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Remember (Sermon July 19, 2015)

Ephesians 2:11–22 (NRSV)

Berlin Wall Fragment The Historic Berlin Wall - a reminder of Freedom versus Oppression - was divided into pieces and distributed around the world when it came down. This is the piece of the Berlin Wall that is in Portland Maine, USA. A reminder for all of the need for Freedom in all parts of the world. Michele Loftus Dreamstime.com

Berlin Wall Fragment
The Historic Berlin Wall – a reminder of Freedom versus Oppression – was divided into pieces and distributed around the world when it came down. This is the piece of the Berlin Wall that is in Portland Maine, USA. A reminder for all of the need for Freedom in all parts of the world.
Michele Loftus Dreamstime.com

One in Christ

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Do you remember? This is a phrase that we often hear especially as we all get older. Do you remember when we used to…? There is an importance to remembering the past. It is important to recognize what has happened before and where we are now. The biggest problem with remembering is we rarely remember correctly. There is a big concern among many that people are rewriting history, writing out the truth so that it will confuse the present and the future. I am sure it is an issue, but too often we fail to remember that there is more to history than we fully know. We only get a brief glimpse through a window and beyond that window the rest of the world. Remember?

We want to remember the greatness of our past, we want to remember the beauty of our heroes, the magnificence of our nations, but all of that is history skewed through ideology and in some cases idolatry. I love my country but it has done some terrible things. I have many heroes, people that have encouraged me to try harder and to seek more, but I have to admit that even George Fox was kind of a jerk sometimes. I would like to think I was a pretty good kid, but if I am honest I was a far from being a saint and really I am not much better today. I am human prone to error, my heroes are and were human and they too are prone to error, and my nation is a nation of humans that can get caught up in the emotions of a situation and overreact and cause great harm. Remember.

Paul wrote this letter to the early church in Ephesus. He wrote them calling them to remember. For centuries we assumed that the church in Ephesus was dominated by Gentile believers but as we learn more about the various histories of the people in that region we are finding out that this letter was largely written to the Jewish community that had called this city in Asia Minor home for over 300 years. It is important to know this because that context gives us greater understanding to what is being said throughout the rest of the letter. Paul calls these people to remember.

“[R]ember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands.” You might want to stop me right there and say that I am wrong in saying that this book was largely written to the Jewish community because Paul just said he was writing to Gentiles, but hear me out. During the first century there was diverse religious expression among the Jewish community, there were at least four expressions of the Jewish religion that was being taught in Israel, and then there were the communities that were scattered throughout the empires that each had their own interpretations of what it meant to be a child of the promise. In this portion of the letter Paul is actually being very derogatory to make a point. A Gentile is anyone that is any individual outside the nation of Israel. And when there was contentions within the larger community many begin to make claims that they have the true knowledge and everyone else is just wrong. Paul is using very colorful language to make a point. That point is that every human being is born Gentile. Every male baby that is born is by all physical appearances born outside the community of Israel, every male is born uncircumcised. To be joined into the community someone within that community had to physically get involved to bring that child into the community, someone had to quite literally pierce the skin and cause blood to flow before even the highest of high priest’s son could be call a Jew.

Everyone is born a Gentile. This goes right along with the teachings of John the Baptist, who was crying out in the wilderness that all should repent and be cleansed. He stood there in the waters of the Jordan and said “and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” Every person is born outside the Kingdom of God. Every Ephesian that was born to parents that worshiped in the temple of Dianna, and every child of the synagogue at birth are equal in the eyes of God, uncircumcised Gentiles.

