6th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 9) LSB #’s 727, 770, 806
Text – 2 Corinthians 12:10
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
FINDING STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
Especially when someone is going through a difficult stretch of life, it is not uncommon for a well-meaning Christian to say, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” That saying is used as a way to offer comfort in the midst of hardship & pain. It’s one application of an actual Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 10:
“No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; & God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (v.13 NASB)
However, at another point in his life, St. Paul expressed a quite different truth while writing to the church at Corinth: “…we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 18b-9 ESV)
You know from experience that God allows us to be in situations that are too much for us & threaten to overwhelm our strength. Our Savior does this not to teach you & me that we can handle it, but to teach us that our Creator can handle it.
Weakness is not the kind of thing a person goes looking for. Something most of us would rather avoid is having to ask for help. Practically speaking, God has to force us into it. Many situations arise that we just can’t handle, let alone deal with perfectly by finesse & grace. Yet, there is nothing that God can’t handle.
It is against the backdrop of our weakness that God’s saving power is most clearly seen.
Don’t you agree that each one of us needs to be saved? Here’s an example of Yahweh giving someone strength in weakness. The Lord said to Gideon, “Go in this strength of yours & save Israel…” (Judges 6:14) Here is a summary of Gideon’s strength:
Gideon is purposely chosen on account of his weakness in order that God’s power might be displayed. Yahweh taught this lesson often during Israel’s history. When Israel exalted herself & gloried in her strength & wisdom, then the Lord humbled His people. When they were overcome with weakness & cried out in repentance & faith, then God would save His people.
When Israel, chosen to be God’s son, had completely failed in its mission, then the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh of a human woman & Jesus was born as King of all creation. He became a human fetus & then a baby, unable to speak or walk, totally dependent upon sinful human beings for food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home & protection.
He is the King of the universe, yet, He did not rule His world in power & majesty but through human weakness. He humbled Himself & lived as an obedient servant. The heavenly Father was revealed through His perfect Son’s life of service, humility & faith. Nowhere was the human weakness of Christ more evident than upon the cross. He was alone, abandoned & undefended – the ultimate picture of weakness & yet strength, because He willingly chose to remain there until He breathed His last breath. None of us would have the strength to make that choice, let alone stick it out to the bitter end.
Through that weakness, suffering & death, almighty God accomplished His greatest saving work. He redeemed from sin, from death & from the devil every sinful human being that ever has been conceived.
When Jesus rose from the dead that was proof of His glorious victory. Death could not defeat the perfect Son of God, nor could it hold Him. With that resurrection, an entirely new creation was begun, one that is unaffected by sin. This new creation is pure & holy & is the essence of God’s love. There is not one ounce of perversion in it.
That is the hope to which our saintly nature looks, & which it waits for patiently, especially in the midst of weakness. In our weakness our saintly nature leans upon Jesus even through tragedy & suffering. The saintly nature knows & firmly believes that it cannot save itself. But our sinful nature lives in pride & in fear – refusing to ask for help from anyone.
One way of explaining it is to realize that finding strength in weakness is the same thing as finding God in our weakness. Moses wrote, “The Lord is my strength & my song…” (Exodus 15:2) Weakness humbles us & shows us our true need. As long as we’re strong we believe only in ourselves. It’s in weakness that we are forced to confront the truth.
If we refuse to confront our desperate need then we will never know God’s love for us. It’s pride that refuses to acknowledge our weakness. To counter our pride, to find God & strength in our weakness, is why we confess our sins here, publicly, each Sunday:
“I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” Some people are very uncomfortable with that confession. They find it depressing. Apparently, they have not learned how to find & receive strength from God in their weakness. It’s not too different from trying to use a cordless drill that has a dead battery. If you refuse to acknowledge that the battery is dead, & therefore, refuse to recharge it, the cordless drill will do nothing for you. Without being recharged it is powerless & useless.
In the same way, if you or I refuse to acknowledge that we need God’s forgiveness, in order to be recharged, then the gifts & blessings we’ve received from God will be useless. Admitting that we are weak allows the Holy Spirit to fill us with the power of God’s new creation. That is when the Lord becomes our strength & our song.
To receive God’s strength, still today, the people of God need to cry out in repentance & faith. Admitting our weakness is the avenue to finding the strength of God at work in our thoughts, & our words & our deeds. Admitting our weakness is like realizing the battery is dead & needs to be charged. Confession allows the Holy Spirit to reconnect us to God’s power.
The words of St. Paul challenge us still just as much as they did the congregation in Corinth almost 2000 years ago. Though we have far more modern conveniences, living the Christian life is no easier today than it was back then.
The Corinthian culture glorified wealth, reason or science, wisdom, sophistication, status, power, & athletic competition. Those were the cultural values of ancient Corinth, & they are not unlike the values people glorify & live by in our society right now. Paul’s advice, in this case the very Word of God, is still totally applicable to our lives:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Corinthians 12:10 ESV) The ways of God do not evolve. His teachings were true & useful then. They still are today. Yahweh’s glory & love are revealed to & through those who suffer. Salvation comes to us through this, beginning with Jesus who suffered without measure. Let us join then with Paul, & in contradiction to our sinful culture. Let us boast not in our strengths but in our weaknesses. We endure them through God’s grace so He may reveal His power to those who hear His voice.
Just as for Paul, God’s grace is also sufficient for you & me in our day & in our time. And God’s grace is made perfect in weakness, not in our glorious experiences. Spoken after our confession of weakness & sin, the words of Absolution lift us up & renew our strength by the power of God’s Word from the 20th chapter of St. John:
Upon this, your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called & ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, & in the stead & by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (LSB page 214)
Receiving that forgiveness from our Creator is what gives our tired & weary soul true strength. Amen.
Have we trials & temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer. Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen. LSB 770:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet