First Congregational Church
June 6, 2014
4th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So van day Ole vas riding a Moped and pulls up next to Sven’s grandson Einar at a street light. Ole looks over at the sleek shiny car and asks, 'Vat kind of car ya got dere, Einar?’ Eniar replies, 'A Ferrari GTO. It cost half a million dollars!’ 'Dat's a lot of money,' says Ole. 'Vhy does it cost so much?’ 'Because this car can do up to 180 miles an hour!' states Einar proudly.
Ole asks, 'Mind if I take a look inside?’ 'No problem,' replies Einar. So Ole pokes his head in the window and looks around. Then, sitting back on his Moped, Ole says, 'Dat's a pretty nice car, all right. But I'll stick with my Moped!'
Just then the light changes, so Einar decides to show Ole just what his car can do. He floors it, and within 30 seconds the speedometer reads 100 mph. Suddenly, he notices a dot in his rear view mirror. It seems to be getting closer! He slows down to see what it could be and suddenly WHOOOOSSSHHH! Something whips by him going much faster!
'What on earth could be going faster than my Ferrari?' Einar asks himself. He presses harder on the accelerator and takes the Ferrari up to 120 mph. Then, up ahead of him, he sees that it's Ole on the Moped! Amazed that the Moped could pass his Ferrari, he gives it more gas and passes the Moped at 150 mph and he's feeling pretty good until he looks in his mirror and sees Ole gaining on him AGAIN!
Astounded by the speed of this older guy, he floors the gas pedal and takes the Ferrari all the way up to 180 mph. Not ten seconds later, he sees the Moped bearing down on him again! The Ferrari is flat out and there's nothing he can do! Suddenly, the Moped plows into the back of his Ferrari, demolishing the rear end.
Einar stops and jumps out and unbelievably Ole is still alive. He runs up to the banged-up older guy and says, 'I'm a doctor. Is there anything I can do for you? Ole whispers, ‘Can you please unhook my suspenders from your side view mirror?’
Part of the hilarity of that joke is when you apply the whoosh-catch-up principle to other areas - like the seasons. A lot of folks felt like we’ve been on the moped since last fall, and since May, whoosh and it’s July 5th! Now that this weekend is here, we’d love for the rest of the summer to slow down and let the rest of the world go zooming by, so we can relax and relish our time before we whoosh to changing out the swim suits for parkas. Of course, there are some folks still wearing their parka on occasional days this summer, but that’s a horse of a different color.
As I thought about it, you can see a bit of that whoosh-catch-up principle when it comes to realizing God’s grace and even in our scripture passage for today. It comes from the book of 2 Corinthians, letters Paul wrote to his troublesome, urban, problem-child congregation in Greece. Just before our passage for this morning, Paul was writing the Corinthians about false apostles and about his own sufferings, to encourage them in standing on their own feet and serving the people around them.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10 The Message
1-5 You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.
6 If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.
7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
Thank you, Sonia. Sometimes it’s interesting and even edifying to take an in-depth look at a scripture passage, because you uncover layers of meaning and understanding that just can’t always happen on a Sunday morning when the water, golf course or recliner is calling your name. So it would be interesting to look into the the first part of this passage and Paul’s visions and revelations. And oodles of time has been spent on guessing what Paul’s affliction was. But launching into such a study on this passage would be more akin to the moped as the Ferrari speeds by.
Cutting to the heart of the matter, I’m guessing that when our moped whizzes past the Ferrari of life, and we’re stopped in suspended animation for a bit, sometimes we can take a better look at Paul’s point: “My grace is sufficient for you.” So in this moment of lull before the next big event of the summer, we have the opportunity to sit in that suspended animation as we look at the word grace.
When we use the word grace in ordinary conversation, we tend to downsize the word. We’ll say things like, “She’s a very graceful person,” and we mean she dances well. Or, “He’s a very gracious host,” and we mean he says nice things at dinner parties. We tend to use the word grace in small ways. But when the New Testament uses the word grace, it uses it in a very big, powerful and amazing way. In fact, it’s so powerful that sometimes grace can be quite uncomfortable.
When the New Testament uses the English word grace, it’s actually the translation of a Greek word, charis, which means “gift.” Over and over, the New Testament uses the word grace - not in reference to a punitive judge or scolding parent sort of god, but God who gives gift after gift after gift. That’s grace.
I don’t know how many favorite preachers I have, but one of them is preaching professor, Presbyterian minister and author Tom Long from Atlanta, Georgia. He tells of speaking to a mother with an eight year old daughter about this idea of grace. The daughter came to her one day and said, “Mommy, if you’ve done something bad and say you’re sorry and you really do mean it, can it be okay?”
The mother, not knowing exactly what her daughter meant said, “Of course, if you really mean you’re sorry things can be okay.” And in those heart dropping words parents sometimes hear, her daughter said, “Well, you know that piece of furniture that you really love?” Her mother did know that piece of furniture. It was a family heirloom, a sofa she had inherited from her great-grandmother: “Yes?”
The little girl said, “Well, yesterday I was so angry at you, mommy, I took my crayons and I wrote, ‘Stupid mommy, stupid mommy,’ all over that sofa.” The mother groaned inside. That was a family heirloom, but she loved her daughter and so she said, “Because you are very sorry about it, it can be okay.” And they went and got a bucket of water and some rags and they gently scrubbed that sofa and restored it to the way that it ought to be. (I should write Tom Long, for the name of this woman, for the name of the wonderful product they used to get crayon out of fabric, because it just ain’t that easy!)
The mother went on and said to Tom, “You know, I think that’s a metaphor for how God treats us. In grace he cleans us so that we are made like new. It’s grace.” And when we have experienced this kind of grace it can be uncomfortable because it lets us know down at the depths of our being that we are not self-made people. Everything that we are, everything that we have comes as a gift as the grace of God.
The Rev. Dr. Long finished his sermon with another story about a luxury apartment building in a very fancy housing district in Atlanta. It was discovered that some of the residents of this apartment building were actually on public assistance. When that news came out, the homeowners in that very fashionable section of town were outraged. They didn’t want their property values coming down so they demanded and got a public hearing. In that hearing, the first person to go to the microphone was a young mother with a baby on her hip. Her story was that when she got pregnant, her boyfriend took the car and left her - with nothing. After the baby was born she managed to get a job as a maid in one of the local motels, and if she didn’t have the apartment, she couldn’t have the job, and if she didn’t have the job, she couldn’t feed the baby. So she begged for the assistance to continue. The next person to the microphone was a homeowner who said that he and his wife had poured their life savings into their home and they wanted their investment protected. He turned and looked at the young mother with the baby and he said, “I understand how you fell, but I earned mine and you’re going to have to earn yours.”
Then Dr. Long threw out the challenge. He said, “When you have experienced grace, you can never look another human being in the face again and say, “I earned mine, you’re going to have to earn yours,” because everything we have is a gift of God. Everything is grace. Everything.” On that note, we should definitely pray.
Gracious God, was are grateful for all your gifts - the ones that we can recognize in the moment and the ones that sometimes go flying by us. We are also grateful for the grace you have bestowed upon us, grace - free - amazing - undeserved, and yet sometimes we think what we are able to do is because of our own achievements. Thank you, thank you for the abilities you give us and for those opportunities that allow us to achieve great things. But in those moments of reflection, help us to see how rich and blessed we all are. For all your gifts, most especially for your love and grace and joy, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.