Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why am I like this?

Today we are going to talk about the hardest part of Christianity. I’ll put it simply at first here: God does not do whatever we want whenever we want it. We have abundant grace because we are cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus, but that grace does not always work the way we would have it work.  We have been criticized for asking for temporal blessings conditionally, for saying “If it be Thy will.”  Those who say that to be a Christian means instant health, instant comfort, and an interest plus return on offerings ask us “Isn’t our good always God’s will?”  In that question, if you listen carefully, you can hear the serpent of Eden hissing again.  Of course God desires our good! But temporal blessings may be the very worst thing for us.  We don’t know whether they are or not, so we learn over time to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.  St. Paul tells us that he prayed three times for health, for deliverance from the malady which he called the “thorn in the flesh.”  Then he accepted his cross and prayed that he might bear it to the glory of God.

We don’t know what the malady was that afflicted the apostle.   Some say it was malaria, some epilepsy, others say it was dimness of vision, or perhaps a skin rash that itched.  Whatever it was it distracted him.  It ripped and tore into his peace of mind.  He prayed three times.  A similar pattern occurred with Jesus in Gethsemane.  Three times He asked, “Father, if You are willing, let this cup pass from me.”  Jesus had to drink that cup, and Paul had to put up with his affliction.  Never did he suggest that the affliction made him anything other than a child of God.  He knew his sins were forgiven.  He knew that a crown of life was waiting for him.  Those were never in doubt, but he wanted something practical for day to day help.  As the same apostle wrote to the Romans, He that spared not His only Son, will He not willingly give us all things in Him?  Not all things.  Not the harmful things.  He had uses for Paul’s weakness in order to make His own strength perfect.

Not everyone is going to have the exact same pattern that Paul had.  Not everyone has a single dominating malady.  There might be several things.  They might be physical, such as being blind, or wheelchair bound, or bedfast.  Or it could be a social problem, a broken home, quarrelling and hatred where one should find comfort and peace.  It could be financial, poverty, bad credit, want.  When these things test us, does God lose credibility?  We can’t afford that.  All sinners must trust God.  Jesus did not say we would have a comfortable life here.  Material blessings are good, but Jesus taught us that God’s kingdom takes priority.  He showed us what He meant by that.  The thorns that pierced His head were sharper and deadlier than any we have to bear in the flesh.  He was giving us grace.  He may ask us to keep our thorns, because He has something so glorious, so life-giving and hopeful that we need not worry about pains of body or spirit.  He holds before us His easy yoke.  “My grace is sufficient for you.”  We are forgiven, and all things are working to bring us to our certain hope of eternal life.

Think about this:  do we deserve any better?  Isn’t a chronic malady a mighty small penalty for the lives we have led?  Of course it is!  In fact, it isn’t a penalty at all.   It is only chastisement, admonition, the Father’s hand coming down in parental discipline.  It is a blessing, a sign that He owns us as His heirs.  Yes, He blesses us abundantly, and as He does we tend to become distracted by the less important benefits and miss the grace itself.  He has to get our attention, so the thorn in the flesh is God saying, “Look at me!”  By grace He loved us before the foundation of the world.  By grace He had compassion on us while we were yet sinners.  By grace the Son of God left the company of adoring angels to come into the flesh.  By grace He bore our sins on the cross.  By grace He provided for us the Word and the Holy Sacraments to create faith in us, and to sustain it.  By grace God demands nothing of us and gives us everything.  He spared not His own Son but delivered him up for us all.  Will He not give us all good things?  Be careful what you call “good things.”  Also be sure that you can rely on the Savior.  God will give us what He sees is our good.

Why did Jesus tell Paul My power is made perfect in weakness?  That seems like a contradiction, but it isn’t.  God’s mercy may permit those thorns to bless you with the virtues of humility, spiritual honesty about yourself, courage you didn’t know you had, and patience.  In Paul’s case it was because he had had so many revelations from God that He might have been tempted to act with some independence.  The traps of self-applause and self-righteousness were open around him, so if we think we are well, we might not visit the Great Physician.  In the Gospels there are stories of people who would never have met Jesus if they had been normal, but God in His mercy made them lepers, or blind, or lame, or in the case of Zacchaeus, short.  Jesus paid attention to these people because of their maladies.  Far from being evidence that God has deserted you, such afflictions are a sign that He has His eye on you.

Whether you have just begun to walk with God, or have already crossed over a mountain range or two, you are still going to have weaknesses.  Through such weaknesses you will see the power of God at work.  His grace is a constant.  Do not doubt this!  God’s grace abounds to you.  It makes you able to face your troubles head-on, to battle against sin, and to find spiritual blessings in your afflictions.  No, in yourself you will always be nothing.  God’s grace accomplishes everything, sometimes through you, sometimes in you, sometimes in spite of you, and sometimes on you.  In any case though, He invites you to share the spoils of victory.  A

Rev. Lloyd Gross

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