July 4, 2021 New Bridges To Independence, Pastor David

2 Corinthians 12: 2-10  I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then strong I am.

Let’s take a moment to notice our breath and the blessing of the Spirit that enables breathing to sustain our lives.

July 4, 2021 New Bridges to Independence

On this Independence Day holiday, I can’t help noticing that more and more of us in our congregation are becoming dependent in way or another on canes and crutches. Both our lay leaders have been getting some support to get around for the last while and now this week, Bill hurting his foot as well! Be careful I’m warning all other leaders - Pastor Joanne, Lauri - to be careful how you step. We’ll sing “Lead Me, Guide Me” a little later. Maybe I should have put in “Order My Steps” and “Guide My Feet.”
I asked Bill if I could use this example of his broken foot for my sermon on New Bridges to Independence using this text from Paul’s second letter to Corinth where he says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It seems appropriate enough doesn’t it?
It’s interesting, to think about how we are dependent when we want so much to celebrate independence. I know this is a big question for those of us who are getting older and find ourselves having to depend on others. We have been privileged to live longer lives on average than anyone in history - with more independence than any people in history, finally at some point in our lives realize the truth that all of us depend on each other, depend on the community of God’s spirit, and depend finally on God.

Well, Paul was feeling that tension as well to a certain extent, as he wrote to the beloved people of Corinth. He was noticing that they were starting to listen to some other leaders in the congregation and that his voice was weakening as he wrote to them from a distance. He calls these other leaders the “super-apostles” and he is trying in this letter to show why they should listen to him rather than to these folks closer to home.  

They were evidently talking about otherworldly experiences they had had, so Paul starts to boast about his experience in the “third heaven” whatever that is. He doesn’t want to seem like he’s boasting, even though he clearly is, so he says, “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up in the third heaven” But all the commentators agree that Paul is talking about himself. 
Those of you who have read Paul, have probably been turned off at one time or another by his boasting, and saying, as he does in this passage, that he’s not boasting, “except in his weakness.” Well, in that time, they had a bit of a different standard about boasting than we do - a least a little bit, maybe not all that different when you think about it. Boasting was expected to a certain extent, just like we expect it from our politicians, but it works best when the boasting is a little bit slant, when the person boasting has a way of rhetorically showing they are really very humble. That’s why Paul says here he knew someone who was in the third heaven.

And that’s why Paul ends up boasting about his weakness - about the thorn in his flesh. Nobody knows what that thorn was - it could have been a broken foot, or sciatica, or a bum hip - or any number of things. The important and amazing thing is that Paul ends up with this beautiful theological insight. He prays to God for this thorn in the flesh to leave him, and he hears an answer from God. He writes, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,  but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”” 

I felt some of this tension last week as we celebrated my 25 years in ministry at St. Luke. I felt totally appreciated and loved, and I also feel proud about all the ministry we have done together. I wanted to celebrate and not get lost in either false humility or false pride. As it happened, I heard Dr. Fauci on the radio last week before church, and they asked him how he’s managing with the demonization that is happening for him lately. He said, “I know that in my job there will be times of adulation and times of demonization. I have to take either with a grain of salt, because it could turn around the next day.” 
So we know that there’s weakness in all of us, and the truth is, as Paul says, weakness can turn out to be a strength because it helps us to realize the real strength we have in God’s love, in God’s strength, in the Spirit that pervades our whole community and keeps us going - whether we get old, break something, or make mistakes. God will carry us through. 

I read a poem this week that got me thinking about the ministry we hope to have for all people in our fractured community and country. and I would like to close today by reading it as a sign of how God brings us together for independence despite all the rifts and fractures we have among us. The poem is by Cynthia Schrager - called “Prayer for a Divided Nation.” 

Blessings on the red states, and the blue states, and the purple states.
And on the people of the red, blue, and purple states.
Blessings on the citizens and the noncitizens,
The documented and the undocumented,
The incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated, and the not-yet-incarcerated.
May they be happy, may they be peaceful, may they be free.

Prayers for the enfranchised, and the disenfranchised, and the not-yet-enfranchised.
For the citizens who go to their polling places and the ones who vote by mail.
For the ones who wait in line for hours and the ones who are dropped from the rolls.
Blessings on the used-to-be voters and the not-yet voters,
On the undecided voters and the ones who don’t think their vote matters,
And on the people who want to vote but can’t.

May they be honored, may they be represented, may their rights be protected.
Blessings on the people who are making signs and the people who are in the streets.
And the ones who are in their study groups.
And the ones who are writing letters.
And the ones who are volunteering their time.

And the ones who are giving of their resources.

May they join together, may they learn from one another, and may they make a difference.
Blessings on all the people, Of the north and the south and the east and the west,
Of the plains and the mountains and the coasts and the swamps.
Prayers for the listeners of NPR and the listeners of Fox News,
For the followers of Rachel Maddow and the followers of Rush Limbaugh.
May they open their hearts, may they open their minds,
May they find ways to be in community and to repair the nation.
For everyone within these borders and beyond these borders.
May they be happy, may they be peaceful, may they be free.

As we come to the table this morning, some of us limping, some of us hurting from wounds we do not even want to share, some of our brokenness pushed down so far we don’t even acknowledge it to ourselves, we share in a meal offered by one who faced into the woundedness of the world, whose life was given that we all might know that God is our strength when we are at our weakest. We sing of that strength asking God to stoop to our weakness, mighty as thou art - Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart. 

Communion Hymn 500 Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart