You Already Have All You Need

Here’s a sermon from Sunday, July 5th, 2015

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 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. 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.

Mark 6:1-13
[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Pent6 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 7-5-15

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

The last thing I wanted to be called, as a kid, was “a ninety-pound weakling” (even though that description pretty much fit me up until the 9th grade, when puberty kicked in). You remember all those names we call people who are weak? Wimp. Wussie. Pushover. Fairy. Coward of the county. Milquetoast. Namby-Pamby. Mama’s Boy. And, what list would be complete without: Girly-man. As if there were something weak simply by being a girl! By the way, have you seen the billboard south of town for the fitness center? It reads: “I know I play like a girl. Try to keep up!”

So, our normal reaction to weakness is to respond with bravado and shows of power. Athletes take performance-enhancing drugs, to gain that upper edge in speed or strength. We spend millions of dollars on weight loss and fitness programs that promise abs-of-steel! And this is nothing new. Back in the 50’s & 60’s thousands of young men across the country wrote in to Charles Atlas, so they wouldn’t get sand kicked in their faces on the beach, while all the pretty girls were watching.

To be sure, in American society, weakness is nothing to aspire to. But it is unavoidable …to anyone with a pulse, standing upright …sooner or later.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.41.28 PMA couple months ago, the actor Burt Reynolds, made an appearance at comic book convention and some people were appalled at how old he looked, as he took the stage to answer questions, hunched over with his cane. Where’s that strapping young man we remember from Smoky and the Bandit? Heck, he is almost 80 years old, give him a break! This is what happens to us all when gravity catches up to us. And yet, somehow, the old actors keep coming back: Harrison Ford will reprise his role as Han Solo, in the new Star Wars movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is out with a new Terminator movie. And there’s even a new Rocky movie coming out, called Creed.  and Sly Stallone is now the trainer for the young, upstart boxer. So get this: Rocky is now ‘Burgess Meredith,’ the trainer. But it’s the quote from the preview that struck me most, where Creed says: “It’s not about how hard you can hit… It’s about how hard you can get hit.”

Is that what boasting in our weakness is all about? On this Independence Day weekend, as we celebrate our freedom and the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us… just what are we to make of this lesson?  I have a hunch that it has something to do with declaring our dependence on God whose power is made perfect in weakness.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is getting hit from all sides, being heckled in his hometown, so to speak… “We know this guy. Here are his brothers: James, Joses, Judas and Simon. We grew up with these knuckleheads.” Surely, they’d heard of the wonders he had performed in other places. But he could do no deed of power there, because of their unbelief. Then they go for the weakness in his lineage. “Oh look, it’s Mary’s son?” Notice, there’s no mention of a father, which implied Jesus was an illegitimate child. Matthew and Luke clean it up a bit.

In Luke 4:16 – they say: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And, in Matthew 13:53 – they say; “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”
But here, in Mark 6:3 – “It’s… Mary’s son?” There’s no mention of a father.

This was a sign of disgrace and weakness, to have no father – especially for Jesus, born in a barn, with questionable parentage and no earthly fanfare… it’s the same weakness that dogs him all the way to the cross. “He saved others. Let him save himself!” Even Jesus prayed to God in the garden: “Isn’t there another way?” Three times, he prayed only to submit: “Not my will, but thy will be done.”

This same weakness is evident in Paul’s ministry, who describes it a “thorn in the flesh” that has kept him from being too elated. He doesn’t say what that thorn is (though many scholars have written volumes on what it may have been). Is Paul’s weakness a personal vice? A moral lapse? Did he have some bad habit – maybe he smoked a pack a day? Or, might it have been a physical ailment? A speech impediment? A limp? He never says. All we know is that it was a messenger of Satan – some ‘wicked angel’ that wouldn’t leave him alone all those years. “Three times,” says Paul, “I appealed to the Lord to remove it – but he refused.” “My grace is sufficient for you,” says the Lord, “for power is made perfect in weakness.”

What about you and me? There are no “performance-enhancing drugs” here. In fact, when Jesus sends out his disciples all they have is a staff, a pair of sandals, and each other: “Take no food, no bag, no money, no nothing! Just go… and in your blessed weakness God will provide all you need.”

