God's Good Enough Grace
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25)
In the earlier letter Paul writes to the Corinthians – he uses that more well-known phrase in line with what we hear in his excerpt this morning. That if we boast in God – we boast through our weaknesses for that is how we grow the power of God in ourselves.
God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom – God’s weakness is stronger than our strength.
This is a rather strange idea. And Paul tells a rather strange story this morning – “I know someone who was carried to the third heaven.” he says. And it’s even more odd because he doesn’t say, this happened to me – but speaks of himself in the third person (i.e. George Costanza, in Seinfeld).
We believe this is Paul describing his conversion experience – what we read about in Acts 9 when he is blinded by light while on the road to Damascus. After that Saul goes from persecuting followers of Jesus – to Paul, proclaiming the good news. Time in the third heaven led him from taking lives – to risking his own to say – we are all forgiven – we are all chosen ones – and that our power lies in accepting and living this message of whole and holy dependence.
If you read the chapter before this excerpt – Paul makes a very impassioned plea to the people of his church in Corinth. He speaks of the “divine jealousy” he has for them – how he robbed from other churches to contribute to their needs – and how he desperately loves them and is beside himself because he believes they are being led astray.
In his absence, some people have come forward as “super-apostles” – seem to be taking over – and seem to be a lot cooler than Paul is. Apparently they are better looking – they are more articulate – and whatever it is they are promising – sounds more appealing – than the idea of proclaiming Christ crucified – that God’s strength is in and through that weakness.
That’s not surprising though, right? Not even the disciples were lined up at the foot of the cross. Weakness is not something we boast about, right? Where is the good news in that?
For some of us this morning – maybe there is some good news in hearing that even with these famous figures of our faith – like Paul – and like Jesus – none of us get everything we want, no matter how many times we ask God for it – or how “good” we are. Paul prays for that thorn in his side to go away – and it doesn’t. Anyone have a thorn in their side this morning? A situation they wish was different – a problem that hangs there like a cloud – or a person you wish would see things your way, or change, or go away?
What Paul may be trying to convey is not just his personal struggles – but how he has grown to see that the thorns aren’t given to us as – but are personal opportunities in our lives, to practice accepting God’s grace. The reason Paul is so angry at these super-apostles, is that they appear to be using Paul’s thorn as a sign of his weakness, of God’s disfavor. Pointing it out to the people saying – see, if he was really who he claims to be, God would fix that. Paul would look the part – handsome, articulate.
But God does not see as humans see – we may remember from 1 Samuel a few weeks ago in the David/Goliath story. Where you and I see weakness – God sees strength.
Grace is sufficient is what Paul hears God say in his struggles. My grace is sufficient for you. God knows there is strength available to us in acknowledging God with us in whatever it is we are going through – and to acknowledge our dependence on that grace – to acknowledge our weakness, our need for God – is a strength that is wiser and in the eyes of some – foolish in the eyes of others.
Grace is sufficient. Grace is good enough. Grace, acceptance, is really the only thing Jesus gives to his disciples before he sends them out, two by two. Just after the people in his hometown make clear – he isn’t a super-apostle either.
Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house. Jesus is amazed at the way he is treated – ignored and disbelieved - just like every other prophet before him.
A thorn in his side I’m sure – but God is at work. Some do come to him – some do believe – some are cured. And that is good enough.
I think its pretty amazing the writer of Mark included this story. Wouldn’t he have preferred a super-prophet Jesus? I read yesterday ("Why Are We Obsessed with Superheroes?") that 7 of the 11 top-grossing films of 2017 were super-hero movies – and surely there is a reason. A global obsession with these stories seen by hundreds of millions of people (myself included). Where strength and power are elevated – and the line between good and evil is comically clear. That’s the difference between movies and life though isn’t it – good and evil, not always so clear. And the movies definitely highlight the difference between our idea of strength and power – and God’s.
I see plenty of superhero movies, believe me. But if you’re looking for a summer grace-filled blockbuster – go see the documentary, “Won’t you be my neighbor” – about Fred Rogers – and his ministry for over thirty years of treating children with the dignity, the validation, the attentive kindness they deserve – consistently sharing the message of the gospel – you are a child of God – and that in and of itself is good enough.*
Its amazing watching how – and remembering for some of us – how he took time to create quiet and wonder in his show. Feeding fish. How in his land of make-believe – he taught children it was ok to ask questions about painful topics like not feeling good enough – or parents going through divorce – or what the word assassination meant.
And watching him speak at the congressional hearing where public television was almost defunded is extraordinary. He simply shares his philosophy – his theology – that if we want a society of healthy adults then we have a responsibility to cultivate patience, kindness, awareness in our children. He sings a song he wrote – what do you do with the mad that you feel?
What do you do with the mad that you feel When you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong...And nothing you do seems very right?
Do you punch – do you pound – do you run?
Or do you stop – when you’ve planned something that is wrong – and do something else instead. Because there is something deep inside – that helps us.
That power of God in our perceived weakness – to find, to choose patience, love inside – not insisting on its own way – but seeks to build ourselves and others up. From that first question he asked children at the beginning of every show – won’t you be my neighbor – to all the ways he taught – he demonstrates – how it is in the smallest acts and words of kindness that the power of good prevails. (read 1 Corinthians 13)
End of the film – 9/11 – he shows the pain on his face – overwhelmed by how this could happen – and again, the more I study faith – learn about the lives of the people who inspire and move me – like Jesus, Paul, Mary, Francis, Clare – all of them show signs of maintaining profound trust in a power greater than themselves – because their strength, their wisdom isn’t enough – there is a letting go and trusting in that grace of God that will exceed them – and will continue to use their words and their witness when they have go on to their glory
Faith is a radical upending of superpower ideals.
Small acts – small pairs – like Jesus sends out. Just show up – he tells them. Just show up – and offer a message of peace, tell them God loves them. And if the people in the house don’t want to hear the message – that’s ok. You did your job – it was good enough. Shake the dust from your feet and move on.
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Give us grace to be devoted to you with our whole heart – help us see the strength in our weakness and the foolish wisdom in the power of love. Amen.
*Grateful for David Brooks' op-ed that reminded/inspired my reflections ("Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good")