When Weakness is Power
July 04, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Mark 6:1-13 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Everybody loves kittens. Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom. So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television. In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass. Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals. The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them. Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away. The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.
Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat. The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals. And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals.
Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace. This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.
5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”
3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
After the death of King Saul, the people look to David. They have seen him. They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield. They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king. And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king. And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.
Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God. David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith. And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.
But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.
6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
This story takes a couple of surprising turns. First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith. Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.
The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing. Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes. And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were. We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel. But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal. They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs. Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them. But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food. The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.
And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough. And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.
What does that mean?
It means that we are kittens.
Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals. But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.
The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him. We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God. But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.
Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have. The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God. Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do. You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does. When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them. And Paul knew that the same is true for us. We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.
On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.
Weakness is power.
When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.
When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.
Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.
Let go… and let God.
I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind us.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.