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7th after Pentecost B

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Farmers in an area of west-central Illinois where I once served have been generally and severely economically strained for over 2 straight decades, either because of too much or little rain, storm damage, glutted markets or what have you. There’s a constant fearful concern just under the surface with them, and yet most of them still seem to be making it by God’s grace!

Many of us have perhaps at times experienced an ongoing stress in wondering about the future. Insecurity about making or maintaining a living could perhaps be identified as being among the highest “thorns in the flesh” in recent years in this country.

All kinds of theories have been put forth to identify St. Paul’s personal “thorn.” Yet whatever it was isn’t the important factor, but what a thorn DOES! It HURTS to the point of disrupting every other focus. Gritty dirt in your eye has to be taken care of, or a person can barely function.

Paul was at the breaking point, begging for relief, and you and I can identify any “thorn” we’ve ever experienced with what Paul claims he was feeling. It really got him down, yet GOD’S GRACE WAS SUFFICIENT for him and got him through!

Martin Luther once wrote: “There is a certain despair of man’s own ability which must come about before a man is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”

Paul had the most excellent academic credentials and training of his day. The Scripture Text verse 7 from his second letter to the Corinthians chapter 12 lets us know, in addition, that he was specially favored by God’s gift of visions of some of the glories of Heaven itself! We can easily recognize the danger towards Paul becoming pompous and conceited from his experience.

What we don’t so readily realize, perhaps, is how our own sinful-nature pulls at each of us in the very same way. An attitude that can touch even the most pious person reasons that: “I don’t want to accept unpleasant circumstances affecting me, because I’m a pretty good person who doesn’t deserve getting hurt.” We figure we can handle ourselves and our problems pretty well by ourselves, too, and pride often prevents our confiding any weaknesses to anyone else. A close look reveals that such attitudes are really self-idolatry and a violation of the very First Commandment, therefore, but “You shall have no other gods before ME” DOES mean to revere, love and trust God Himself above everything!

The Bible gives a variety of possible reasons for God’s permitting hardship to touch any of His children. First is the curse of “thorns” He pronounced at Eden. Another example is the man born blind (John 9) for the purpose of God being glorified through Jesus healing him! There’s a progression listed in Romans Chapter 5 that “suffering produces endurance ... (then) character ... (then) hope ...”, and beyond those examples are many others.

Lamentations chapter 3 guarantees that God “does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.” And the Scripture Text being considered here very clearly says that Satan (and not God) was the agent of St. Paul’s affliction, just as Satan had been the agent for Job’s suffering many centuries before. Scripture is consistent in laying the blame on Satan for our personal trials as well. It’s also clear in Paul’s particular case that the reason it was permitted by God was to keep him dependent on God’s grace and to hold down the puffed-up pride he might otherwise have tended towards.

There being “no atheists in foxholes” (as they say) expresses an acknowledgement of dependence on God for help and protection when circumstances really do get dire. Our personal trials keep us dependent on grace, or we would surely fall into the pit of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. We want to avoid any testing of our faith because it’s uncomfortable, but at least one reason God allows any torments from Satan to touch us is to impress on us the folly of self-sufficiency, and THAT, in point of fact, is GRACE!

The next Text Verse says:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

God gives us vast privileges and promises concerning prayer, including that His own Holy Spirit covers us when our prayers are perhaps not precisely proper or rightly motivated. Several places in Scripture encourage us to be persistent in our requests, however, and to be honest about whatever it is we truly might want.

Three times Jesus Himself expressed that, if possible, God remove the way of the Cross for Him. Paul likewise, with Christ’s own encouragement to “Ask ... Seek ... (and) Knock,” persisted with his own desire concerning his “thorn in the flesh” that it be TAKEN AWAY!

Paul didn’t come into his predicament through any lack of faith, but it nevertheless rendered him an absolute beggar! He wasn’t some whining hypochondriac who lacked courage. He begged those several times over, rather, as an expression OF faith! He BELIEVED that, as one of Christ’s redeemed, God saw his pain and did care about him. He believed that, if God be willing, God could immediately remove the affliction. He learned that his own will was best subjected under God’s best will for him, though, rather than ordering God what to do. Paul’s pleading was evidence of a profound and confident faith: He believed, and THEREFORE he begged!

Verse 9 in the Text then says:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”

It wasn’t Joshua’s power at Jericho, or Gideon’s with only 300 men, or David’s against Goliath, or the disciples’ power in the storm at sea, but the LORD’S Grace and Power that saw each of them through and got the victory! Paul likewise couldn’t defeat Satan’s aims and actions on his own, but had to submit to the simple Power of God’s Grace. He also wrote that: “God ... will not let YOU be tempted (or tested) beyond your strength.” Let’s be absolutely realistic and recognize that Paul was being hindered in the very most important work of proclaiming the Gospel itself, but his claim is that God’s Grace and Strength WERE nevertheless sufficient!

In like manner, God’s mighty Power to SAVE sinners like us from the very clutches of hell is disguised under the weak, ridiculed Man, Jesus, who was murdered at Calvary’s Cross! As a Man, He was weakened by the all-night trials, the several beatings, desertion by His comrades, devastating mockeries against Himself and CRUCIFIXION!

Right there is where God’s “rubber hit the road,” though. It brought everything essential for our restored walk with God: that Christ died both “in our stead” and “for our sake,” but also ROSE triumphant over sin, death and Satan, for our eternally secure justification! GOD’S POWER TO SAVE WAS thereby made “Perfect,” through CHRIST’S “weakness” on our behalf!

The simple Word and Sacraments often appear to us to be ordinary and meager, yet they are the means that provide us with the sufficiency to face all things God might permit to come our way. More than a hopeless human wish, they DO GIVE the strengthening and preserving unto life-everlasting which we proclaim; not because of our Church’s or Pastors’ power or greatness, but because of the certainty of God’s Grace and Strength and Faithfulness and Word!

God’s Word assures every true child of God that nothing can cause separation from His Love and Grace, yet it cautions us not to be surprised at any “fiery trial” that may come upon us. Paul and Barnabas exhorted the earliest Christian congregations “that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God,” and Jesus Himself said: “In the world you HAVE tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

The Text encourages us that, especially in our weakness, the Power of Christ does rest upon us! Peter wrote similarly when he said: “If you are reproached for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of Glory rests upon you.”

You and I may very well feel overwhelmed at the towering Jericho walls and cursing Goliaths we have to face. We have but one place to turn, to God’s Grace and Power in Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, but, by FAITH, they’re already ours! God’s Grace IS ALL-SUFFICIENT for whatever any of us might face.

The last Text Verse says:

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Paul wrote in another place that: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the GLORY that is to be revealed to us.”

God Himself doesn’t expect us to be enthralled with the roadblocks Satan throws against us. By faith in God’s promised outcome and Grace and Power and Glory, though, we DO have assured hope and MAY have joy and good courage through what God’s All-Sufficient Grace and Power have already secured through the forgiving Grace earned by our Lord Jesus at the Cross and by Rising again!

When one day we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, we WON’T stand by any comparisons to those around us, but each of us ONLY by God’s Grace! Thank Him that His Grace IS ALL-Sufficient both to save and see you through to that day!



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