Are You Someone Else’s Thorn?

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Self-Pride can be a dangerous thing.  It’s an unhealthy focus on the self instead of on God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  It’s like a  man’s beard.  It just keeps growing and growing.  The solution of course is to shave it every day!

When we don’t keep our pride in check, we can become a thorn, a stumbling block to others.  Now, if it was just about you, I might be  tempted to leave you alone with the caution I just gave, but it is not just about you; you see you are a Christian, and others, especially  non-Christians are watching you and evaluating your faith and Christianity by your conduct.  So, to be a thorn to others because of  your pride can be a serious thing.  It can actually drive people away from Jesus instead of attracting them to Him.

But there is also a way, the way God works, that you can be a positive thorn in people’s lives.  What do I mean by that?  Glad you asked!    When people see you resting in conflict, disease, hurt, and disappointment; when they see you trusting in God no matter what’s going  on around you, they can get uncomfortable, because they know if they were in your place, they would be falling apart.  They’re  uncomfortable, because you trust in what appears to them to be an unseen, unknowable, and untrue God.  In essence your faith is a threat to their lack of faith.  So they are continually confronted with two choices: Investigate God’s way, a way that changes and empowers, or reject God’s way and follow their own prideful way!

A Christian grandfather, a Boy Scout, and a college professor were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one and jumped.  The college professor said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped.  The Christian grandfather turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile and said, “Young man, I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”  The Boy Scout said, “Relax, old man, we both get a parachute.  You see, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out!”

So ends the life of all who trust in their own “smarts” to survive.  One thing they never think about is the truth that no matter how they struggle and strive, they will never get out of this world alive!  They will have to stand before a righteous and holy God who will judge them guilty of pride and a host of other sins!

In our Epistle reading this morning (2 Corinthians 12:110), Paul knew this was true, but most importantly Jesus knew it was true.  That is why He allowed Paul to struggle with his thorn in the flesh.  He knew that Paul would need that challenge, whatever it was to keep him dependent on God’s grace; to keep him always turning to Jesus, crucified and risen above as his only hope of “getting out of this world alive!”

Did Paul have reason to be prideful?  Yes!  He was given knowledge that not many have ever been given this side of heaven.  He was able to actually go to heaven without dying and come back!  Oh the things he must have seen.  He surely did not want to return to this world of sin; but Jesus had plans for Paul.  He has plans for each of you here this morning; if He didn’t you wouldn’t still be here; you would be in heaven right now!

Paul knew that God’s will must be done, so He was resolved to wait on God’s call to come home.  He was resolved to serve God with all of his strength by teaching and living out the hope of the gospel.  But Paul had one huge challenge to this mission from God; he was living with a heavenly heart in a sinful body.  You see, Jesus knew that if Paul was not daily humbled with the reminder that on his own he was a wretched and sinful man bound for judgment, he would forget that it is only by God’s grace that he would one day return to paradise to be with His Jesus!  Jesus knew this and eventually so did Paul.

Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his thorn.  And on the third petition, Jesus’ answer was all that Paul needed to hear.  “Paul, my grace is enough for you.  By my love and only my love will you return to paradise, so simply rest in it; trust in it!

Many people have argued throughout the years as to just what Paul’s thorn was.  The truth is, no one knows.  And I think that’s good, because it allows us to concentrate on our own thorns.  We all have at least one; some have many.  Some are thorns of our own making; some are caused by others’ sinfulness, and still others have a thorn with the same source as Paul’s… it comes from the evil mind of the devil.  Here are some examples of mental thorns: Constant thoughts of lust, anger, blasphemy, and all kinds of mental illness.  Thorns that may exist outside of us, are things like unfair personal attacks, gossip, lack of employment or underemployment, unstable marriages, or disrespectful children.  And then there are the physical thorns that exist within us.  Assign to this class all kinds of illness, disease, and physical defects.

All of these things are a result of sin; our sin or the world’s sin.  They may or may not be sent directly from the devils, but they all have come to us because God has allowed them.  But why?  Why does God allow them?  So that we will discover the truth that there is strength in weakness.  So that we will experience the truth that Paul discovered: When we are weak Jesus’ grace, His power and love are strong within us!  They are sufficient to carry us through any challenge!

So what does this mean for us this morning?  What is God asking us to learn?  Simply this, He is asking us to trust His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is asking you to see things the way He says they are and not the way the world sees them.

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 6:113) we see Jesus rejected by His own people; His own relatives refused to see the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it and presented it.  In Jesus, they saw simply human flesh and weakness; the illegitimate son of Mary who was the step-son of a carpenter… a common laborer!  No matter how many miracles Jesus had performed, not matter how true and clear His teaching about the Kingdom of God were, they could not get past His weakness.  He was not the model leader that the world always expects and demands.  He was not wealthy or highly educated.  He was not political or even connected to influential people.

They refused to believe that Jesus was both the son of Mary and the Son of God!  But Jesus is God, and pride-filled sinful opinions of men don’t change who Jesus IS in the very least; it did not affect Jesus’ mission then or now; Jesus has come to heal the broken hearted and set those imprisoned by sinful pride free!

People today, like people in Nazareth then, find Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching offensive.  He is a thorn to them, so they want to be a thorn to His people of faith.  But what they can never understand without eyes of faith is that Jesus truly is the Son of God.  To kick at Him and His church is like kicking a cactus; they are the only ones who will get hurt. If they continue to judge Him by the world’s standards they will be lost in judgment because of their many sins, but if they will simply allow the Word of Jesus to open their eyes of faith and see the reality that God sees in each of us they will be saved!

In our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 2:1–5), Ezekiel is called to stand on his feet before a righteous and holy God.  But on his own, He could do nothing but lay flat on his face.  But Ezekiel was not on His own, because the living Word of God, Jesus Christ was speaking, and in His Word is the very love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit!  And as God spoke to Ezekiel, the Spirit entered him and put him on his feet!

This morning friends, the voice of God is speaking to us.  He is assuring us that just as Ezekiel and Paul were protected and strengthened by the Spirit of God, so are we.  You have been saved by a Savior who the world considers weak and pathetic.  You are saved by a God who is a joke to unbelievers.  In Jesus they see weakness and poverty; in the cross they see scandal and shame.  But by Jesus weakness and shame, by His suffering and death you have been saved!  Jesus died for you!  If the world wants to turn our faith into a scandal, then this is the scandal:  A holy and righteous God came to suffer and die for them… for you!  That is the message that changes us every day; it’s a message that would change them too, if they would just let God’s grace be sufficient for them in all things.  But they cannot surrender to God’s way because of their pride.  But you have submitted to God’s will and in that will you trust and rest.  Come what may, you have discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to help you in all things.  So you have rested and by God’s grace you will continue to rest in Jesus Christ.

And now, God has spoken and we have listened.  Like Paul, we don’t always like what we hear, but eventually we learn to simply rest in the promises of God.  But also like Paul we are reminded that we cannot enter paradise just yet.  We must remain in a dying world to speak and live the gospel.  Like Ezekiel, we are sent out into a sinful society that is stubborn, prideful, and unyielding, just as we are without Jesus.  We are to speak about God’s judgment of sin, even their sin, but we are also to speak about God’s forgiving love!  And as we speak in our weakness, some will see Jesus as only a thorn, a threat to their own happiness.  But others will see beyond the thorn and see the beauty in a Rose that is hidden and blooming within you; and they will come to know Jesus too!   I pray that through your witness to others God will do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

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