The reason that Paul wrote in such a fashion is because this is a very diverse city and therefore a diverse church. There were people that responded to the Gospel of Christ that were once dedicated to the gods of Rome, and people once dedicated to the teaching of Moses. This diversity among the church was causing division along cultural backgrounds and heritage. “Remember,” Paul continues, “that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Having no hope and without God in the world. The terminology in this statement is very profound. Paul is quite literally saying that every one of the people within that church were atheists without any hope. Today this term is thrown around all over the place, but it was used quite regularly in the ancient world to identify anyone that had a different belief than the common religion of an area. Christians were often regarded as atheists by both the pagans and the Jews. Many of the earliest Christian writers had to defend their faith against the claim of atheism. But Paul is using the very same statements to prove his point. You were atheists at one time without hope, without Christ. This is a powerful claim especially since he is saying this to a religious community that was largely comprised of people that claimed to be children of Abraham. They did not have God with them. They did not have Emmanuel. They were children wondering through the wilderness without hope.

With Christ thing change. Paul takes both the actual Gentile and the Jewish members of the community all the way back to the beginning of the history of Israel. Back to the original promise to Abraham. God did not say that Abraham was to be the father of a nation, but many nations. Many nations, consider this for a moment. What is a nation? It is simply a group of people with a common history and culture. The promise of Abraham was not to make one nation but bring the nations with their various histories back to the God that created them. The gentile people do not lose their cultural identity to become Jews, and the Jews do not lose their cultural identity, instead God brings the nations together under one promise in Christ. No longer atheist without hope but people with God and God with them.

In Christ we have a commonality, in Christ we have hope, and in Christ we have peace, because in Christ the walls that separate the nations break down and we are seen as we truly are. All of us are the same Jew and Greek, Catholic and Orthodox, Baptist and Quaker all of us are humans that recognize that our hope can only come through God with us, without that there is no hope. And Paul tells us to remember this.

In Christ there is no division, there is no separation of greater or lesser nations, and there are no aliens or strangers, because we are all similar. The physical divisions within the temple of God were ripped apart revealing that God is not held in a box but freely among the people. If God is not held in the temple of the Jewish people, why are we building walls? This has profound power in our contemporary age. For half of a century there was a wall that divided Eastern and Western Europe, this wall was built recognizing a division of ideology. On each side of the wall different nations, different cultures no unity only division. I was alive when that wall came down, many of you witnessed that event too. Maps were redrawn nations uniting and others dividing. Today our children learn a different geography than we did prior to the 90’s. That wall gave us a visual indication of the difference that nations can have, the divisions that can occur when we focus on ideology instead of humanity. There are other walls that show the same thing. But Christ came to break down the walls, to unite the nations under the promise of Abraham, not to diminish cultural identity but to build a kingdom of which there is no other type on earth. Uniting people in grace and mercy instead of national identity. Uniting people and urging them to live the holy lifestyle that God himself lived with us in Christ.

I know that most of us have read this letter to the Ephesians as a text to Gentile believers, a letter that is encouraging them that they too are part of this great promise that God gave to Abraham that was fulfilled in Christ. It is that but it is also a letter written to Jewish believers encouraging them to remember that the promise was not for them alone, but for the nations. It would be extremely difficult for an established community that lived three centuries under a certain framework to change their thinking. We are no different today. We remember history in ways that support our current ideals, and we conveniently forget the portions of history that contradict our stances. We must remember. We must remember that we were once something else. We were once without hope, but we now have it. That hope came to each of us freely through Christ. We have hope because God so loved the WORLD that He gave his only son, not to condemn the world but to save it. God loves the world. He loves the Canadians, the Mexicans, the Russians, and the Chinese. He loves the Germans and the Israelis. He loves the atheists as well as the Christian, he loves the Hindu and the Muslim, and He loves the CEO and the Union member. All of those nations, or groupings of people are things of flesh, things that man has defined to divide and define. Those divisions are not seen by God and have no place in the Kingdom because God loves the world. We have hope because the God first loved us and gave his son to redeem, free, and build a bridge of reconciliation with us. Remember. Remember that we were once without hope. Remember that we were once caught behind a wall of separation, but Jesus broke down the wall so that we could be free to love the nations. Remember that we too were once like those that do not yet know the God that loves them. Remember that each of us are here today because someone was led by Christ to see beyond the outward expressions of life and cause us to see that spark of God trying to take hold in our souls. Remember.

