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When I am Weak Then I am Strong

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When I am Weak, Then I am Strong

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7th Sunday after Pentecost

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” is a phrase often heard from someone who is facing many of life’s troubles. It may often be said in jest but really is conveying a truth that life is hard. Our Three lessons for today convey that same attitude.

The Old Testament lesson for today (Ezekiel 2:1-5) conveys a difficult situation the Lord is putting Ezekiel in. The prophet is being called by God to speak to the Israelites the word of the Lord. But the Lord warns Ezekiel that Israel is stubborn, obstinate, and rebellious and would probably not even listen to him! I am sure we can hear Ezekiel say, as he brings the word of the Lord to Israel, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”

Or our Gospel Lesson for today (Mark 6:1-6) – Jesus is coming to his hometown of Nazareth to preach, teach and heal. On the Sabbath he speaks to the people in the synagogue – his family and people he grew up with. And how did they receive his message? They rejected it because they could not see how this hometown boy was claiming to be the Son of God. His own family and town rejected Jesus. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”

And in the Epistle lesson (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Paul also states in other words this attitude, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” But here Paul goes on to say that in this trouble he faces he also sees the glory of God. He says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul is telling to us the rest of the story. We do face trouble in our lives, but they are to be kept in the perspective of Paul’s – God’s grace will be sufficient to see us through.

And that is how the rest of the spiritual song goes:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Glory, Hallelujah!

Sometimes I’m up; sometimes I’m down,

Oh, yes, Lord, sometimes I’m almost to the ground, Oh, yes, Lord.

I never shall forget that day, Oh, yes, Lord, when Jesus washed my sins away, Oh, yes, Lord.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus. (Words: Public Domain)

It has been said often when someone faces a crisis, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” But this phrase has been misunderstood. We can mistakenly think that it is by our strength that we will get through a problem or trial but that isn’t always true. Paul says earlier in 2 Corinthians “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. … But this happened that we might not rely upon ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8b, 9b).

In truth, God frequently allows us to be in situations that are too much for us and threaten to overwhelm our strength. It is in those moments that we can see God’s strength not ours. We will face things that we cannot handle. The world is full of those “trial of life” that are overwhelming. In fact if we are honest with ourselves and our sinful condition we will see that we really can’t handle any of it. But God can! That is what Paul was telling to us. When we face things that overwhelm us, that make us feel weak, it is at that very point (and even before) that God is there in His strength to see us through.

When someone faces death, either their own or the death of another, they go through a grieving process. But grief is more common then just dealing with death. Everyone one of us faces a grieving process whenever we “lose” something in our life. I would like to surmise this morning that is we truly confess that we are “poor miserable sinner” in need of God’s grace then we face a grieving process of the lose of our “strength.” What I mean is that we grieve when we realize that we are truly weak in this world and are overwhelmed by our corrupt sinful selves that can do nothing right in God’s eyes.

Psychology has identified five stages a person goes through when they face grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are not listed as a continuum from beginning to end. In fact most people skip around in this process and repeat steps as they deal with grief. How does this grief play out in our lives as we realize our sinful-selves?

Denial – We may deny that we are weak, that we are truly corrupted by sin. We may think we can handle anything that comes our way. We may deny that we need God’s help. We may deny that we truly are totally dependant on God for our source of strength. We may intentionally be in denial or it may be we are blind to the fact that we need help. We all have been in denial.

Anger – Maybe we get angry with God for the situations we are in. We say, “Why God?” in our anger and get mad at the situations we face. The Psalms are filled with anger being expressed to God as the writers face difficulties in life. Again, we all have faced anger because of our “weakness” of sin.

Bargaining – Sometimes we bargain with God to get out of a situation our trouble. “God, if you remove this pain I promise to be a better Christian.” “If I pray harder then God will take away some of my trouble.” We often bargain with God to take away something that is painful in our lives that we don’t want to face or can’t face ourselves.

