When Weakness is Power

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. 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.’”

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.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

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. 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? 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.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 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.

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. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 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, 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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

July 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

Genesis 29:15-28                   Romans 8:26-39                     Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

Have you ever been ripped off?

Have you ever gotten home before you figured out that someone gave you the wrong change?

Have you paid for something that turned out to be a lot less than what was advertised?

But what if you spent seven years of your life investing in your future, and suddenly discovered that your broker had taken your money?  Or of you bought a house and, after you took out a mortgage, and the closing was signed, they gave you the keys to different house?  Or, the car dealer gave you an uglier car than the one you paid for?  You get the idea.  This fraudulent tactic has been used so often over the years that it has a name, bait and switch, and is specifically illegal in most states.

And this only gives us a taste of the anger and betrayal that Jacob must have felt when his uncle, a beloved family member, robbed him of seven years of his life.  We read that story of love and betrayal in Genesis 29:15-28.

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob invested seven years of his life working, and waiting, for the love of his life.  He loved Rachael so much that seven years of his life seemed to fly past.  Can you imagine?  Most people today can barely imagine an engagement that lasts for more than six months.  I’ve known a few people who waited a year or two so that they could wait in line for the specific venue that they wanted for their perfect storybook wedding, but can you imagine waiting, and investing seven years’ worth of your labor, for the woman of your dreams?  And then, on the day after your wedding, discovering that the woman you married, isn’t the woman that you wanted?  And to make matters worse, even though you finally get the one you want, you end up working another seven years to pay for the wedding.

Jacob had to have been beside himself with fury, anger, and frustration.  Sure, Laban tried to explain it all away by saying that it was customary to marry the eldest daughter first.  But regardless, this still must be one of the most well-known cases of bait and switch in the history of fraud and bad deals.  Not surprisingly, after this moment, despite being his father-in-law, Laban is no longer a beloved member of Jacob’s extended family.  After this, Jacob begins to plan his departure as well as how he will take as much of Laban’s wealth with him as he can when he leaves.

Clearly, this is a story about fraud, betrayal, and bad investing (although, in the end, Jacob did get to marry the woman of his dreams).  But it serves as a contrast to the investments that we make in the kingdom of God.  In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus tells several parables that all connect to the value of faith, and the value of investing in God’s kingdom, along with a warning or two.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Jesus explains that joining the kingdom can be thought of in a transactional sense.  We are buying into the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God and when we buy in, we spend ourselves, we spend our time and effort in new ways and in new places that are, or at least should be, less focused on self, and focused instead on the good of the kingdom.  But that investment brings returns.  Jesus compares it to planting a mustard seed, which is tiny and not much bigger than a grain of table salt.  But that tiny seed grows into a plant that can be the size of a tree.  If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that it doesn’t take much yeast to bake a lot of bread.  But while only a little bit of yeast is needed for many pounds of flour and other ingredients, those ingredients won’t make bread without it.  Some treasure, Jesus says, is so valuable, that even if we sell all that we possess to buy it, we still come out far ahead of where we were before.  Imagine selling everything you had to buy a million-dollar home, because you knew that there was a hundred-million-dollar treasure buried underneath.  That’s the picture that Jesus paints for us as we struggle to understand the value of our membership and participation in the kingdom of God.

But there’s a warning in this message as well.  Jesus says that just as fishermen sort through their catch to save the good and valuable fish, and throw back the worthless ones, this same sort of thing will happen in God’s kingdom.  At the end of time, the people of the earth will be sorted.  The good and valuable people will be saved, and the worthless and evil ones will be thrown into the fire.

But, while that all makes sense on one level, on another level when we hear stories about judgement we begin to worry that we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to get things right, and trying to invest in the right things, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, and still get it wrong and end up on the wrong side of the judgement.  But our fears on that account are unfounded because that’s not the way that it works.  As long as we are genuine in our faith, and are trying our best and are not just selfishly ignoring God’s instructions whenever it is inconvenient, then God will not only walk with us on our journey, but will help us to make better decisions and support us when our human strength fails.  This is how Paul explains it in Romans 8:26-39:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When we feel beaten down, emotionally, and physically worn out, destroyed, drained, and helpless, Paul reminds us that a part of the package that came with our investment in the kingdom of God is that we are never alone.  We are never alone with our grief, never alone with our pain, or our fear, our suffering, our struggles, or our weakness.  When we struggle, or when we are weak, worn down, and exhausted, whenever we reach the end of ourselves, the Spirit of God is there to help us.  Even when we are distraught, confused, and in such emotional turmoil that we can’t even express ourselves in words, our groans, our weeping, and our tears, are translated by the Spirit and lifted to God as prayers for us and those we love.  We may not have the words, but God hears our cries, and understands.

But not only does God understand our pain, God is constantly working for the good of his people.  God has not only called us to follow him, but he is shaping us, and molding us, into the image of his Son, Jesus so that we might become like him.  No matter what enemy, beast, bully, person, pandemic, power, or politician stand against us, God is on our side.  And if God is on your side, there is nothing else that you need to worry about.  No matter what accusations might be thrown against us, God is the final judge.  It is God who, through his Son, Jesus Christ, redeemed the world, and it is Jesus who speaks to God on our behalf.  No one, no trouble, no hardship, no persecution, famine, poverty, danger, or violence can ever separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.  No one.

No matter what we face, because we stand with God, we are conquerors through him, and through his love for us.

Our bargain with God is not the fraudulent kind of bait and switch deal that Laban made with Jacob. 

We needn’t worry that we will spend decades investing in our eternal future only to have God betray us and pull the rug out from under us.

Jesus’ parables help us to understand that even if we choose to see our relationship in a transactional sense, and it is far more than that, that transaction is an incredible bargain.  What we get, in exchange for “buying in” to the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God, is far more that we could ever ask, or imagine.  Our return on investment, if you will, is many hundreds, thousands, or millions of times greater than anything we could ever do, or spend, in return.

God is always for us.

God is always with us.

God is always working toward what is best for us.

God is always shaping us to become more than we are, and more like Jesus.

And because we are justified by God, through his son Jesus Christ, we have no fear of fraud or bait and switch and no fear of God’s judgment.  We need not even fear our own weakness.

Because of our investment in the kingdom of God, we are more than conquerors.

And nothing in all of creation, can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/NOnfHIyrLBc

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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.