July 8, 2018
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
God’s Grace is Sufficient
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
This morning I want to share three things with you: something I learned these past three weeks; something I learned reflecting upon our fourteen and a half years together; and something we both need to hear.
What Paul is talking about in our passage this morning is an apocalyptic vision. Dr. Barbara Rossing lectured this past week apocalyptics and their role in the Bible. Paul describes a friend taken up, whether in the body or in a vision, he is not sure, only God knows to the third heaven. This is apocalyptic language. Like the books of the prophet Daniel and the Revelation to John, this story
speaks of being lifted into a heavenly realm that something might be revealed.
Rossing reminded us that we have lost the meaning of apocalypse and revelation. What does apocalypse mean? [pause for answers]
Apocalypse does not mean the end of the world. It means unfolding, uncovering, revealing. Like when the curtain is pulled back and Dorothy and her friends see that the great and powerful Oz is a bald guy from Kansas. That is an apocalypse. These stories are not about the world ending, but the world turning into something new by the grace of God.
If apocalypse is problematic, then Armageddon takes up way too much space in our theology. Yes, Armageddon is the place of a great battle in the Revelation of God to John of Patmos. But when we reduce the whole of Revelation to this battle, we might sell millions of copies of the Left Behind series, but we miss the point of Revelation entirely.
Paul himself had such visions. He says that he will not use such visions to try and put himself above others. Such visions are not the purpose of faith. As his previous letter to Corinth reminds us.
… if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing…. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end…. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Paul says that the point of faith is that God’s grace is sufficient.
Which brings me to something I have learned reflecting upon I have learned reflecting on our time together.
Paul writes that he has a thorn in his flesh. It is so bad, it is like a messenger of Satan. Paul never tells us what this thorn is. Is it a knee or a hip that is worn away, that today we would replace and get some relief? Is it some mental health difficulty that today we might try to medicate to get some liberation? Is it a lust or an addiction that he cannot free himself from, that today we would medicate, or deal with in a twelve-step group, or define differently so that we can live with it?
Paul has prayed about it. Three times, Paul has appealed to God to remove this problem from his life. And Paul, yes Paul, THAT Paul, does not get the relief he asks for. Instead, God speaks to him:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Wait, what? God’s power is make perfect in weakness? You mean like the seed that falls to the ground and dies so that something new can grow? Or the smallest of seeds that grows to shelter all the birds? Or a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish feeding thousands? Or the power of sin and death being overcome by a body broken on a cross?
Yes. Yes. Just so.
I recognize that over these past nearly 15 years I have probably been a thorn in the side for some of you. Whether by what I have said or not said, what I have done or not done, by my coming here or by my leaving, intentionally or unintentionally, I have been a pain to you. Some of you have done me the honor of telling me so. Some have talked to each other about it and so by the time I hear about it, there may or may not have been much I could do about it.
There is no way to live in a community of faith without disappointing each other at some point along the way. We have the same problem that the church has always had. We have a divine word of grace and hope and peace and love. And we have human beings like me and you trying to live this word in our all-too-human lives.
I have had the goal in ministry of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I believe that this is what the Gospel calls for. I also know that I sometimes comforted the comfortable and afflicted the afflicted. For however I may have missed the mark, I offer my sincere apology.
And I confess that some of you have been that thorn in my side. Some of you may know your thorniness, and some may not. And I own up to the fact that sometimes I have talked with you about it these things in healthy ways and sought to resolve or reconcile or redeem them, and sometimes I have let them simmer and stew and rot.
It is a good reminder to me, and maybe to you, too, that not every conflict is Armageddon. Not every battle is the end of the world.
And so, I offer my sincere apology for my part in whatever difficulties, problems, miscommunications, or stuckness we have experienced together over nearly a decade and a half.
And I offer my sincere forgiveness for whatever part of these is not mine.
My prayer is that I can hear these words, and you can hear these words, and we can know them to be trustworthy and true. For this is something we all need to hear, whatever our level of faith, whatever
our role in life’s difficulties, wherever we are on life’s journey:
“God’s grace is sufficient for you, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.”
Let us love one another. Whether or not we agree, whether or not we settle our disagreements in healthy ways, whether or not we feel worthy of such love. Let us love one another, because God loves each and every one of us. And God’s grace is sufficient for us, wherever life takes us. God’s grace is sufficient for us, whether we are together or apart. God’s grace is sufficient for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.