Sermon for September 30, 2018
2 Corinthians 12
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
We’ll come back to these verses , many times, because the world is loud. The world excites our senses to attend to it. The Truth is subtle, abiding quietly, and requires something other than senses, other than intellect.
First, who is the “you” spoken of here? Often, we take this for granted, as if we know who we are, how God defines us. This is a grave error. Once you make the assumption that the “you” you perceive is accurate, you are off down a path that leads to a false, self made, idea only. Your idea of who you are, as opposed to your actual identity in God, is a primary cause of suffering. In those times when we get a faint, or strong, sense of this, the ‘there must be something more’ feeling, we begin to seek. In these times, we begin to try to bring the sense of a greater truth into our moment to moment consciousness. It’s natural to want an answer to the question of who is this “you”. It cannot, ultimately, be communicated in words. You must explore it in experience, in silence.
Second, a natural progression of this question then, in the context of this verse, would be ‘whose weakness?’. In whose weakness is God’s strength perfected? The answer is intimately woven together with why it actually is that God’s strength works within our weakness. The answer will also begin to guide you through the greater question above of who is this ‘you’ that is spoken of.
Weakness cannot be applied to God for God is beyond the qualities of this world. God cannot be defined by opposites, impermanence, relativity, or any other quality or concept. This is why God, or Truth if that works better for someone, is often described by negation, by describing what He is not. This is also how we can begin to understand how weakness works to bring us back to the realization of our identity on God.
Our weakness applies to our ego, our worldly identity. It relates to ALL the qualities that, we believe, make us who we are in our present existence. Although the idea of a dividing line is ultimately just an illusion we create, we can think of ourselves as a dual entity- one who we see as this separate self and one who is one with God, transcendent. When we experience weakness, due to trials and suffering in life, our worldly identity begins to break down. Things we take as consistent elements of our identity, our lives, are slowly, or even suddenly, dismantled. Our formerly solid, consistent idea of things begins to fall apart.
Naturally, we first begin to fight when we feel like we are losing ourselves. We want to be able to keep our idea of who we are AND experience God as that identity. We try to use our intellect, our strength, our cunning, everything we have developed to survive, to maintain our idea of ourselves and our reality. We try to redefine ourselves, grasp onto anything that will make life make sense again. Whatever the catalyst might be, failing health, old age, financial trouble, loss of loved ones, weakness will first cause massive resistance in us.
In the realm of psychology, these moments in our lives are often described using the stages of grieving- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. These are all forms of using our individual identity to survive. They are forms of continuing to rely on our own strength rather than God’s strength. Even acceptance is a barrier because you are still identifying something to be accepted that is separate, for a separate entity. You have not yet allowed your idea of yourself to really be broken down. This is not a criticism, nor is it meant to make us feel guilty, but only as a sign to keep exploring further.
Going further, allowing the weakness, the suffering, to break down our defenses further, should not be an act. This should be an allowing, an act of faith. It should not be done with a sense of guilt, nor a sense of trying to ‘get’ something. This is a critical point, and why God tells us that His Grace is sufficient. Grace is not earned through action, merit, skill, or any other concept. It is beyond concept, beyond our ability.
Grace enters through the open door created by the weakness of all our prior strengths.
What we see developing here is weakness breaking down our separate, worldly identity, opening a door to God’s strength, and that strength acting on us in the form of Grace. The transformative power of Grace is how a formerly personal, suffering identity is born again in the image of God.
Christ embodied this Truth. He came, not wielding power and skill, destroying enemies and ruling the world with powerful miracles, but yielding his worldly identity in order to be one with the Father. Christ showed us where Truth resides, what ultimate strength is.
In a world that is so loud, so influential to our every thought, we are often encouraged to rely on our own strength. We don’t understand how we can live without our effort, our worry, our constant planning and maneuvering. It is a rarity that a person chooses to enter into weakness in order to find out what is on the other side. More often, we are thrust into a life situation that imposes weakness, strife, suffering upon us. In those moments, it is still so difficult to allow the unknown, to experience the weakness without fighting it, but it is an opportunity to receive Grace if we can just allow it.
These are easy things to write about, read about in a philosophical manner, but much more difficult to experience in the real, present moments of our lives, when the suffering has us looking for anything to grasp onto for a sense of security and direction. It can feel like stepping off of a ledge, into a dark abyss, with only a word of encouragement, a faithful yet fearful heart, to guide us. This is part of the process, part of God’s promise to us that his strength is perfected in weakness. Allow it.
The next time you find yourself stricken with a trial in life, suffering, feeling weak and bereft of your own strength, begin with faith. Take even the smallest amount of faith you can find and then be silent. Sit with the process of your normal ideas of security and identity becoming less defined. Find out what finds you when God fills the space where your ideas lived with Grace beyond your imagination.