For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
II Corinthians 12:6-10
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Imagine you started a restaurant here in Momence.
It gets successful enough that you franchise it to someone local and you head off to Indianapolis to start another one.
A few months or even years go by and you hear that there are problems at the restaurant. You send an email to the managers and let them know that they need to focus on the customer.
They sort of listen, but there are still issues.
You pay them a visit. The employees mostly listen, but there are still a few who are annoyed by your presence. They like the celebrity chefs who have come to town and who are telling them to do things that focus on them, not the customers.
They send you an email and ask that the next time you come to visit and start telling people what to do, you bring some letters of recommendation and proof that you know enough to tell them anything, that you are equal to their famous chefs.
This at the restaurant you started.
This is what is happening with Paul and the church at Corinth.
The church he founded in the town has become so enamored with celebrity preachers and the excitement they bring and the amazing preaching and the radical movements they generate, that they ask Paul to send along a letter of recommendation to prove he is as good as these others.
Even though these preachers are looking for money and trying to separate and preaching a different gospel: one that says when you follow Jesus you have all the things you want and you are never poor or persecuted because blessings.
And Paul writes them this letter.
He tells them that THEY are his letter of recommendation.
He’s hurt and a little angry and if you read the entire letter he talks about the fact that following Jesus means you might experience poverty and persecution and that the promise you have is that you never go through anything like that alone: Jesus is with you.
These verses in II Corinthians are Paul saying look, I could tell you all my credentials, but God has asked that instead I reflect Jesus. In fact, since God has been so faithful in showing me Jesus, I have an affliction that plagues me constantly. This “thorn in my flesh” Paul says, is something he has asked for deliverance from: and God has said no, my grace is sufficient for you, in your weakness you see my strength. My power is made perfect, in fact Jesus says, in your weakness.
IN other words: when you are experiencing some infirmity, some weakness (and by the way there is a LOT of speculation as to what Paul’s weakness was – show slide)
This is one idea. Scholars think it may have been residual blindness or weak vision from Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, or Paul references other illnesses along the way, too. It could be any number of things, but the reality is we don’t need to know what it is: we could probably plug in any of our stuff and still find the promise that God made to Paul is true for us, too:
When we are weakest, when we experience the hardest things, when we struggle, when we encounter hardship: God’s power is evident in the presence of Jesus and the grace that carries us through.
When you are struggling to make ends meet, small gifts from others or finding resources you need become the presence of Jesus to you
When you are experiencing illness and a friend visits or a medicine helps, you can see God’s power at work in that moment
When you are hurting and struggling and wondering what to do next:
God shows up and walks alongside you. God’s grace is found in the little things and the big things and when you are at the end of what you can do – God’s power is obviously the only way it is possible.
I think about our situation with this church. In so many moments we have thought we weren’t going to keep going, that we couldn’t possibly, that we were not going to have the resources or the work was beyond us – and then God.
We sold a building and properties that should have taken years in a matter of days.
We found a space that fit our needs for the moment and works for the ministry we need to do
We found a way to feed kids this summer and teach them about God’s love
We found a way to share our resources with those who need them
We have reached out to people in our community, we have continued the work of building the kingdom of God in Momence by stretching out our hands and offering to show grace and hope in places that need to see that somehow
And all of that is not us, is not me, is not the district, is not the denomination: it is the power of God pouring out in places and times and moments when we are weakest, showing up and showing out
And I don’t believe God is done.
I don’t believe we have seen the last of God being God in this place.
Because we still have limits and weaknesses and things we need and we still have Jesus and his grace is enough. His grace is our strength, his presence is our promise, and his power is beautifully evident when we simply cannot do more.
God is here. God is at work. Let’s cooperate.
I’m reminded of a quote by one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans:
“The Holy Trinity does not need our permission to carry on their endlessly resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor [of them at work] is grace. All of it, every breath and every second is grace”
We get to be a part of something bigger than us because we are limited and because God’s power makes it possible. That is a beautiful and wonderful and scary and priceless gift.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.