Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2012

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Mark 1:31
Theme: The Glory of Weakness

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God’s commendation of human weakness is a recurring theme throughout the biblical storyline that finds little appreciation in the majority opinion of society. God is as gentle with the weak as He is inflexible with the proud. Jesus constantly expressed compassion to the weak. And He did so in a way that showed no one can stand before God in their own strength. Christ said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”1

Jesus continues His calling of sinners today through His preaching and healing ministry. Of particular note is His healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. After relieving her of a fever she begins to attend to His needs. He doesn’t neglect our infirmities either. He uses them to draw us to Himself. Faith is the gift of believing that God uses even our trials for our well-being. Such faith must stand in the face of contradiction, skepticism and ridicule. The proof of our faith is not that we are relieved of some infirmity according to our time and wish. The proof of our faith is the peace of conscience that comes with knowing Christ does not forsake us in any circumstance. Again, the answering of prayer according to our desire does not validate our faith. Faith doesn’t make God indebted to us. Otherwise salvation would no longer be by grace. Rather, the person who prays “Thy will be done” with integrity and peace of mind gives evidence of a trust that is truly vulnerable to the work of God- vulnerable in the sense the person doesn’t try to hedge or defend against an undesirable outcome.

Such peace of mind doesn’t involve a blind denial of the facts- that is the real hurts and traumas in peoples’ lives- but a confidence in the final deliverance of God. It doesn’t mean Christians don’t become filled with sorrow, or anxiety; confusion or even doubt. Yet these things do not finally prevail. Isaiah says, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”2 What is the nature of this strength? Is it physical strength? That is the first thing that probably comes to most people’s minds. Is it mental or emotional strength? Is it spiritual strength? A Christian can only be strong in the sense that God displays His strength in and through that person. “I can do everything through Him [Christ] who gives me strength.”3 What does this strength mean? It broadens our horizons beyond the concerns of this fleeting life and changes our perspective to view things from an eternal dimension.

This strength relates to the inward life of the Christian even now- the baptismal faith that moves towards maturity. But finally it refers to the body and soul at the general resurrection. For what else could it mean when the apostle says, “So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable…it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”4 This is the same promise Christ was alluding to when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”5

So faith and a mindset of independence from God are inversely correlated. Here is where God’s commendation of weakness fits into the equation. The more we try to assert our strength of will against the plans of God the weaker our faith becomes. But the more God prevails against our spiritual egotism the weaker our self-asserting will becomes and the more receptive we are to the Spirit’s work. God must use adversity to test and temper our faith. Aside from using direct and overt intervention nothing else but adversity will grab our attention. It is true that adversity drives some to skepticism, doubt, or despair. But the blame cannot be placed on God. To lay the guilt on God is the activity of unbelief. Such blaming of God or unhappiness with His intervention in our lives (or perceived lack thereof) is sin for which we must continually repent. One of the early Church Fathers says it this way, “This is finally the difference between us and others who do not know God, that they complain and murmur in adversity, while adversity does not turn us from the truth of virtue and faith but proves us in suffering.”6

To recognize our weakness as a motivation to rely more firmly on Christ is the gift of a maturing faith. During Napoleon’s march across Europe his army advanced to within six miles of a town on the Austrian border named Feldkirch. It looked as though Napoleon’s army would take Feldkirch without resistance. As Napoleon’s army advanced toward their objective in the night, the Christians of Feldkirch gathered in a little church to pray. It was Easter Eve. They debated whether to try and make a defence of their town or to surrender. They knew if they depended on their own strength they would fail so they decided to hold services and rely on the mercy of God. The next morning at sunrise the bells of the village pealed out across the countryside. Napoleon’s army, not realizing it was Easter Sunday, thought that in the night the Austrian army had moved into Feldkirch and that the bells were ringing in jubilation. Napoleon ordered a retreat, and the battle at Feldkirch never took place. The Easter bells caused the enemy to retreat, and peace reigned in the Austrian countryside.

Our personal experiences may be less dramatic but they are none the less important to individuals. We want quick and easy deliverance but God often allows menacing threats to oppose us. The people of Feldkirch had no power in themselves to oppose Napoleon’s army. But their strength was in God. Perhaps God would have let the battle take place and yet every Christian is still delivered in God’s greater plan.

Dear friends, the vulnerable are kept safe; the humble are exalted; the weak stand in the strength of the Lord. The cross is the ultimate expression of weakness. There God’s Son succumbed to the weight of sin and force of death. There He died forsaken. But the crucifixion is also the definitive expression of strength. The authority of Satan was shattered and the supremacy of divine love was made clear. He lives! There is no more blood to be shed. There is only the sacred blood that gives weak humans the strength of the Saviour. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
5 February 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 2:17
2 Isaiah 40:29, 31
3 Philippians 4:13
4 1 Corinthians 15:42-43
5 Matthew 5:3
6 Cyprian ACCS, p.305