In Christ We Have Hope (Sermon July 12, 2015)

Ephesians 1:3–14 (NRSV)

Hands, all together Avondale Pattillo United Methodist Church, Decatur, GA, USA

Hands, all together
Avondale Pattillo United Methodist Church, Decatur, GA, USA

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have often said that the study of scripture is one of the most fascinating things one could do. The book of Ephesians is probably the very first book of scripture that I actually deeply studies. The reason I say bible study is so fascinating is because every time one reads it and studies there is another layer that opens up some different understanding. As we learn about the people that lived in the culture surrounding the book, learn the foods they ate, the clothing they wore, and the people they encountered all give a deeper understanding of what the passage is saying in ancient times and how that can affect us even today.

Ephesians is one of those books that God uses to enlighten my life in many ways. Just when I think I have learned all I could learn, someone has made another discovery that expands and enriches the text. The City of Ephesus is one of the most important cities in church history for many reasons. The first is that it was the recipient of one of Paul’s letters, but even more important is that Ephesus was the second largest city in Asia Minor during the first century. Not only was Ephesus one of the largest cities in the roman empire, it was also the city the Apostle John retired to later in life, where he died, and where he was buried. This city is the city the last of the Apostles lived.

There is a reason that John chose to retire to this city. During the years of exile the Jewish community was dispersed throughout the world. You can find ancient Jewish communities all across Europe, into Africa and East into areas of Russia and beyond. Ephesus was a city that became the home of many Jewish people. By the time Paul had visited this city the Jewish community had been in it for over three hundred years. There is deep history among the Hebrews to this city, but that is just one interesting aspect of this city.

Ephesus is also the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is the home of the greatest temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis or the Roman goddess Diana. I mention this only because they mythology of Diana states that she was a huntress and would only interact with gods and men as hunting companions, but eventually fell in love with a hunter by the name of Orion. The religious leaders of these ancient Greek and roman gods would use the stars as backdrop for their teachings and right after the big dipper, Orion is probably the most recognizable constellation in our night sky. The connection with the constellations is important to understanding this passage and to understand the people of Ephesus. They were obviously people of great religious devotion with a major temple devoted to one of the most prominent Greek goddesses. Paul uses this to help teach them the Gospel.

The phrase, “in heavenly places,” is a direct reference to the gentile study of the skies. But there is something more to this introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, Ephesus is not only a city devoted to Diana but us also a city where for over three hundred years People of Israel lived and worshiped. Paul uses both the pagan and the Jewish faith to teach and encourage the early church.

There is one group among the first century Jewish people that we are only beginning to understand. We know the Pharisees and the Sadducees because they are often mentioned in the Gospels, but the group known as the Essenes have begun to gain recognition. This group is a group of very devout individuals, of which many believe John the Baptist was a part. They were not typical to the other groups, they did not worship in the temple but withdrew into the isolated places and structured their worship around ceremonial washing instead of sacrifice. These people are becoming more important in history because these were the people that provided what we know as the Dead Sea scrolls. This is very important to history because contained in these scrolls are the oldest known copies of Old Testament scripture. But along with the scripture are also books that the Essenes themselves wrote to encourage their group, the documents their religious order used as guidelines for their faith and practice. It is the teaching of the Essenes that Paul uses to connect the people of Ephesus with Christ. The interesting thing about the Essenes is that they too used the sky to teach their followers, so the phrase, “in heavenly places,” also connects the gentile population into the listening to the Jewish teaching from which the gospel of Christ emerges. The teaching that Paul begins in these verses and continues throughout the rest of this letter connects the teachings of the Essenes which we have only recently learned of with the teachings of Jesus. And along with that the adoption of gentiles into the promise through the mysteries of Christ.

