February 05, 2017 sermon
Our Weakness, God’s Strength
Last week, we thought together about the theology of the cross. For Paul, the cross captures everything we need to know about who Jesus is, and how God works in the world.
In 1972, Henri Nouwen tapped into this theology of the cross when he wrote a book entitled “The Wounded Healer”, which has become a spiritual classic.
Nouwen suggests that our ministry begins as we identify those places in our lives where we are broken. We acknowledge our brokenness and then we open ourselves to other people who have the same wounds, who share the same fears, who live with the same hurts and anxieties. We identify the suffering in our hearts, and know that we are not alone. This is what it means to be human—we are broken, and as we open ourselves up to one another, we receive God’s healing love together. We become, in other words, wounded healers.
That has become painfully clear to me this week as we mourn the dreadful shooting at the mosque in Quebec. We are broken together. We will heal together.
One thing that struck me in the midst of all this is the incredible grace of the members of the mosque who were interviewed. There was no sense of revenge, no sense of striking back. There was profound sadness, to be sure; but there was an incredible openness as they reached out, so that in our common pain we might begin to discern a new way forward, marked by healing and compassion.
Here we see what Paul calls the theology of the cross.
God heals through our brokenness. God strengthens us in our weakness. God’s wisdom becomes more clear as we dare, foolishly, to trust this God.
It is such a different way of living, such a different way of being. Our natural impulse is to make ourselves appear great. We put on a wonderful front that everything is just hunky dory. Even when our lives are in a turmoil, we smile and nod as if everything were ok. We focus on what we achieve; we delight in our successes; we hunger for affluence; we make sure everything appears to be just fine, thank you very much.
This is the world we live in. Our culture is marked by this kind of positive thinking. We ignore the bad. We keep negative stuff far away from us. We try to make ourselves as secure as we can so that we don’t have to deal with difficulties. We try to insulate ourselves against sadness or brokenness. We don’t talk about our pain.
We like stories about people who go from rags to riches, people who conquer the sadness and brokenness in their lives. We like stories that end in triumph … like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, or almost any movie you can name.
But that’s not the way of the gospel. The gospel begins with crucifixion. The gospel laments. The gospel confronts the reality of evil and calls it to account. The gospel knows that we are broken, and that God comes to us in our brokenness to heal the world.
Jesus and the prophets tell us again and again that God’s ways are not our ways. God comes into the world and throws all our expectations into disarray.
We build walls. God tears them down.
We stock our cupboards with food. God flings the doors of our cupboards and homes wide open so that we share our bread with the hungry and we bring the homeless into our homes.
We tend to put people in boxes and hang out with those who are like us. God is radically inclusive and welcomes absolutely everyone. In fact, Jesus was accused of hanging out with the wrong kind of people, of eating and drinking with sinners.
The gospel points to the beginning of God’s new creation. In God’s new creation, all of our old ways count for nothing. It no longer matters whether we are male or female, strong or weak, wise or foolish, long–time resident or recent immigrant, gay or straight or queer. None of the old distinctions have any force in God’s new creation. It has all passed away.
So let me ask you.
Where in your brokenness has God been present to heal others?
One of the times it happened for me was 16 years ago in my depression. Before I was diagnosed, I thought that it was all up to me. I had to do it, I had to do it all, and I had to do it perfectly. But my depression taught me that I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t.
And I learned that in my brokenness, in my weakness, in my foolishness, God is somehow present.
It was a tough lesson to learn. And I haven’t learned it all yet. I have to learn it over and over again.
I am a broken human being. I am wounded. Yet through my brokenness, God works for the healing of the world. Through my weakness, the strength of God’s love shines brightly. Through my foolishness, the wisdom of God’s way comes to life.
In the same way, Christ Church is a small vessel. Yet through the ministry God has given us, people are finding life. In the joy of our gathering, people are being renewed. Through our faltering prayers, people are being touched with grace and compassion and healing.
Paul tells the people in Corinth that he didn’t come with fancy words, or with slick, high–tech gimmicks and glossy images. He told them only about Jesus. He simply talked about the scandal of Christ crucified. He simply invited people to let God work through them, to be aware that God’s light shines in us, that God’s wisdom speaks through us, that God’s healing flows through us into the world.
The same thing is true for us. We hold our empty hands up to receive God’s goodness. We expose our broken lives so that God’s healing love may surround us. We hold up our hurts so that the light of God’s grace may ease our pain. We lift our broken hearts so that God’s loving power may mend us.
And then we go out into our community, our neighbourhoods, to reach out with love and grace.
God invites us to include those whom the world overlooks.
God whispers to our souls so that we pray for our friends and family and neighbours, for those whom we don’t know and even for those whom we don’t like.
God calls us to shine in our neighbourhoods and groups and clubs with the light of Christ.
God wraps us within the embrace of grace, and whispers, “Now, you go out and wrap others within that same embrace.”
And we do. We go out in the confidence that God is at work within us and through us.
Jesus tells us “you are salt; you are light”. There’s nothing spectacular in this. You just need a pinch of salt, a tiny bit, to flavor the world. You only need a flickering flame to chase the darkness away.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to us, “You should be salt; you should be light.” No. Jesus says, “This is who you are. You are salt. You are light.”
Nothing spectacular … but when we live with the sure sense of God’s love flowing through us, then nothing can stop that love from shining brightly in the world.
In our brokenness, God heals. In our weakness, the strength of God’s love embraces all. In our foolishness, the wisdom of God’s spirit binds us into the beloved community.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
1 Corinthians 2: 1–12
Matthew 5: 13–20
Isaiah 58: 1–9a
5th Sunday after Epiphany