I dare to bet there is nobody present in this Church this morning who has been involved in the life of the Church and has not been hurt and wounded in the process. If you havent been, and have come through unscathed my suspicion would be that you either did not get involved in the Church enough or that you are in the fortunate possession of a very thick skin.
Church hurts at times, and some people will, for that reason, stay away or surround themselves with multiple barriers to prevent any further damage.
That has never been different.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 is quite emotional about it, his words tumbling over each other in a drawn out passionate plea to be understood and accepted and to no longer be pulled down and rejected by all sorts of prejudice and criticism from others.
OK says Paul, I dont pride myself in any extraordinary measure of faith or good conduct. I know there are people more pious then me, some of whom have gone up to third heaven and seen and heard things mere mortals are not permitted to repeat (suggesting between the lines that he knows EVERYTHING about traveling up to third heaven and seeing and hearing things that cant be repeated .). You all know that there is a blotch on my CV, a thorn in my flesh put there by Satan which will forever remind me of my frailty and make sure I wont put on airs. You all know about my weakness. I have prayed the Lord to take it away from me. But he, in his wisdom, hasnt and it has become clear to me that this is because this way his grace will show all the more clearer as it is made perfect in my weakness. (what have scholars over the centuries wondered and speculated about, what o what can this weakness be? It is tantalizing not to know what ailed the great Paul in such a way that it was clear to anyone who met him face to face that there was something decidedly wrong with him. Did he stutter? Was there something about his outward appearance? Was he bent, crooked, lame? Did he have red hair? Theories abound, but there is nobody who can say for sure, apart from the fact that it will have had to be something major and pretty devastating for a famous preacher).
So there Paul says: I know I am an inadequate, fallible human being with weaknesses that are apparent to any body. All those things people say about me are probably true, but: Isnt the core truth of the gospel that in that weakness Christ comes with his grace and accepts and loves us? Isnt it where we are able to accept our fallibility and humanity that we encounter most profoundly the power of Christ, and discover we can stop pretending because he accepts us, warts and all?
That is what is important and nothing else!
Paul is very emotional in what he writes, angry, worried, passionate to get his message across, to be valued and respected for what he is: a human being who in weakness tries to fulfill his calling to bring the good news of salvation through Christ to the world. The words jump off the page, demand attention, are filled with the holy fire of zeal and determination to clear up any misunderstandings:
Of course I am no faith champion, Paul says, I know that as well as you do, but the whole point of the gospel is that we dont have to be. That Christ takes us as we are and starts our transformation and the transformation of the world from there, in weakness and the frailty of human imperfection to perfect his grace from them.
I dont know if the Corinthians took his message on board and if things got better between them after this intensely emotional letter. There is a good chance they did not. Passionately expressed emotions are usually not very helpful in a situation that is already fraught with negative sentiments and controversy. Arrogant and boastful is a most probable conclusion the Corinthians may have drawn about Paul from his letter. Too intense, too demanding, too hard to please ..
Poor Paul. Banging his head against a brick wall, passionate about his faith, unable to make others see what he sees. Thwarted by all sorts of other real or fake apostles in his bid to preach the gospel of weakness and grace.
Poor Paul, following in Jesus footsteps, giving his life and soul for the good news, and misunderstood and unappreciated again and again and again .
Does that sound familiar? Or are you not that passionate about the gospel? Is it in other ways youve found yourself hurt and unappreciated by your brothers and sisters in Christ? What was it that made you emotional, worried, angry and vulnerable? Where did you feel your fallibility and humanity were exposed? How were you pulled down and made to feel you were not valued?
I wonder how Jesus felt when the people of his home town took offence to what he had said in their synagogue. If Jesus was as human as we are, and we confess in our articles of faith that we believe he was, he must have felt as rejected and hurt as we would. Even with a very healthy ego and a lot of self confidence the prejudice and derision of our "home", of those we grew up with and were part of our evolution into maturity, is something that is hard to take and will be painful to the extreme, no matter what. When we go home we all long to be accepted, affirmed, and treated with respect. And so, probably, did Jesus.
Who does he think he is? We knew him when he was still in diapers, when he was helping his father in his workshop at the back of the house, we knew him when he made mischief with the other village boys. The verdict is devastatingly harsh and very effective in the pulling down of any personal strength and pride one might have.
Who do you think you are that you can tell us? We know you differently! We know your weaknesses, we know your vulnerabilities, we know who you are underneath all those wise words. You cant fool us!
We do it all the time. In this congregation, in our families, in our work situations: Any daisy that raises its head above the parapet will get severely told off: Who do you think you are? You are no better than us, you have no right to say or do anything out of the ordinary.
We dont want others to shine, we are afraid of people who have more to offer than us, we feel threatened, intimidated, and insecure and immediately start to bring whatever we feel is bigger than us, down.
Who does he think he is?
And Jesus could do nothing
And we probably all knows how that feels too. Pulled down, told off, rejected by people who are dear to us and whose judgment is important to us we are rendered impotent. All energy sucked up into a big black hole. Our hands, like the hands of Jesus, may still be active, but our heart will no longer be in it and whatever we do will peter out eventually because the inspiration and power we possessed before has gone.
It happens to all of us. And we all do it to others at times. It is only human. Part of our weaknesses, part of our insecurity and difficulty to accept and respect each other the way we are and rejoice in each others strengths and power as well as accept each others weakness and fallibility. It is so easy to find fault in the other, to criticize, to see the blotches instead of affirming each other and building each other up as people of grace who are all loved by God and valued by him.
Jesus could do nothing where he met with hostility and rejection. And we cant do anything either when that happens. We are as human as he.
Jesus however does not stay in that situation where he is rendered powerless. He moves on, from what was his home to other places and other people. He gathers friends around him who with his affirmation and support venture out and make miracles happen on the way. Two by two they go out, and they dont take much with them either, only the essentials. They go in trust and faith and confident of their ministry to heal and to bring about the Kingdom wherever they go. That is how it should be, thats where things can start to happen.
I am sure those teams got into trouble after a while and had their squabbles come between them and the purpose of the Lord. Or the judgment of others getting to them and taking them out of action. They, after all were as human as Jesus and Paul.
What the gospel says however, and what Paul keeps banging on about, is that however much we are hampered by our weaknesses, by our inability to accept and respect each other in weakness or strength, however much we will get involved in all sorts of unsavory brawls and altercations between us, God still, in his grace, loves us, warts and all. God still, in his grace, calls us to be his people and to do his work wherever and whenever we can. In trust and faith.
Forgiveness is paramount to that and the ability to accept and respect each other as people called and loved by God.
The community of Christ is no different from any other community of people in her weakness and fallibility, apart from the fact that it hurts even more when things go wrong because of our desire to do better and be closer to the Kingdom and live a life where love, justice and peace abound. We are all human however, called by God to live out our calling to be Christs people in weakness, so his grace can be made perfect through it. Amen.