Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was quite an amazing character, a hero of the faith if there ever was one, doggedly persistent in the proclamation of the gospel. So it is somewhat marvelous that he writes here complaining of weaknesses. This doesn’t sound like much of what passes for Christianity today, where people brag about their accomplishments in Christ. Ask anyone why they are a Christian today, or what makes it true for them, you are likely to get a barrage of stories on how before they were a Christian they were an alcoholic and they found Christ and cleaned their lives up. (People do that without Christ too.) You find that they were womanizers, addicted to gambling, or they even quit smoking. They became better father’s, better mothers, husbands and wives. It’s amazing to me how often people come back to church for these things. What makes Christianity true in their minds, has nothing to do with whether Christ ever came back from the dead, but it is something they accomplished, some sin they overcame, some vice they quit.
I read an article a few years ago about alcoholics that actually quit without the help of A.A, or rehab. Some people need it some people don’t. Watched a comedy routine once where a man turned his life around and was explaining it to an old friend. The punch line is he did it without Christ. A snub in the face of self-righteous Christians who think of Christ as their crutch with which to get through life. A well deserved snub. Christians glorying in their strengths. Christ is about a lot more than your ability to stop being a drunken womanizer. And where as some people may need A.A. to quit drinking, and some people don‘t. Some people need to quit being drunken womanizers, and some people just aren‘t that to begin with.. But we all need Christ, not to make us strong, but to forgives us when we are weak.
It is funny you don’t see people discussing the truth of Christianity, bragging about the demon Christ sent to torture them. I think the problem with attaching the truth of Christianity to some perceived change in your life, comes when you wake up to find that you are the same leopard you always were, spots and all. Some how the mirror you thought you were looking at turned out to be warped to make you look longer, or even a painting of a leopard you admired. But as the saying goes the leopard’s spots don’t change. Neither do we. Everyday, we have to struggle against sin, every morning we have to drown the old Adam in the forgiveness of sins, and begin to walk in the newness of life again, because God’s mercies are new every morning. So putting the past behind we move on looking forward eyes glued to the cross, to Golgotha, the hill from whence comes our help in the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness showering down upon us as we remember and repent of the same sins day in and day out, (I mean I don’t know about you, but I seem to repent of the same ones quite often, as I said spots don’t change, blemishes it seems don’t much either.) And as the dust of the day before washes down the drain, with the sweat, stench and filth of our flesh, we remember these holy waters of baptism, which today will wash the sins of Arden away, drown her Old Adam, bury her with Christ and rise her to new life with the promised Holy Spirit. Baptism is not just a one time thing it is something we live day in and day out. It is something we return to day in and day out. And quite honestly the morning shower isn’t a bad place to remember it. A place to make the sign of the cross in remembrance of the fact that you are baptized. You have been buried and you have been raised to walk in the newness of life. That despite all your sins and failures in life you are Christ’s, you are a child of God, forgiven of your sins. This is the truth of Christianity. It isn’t that you have changed, and become a better person. It is that Christ has died for you, and has forgiven you all your sins, all your failures. And when we cling to this “His power is made perfect in our weakness.”
Too many wake up and realize they haven’t changed. Too many think that forgiveness was a one time thing to wipe the slate clean as they moved forward overcoming sin after sin, mastering one after another. And with each accomplishment they become more insufferable to those around them, and their relationship with Christ becomes more and more brittle, because it isn’t based on what Christ has done and does for them, but on what they do for Christ. Then one day the inevitable happens, they fall. And as Merle Haggard says, “falling wouldn’t be so bad at all, but I’m always on a mountain top when I fall.” It is a good thing to strive against sin, to grow in the love of Christ for your brother and your neighbor. But learning to grow in faith and love, is a process of you decreasing and Christ increasing as John the Baptist says. Of learning to humble yourself, and boast in Christ. And when your accomplishments, your climbing on the ladder of self-righteousness, the mountain of success, becomes the basis of your relationship with Christ, then you will find yourself on a mountain when you fall. And you will fall. You will fall hard, and faith will shatter with funny mirror of your self image. We can never afford to believe that we are anything but poor sinful creatures, in need of Christ’s righteousness. Neither can we ever afford to believe anything but that Christ has made us righteous with his death, despite our sin.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” It isn’t when we have it all together in they eyes of the world that we are strong, but it is when we go to Christ for forgiveness that we find strength. Paul had it together once. He tells of this in Philippians:
 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as (skubola translated “rubbish“ here, but better translated with a four letter word for manure. The King James, I believe, translated it dung, which is more accurate though it too fails to grasp the graphic nature of the word Paul used to describe his former self- righteousness.), in order that I may gain Christ Philip. 3:4-8 (ESV)
Think about that, Paul used such a harsh term we don’t like to translate it in the English, and people today would find offensive coming from the pulpit. Paul had it together then, when he was a persecutor of the church, educated, cultured, respected by those in power with a political career bright on the horizon. He had it together then, in the eyes of the world.
That isn’t how he describes himself after becoming a Christian. Oh he was still educated, cultured enough to quote the Greek classics arguing with philosophers in Athens. But he had lost all respect in the world, and thrown his political career to the wind. In 1st Corinthians 7 he identifies himself not with the virgins who had never been married, but as single like the divorced and widowed. Divorce, even in our day it is such a taboo that even that verse is translated unmarried, though the word indicates married at one time, and no longer. It may have even been more taboo in his day, especially among his kinsmen, who believed as we do in a God who hates divorce. Truth is, his wife probably left him when he became a Christian, her father representing her in court as a persecution of the Christian faith. I don’t know where people get the idea that the Christian life is an easy one, and perfect in the eyes of the world. Somehow people don’t think bad things should happen to them if they are Christian. And many of the so-called Christians I know live in some sort of detached dream world refusing to see the pain around them. A plastic smile glued to their face, thinking that somehow they lose faith if they are not happy. But it is when things are not peachy, and we turn to Christ. It is when after we have sinned we repent and Christ forgives, when we fall and Christ picks us up, that is when our faith is strongest. For it is then that we boast of Christ, and not ourselves. Our faith is strongest when we can’t rely on ourselves, but have peace in Christ, for though this world gives us tribulation, have peace, for Christ has overcome this world.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.