Have we lowered our expectations of what God might be doing in our lives? When I think of my own life – complete with all my sins and shortcomings – it is a wonder that God is at work in me – in spite of all those things! Instead, it’s much easier to make excuses: “You don’t want me share the Gospel, I’ve got too much baggage – too many skeletons in the closet.” You could add your own list of shortcomings… inserting what that “thorn in the flesh” means to you. Maybe that’s the reason Paul doesn’t come right out and say it – perhaps he wanted us to insert our own thorns in its place – and pray that God can use us in spite of them.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.11.57 PMI was out to Crow Wing State Park this week and noticed a peculiar thing about the chapel area. When you drive into the park and take a right, by the ranger station, there are two signs that read: “Catholic Mission” (to the left) and “Lutheran Mission” (to the right). And if you go ‘right’ to the Lutheran mission, you’ll find a large boulder with a plaque dedicated to the first Lutheran missionary to the Indians here in Minnesota: Rev. Ottomar Cloeter (in fact, his descendents are still preaching the good news 150 years later – both in Sauk Rapids and in St. Louis). Pastor Ottomar Clouter was a Missouri Synod pastor, who ministered among the Indians and white settlers for 11 years – all with little to show in the end, and yet, here was a faithful servant of God, who dedicated his heart and life to the people in his charge. The Civil War was raging and the Dakota Conflict of 1862 had set the region on edge, forcing Pastor Cloeter from his cabin near Mission Lake to the village of Crow Wing (where a monument now stands in dedication to the mission). Six years later, he accepted a call to Afton, MN and the mission to the Ojibwe ended.

Now, if you turn ‘left’ on that road, you’ll find a Catholic chapel named after Father Francis Xavier Pierz. Father Pierz began his mission among the Ojibwe when he was 50 years old! Hello?! Seriously? He left his home in Austria at 50, at the bidding of a colleague, who saw in him the gifts for missionary work, and he came to live among the natives and pioneers of Crow Wing County. Just imagine these pioneer preachers, bushwacking through mosquito infested marshes, carrying heavy packs and birch bark canoes on their backs! These guys must have been unstoppable. In fact, the town of Pierz, just south of here, is named after Father Pierz. The Indians called him “Old Man, Black Robe” because he really was old by then! For 30 years, Father Francis preached the gospel in this area to the pioneers and Ojibwe in the area. He once negotiated a peace settlement with Chief Hole-In-The-Day of the Ojibwe, when they were arming themselves for war, knowing they would be outmatched. Fr. Francis fought against trappers and traders who exploited the Indians with their liquor – first getting them drunk then stealing all their pelts. But it was hard work for missionaries, as the Indians were quite mobile, never settling in one place – especially once they were forcibly removed onto the reservation at White Earth.

So what does all this have to do with us today in 2015? These guys went with nothing but the clothes they had on their backs. They didn’t have and special powers – but they did carry with them an inner strength – a spirit that cast out all fear. To be sure, there were many missions whose sole purpose was to strip the Indians of their culture – to give them hair cuts and teach them the White Man’s ways Thankfully, today’s mission fields are marked more with a spirit of accompaniment – that is, walking together, side-by-side – and listening to what the Spirit is calling us to learn from each other. That, I think, it was made it possible for Jesus’ disciples to go out two-by-two with nothing except a walking stick and the clothes on their backs. Jesus said they had all they needed inside them – a spirit of freedom and a message of hope.

There is nothing anyone can do to you, that can defeat the one who is within you!

They may break the body, and win the battle of the flesh; but no one can touch the soul – that which has been claimed and named as God’s child – once and for all.

You see, what you and I believe matters! What we say and do matters for God’s mission to be carried out. If we don’t believe God’s working through us then we’re already done. We might as well fold up the mission right now.

Notice how Jesus performed great miracles wherever he went – except here, in his hometown …because of their lack of faith. Oh, sure, he laid his hands on a few people who were cured… but the text says, “he could do no deed of power there… and was amazed at their unbelief.”

So, I leave you with a question: what is Jesus amazed about as he looks at us?

Us, with all our weaknesses and shortcomings? Are we hiding and heckling from the sidelines? Or, are we living out our faith – in spite of the thorns we bear?

My prayer, on this Independence Day, is that we may declare our dependence on the Lord! That we might stand in that freedom and embrace our weaknesses. You already have all that you need, to go and do what the Lord is calling you to. So, hear that gentle voice calling this morning:

“My grace is sufficient for you,
my grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Let us pray: O God, we reach for your hand when we have nothing else to give or to say – may it be enough – and may you work through us with power from on high. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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