Our second scripture reading this morning comes to us from Pauls’ second letter to the Corinthian church, the twelfth chapter. Listen as Paul attempts to show the Corinthian people that God’s definition of power might look different than theirs.
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 to 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.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Happy Interdependence Day. Did you catch that? Interdependence. The Jesus way that we seek to follow is steeped in community and mutuality. So on this Fourth of July as people blast fireworks non stop to celebrate the “bombs bursting in air,” I would encourage you to remember not our independence but rather our interdependence. We are not made to be alone. We are not made to be pillars of strength or perfection.
Our culture has an obsession with strength. It loves its military might and shows us with its spending. It loves the idea of rugged individualism where everyone is only responsible for themselves, and their success is seen as based squarely on their shoulders. And we see parallels between our gun toting country and the Roman Empire of Paul’s day. The Greco-Roman world had an obsession with military conquest and domination. They celebrated their military victories with parades and festivities and statues of their leaders. The more territory you conquered, the more military victories you achieved, the more you squashed your enemies, the more you were revered and held up as an example.
And it is to these parallel worlds, theirs and ours, that Paul offers us, the church both then and now, a little reflection on power and strength. Paul writes that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Wait a minute? Weakness? That is God’s plan for establishing the kingdom? Because no one else has ever done anything like that. Every weak person or country has been destroyed and attacked and conquered. We should be conquerors, we should be on top, after all we have the right religion and the right God so we must be the best, right?
But Paul writes that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. The God incarnate in Jesus reigns in power and majesty not through domineering or warmongering or conquering but rather by serving, healing, and journeying alongside. It is not through legions of angels or followers and military conquest that Jesus wins but rather through touching the leper, feeding the masses, and having dinner with the dregs of society.
The people of Corinth that Paul is writing to have lost sight of God’s vision of serving one another and loving one another and washing each other’s feet. Paul has received a report that many members of the Corinthian church are being led astray by more charismatic and more “successful” rival apostles who have come preaching a very different message than Paul’s. These so-called super apostles, as Paul takes a cheap jibe at them, are preaching in eloquent words and fancy messages. They claimed that you had to show deeds of power and look good while you were doing it. They wanted the Corinthian church to separate into those with power and those without.
“My grace is sufficient for you,” God tells Paul. My grace is sufficient. Not your power. Not your fancy words. Not your rugged individualism. Not your looks. My grace is sufficient for you. In other words, what I think God is saying is that, where you are weak, you can lean on me. This is how you witness to me. This is how you show the world who I am.
What Paul and Jesus and God are doing here is an invitation. An invitation for us to not boast or brag about our paychecks, our cars, our military might, but rather an invitation to bring all of ourselves, especially our vulnerability and our dependence to God and to one another. God is revealed when we rely on God and not our own strength. God is revealed in our world not in self-sufficiency or independence but rather shows up in our interdependent community, where we as God’s people rely on one another and show up for each other’s needs.
This has been a truth that I have experienced countless times within this church community. From my first day walking in and serving FISH to the potlucks where everything is provided to the Blessing Box wanting to care for our neighbors to the partnerships with HOSWWA for affordable housing, Hagar’s for supporting incarcerated women, and Family Promise to start a new ministry to care for families. This church knows we are not alone. We partner with others. We do our best to fill in gaps in our world that are hurting. I have leaned on many of you over and over for help with technology or education, to borrow a truck for moving or an ear to help sort through a problem. I wanted to come up with one story for my sermon but I could not narrow it down. We are a community of faith, seeking Christ’s way and welcoming all. We are a community. We. And it is a beautiful, interdependent, and grace filled thing.
So today might be a great day to celebrate our Interdependence. Reach out to your loved ones, your neighbors, your friends, and those in need. Offer a shoulder for them when they are in need and this is just as important, lean on them when you need help. We all need one another. We cannot do this alone. Ask for help. That is where we will experience God and where we will share God’s love with the world. Amen.