Depression – Maybe we just get depressed and say, “Woe is me, my life is ruined.” We despair of life and our circumstances. Nothing seems to cheer us up and we wonder how we will ever be happy again. We all have been depressed because of life at some time.

Acceptance – At this point we have a more realistic picture of the situation and can be content with what is happening. We accept our “lot in life” but also have an idea of where to get help when needed. We realize that we can’t handle the problem ourselves and seek God and others for guidance.

We all face all of these grieving stages as we deal with the fact that we are sinful human beings and most of what we do or face is corrupted by sin. And we face these stages in a variety of ways and time. At one point we may be in acceptance of what our life is like and then some problem comes that throws us back into denial or anger. We will bounce around in this process and never really come through it until we reach heaven. But that is ok! It is part of who we are that we face this grief process and all of these stages. Dealing with sin and the corruption of this world is hard and should cause us to “be in grief.”

How do we deal with the grief associated with our sinful condition? By recognizing it, recognizing how we are dealing with a problem and recognizing that we are weak in how we can handle it. It is ok to grieve and be weak because what did Paul say, what did he realize? That in our weakness God is strong. Our troubles and problems come not to make us strong, but to make us rely on God’s strength.

Here is a good example of how this can play out in our lives. This is a long quote from The Lutheran Witness:

In the Questions and Answers column of The Lutheran Witness (March, 1990, p. 22), a certain G. W. from Michigan asked this question: How does one reconcile St. Paul asking God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” with the parable Jesus told of the widow who came to the judge (Luke 18:1–6)? I have a seemingly incurable chronic physical problem that seems like many “thorns.” Now, after appealing to God numerous times to heal this, should I quit praying and accept it?

The answer was as follows: Your problem may seem incurable, but “with God, nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). He has the power to cure all our diseases. [We might add that he also has promised to do so on the last day.] And Jesus told the parable in Luke 18 to encourage us not to lose heart in the face of this life’s struggles. So it certainly is in order to continue to pray for healing, trusting God’s promise that he hears our prayers and is able and willing to help us.

At the same time, though, we should not presume to tell God when and how he must help us. Our prayer should always be, “Your will be done,” recognizing that God always answers for our good, according to his gracious purpose for our lives. This is the lesson St. Paul learned. Even more important than God answering Paul’s request with a yes was for Paul to learn to submit his will to God’s and know that his grace is sufficient, even to enable him to accept his “thorn in the flesh.”

We can rely on God because with God nothing is impossible and he wants the best for us – even if that means waiting for heaven, it is still the best for us. And we can know that God will answer us according to His will which is probably not what we think is good. Often we want God to totally remove a problem but in God’s wisdom he know that we will be better if we go through the problem and rely on Him for strength. It hurts in the midst of it, but the hurt directs us to rely more on God for strength.

Two quotes that I think are helpful to consider. Martin Luther said, “There is a certain despair of man’s own ability which must come about before man is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” And Donald L. Deffner said, “God has no use for cups half-full. He wants us completely empty—so he can fill us up with himself.” How are you seeing your weaknesses as a way of relying more on God? It is ok to be weak!

Now I know you have been staring at this helium balloon tied to a string and thinking, “How does this fit into this topic. Let me fill you in. Children love balloons. My children when they see one in a store or restaurant they want one. They bring joy to a child. But every parent knows there is a sinister side to a helium balloon – they love to float away. When a child is not looking a helium balloon decides to let go and fly away up high into the sky or at least to the top of a high ceiling.

Well our lives are like the helium balloon – left to ourselves we float away from God in our sin and pride (we become puffed up with ourselves). Something has to “tie” us down and ground us in the reality that we are weak and only God is strong. Often it is the trouble of life that can do that for us. Acting like a string, troubles ground us and keep us from floating off in our self-centered pride. The Greek word used fro thorn in our text could also mean stake. Our troubles and pains can stake us down, bring us to the ground, so that we can say we are weak and rely on God who is strong. Amen

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