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II Corinthians 12:8-9
Promises of Grace: “Let Me Hep You Wit Dat”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Lord Jesus, we come to You today hungering for Your Holy Spirit to fill us with Your power and love, with Your grace and mercy, with Your truth and wisdom. Fill that need today, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
30 years ago when I was doing my ministry internship at St Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, CA, I met a man who has unknowingly challenged my independent nature in countless ways. And he did it simply by being polite. Deacon Louis Hensley approached me on my first Sunday while I was folding some bulletins and he said, “Let me hep you wit dat, suh.”
St Andrew Presbyterian Church was a small church, about 30 people in worship, made up of university and seminary professors, doctors, lawyers, and African American seniors with not much more than a 3rd grade education and living in government subsidized housing.
There’s a lot of history that tells the story of this church and those who worshiped there – but let me just say that I am eternally grateful for my three years of baptism with these fine people.
Deacon Hensley said simply, “Let me hep you wit dat, suh.”
Maybe some of you have the same “problem” I have? Never wanting any help, and refusing it when offered, even when it really would be nice….
Today is our final Sunday in this short sermon series looking at some of the Bible’s teaching about God’s Promises of Grace; today we re-discover the gift of recognizing that we need help, and hearing God’s voice, which might sound a little like Deacon Hensley’s: “Let Me hep you wit dat!”
Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Second Letter to the Church in Corinth. I will read from the NIV, and I invite you to follow along – if you use the Sermon Notes page, you’ll be following along in the Hawai’ian Pidgin translation. II Corinthians 12:5-10 ….—-
5 … I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 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, 7 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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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.
Did you catch the beauty of this Promise of Grace? We are never expected to go it alone! Never! This is why, I believe, God created that most basic of human communities – our families. Spouses, parents, siblings, children – immediate, extended, tribal, church. Almost always, when Jesus sent His disciples out on mission He did so in pairs. But even better than our partners in mission (ministry, business, life), He also tells us that whenever we are gathered in his name He is right there with us as well (and this is more than a promise – it is stated simply as a fact, it is a covenantal truth)!
We read a few weeks ago the Promise of Grace that we would not be tempted beyond what we could handle, because we would have God’s power and presence with us. This is covenantal truth!
But, because we are human, from the time of Adam and Eve, when God promised to be with them and all they had to do was not eat from that one tree – and they decided they could go it alone, so they ate from the tree of “forbidden fruit”; because of that human condition, Paul says, “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Paul, it appears, was tempted to go it alone. So God stopped him with this “thorn in his flesh”.
What was Paul’s “thorn in his flesh”? He never really tells us what that means – a literal thorn, a thistle? Or something else? Many people believe it was something like macular degeneration, or some other eye-disease. Some of his letters were actually written by others – they were Paul’s words, but in someone else’s handwriting. Some of them were signed by Paul – he comments on the hugeness of his signature. And we all remember that when he first met the Lord on the road to Damascus Saul the persecutor of Christians was blinded….
But whatever this “thorn” was, Paul says it was become a blessing because by it Paul heard Jesus say, “‘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.”
Of course, this makes me ask about my own “thorns” – I have prayed uncountable times to be relieved of my chronic Type 1 Diabetes, which limits all kinds of activities; I have a slight speech impediment which, of course, causes the “preacher” in me to wish it were different; I am not terribly talented in any singular skill or ability, I dabble is dozens of things, but expert in really none, so I envy almost everyone else; the list goes on and on.
What is your “thorn”?
Most of the time, discovering the “blessing” in our thorns takes time, but it also requires an eye for the opportunities God places before us. Your Sermon Notes page asks you to imagine ways God might use your “thorn” as a blessing for you.
My time in Marin City’s St Andrew Presbyterian Church taught be that God is, indeed, always with us. It also showed me how my Diabetes allowed me to connect with others, with all kinds of different physical maladies and health concerns, in ways I never could have without this potentially terminal disease.
I experience, probably daily, and if my faith was strong enough I would see it daily, God’s power and presence in my life because I am forced to be humbled by my limitations. I need to rely on God, because without these aches and pains I would start to think I was good enough without Him.
Deacon Hensley said, “Let me hep you wit dat”, not because he wanted to intrude on my first Sunday at St Andrew, but because he humbled himself enough to fold bulletins.
God humbled Himself, we read in Philippians 2, by making “himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” He did that for you!
“Three times awready I wen beg God da Boss fo take dis ting away from me. But He wen tell me, ‘I do plenny good tings fo you, an dass all you need. My power mo strong inside you wen you no can handle trouble yoa own self.’”
God says to you, and to me, “Let Me hep you wit dat.” Will we let Him help?
What might we be called to do, but feel very inadequate to accomplish? Sunday School? Mission to Kenya? Feed hungry children at our local schools? Support refugees in some way? What is it for you? What is it for us? Can you hear God’s voice? “Let Me hep you wit dat.” Amen.
Today, immediately following our worship we have an opportunity for more prayer, downstairs during the Fellowship Time in the Social Hall. Let’s pray for God’s power in our lives, not despite our own weaknesses and fallibilities, but because of them.
Gracious God, Grace-filled God, Grace-giving God, today we bow before You as the King of all kings, the Creator of the universe, the only One with the authority and the ability to actually conquer sin; and today, we choose to prioritize above all else Your Word and Your will for our lives, we want to experience Your power and love in brand new ways, and so lean on You, trusting that in our weakness we will, in deed, experience Your strength. Show us Your love today, and help us to show Your love to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.