and I still daydream about crepes and desert camps, Metro stations and the Call to Prayer bursting forth from minarets. I loved living in and exploring faraway lands.
Despite the fact that those were some of the most special years of my life, however, they were also some of the most difficult. I was far from home. I was struggling with the things that burden a young adult’s heart. I was trying to figure out my way in the world which all of a sudden got a whole lot bigger as my perspective widened and shifted. All of a sudden, I needed to lean on God unlike ever before.
Thankfully, I had some good guides along the way. I remember sitting down with one particularly wise mentor who directed me to a famous passage in Scripture, one which I had heard before but, at the time, had not ever stopped to meditate upon. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 reads:
"But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (NIV)
In its larger context, our boy Paul basically talks about how, despite the fact that he is awesome and has every right to boast, he has been given a thorn in his side to keep him humble. Then we get these two verses which are absolute, gut wrenching gems. They are beautiful as they affirm Christ's power and the truth that we don't walk alone. These verses encourage me more than I can say.
But these verses are also really hard.
It's all well and good to say that God can and does give us strength, but what does it mean when that is the only strength we have? Or to take it further, when we brag about the fact that none of our strength is our own, that when we face down the difficult moments in life, the only thing we bring to the table is acute weakness and we are proud of it?
I don't like that. I want to crow about my own skills and efforts and performances. I want to have it all together and have God as a buddy rather than the Being who carries me. I don't want to be weak.
Nothing that I have to say today is extremely revolutionary, but I can say that these verses have been swimming around my head recently and hitting me as hard as they once did, sitting in a distant cafe and missing my mom and dad back in Ohio. When verses or passages present themselves, we need to pay attention and we need to share. Here I will share some of the conclusions that I've drawn. In all of this, the Lord has been reminding me that I am not alone, so I send this out especially to those who need to hear it today.
1. You are not above His grace.
Listen, anyone that has had an encounter with Jesus knows that we are all in desperate need of His grace. But when push comes to shove, I want to go ahead and manage things alone. I am not part of some strange elite that really can get along without Divine help (if anyone, Paul would have been in that gang, and he still experienced weakness). None of us can go without this grace which is sufficient to fill in all the gaps that we hide from the world, which can carry us when we try to disguise our obvious limps. You, yes you, need the grace of God. You are not above leaning on what he can and does offer. And it is sufficient.
2. We can be proud of where we are.
It's hard for me to imagine myself boasting about my weaknesses. I don't particularly relish the idea of going into town square, gathering a crowd, and shouting about my shortcomings. But here Paul has the audacity to tell us that it is good to choose boasting in weaknesses rather than false strengths so that "Christ's power may rest on me." I don't know about you, but the idea of Christ’s power alighting on my shoulders, lifting the burdens I carry, sounds pretty wonderful. The way to a full experience of His power is through acknowledging where we fall short. Because of this, we can be proud of wherever we might find ourselves on the journey. Gather a crowd in town square, trust that Jesus is present, and allow His power to wash over you.
3. It is all about Jesus anyway.
Imagine me clutching my pearls! Paul, you mean to tell me that you delight in all of this for Christ’s sake?! That His power shining through your brokenness is a testament to His goodness and glory?! It turns out that letting my weaknesses fly in the wind isn't a strange sort of masochism, but a way in which the grace of God is put on full, proud, glorious display. It was for Christ's sake that Paul faced down shipwrecks and a mysterious thorn in his side and execution by beheading. When you put it that way, my anxiety and perfectionism and jealousy are put into perspective. For Christ’s sake, I will let you know that I don't measure up. For Christ's sake, I will proclaim that I am worthy anyway. For Christ’s sake, I will surrender to His goodness shining through me, broken vessel that I am.
I leave you with the same benediction as Paul: When we are weak, then we are strong. Today, God is reminding us that, even at our sore spots, even when we are the most down, we have strength because He has strength and gives it to us. His love is empowering, friends, and there is no expectation to be perfect. Lean into His strong shoulders and know that you are safe.
Cross-posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"