Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Greatness of Weakness

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2009
Mark 9:30-37

He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Why are you praying for strength when you ought to be praying for weakness?

Are you still caught up in the way the world looks at things that you would seek the opposite of what God thinks you ought to have? Do you so easily go through the motions of the liturgy that you don’t take time to meditate on what each part is saying to you, the faith that you are confessing, what it means for you?

In the Collect we prayed: “O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, grant us humility and childlike faith that we may please You in both will and deed.”

I have prayed for strength many times. I desire it often. Especially in times of need. Especially when I’m weak. It’s natural, isn’t it? Maybe that’s the problem. We’re weak, so we need strength.

But that’s not what the Collect says. It’s not what we prayed. It’s not what we ought to seek. What we’re praying for is weakness. It is in our weakness that we are strong. Not when we’re strong. When we’re strong we’re weak. Paul says God’s power is made perfect in weakness so that’s what we pray in the Collect.

We pray for strength. We pray everything will be all right. We ask God to turn things favorably our way.

But we don’t pray for weakness.

That’s why we need the liturgy. The liturgy helps us pray for what we ought to pray. It guides us in praying in the way we ought to pray.

And so we pray for weakness.

God is great, of course. We are comforted in knowing that we have an all-powerful God. But His greatness is not in His greatness but in His weakness. The genius of God is that He makes Himself known in weakness, humility. His power is made perfect in weakness.

Why were the disciples discussing among themselves who was the greatest? Was it because they were arrogant? Were they like many men who couldn’t keep from making a competition out of everything? Had one of them issued a challenge and the others couldn’t help but accept the challenge?

Mark says they didn’t understand what Jesus had been saying to them. Here’s the thing, it was the opposite of who was the greatest. Jesus wasn’t trying show them how He was greater than all of them combined, He was preparing them for His suffering and death and resurrection. They didn’t understand what He was getting at. And they were afraid to ask. We don’t have to deal with that now. It was a long trip back to Capernaum and they had to talk about something. Perhaps the failed attempt at casting out the demon from the boy was still fresh in their minds, sparking protests of fault and rationalization to go around.

There’s no weakness here. There’s no talk of Christ. It’s all about strength. It’s all about how you’re consumed with yourself and how pleased you are with yourself. How much better off you’d be if things would work out a little better in your life than they do. It certainly should follow that a great God—the Almighty God, Lord of Creation—would bring about great things in your life. But instead, He invites us, pleads with us, to pray for weakness. That’s where power is known. That’s how His greatness is perfected.

In weakness.

They didn’t understand. Will we? Will we see in His words what we need to know so that we may be content, even seek weakness? Jesus wasn’t just telling them He would suffer and die. He was laying out on the table how God brings about His power. It is in weakness. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” He doesn’t say that He will walk up to that cross to die on behalf of the world. He will be handed over. Betrayed. He will willingly suffer the indignity of being falsely accused and arrested and mocked and led to the slaughter. He will walk to that cross in humility, in weakness.

The whole way through Jesus never prays for strength. He never seeks power from His Heavenly Father. He humbly goes the way in weakness.

How can you receive strength if you are praying for it? How can you expect power from God if you are seeking it? Instead, learn from the liturgy and pray for God’s strength to be made perfect in weakness. Learn from how we pray in the liturgy that after we are absolved of our sins we pray the Kyrie. The words “Kyrie eleison” mean “Lord, have mercy.” Why do we pray for mercy right after being absolved of our sins? Are we ever not in need of Christ’s mercy? Might we go from the Absolution and think that now we’re good to go? Might we walk away from there forgetting that it is always the mercy of God we need? Not power. Not strength. Not greater.

The Absolution is, of course, pure mercy. It is the pure forgiveness of sins, God’s mercy toward us in His Son Jesus Christ. But we tend to forget that, don’t we? Perhaps even in the seconds after being absolved. So there is the Kyrie to turn us back toward Christ. The plea for mercy. The prayer of the one who is weak, not strong.

Why are you seeking greatness and strength from God? Rather, seek weakness. He comes to you plainly. In ordinary bread. In ordinary wine. He said it to His disciples but embodied the words Himself: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” There will be multiple times this week you will wish you had stronger faith—turn your thoughts back toward the very Body and Blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is in the humble means of bread and wine—not in power—that He has delivered Himself over to you so that you may receive Him in His Holy Supper.

God’s greatness is in His weakness. He made Himself weak so that you may be strong. Your strength is in weakness. When you are being bugged by people you will recall in the liturgy that it is in your weakness God has called you to be their servant. Glory in the fact that you are a poor miserable sinner. Mercy is your plea and mercy is what your Lord God grants you. He has come, after all, to serve you. Amen.


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