By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA, Sunday, August 10, 2014
Good morning! Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church.
This morning Maryam is here with me so I will be preaching in English with translation.
Oh dear Lord, thank you for bringing us together this morning. Quiet our hearts so that we can hear your voice. In the power of Your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
On November 24, Maryam, my wife, and I celebrate our 30th anniversary. During these 30 years, we raised three kids and confronted many challenges together, including serious medical issues, professional ups and downs, and many stressful events. Still, we were not an obvious couple to get married.
In some sense, Maryam and I come from opposite ends of the world. I am from Washington; Maryam comes from Iran. I am Christian; she is Muslim. I am an avid reader; she is a dedicated television watcher. When I entered seminary, many people asked: how can you become a pastor—your wife is a Muslim and does not support you.
At first, I thought that I attended seminary in spite of my wife; later, I came to realize that I attended seminary because of my wife. You see, my family was my first real ministry. My new book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, is dedicated to Maryam and our children.
Sometimes God has to push us to discover who we really are in Him (2X).
In our passage today, the Apostol Paul addresses the church in Corinth which has a problem with spiritual pride. We get a hint of this problem in the many references that Paul makes to boasting—about half (27/57) of the references to boasting in all of scripture arise in the two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth. In only these ten verses of our passage today, he uses the term, boast, 4 times.
So, what is spiritual pride? What is boasting? (2X) In our passage today, Paul uses the Greek word, καυχάομαι, which means: to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride in oneself, brag (BDAG, 4171.1). Spiritual pride consists of bragging about our relationship with God.
So what does Paul say? Paul says:
I know a man 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 this man was caught up into paradise– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (vv 2-4).
But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says: there is nothing to be gained by it (v 1). Nothing! (2X)
In fact, he goes on to say: on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (v 5). Further, he says: So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (v 7).
But Paul does not stop there. Paul prayers to God 3 times to relieve him of this thorn in the flesh. And God gives a surprising answer to Paul’s prayer: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (v 9). In other words, God refuses to heal Paul of this thorn in the flesh, but instead offers Paul His presence—God’s grace. And Paul is content with this answer, saying: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10). (2X)
Has God given you a thorn in the flesh? (2X)
Most of us struggle with spiritual pride in one form or another. Our pride tells us that we are special even when it is not true. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 ESV)
What brings us together as a church is not our strengths, but our weaknesses. For not all of us are experts in the same things, but we are all in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins. So in my own case, my weakness in understanding and speaking Spanish allows me to find room in my life for God. (2X) Returning to the words of Paul: For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10). Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.
Please pray with me.
Almighty Father, thank you for your presence among us this morning. Let us brag only of our own weakness so that your voice, not ours, will be the one heard. Let us point to the light given us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. In all things, may Your name be praised. In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Receive the benediction:
Go into the world knowing that your weaknesses make room in your life for God and give thanks for that knowledge. Know that God honors the space that we leave for Him in our lives. And remember the words of the Apostol Paul: when I am weak, then I am strong.
Go with God. Amen.
 I have always identified with Francis Thompson’s poem: The Hound of Heaven (1893) which speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of his soul. Poem: http://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM. Reading by Richard Burton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gToj6SLWz8Q.