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6th Weekend after Pentecost July 4 & 5 "The Fool's Speech"

Sixth Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL)

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

July 4-5, 2015

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            “The Fool’s Speech” is sometimes the name given to this weekend’s epistle from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians!  It’s so odd it’s confusing, so let’s listen to the paraphrase from The Message:

Strength from Weakness

12 1-5 You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows…

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

            What does Paul mean, he was “hijacked into Paradise”??  I don’t know, we can only guess.  Paradise comes from the Persian word for walled garden.  The highest favor Persian royalty could bestow on a subject was an invitation to walk with him or her in the private gardens, to have the king or queen’s undivided attention, to share the intimacy of strolling through beauty together.  The only thing we can say for sure about Paul’s visit to “the third heaven” is that it was delicious communion with his Lord!  Paul walked with God.  There was no barrier separating Paul from the divine Presence.  He had a mystical experience of union with God.

Maybe you’ve had a fleeting taste, too, of holy communion with God, of being in what we usually call 7th heaven, of a mountaintop experience, a private, privileged, powerful audience with God.

            Paul says that the Lord didn’t want him to get a swelled head over that gift he’d received, so God sent “a thorn… in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.”  (2 Cor. 12:7)  There’s an interesting menu of guesses people have made about that thorn in the flesh. 

·         Martin Luther thought it was the pain of opposition to the Gospel Paul preached, and persecution he experienced, not just from pagans but from Jews and Jewish Christians.

·         John Calvin thought the thorn in the flesh was some kind of spiritual temptation, like pride or doubt or hesitation to do whatever the Lord was commanding.

·         Many people have thought the thorn in the flesh was temptation to some sin of the flesh.

But many Scripture scholars point out that the sense of the passage is that Paul suffered some physical affliction, which intermittently caused him great pain.  The word translated thorn could actually be stake.  Some have wondered if Paul was a victim of migraine headaches – and/or eye trouble.  (Remember, he was struck temporarily blind on the road to Damascus?  And at the end of his letter to the Galatians he mentions the large letters with which he wrote!)  Others have suggested Paul had epileptic seizures.  Fever and accompanying headache and debilitation from malaria is another possibility.

            What is your “thorn in the flesh”??  What physical ailment or emotional handicap holds you back and makes you say, “Lord, if only I didn’t have this to deal this, I would do such-and-so.”  I’m thinking that Eleanor Roosevelt must have had some thorn in the flesh that she consciously beat into submission and didn’t allow to sideline her, because she famously said: “Most of the important things in this world have been done by someone who didn’t feel particularly well on that day.”

            Paul begged the Lord to pluck out that thorn, to pull that stake out of his heart.  The Lord didn’t.  Instead, the Lord gave Paul strength, faith, endurance, to live with that handicap and minister despite it.  

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

(2 Cor. 12:9)

Rationally speaking, that doesn’t make much sense.  But spiritually speaking, it’s once we throw up our hands and hand the reins of our life over to God that God can work through us most powerfully.  Humanly speaking, we think we know best.  But we don’t.  Left to our own devices we get into a muddle.  Acknowledging how near-sighted we are, how limited in thinking and small in faith and quick to throw in the towel, frees up space for God to work.

            I picked up another church’s newsletter recently and found a riveting article about Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker from Arizona who was caring for refugees in a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria, when ISIS kidnapped her and some fellow volunteers in August of 2013. 

            Kayla had written that her glimpse of Paradise, her closest walk with God, was working with the suffering.  Through a fellow captive who was released last fall, she smuggled out a letter to her family.  It powerfully describes how Kayla “quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on [her] weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God.  I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no one else… + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.  I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free.  I am grateful.  I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.   I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another….

This past February, after being in captivity for a year and a half, the 26 year old was killed in an airstrike.           

            God’s amazing, all-sufficient grace, in more-than-trying circumstances, is reflected in the ending of Kayla’s letter:

The thought of your pain is the source of my own…  Please be patient, give your pain to God.  I know you would want me to remain strong.  That is exactly what I am doing.  Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.

Someday they will walk through the “walled garden” of Paradise together.

            Whatever your thorn in the flesh is – pray that it will be a bridge connecting you with God rather than a wall separating you from God.  When you rail against what you experience as physical or emotional or spiritual weakness, remember the Lord’s words to Paul:

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham