I won't bore you with all the details of my sermon this morning. Suffice it to say that it was on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 where St Paul says that God's grace is made perfect in weakness and that God's grace is sufficient for him. If you are so disposed, you can hear the sermon online on the Christ Church website thanks to the good efforts of Samuel who looks after these things for us.
This has always been a favourite passage of mine. I remember when I was 17, walking home late at night going through moments of late teenage angst. This passage not only came to mind, but became from that point forward a text that has been with me all my life. I used to have a picture on my bedroom wall with it written across: 'My grace is sufficient for thee.' I still used the Authorized Version in those days!
Anyway, my sermon this morning, which could never hope to do justice to what St Paul writes, simply stressed that relying on anything other than God's grace was a recipe for disaster and that riches, power, prestige and position were illusory and unreliable. I think, as a matter of pure fact, that this is what St Paul says, irrespective of whether you agree with him or not!
I was hoping to offer some hope to members of my Church, who, I know, are dying and/or who are going through great distress at the present time. God may not always take our 'thorns in the flesh' away, but he does give us his grace to cope - or so I believe.
I had expected people to say either 'that's not my experience', or 'how do I experience this?' What caught me somewhat off-guard was the reaction of a long-standing member of my Church and a very committed one at that. This person said, and I am trying to quote as accurately as I can:
'You are only saying this because you are a failure and don't earn a lot of money. You can't do any other job other than this poorly paid one and are just jealous of those who have done better than you. You are trying to justify your failure and make yourself feel better using theological language.'
Now I have to confess that I was tempted to immediately engage in self-justification. As it happens, all I have ever wanted to do and be is a priest. But, thank God, I managed to control myself. For whether true or not, and God alone knows what my motivations are, this is how many think, even those in the Church. When we as preachers argue for a different way to the way of society around us, they just don't think we mean it and are sincere.
While, doubtless, I will get over it, I have to admit to being more than a little hurt.
St Paul's words, and, indeed, those of our Lord's himself, just sound like idealistic nonsense to most people - Christians included. And those of us who try to honour them are seen as just losers.
I am challenged, saddened, and very disturbed. But I hope and pray that, whatever else, I really do believe what I said this morning. I am convinced that this is at the heart of the Gospel. We preach Christ crucified. Still, it seems, a stumbling-block.
No matter how great the temptation to doubt oneself may be.
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