I mention the connection to the Essenes because most of this introductory prayer is derived from their teachings, this means that these teachings were probably fairly well known to the Jewish faction of the early church. It is from the mysteries of the Essenes that Paul derives the idea of destined or more commonly known as predestined. And when we begin to look at this concept through the teachings of the Essenes we begin to see something different than the teachings of the theologians that wrote prior to the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls. The Essenes believed that there was a divine plan within everything, a plan that was devised before the foundations of the world. This plan revolved around the coming of the Messiah. Of all the Jewish sects that focused on the Messiah the Essenes were the ones that studied it the most. They believed that everything revolved around Christ, and that in Christ the heavens and the earth would be united. Remember these were teaching that came before the Advent of Jesus. So this predestination is centered on Christ or the Messiah who was to come. They believed this plan was revealed in all of creation, written in the skies, the heavens and the earth groan for redemption.

Paul is telling the star gazers of both gentile and Hebrew decent that this Messiah that you have been watching for is Jesus, the plan or destiny that you have been waiting for is found in Christ. Our predestination has more to do with who redeems than who is redeemed. The concept of being chosen or adopted deals primarily with the pledge that God made in the divine plan to redeem the universe back to himself. We are chosen in Christ to be worth of redemption, not because of our own standing but because of Christ. We are chosen because God wants to reconcile and restore all of creation back to himself, this again focuses not on humanity but of Christ the means in which the divine destiny will be fulfilled. I find this to be very profound. The future of the church, does not rest on our shoulders but on the shoulders of God himself. He devised the plan and he will fulfill that plan.

What does this mean? If we want to participate in the predestined plan of redemption we need to be in or with Christ. Seeking Him in all that we do, seeking to reflect His character to the world we live. And when we seek him he will provide us with the mean and wisdom to accomplish what he has already set forth to accomplish. This should give us all relief. We do not have to save the world, because that is God’s job. We do not have to redeem the world because that is Christ’s job. We do not have to judge the world because those outside of Christ condemn themselves by rejecting the plan that God has establish from the beginning of time. Paul is then telling us focus on the Christ the Messiah in which all things will be redeemed.

This is the mission of the Church. We are to follow Christ, reflect his life in all that we do. Take on the holy lifestyle that he showed us and reflect that back to the world as we live with others. When we do this the hope within the divine plan is shared with those that are without hope. Imagine if that is how we lived? Imagine if all we did was seek the life of Christ and let the spirit of God work in the lives of others. This is exactly how Jesus taught his disciples to live. He taught them to withdraw often to isolated places to pray, He made it His custom to worship in the synagogues, and he ministered to the needs of those around him and all along the way he would teach. There was a difference between his teaching and the teaching of the other rabbis at the time. Jesus called out to the people, “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Have we ever really thought about what those words really mean? The religious community was doing their best to make their nation a holy nation. They were defining what every law meant and what one should do to keep that law. They taught this to everyone that would listen and they were very pious people yet far from God. The people were weary, they were trying their hardest to make themselves acceptable to God, and they made rules for everyone to live by that was becoming a burden. The people were weary and tired when they should have been celebrating. The yoke or the teachings were weighing them down holding them back. The very people that were trying to bring them to heaven were restricting them from even looking at the gate.

Oh but in Christ we have rest, in Christ we have hope, in Christ we have redemption, in Christ we have acceptance, in Christ we are beloved, in Christ forgiveness, wisdom, insight and a future. This all comes by following Christ by taking on his life and his lifestyle it is easy because all it requires is that we become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. But it is hard because to do that we must go to him, leaving behind our plans and taking on his plans. As we enter into this time of open worship I want us to consider just a moment the city of Ephesus, a city that was devoted to the goddess Diana. Paul went to that city and using their own devotion to the stars to teach them the mysteries of Christ using a similar Jewish spirituality. Consider for a moment the era we live, are we speaking and living hope to the world around us or are we burdening the world? We live in an era that desires the hope of Christ but are we speaking their language? Have we become so consumed with being right that we fail to live right? Do we even know how to discern the difference? God has a divine plan to bring hope into this world, into this community will we participate with him?

Impaled (sermon July 5, 2015)

2 Corinthians 12:2–10 (NRSV)

Personification of Humility Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens, France

Personification of Humility
Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France

2 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. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 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, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep 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. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power 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.

In every culture there is some form of pursuit of greatness. In some, this might be reflected in the size of the family, how many children they have, or possibly how many grandchildren. Other cultures may put an emphasis on age, education, property, or other forms of wealth. Then within every culture there are sub groupings that have a variant code to determine status or greatness. These status symbols or variant signs of greatness change over time but if you were to look deeply into a culture you would be able to find what they deem important to determine the value or level of respect to give to an individual. As much as we would like to say that we do not have prejudices we do use these culturally determined norms to judge those around us. Every culture, and every sub-culture has these markings. I do not care if a person is a hipster, gothic, in business, or in church there are ways we determine status and we are very hesitant to modify our ideals.
The church has some very interesting way of doing these things. Often it is multifaceted looking at age, gender, spiritual gifts, education, and years of service. We add fancy titles to our positions such as deacon, elder, pastor, or bishop. Within each of these there are greater statuses as well, an arch deacon is a more respected deacon or a pope is just a more respected bishop. Many of these statuses are scriptural, many are based solely on traditions within an organization. Friends have set aside many of these status qualifications because we believe that all people are equal, giving no preference to gender or race, but even among friends there are elders, and people whose word carries more weight than others. These status identifiers are not necessarily sinful, but we must be aware of their existence.

In the first century church, commonly known as the apostolic era of church history, relied a great deal on these identifiers. The greatest level was that of Apostle because that meant that they were an eye witness to the events of Jesus’ life. We commonly think of these apostles as being the eleven people who walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, at least they were considered the lead apostles. But then there were the others apostles, people like Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Steven. These were not in the list of Jesus’ closest associates but they too were eyewitnesses to the ministry and life of Jesus. But as time advanced and these original apostles became few due to the various form of persecution, and other factors began to emerge as the cultural status identifier. Spiritual gifts, prophecy and visions began to rise in importance and in some case replaced the apostolic office.

This is what Paul is speaking about, these cultural ideas of status used to determine the value of people. Clearly the people of Corinth a great deal of emphasis on the value of visions. The greater the vision the more important that person became. Paul is writing to these people about a man he knows, most biblical scholors throughout the ages of church history believe that this man he knows is actually himself. Well this man was taken to the third heaven.

We need to stop there just for a moment to explore this idea of a third heaven. The language used by Paul is one that is very connected with the Greek readers of this letter. Corinth is a prominent city within the Greek culture. A site of one of the most important ceremonial athletic events to entertain the people and the pantheon of gods. This concept of a third heaven is not necessarily degrees or levels of heaven, but a way to explain a concept to a culture that does not have a link to the historic background of Jewish faith. He is speaking to them in a language that they will understand. In Greek mythology there were three levels of heaven: the sky, above the sky (space), and beyond the sky or the abode of the gods. So when Paul speaks of the third heaven he is referring to this area beyond what can be seen in the sky or space, the area where God dwells in full glory.

So this man is taken to the third heaven, seeing things that mortal men cannot speak of, things beyond our ability to comprehend, and things our vocabulary cannot fully express. Then he says that it is either in body or out of body he does not know, God knows. This is what I want us to really reflect on. This is where Paul begins to speak to us about our cultural ideas of status. Corinth was beginning to put increasing emphasis on fantastic testimonies of visions and transportations. They were mystified by these stories of people seeing and getting revelations from God that were only being given to them. Cult like oracles were being formed around individuals that received these unique messages from the divine. Paul is saying this is unreasonable, we cannot know if this is from God or just some factitious tale. Only God knows.
That being said Paul himself is one of those people that received one of those visions that words could not fully explain. He could boast about this vision but it would be foolishness because even he could not even fully tell if it was real or imagined, in his body or out of his body. It was something that was profound in cementing his faith, but only God knows fully what went on.

Paul then says if I am going to boast it is not about the miraculous but the weaknesses of my life. He had seen visions of the very realm of God, but those visions can only do so much for the church. It provides some thought provoking discussions of the hope we have beyond the vail of life, but does little to help with life today. But the testimony of weaknesses hold greater weight.

