~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 1st, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~
Grace and Power in Weakness
The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
Here we are on the weekend before the Fourth of July where in the United States of America many this week, rather than remembering our 242-year history will think only of fireworks, picnics and more fireworks. Look at the many firework stands that pop up every year in June! They are more abundant and more reliable sign of June that u-pick strawberry farms!
But I would like to at least take this morning and pause long enough to remember that 242-year history and give thanks for the liberty and strength of this country and the many other ideals our nation stands for when it’s at its best.
“America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” Those lines from the song are both a statement and a prayer. Indeed, God has shed grace on this country.
When leaders of our new country gathered to declare independence, when they gathered to write a constitution, it didn’t come easy, but God gave them grace.
A hundred years later, when our country was threatened with civil war, God gave us grace—even during the deadliest battle fought on this nation’s soil—and we avoided secession and division.
The twentieth century saw the United States become a world leader in commerce and trade. When our country was drawn into wars abroad, God gave us grace to come together with our allies and overcome dictatorship and totalitarianism.
Over the years, God has graced this country with a pioneer spirit, (Which to be sure, wasn’t without its excesses and abuses! Ask the Wampanoags of New England or the Sioux of the plains or the Apache and Navaho of the southwest!) Still at our best, God blessed our nation with courageous energy and generous wisdom.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these “unalienable rights” which our Declaration of Independence says have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect. It is because our country thrives that people want to join us. And so throughout our history, our country has attracted immigrants. We have always benefitted from this influx of new energy and ideas, and we will always need these. Sadly for some today, this stirs up more fear and suspicion than welcome. But it has been the experience of our nation that it more often brings with it, grace and strengthens our nation’s character.
But here in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Lord says to the Apostle Paul something else about grace. “My grace is sufficient to you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In other words, according to God, grace involves weakness. Paul delivers to us today an important lesson for any individual, and for any country: power, good and righteous power, is able to acknowledge weakness, individual and our weaknesses as a nation.
As a nation we are experiencing more and more horrendous actions within our society. Deadly shootings in movie theaters, night clubs, shopping malls, places of business, in our schools! And every day on the streets of our major communities.
Three years ago (does it seem possible that it’s been that long?) our country was horrified at the murder of faithful black churchgoers in Charleston. It struck our land with pain and horror. How could this be? How could a young man, any person, in our country commit such terroristic murder? Yet, that tragedy was powerfully answered by forgiving attitude of those left in the church.
And our country by-in-large reacted as if we too were a part of that healing grace. People lowered and removed confederate battle flags. Even people who don’t necessarily think the battle flags are racist began removing them. The pro golfer Bubba Watson who owns a replica of the “General Lee” the iconic car from the 1980’s Dukes of Hazzard television series, painted the American flag over the Confederate one on the car’s roof! He did this he said to show his solidarity with those for whom the flag was very disturbing.
Of course, in our country these tragedies have sparked a national debate on everything from race, gun control, video game violence to mental health matters. And with the current lack of civil discourse in our nation, it seems we will be arguing about these issues and many more for some time.
Yet, when we are at our best as a nation, it is by God’s grace that we can carry on such arguing freely and hopefully constructively. But sometimes, these arguments have revealed embarrassing weaknesses, and they have revealed arrogance and fundamentalism, too. Now, let me be clear, “arrogance and fundamentalism,” is not limited any one particular political party! As a very progressive politically and theologically minded mentor of mine once reminded me, “There is sometimes no one more close-minded that an open-minded liberal.” He knew that the dangers of arrogance and fundamentalism were not the sole traits of any one political or theological perspective.
Scripture teaches us that power is made perfect in weakness. God’s power is perfected in weakness. “The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Our country has always been at our best when we have considered the needs of the weak, the suffering, the minority. Seeking and serving the weak, no matter where and who they are, makes this country who we are. And it makes people want to live here! But realizing weakness is also what makes each of us, as individuals, stronger people. Indeed, the spiritual life starts and ends with humbly realizing our weaknesses, acknowledging our struggles and pains. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in an earlier letter: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25)
And the faithful Christian spiritual life certainly means following the example of Jesus, seeking and serving the weak. In the wonderful “miracle economy” of God, God works like this: when we seek and serve the weak among us, we are actually better able to recognize our own mistakes and weaknesses. It is then that amazing grace occurs.
One of the glories of our country is that we are able (or have been able), with grace, to recognize our needs and weaknesses. I know that some of us don’t want to hear about our country’s weaknesses especially on this holiday. Some people mistakenly think it is treason to point them out. But such is not the case.
This ability to acknowledge weakness, wherever it might be in our country’s structure, is exactly what makes the United States different from authoritarian countries, and from dictatorships, and from tyrannies.
We are different! But our difference is this: that our greatness comes from being able to voice criticism and name our mistakes and weaknesses. We are not an imperial power, a power that blocks out all disputes and opponents. We are freer, much freer, than those countries of the world which seek to suppress dissent and acknowledgement of weakness. Again at our best we listen to each other individually and internationally. We learn from listening to each other, really listening. And we can learn from our mistakes. But first we must admit them!
And in the end as Christians, we hear as Paul heard, “My grace is sufficient to you,” says our Lord, “for power is made perfect in weakness.” When we can acknowledge weaknesses, we can then experience grace. And in this grace find our strength as persons, as a people, and as a nation.
So yes, “America, America God shed your grace on us.” May this be our prayer: And may it be O God, your grace and your power for only then we will really understand greatness in weakness!
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