Worship » Sermons » God’s Grace

God’s Grace

with Rev. Laura Sherwood

July 7, 2024

God’s Grace comes through our vulnerability, what the world may call weakness, but through which God’s Spirit gives us strength.

The Scripture

Psalm 48

Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
    in the city of our God, his holy mountain.

Beautiful in its loftiness,
    the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
    the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels;
    he has shown himself to be her fortress.

When the kings joined forces,
    when they advanced together,
they saw her and were astounded;
    they fled in terror.
Trembling seized them there,
    pain like that of a woman in labor.
You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish
    shattered by an east wind.

As we have heard,
    so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
    in the city of our God:
God makes her secure

Within your temple, O God,
    we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Like your name, O God,
    your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
    your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Mount Zion rejoices,
    the villages of Judah are glad
    because of your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
    count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
    view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
    to the next generation.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
    he will be our guide even to the end.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.

Read the Full Text

Our second scripture is from Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians, the first 10 verses of Chapter 12. I’llbegin by giving some context.

Introduction to first part of the scripture:

At this time in the Corinthian faith community, in Paul’s absence, there are individuals who are competing for influence with them. One way they are doing this is by claiming to have special spiritual gifts and powers made evident by revelations or visions purportedly from God. Paul begins this part of his letter with a description of a vision from God he had when he saw the risen Christ. This is the scripture Adam preached several weeks ago on Volunteer and Music Appreciate Sunday. It is the spiritual encounter Paul had on the road to Damascus that led to a complete faith conversion and began his ministry to found new Christian communities – many of which are represented by books in the Greek scripture, our New Testament. He writes about his experience as if it happened to someone else – let’s listen to the first part of the reading from 2 Corinthians.

2nd Scripture – Reading Part I (2 Cor 12:1-7a):

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

Introduction to second part of the scripture:

Paul shares this experience of a revelation from God – first of all, because it’s true, and second of all, because he knows that they are in a climate where spiritual visions and revelations are seen as a source of spiritual strength, indicating favor with God.

Here is where Paul draws a clear contrast. In the case of those other individuals, they are lifting up their visions as proof of spiritual strength, as evidence that they are favored by God and therefore have earned authority to speak on behalf of God. Paul shares his vision as evidence, not of his own strength, but of God’s strength. He goes on to write about a serious affliction he has, something that the world sees as a weakness or deficiency, what Paul calls a “thorn in the flesh.”  

Hear the next verses in this passage from 2 Corinthians:

2nd Scripture – Reading Part II (2 Cor 12:7b-10):

Therefore, to keep[a] me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.[b] Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Finish reading

Paul knows that the people in this faith community, like most people everywhere, have been attracted to the show of strength by what scholars refer to as “fake apostles” or “false prophets.”  I think he was worried that those fake apostles were preaching because they wanted power or had some other self-serving agenda, not to bring the message of God-in-Christ. Paul wants the people to see where each vision, or message, is pointing – to the person giving the message, or to God.

In order to make this point, Paul makes himself vulnerable to the people by sharing about his “thorn in the flesh.”  We do not know what this actually was, and there are many guesses – it could have been a physical condition, it could have been a struggle with mental health. One commentary suggests it could have been because he was single! To which I say, I’d like a moment for rebuttal! Whatever it was, we know from Paul’s words that, for him, it was a true deficiency – something that plagued him, something he wished he could change or get rid of. After years of trying, he finally had to acknowledge that whatever it was, it would remain a fact of his life.

It is clear that this affliction made him vulnerable because he did not want it and he could not change it. Instead of continuing to resist this reality, he made himself even more vulnerable by accepting it and placing himself with this affliction completely in God’s hands. What he describes next is the way God’s Grace came to him in his vulnerability and made up for his deficiency with the strength of God’s loving presence.

There are many healing stories in the Greek scriptures of our New Testament, but this not one of them. In those stories, ailments are cured, sight is returned to the blind, and in a few cases someone who is dead is raised back to life. Paul does not say that his ailment is cured, in fact the opposite – he has to accept it and find the strength he needs from a total reliance on God. The amazing thing is that God comes to Paul, meets him through his vulnerability, and gives him the strength he needs, something he could not have apart from God. This is what Paul refers to as “God’s Grace.

The biblical Greek word for Grace is “Charis” and it means a gift or a blessing and can also be translated as favor or kindness. It is related to the older, biblical Hebrew word for Grace, “Kana” which derives from a verb that literally means to “extend, or lean toward.”  Together, they mean an extension of favor or kindness. This implies that whoever is giving the kindness is also making an effort to deliver or bring it to the one who needs it.

This additional part of the definition of Grace has captivated my thoughts this week – that God’s Grace is more than God’s blessing or gift of kindness, but is a gift that comes because God makes the extra effort to bring it to us, in spite of or perhaps because we cannot come to get it ourselves.

One of the first images that came to mind as I contemplated this definition this week was, believe it or not, a scene from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Any other Grey’s fans out there? One of the things I love about that show is that I started watching it when it was new and I was still a young, or youngish adult. Now, I get to talk about it with my nieces who are young adults themselves and are both fans of what has become a multi-generational show.

In a recent episode, a father and daughter hiking on a mountain trail, have fallen into a cave. They are both injured and cannot climb out, let alone go to find help. Of course, 2 doctors are hiking on the very same trail, and are able to go alert park rangers who call for help. The paramedics don’t show up right away, so we see the father and daughter, in distress where they are on the cave floor. They cannot change their circumstances; all they can do is wait in faith and hope that what they need will come and find them.

This part of the scene created the most tension for me. I wanted the problem to be resolved, I wanted one of the doctors to figure out a way to climb down and treat the injuries of the father and daughter – or at least get them above ground, where they could feel more of asense of control. But that resolution did not come, accepting the vulnerability of the situation was the only option.

I realized that what made me uncomfortable about this scene was my own resistance to being vulnerable, to wanting to always have the answers I need, to show strength in the face of challenge, to never let my own weakness and struggles show.

Paul experienced God’s kindness toward him when there was nothing he could do to change his own circumstance, when all he could do was to hope in faith that God would meet him where he was with what he needed. Another way to say all of this is that God’s Grace is our experience of God coming to meet us where we are to bring what we cannot get any other way – the kindness of God’s love, the strength of God’s presence.

When I first read today’s scripture, I was only thinking about what it said about Paul’s life and faith. The more I let it sink it, the more I realized it was a message to me about my life and faith and how I might be missing God’s Grace when I do not admit where I am weak and vulnerable, where I do need God to extend kindness and come to meet me where I am. Perhaps that’s a message some of you might need? Maybe it’s a message for the Church as well?

This Chapel service was created a little over 10 years ago, is that right? I remember my first Sunday here last year in March, and the first service of the day was in here and I heard that it had its own name, “Finding Grace.”  

I loved that name and I often think about what Finding Grace means to me or to any of us. After going on the journey of today’s passage from 2 Corinthians, I wonder if Finding Grace is more about how we – as individuals and as a congregation – can allow God’s Grace to find us, to come and meet us where we areif we can be vulnerable enough to accept it, lean on it, and trust God to extend it to us.

May God give us the strength to pray for just that. In the name of our Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen