5th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #729
Text – 1 Corinthians 2:3 & 5
And I was with you in weakness & in fear & much trembling, …that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
WEAKNESS, FEAR & TREMBLING
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” Since the 1970’s, those words have been attributed to Harriet Tubman, although there’s no record prior to it that she ever said them. She died in 1913.
Yet, those powerful & compelling words could certainly be considered as a philosophy that Harriet followed while she was alive. She was a black woman who had been enslaved from birth, somewhere around the year 1822. About the year 1849 she escaped from her slave master’s plantation through the underground railroad.
It was only a ninety-mile journey from Maryland to Philadelphia, but it was travelled entirely on foot across rivers & through forests, often in the dark of the night. And her slave master had put out the word to arrest her & bring her back. So, she travelled with a good deal of weakness, fear & trembling. Still, because she wanted a taste of freedom, she kept going.
Though Harriet found work as a free woman in Philadelphia, she did not desire that freedom only for herself. At tremendous risk, she went back to Maryland in order to rescue her niece & her niece’s children. Having made it safely to Philadelphia again, Harriet returned about 12 more times to successfully rescue other family & friends, including her parents.
Like Harriet Tubman, once the apostle Paul tasted freedom, he could not rest unless he was sharing it with others. Also, like Harriet Tubman, the apostle Paul learned to lean upon Jesus for everything needed to accomplish his mission. Paul had always been a free man in the sense that he was not enslaved to other human beings. Yet, prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been a slave to the law. He was a highly educated man, & still, when Paul became a Christian, he considered his former religious beliefs as manure (Philippians 3:2-11). That’s how strongly Paul viewed his former beliefs as a form of slavery.
Once Jesus set him free, as a result, Paul “…decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ & Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV) Once Paul had tasted freedom, he had to go back & try to rescue others from the slavery he himself had left behind.
Like Harriet & Paul, us preachers face formidable challenges in helping you to be set free. Harriet’s own brothers, out of fear, refused to escape with her. Many of Paul’s fellow Jews refused to accept the way to freedom that Jesus offered them. People that you & I know still want their efforts & their decisions to count for something, & thus remain in those chains.
As we share with people what Jesus has done in our lives it’s not easy to make Christ’s presence plausible & practical in a world in which our heavenly Father works through the cross. People in our culture are appalled by capital punishment even as it’s carried out in much more humane ways than crucifixion on a cross. That the cross offers life to them is unfathomable.
The world does not want the cross. If we’re honest, neither do we! That’s why we have what’s referred to as a consumer culture. All of us are constantly buying things to make our lives easier, more pleasant & more beautiful. The cross brings hardship & self-denial. The cross brings weakness, fear & trembling.
Yet, Harriet Tubman’s harsh childhood & experiences in captivity strengthened her resolve to free her people, especially her family. Her journeys were sometimes delayed because she needed to hide from slave catchers. To minimize the risk of being seen & caught, she usually traveled during fall & winter. So Harriet learned, through hardship, to pray: “...and I prayed to God to make me strong & able to fight, & that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.” What are your prayers like? Do you prayer for healing & for ease & for comfort? Maybe you should pray to be strong & able to fight, because the devil is attacking you & your family every single day.
You may not be enslaved to a plantation owner, but sin does have its hooks into you. Your sinful nature is not from God, but from the devil. So the preacher & you as well, face formidable challenges in making Christ’s presence plausible & practical in the lives of your friends & family.
Yet, despite these challenges, preaching has the Spirit-given, Spirit-driven power to create a bridge that carries us into a new reality. The Word of God carries us from darkness to light, from death to life from slavery to freedom. Our true future is inhabited by God & resounds with His Word.
Preaching moves us forward into God’s planned future by assuring us of Christ’s presence in our lives. Christ’s presence is the antidote to our weakness, fear & trembling. For Black History month this year, V.P. Pence spoke at the Holy City Church of God in Memphis, TN, & he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said during his famous march in 1963:
“This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to work together, pray together, struggle together, go to jail together, stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” Dr. King knew “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
What are your prayers like? Are they driven by weakness, fear & trembling, or driven by what your sinful nature desires? There’s a fine line between the two. Thus St. Paul wrote: “And I was with you in weakness & in fear & much trembling, …that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Amen.
I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee; trusting Thee for full salvation, great & free. I am trusting Thee for pardon; at Thy feet I bow, for Thy grace & tender mercy trusting now. I am trusting Thee for cleansing; in the crimson flood; trusting Thee to make me holy by Thy blood. I am trusting Thee to guide me; Thou alone shalt lead, every day & hour supplying all my need. Amen. LSB #729:1-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet