Archive for the ‘2 Cor. 12:1-10’ Category

Are You Someone Else’s Thorn?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

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!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

5th Sunday of Pentecost, July 5, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?


Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading this morning it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.

I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”


Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.


I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”


With all of these obstacles standing in our way, it’s a great wonder how the church gets anything done.  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?


II. He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send to us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”


In our Epistle reading this morning Paul gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word of the Lord, Paul would give the Church these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]


How is God strong within us?  Why when we have faith!  When we trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him, then God is doing a strong work within us and through us.  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call the walk of Christian faith.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.


III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this morning may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]


CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!