The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. When I am weak, then I am strong.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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” (II Cor. 12:10 NIV).
The Weakness of Discipleship
When Scottie first came to our church, I thought he might be Jesus incognito visiting his people, wondering how they would react. Scottie is a strange person but rather loveable. He is a street evangelist. He smells. He interrupts people rather rudely at times. He is on his own timeline, has his own agenda. He doesn’t fit in. He asks for money. He makes people uncomfortable but the worst thing is that he invites other homeless people to come to church with him.
We are an international church meeting the needs of the expat community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have people from all over the world, some wealthy and some not so wealthy but they are all fine, upstanding citizens. They don’t stink up the chairs. Scottie’s friends don’t even speak English. They come for the facturas (pastries) and tea after the service. They come for a handout. Maybe they are even “casing the joint” for a possible thievery later on.
I remember my wife once standing in the fellowship hall, tears on her face as the old ladies in the church complained about the smell in the chairs that they couldn’t get out and their solution was to “get rid of these people.” We had set up a spanish small group Sunday School class and had around 15 people attending at one point. We discovered that Scottie had a nice tenor voice and could sing. Another one was generous to a fault. A third was quite educated. Each had their gift and their weakness. Each needed help.
But we were on our own. The church was complaining and they turned those complaints toward us. “Make sure that Charles doesn’t come to the general meeting on Sunday after the service,” one of the elders told me. What? Did they expect him to come with a band of homeless people to steal all of the church’s money? Of which there was very little and wouldn’t be at a general meeting in any event. Why should he not come and all the rest as well? I have no idea. They didn’t even speak English so they wouldn’t understand anything but they were told not to come anyway. More specifically, I was told to make sure that they didn’t come. Me? Why me? What does it have to do with me?
Apparently, we had been associated with this unwelcomed group of misfits and homeless men (mostly) and, therefore, we were the ones to talk to. There is no end to the amount of stories we could tell you about the arrogance and lack of thoughtfulness shown by certain members of the church, especially the leaders trying to protect the others. And our reputation suffered. There was Scottie (the street evangelist who was not all there mentally but could speak English). There was Charles (old, educated, but broke, his sister stole all of his assets and left him on the street). There was Julio (who, when the Spirit was on him, so he claimed, he would write out special revelations on a piece of paper, breathing heavily and scribbling like crazy, though you couldn’t read a word after). There was Peter (who stuck his foot in his mouth every second minute, rushing in where angels feared to tread). There was James and John (the sons of thunder with a reputation for fighting)……oh, sorry. Wrong group. Or is it the same group?
Sounds like Jesus had a motley crew to deal with as well. There was a tax collector named Matthew (a sniveling collaborator with the Romans, taking all our hard earned money). There was Judas Iscariot (who would become the betrayer) and Simon the zealot (who, no doubt, had his own ideas about how to take care of the Roman problem once and for all).
Discipleship is weakness in the world’s eyes. Either through circumstances (hardships, difficulties, persecutions) or through a “thorn in the flesh” (whatever that was) or through the people you associate with, making you look weak. Discipleship is not about acting the “professional” but about acting like Christ.
Paul tells us that in our weakness, we are strong. What does that mean?
Not exactly a favorite verse for most Christians. No one wants to be weak, or thought of as weak. One of the unwritten rules of life is that we are expected to take care of ourselves. To be strong. To take care of business. After all, God helps those who help themselves, right? Not exactly.
It may be weak to be weak but it is not weak to side with the needy when you, yourself, are strong. To identify with them, to take upon yourself their weakness is to be like Christ.
How often have we felt overwhelmed by the needs of others, especially those who don´t seem capable of standing on their own two feet. We feel that wave of dispair, and fear, wash over us because we know that we don´t have the ability to meet their need, to solve their problems, to save them.
And that is the way it should be. It is true that we are not the Savior, that Jesus is the one who saves all of us, that a “Savior complex” is unhealthy.
But it is also true that Jesus saves people through the cross in the context of relationships. He made it quite clear that, in terms of circumstances, clothing, food, drink, shelter, he “saves” people, blesses people through us.
So we cannot escape along that route. Jesus saves “creationally” through us. So a few more things need to be said.
On the one hand, we are not called to save our brothers and sisters alone, as individuals. There is a community responsibility which is rooted in the plain teaching of scripture about the priority of the poor and God´s preference for the least, the last, the lost and the loser.
On the other hand, of course we feel powerless to make a difference and scared at the price that we might have to pay to meet their need. And yes, we are called to that kind of complete, poverty inducing, self-sacrifice on behalf of others (whether or not the community also responds).
We must treat our brothers and sisters as they are in Christ. What you do for the least of these my brothers, you do it unto me, Jesus said. There is no way to escape that truth.
But even further, we fear because we are not yet convinced that God is our provider and protector.
Or maybe we are convinced, but we also know that he has another agenda, for our eternal good, in which He is more than willing to sacrifice our convenience in this life in order to accomplish a more basic and important good related to our relationship with him. God uses desert when we prefer the promised land. Exactly. And we don´t like it. We are not in alignment with His purposes, His priorities, His agenda.
But, in the end, there is a final truth that is revealed when we are faced with the needs of the weak, the needy, the least, the loser.
The truth that we are powerless and that we lead powerless lives. We are not fully surrendered. We are not fully identified with Christ. We have not learned to become desert warriors dedicated to the centrality, necessity and value of the cross in our lives. We have no power because we are not willing to pay the price for that power. The power of love, the power of the favor of God is relational. Always has been and always will be. Marriage is not much different. But, then again, very few people have much power in their marriages either which is why so many (including my first marriage) fall apart.
Truth is revealed in how we deal with the poor and the needy. The truth about community. The truth about sacrifice and the truth about power (or the lack of power) in our lives. Community, sacrifice and power. But there is more.
How we deal with the weak, and the truths revealed in our attitude toward the weak, reveals to us our own weakness and the illusion of what we call strength. In the eyes of God we are all weak and needy and unwise and full of sin addiction and rebellion. He draws near in the community of the godhead, with great sacrifice and power and he transforms the human heart – for all of us.
He prefers the weak and sides with them and identifies with them in Christ through the cross and his strength becomes theirs and their weakness becomes his.
When we accept our weakness and therefore our need for his community, his sacrifice, his power, we are humbled by the awareness of our sin and rebellion as well as the depths of his grace in spite of our sin, to transform our sin into glory.
When we identify with him as he identifies with us, in full surrender, and in humility, acting as he acts, with his priorities, passions, and purposes, then his strength becomes ours and he can act through us and in us and therefore, in that place of anointing, in him, we can do all things (that he asks of us). Philippians 4:13 NIV
He asks us to identify with the poor and the needy. Period.
Of course we can´t do it on our own. Of course, his command reveals the weakness of our individuality, our fear of sacrifice and our powerlessness. He reveals it so that it can be dealt with at the foot of the cross in confession and repentance, so that we can rise in full identification with him and go do what he has commanded us to do in his strength.
That is, after all, the point.
We reveal the glory of God in our weakness, and our awareness of our weakness, which creates humility, so that his strength is made perfect, complete, in us when we identify ourselves completely with him, in Christ. The problem is that we may look strange, hanging around with the emotionally uncomfortable, the difficult, the smelly, the homeless. But Jesus hangs around with us.
If you are a disciple of Christ, you will automatically be surrounded not by the powerful, the leaders, the well-thought of career thought leaders, but by the outcasts. It just seems to work out that way. Go with it. Be weak. Look stupid. Now you know how Jesus felt, though I’m sure he never thought twice about it.
Paul tells the Corinthians, “not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him” (I Corinthians 1: 26b-29a NIV).
If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, God hates the arrogance of men, even in his own followers and there is nothing so quick to make you arrogant than to give you a position in the church as a leader. You will have to work even harder to keep it at bay. Associate yourself with the weak, the lowly. Even more, become weak and lowly yourself. That is the way of the cross. Jesus did it. We must do it as well. In his weakness on the cross, God was strong to save his people from their sin. If the gospel is the point of our ministry, our egos simply don’t matter.
There is no greater embarrassment
in heaven or on earth
than the arrogance of those
who ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Sadly, this applies to all of us.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s go to God in prayer….
Lord, discipleship scares me. Leadership in the church terrifies me. I am full of arrogance and my ego seems to have an insatiable appetite. What do I do? Lord, I desperately need your help. You won’t allow me to shirk my responsibilities so I must assume that there is a way to stay humble even as you bless my ministry. Teach me your ways, O Lord. I want to learn from you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
Read more (from the Temptations of the Cross)
Of course, the people did not realize that they were so impressed with this miracle not because of their faith but because of their fear. The fear of poverty, the fear of hunger, the fear of the uncertain future even if they had enough today.
Jesus had taught them to have faith in their God who takes care of even the smallest sparrow, and that each one of them was worth more than many sparrows. But faith was a difficult road for them to follow. It was easier to see than believe. It was easier to have than to have not and need faith.
And so, as crowds do the world over, they wanted to make him King who would give them food. And when food was not enough, then, just like in Rome, it would be food and drink, or food and housing, or food and entertainment.
That was not the kind of authority Jesus wanted or needed, Gabriel knew. (Read more….)