This sermon was preached
Readings: 2 Cor. 12:1-10, Mark 9:33-37
Left: Floral Mosaic in Regents Park
“A thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7)
As many of
you know, I’ve been away
at the Methodist Conference in Edinburgh.
Whilst there, I attended one of the Ordination Services
held each year as part of the Conference –
As always, it was a powerful service
of commitment, commissioning and blessing.
Exeter, I share with you today in another service,
of welcome to new members –
again this is a powerful service
of commitment, commissioning and blessing.
For whether you are called
· to be ordained as a minister in Edinburgh,
to take up the privileges and responsibilities
of Church membership here at the Mint,
whether (as some here are) you are about to return
to Korea or elsewhere to continue your Christian life there,
we are all called to Christian discipleship,
one way or another,
in one place or another
And for all of us the question is the same:
will we hear and respond to that call?
Ordination service there is a point
when the ordinands are presented to the congregation,
and the people are asked:
“Do you believe and trust that they are, by God's grace,
worthy to be ordained?”
The congregation with a roar responds “They are worthy”
After the service, some of us were waiting for a bus
on Princes St.
We got into a great theological discussion
about ordination, and in particular the phrase “They are worthy” –
much, I might add, to the interest and even bemusement
of some of the other people in the queue,
for many of whom I suspect the theology of ordination and grace
was not regular bus stop fare…
But I digress….
In one very real sense none of us is ever worthy –
“I am not worthy so much as
to gather up the crumbs which fall from thy table”
And yet in another sense, we are
Frail and flawed though we all be,
we are given worth by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit.
Yes, we are earthern
but we are filled with the treasure of the Gospel & the things of God
We have worth, not because of
what we have achieved by our own efforts,
but because we are blessed by God.
And if that is true for
ministers being ordained,
it is equally true for those here today
becoming members of God’s people here at the Mint
And what is true for those becoming
members at the Mint
is equally true for every one of us here
as we are all challenged to affirm or reaffirm
our calling, our commitment, our discipleship.
us worthy –
yet all of us worthy through God’s grace and power.
In today’s set epistle Paul
with the same ambiguity and paradox –
he wants to boast in what the Lord is doing through him –
indeed he can’t stop doing so –
and yet he also is reminded of his own weakness and vulnerability –
He talks about having a “thorn in his flesh” –
evidently referring to some incapacity or failing
We don’t know what Paul’s thorn
in the flesh was –
its been suggested that he suffered
from epilepsy or curvature of the spine –
one scholar has even suggested
that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his wife –
though I have to say on very flimsy evidence…
It doesn’t really matter- the
point is that Paul
recognizes his weakness
but also knows that God can and will use him.
Each week we advertise our Mint services
in the Methodist Recorder.
This week’s ad is a shade ambiguous- It says
“July 9th Service of Holy Communion with Welcome of new members.
Preacher: Rev Andrew Sails: a Thorn in the Flesh”.
I feel it necessary to say this was meant to indicate the sermon title,
not describe the preacher. But then again, maybe not….
For is it not true that in one
way or another we all display
(or have to contend with)
weakness, frailty, trials and tribulations
which seem to limit our discipleship
and threaten to make us unfit for the task…
We all have thorns in our flesh. -
I guess you could list yours now –
maybe you are doing as I speak…
We are all limited –
but as Paul says, we are still called,
we can still boast in our calling,
for God works through us in spite of our failings.
One of the debates at the Methodist Conference
was on the ministry of disabled people.
We heard a moving speech from an ordained minister
wheelchair bound with Multiple Sclerosis.
She described an occasion when her meds were changed
and she suffered major adverse reaction to the new drugs.
It was a Sunday and she was half way through
the Great prayer of Thanksgiving in the Communion service –
suddenly she had to leave and go and be sick.
She spoke with huge gratitude and affection
as she recalled the occasion, and how,
when she returned to the Church,
she found that her congregation had simply remained standing
and waiting quietly in mid prayer
until she returned to continue the service…
As God’s people we are called to
each other’s frailties and vulnerabilities and brokenness
and through mutual support in the power of the Spirit
who binds us together, find ways of being God’s people.
On Friday we saw in Regent’s
the emotionally and physically wounded
survivors of the London bombings
taking flowers and creating a beautiful floral mosaic.
It set me thinking of traditional mosaics
made of tiny pieces of broken multi-coloured stone.
That which is broken and shattered into small pieces
may yet become the making of something beautiful for God
John Taylor, a former President
of the Methodist Conference,
asked whether he was worried about
declining number of Church members in this country.
No, he said –
I am not going to worry until numbers fall below 12 –
12 of course the number of the first disciplesthrough whom God worked such great things.
If you want to understand strength in weakness,
the way God uses ordinary flawed people to do his work,
· look at Paul hobbling to Damscus with a thorn in his flesh,
· look at that motley crew of 12 disciples taking on the world.
And here today we welcome and
not 12 but 21 new members of this Church.
And here today in this building and
at this table
we all have the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment
not 12 but 200 of us.
Remember what God did with 12 people -
What might he not do with 200???
Of course you may say – you must
count me out -
I have such thorns in my flesh –
and you list to yourself your weaknesses, your limitations,
your failings, your vulnerability.
And God says – I’m counting you
in – don’t you remember
Paul and Peter and Andrew and James and John -
I use weakness, it is my strength!
OK – we are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs under this table - And yet:
“thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy”
and on that I depend…..
And so Christ from his table says to you,
to each and every one of us:
Come my child – for all your failings,
I cannot begin to tell you how infinitely valuable you are to me –
· Come my child – take bread, take wine – be my guest!
Come my child, offer yourself afresh in my service –
for you may not know it yet –
but you and I have great things to do together!.