It is the testimonies of God’s grace in this life that bring hope to the hopeless. The stories that we know fully, because we know they were and are real. It is the story of our lives that have power, the power that will assist those around us listen to the visitation of God in their own lives. The pain, the joy, the heartbreak and the rapture we experience through our daily lives are the testimonies we can verbalize and explain. These testimonies of weakness keep us grounded in the present, keeping our eyes focused on the more important aspects of faith. Paul then testifies about his weaknesses.

Paul speaks of a thorn in his side, a thorn of which he pleaded with God to remove three times. This thorn is the subject of many debates, I have personally heard that the thorn is poor vision due to the blinding light at Paul’s conversion. Or that the thorn deals with Paul’s sexual struggles. While others, and the one I find strongest, is that this thorn deals with Paul’s failed marriage. But those debates are about as helpful as the boasting of visits to the third heaven, because Paul does not elaborate. This is where translation does not give us the fullest effect of what Paul is saying. Our bibles say thorn, but as time has progressed and our grasp of this ancient language improves we can begin to feel just what Paul is speaking of. The word translated as thorn is much more violent than a splinter causing irritation.

This word we translate as thorn is actually a military term that refers to a massive pointed stake that is used to impale the enemy. This thorn is not just a mild irritation it is something that is literally ripping Paul apart, cutting into him deeply and threatening his ability to proceed. He is impaled on this thorn, unable to move by his own will or might. He is dangling at the end of a spear clinging to life. This very thing, this thorn, this issue within Paul’s life hinders his witness, even causes people to question his authenticity. They look at him and question how he can be a follower of Christ with that in his life. This is why the debates are fruitless as to what the thorn is, because it could stem from anything. I like the idea of a failed marriage most mainly because he speaks so often about the importance of staying single so you can minister more freely, why he says if the unbeliever leaves you are not guilty of any sin, and strongly urges that people avoid being unequally yoke in marriage because it will pull you away from God instead of encouraging you to deepen your faith.

Whatever this thorn is this stake that has cut him deeply, it often hampers his witness. People see this weakness in him and at first look they write him off, looking instead to those that have great visions of blessings. Yet Paul says I will boast about the pole sticking out of my side, this beam that has cut me deeply, because as I walk with you in life and as I speak with you and share my testimony it is this beam that reveals the greatest hope of grace. It is through the grace of God that I can move forward even with a spear sticking out of my chest. It is that weakness and hope of grace that allows those of us also impaled by the devil’s snares to consider faith.

Why exactly does Paul include this testimony in this letter? It is because the church in Corinth was focusing on the wrong things. They were puffing themselves up, they were getting excited about the spiritual gifts and becoming outwardly holy people but failing to recognize the most important things. Jesus called out the religious leaders in Israel for the very same things, in Matthew 7:1–5 (NRSV)

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Why do we judge others? They are sinning, we must hold them accountable for that sin, and we must force them to be righteous. What Jesus is saying is don’t be a hypocrite. We all have thorns, we all have planks gouging us in various places, our eyes, our sides, maybe it has pinned our foot to the ground. I don’t know or really even care, it is not my place but God’s. What I do know is that I am weak in myself, I need God’s grace because so often I am stuck.

Paul tell the people of Corinth. I boast of my weakness because God revealed to me that his grace is sufficient, that his power is made perfect in my weakness, not in my strength. I also say the same God took me a man that was running from God pursuing honor from the world, a man that turned from God to follow the lusts of the world who was impaled and caught. His grace brought me here where I am today. I am far from perfect, but God’s power is perfect and his grace is sufficient. My life could have been so much worse if I continued down that path I do not know where I would have been. But I have a wonderful wife, two amazing sons that fill my life with joy and I have a community of Friends that I can encourage and that encourage me. No I do not have fantastical stories, because I do not need them, I have a thorn that pierced my side that Jesus himself removed and buried in the grave. What was once place to ensnare me no longer has power but God instead does. He has saved me and set me on a different path, a path devoted to loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. It is the path that Jesus himself walked down while he lived among mankind, and it is the path he is calling us all to. We are not the judge but we can bear witness to his grace.


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am