July 5, 2015
The Rev. Archdeacon Deborah Rucki Drake
"When I am weak, then I am strong"; "power made perfect in weakness." Such verses are often cited as key to spiritual growth, but do we really understand what they are talking about? Can we ever understand?
Some of the greatest spiritual leaders have made it clear that their deepest spiritual insights came when they were in their most vulnerable states, through their suffering, through their hardships, through their pain or through their illness. Most of them state they found peace, happiness, and strength through the full experience of their weakness.
I think the Apostle Paul adds his personal testimony to this truth in our scripture reading for today. We have to remember that St. Paul was under attack at Corinth by so-called “super-apostles.” They claimed they were better speakers, they claimed to have supernatural visions and powers, in short, they were better apostles than St. Paul. Rather than engage in one-upmanship with them, Paul takes the opposite approach. He claimed that his ministry followed the model of the Suffering Savior, and backed it up by listing all the hardships he had endured in the service of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-30).
At the same time, he also tells the story of what seems to him an unusual spiritual experience he had years earlier. He was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
Paul said he was in the third heaven. At the time of ancient Israel they did not have as complete an understanding of the universe as we think we do today. So they wrote in terms with which they were familiar. The Jews spoke of three heavens.
The first heaven consisted of the earth atmosphere where the clouds and birds were. The second heaven was where the sun, stars, and moon was. The third heaven was the dwelling place of God. When Paul said he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), he was referring to the very dwelling place of God. For some reason, something about this particular spiritual vision was so extraordinary that St. Paul says he was afflicted by a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from boasting about it. Nobody really knows what this “thorn” was, but it’s clear that from Paul’s perspective it weakened him. In a sense, it put him in a state of perpetual weakness. No wonder he says he asked to be relieved of this burden. Not once but three times. Most of us would do the same thing—except I wouldn’t stop at three!
It seems the more vulnerable we realize that we really are, the more open we make ourselves to the presence of God, and the deeper our faith and our spirituality. On the contrary, the more we try to protect ourselves, to control our lives, and to avoid pain and weakness, the more we cut ourselves off from the presence of God, and the weaker our faith and spirituality.
Paul eventually figured out the reason for the thorn (weakness) in his life, because God would not remove it. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, but Paul knew, and he realized that his “thorn” was being used by God to keep him humble.
God was using the Apostle Paul immensely and the temptation existed for Paul to become proud, to get himself all “puffed-up”. It would have been easy for Paul to become elevated in his own eyes.
Sometimes the problems in our lives turn out to be blessings in disguise. We need to learn to view them from this spiritual point of view. When a great burden is placed upon us, the greater faith required to “hang in there.” It takes faith to continue living for God when things turn for the worse in our lives.
The writer Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Life breaks all of us, but some of us are strong in the broken places."
Sorrows will come into our lives. We should not waste our sorrows, don't run from breaking circumstances, but be still and know that God is present. There are times when we would rather do the wrong thing than nothing, just so we can be doing something. At these times we need to be still and let our trust be transformed into our actions. Let God work through us and take care of it. Don't waste these times, try to change them, reverse them or even try to shorten them.
Walk with God work through it. Spiritual wisdom will let us know when the trial is over. The best way to cooperate with God during this process is to submit ourselves to prayer.
We are in the Fourth of July weekend. Our great, strong nation, the United States of America. We have been through many wars to protect our freedoms. And many lives have been broken in those wars.
During the 1700s, Americans fought the British for their independence. In the 1800s, Americans fought one another over the moral issue of slavery. And during the 1900s, Americans fought international powers to protect freedom in the world.
In the early days of the 21st century, a divided nation would begin the slow march toward healing and unity. Life in the United States has changed dramatically since we were attacked on 9/11.
Over the years, we have persevered in the long march toward national unity. We have slowly begun to pull together the strength that we can find in our diversity and joint humanity. In 1960, we elected President Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic president; and women--who had been denied the right to vote before 1920--began to appear in Congress, the Supreme Court, and the highest levels of government and corporate executive roles.
The United States has elected another young president, Barak Obama, who is black. As a nation we have made progress in four short decades.
Like our predecessors, Americans today understand disappointment and terror. And despite--or perhaps because of--our difficult lessons and hard-earned wisdom, we have been made strong in the broken places. We have yet many broken places where healing is needed, and that are not completely healed yet.
The Episcopal Church has elected its first black presiding bishop and primate.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for the past 15 years, was overwhelmingly elected the church's 27th presiding bishop during its 78th General Convention underway in Salt Lake City.
We, as Americans, we as Christian individuals look at the broken spots and with the help of God we start to heal the broken places.
Jesus sent disciples out into the world to heal the broken places. We need to go out into the world and proclaim the equality of humankind. We must continue the healing of the broken places that all may realize the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness