Sufficient Ministry

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In November 2012 I traveled to El Salvador as part of an international gathering of partners with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. A main theme of this Encuentro was the sustainability of a church built with and lead by communities in poverty. The following is a reflection I shared based on 2 Corinthians 12:1-9.

 

Paul writes to us today about this “thorn in his flesh.” Scholars and preachers like to guess about what this thorn is, but to be honest – we don’t have a clue. All we know is he has something that holds him back, something that keeps him from boasting about himself. Paul’s thorn is his weakness.

We all have thorns. Sometimes we try to hide them. Sometimes we expose them to make ourselves a victim, seeking sympathy. Sometimes we are blind to them, but still we feel there is something that limits us. Whether we admit it or not we all have them.

In this room we have many thorns, many weaknesses. Again, some known, some hidden. For some of us it is

            Having the will but not the capacity 

            Struggling to see our evangelism bear fruit

            Confusing projects with people

            Privilege that allows us to determine for others, speak before listening, wanting to do rather than be. This one is tricky because it appears as worldly power but ultimately reveals a thorn that prevents true partnership, relational and shared ministry.

            Being in competition for attention, for dollars, for accolades

            Looking at a small fix, a handcraft project that is meaningful and helpful but not ultimately part of a transformative experience of changing lives

            Not having high expectations for our partners

            Or just the struggle. The struggle is real   

So what in the world does this have to do with sustainability? Honestly? Everything. Because whatever our thorn is – and we’ve talked about the collective here, but you can make it as personal as we need to, addictions, pride, lust, jealousy, self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, you name it – whatever those thorns are, they have made us weak. They have made us weak in our witness to the gospel. They have made us weak in our partnership. They have weakened our relationships with one another and with God. The thorn reminds us that sometimes we suck.

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me. But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient.” 

If we want to talk about a sustainable church it is not about projects or members or covenants. A sustainable project – a development project with chickens or a sewing cooperative – these are not the same as a sustainable church. We could identify together amazing projects that are indeed sustainable which may or may not have a lasting impact on the body of the church. A sustainable church is not in how many members attend or how significant the partnerships.  I believe the sustainable church is sustained by only one thing: grace. And my grace is sufficient.

This changes the whole dynamics of everything. It breaks the notion that we – any of us, all of us – are the ones with the power. It shakes us out of our self-doubt from our thorns. It tears down walls of division and privilege because that power that those of us from the north or from the west, those of us that are white and those of us that are male – that power is replaced. I no longer need to hide in my privilege because God’s grace is sufficient.

It means that when the roof caves in and when the guns fire, grace is sufficient. Think about that. Jesus is enough. Period.

And what about those thorns? That’s the best part. Because grace is sufficient, God’s power is revealed in our weakness.

It is not the strength of my pocketbook or the need of my neighbor that determines how things are sustained. By God’s grace our relationships are transformed and God’s power is revealed in our partnership.

When the thorn of violence rips through our communities, it is transformed as God empowers churches to proclaim blessed are the peacemakers.

If we want to see the power of God, we just need to look around this room. This bunch of fools – bumbling gringos and a miniscule church made up of some of the poorest folks – not just in this nation but in all of Central America. This is what power looks like? This is the church? This is how God is revealed? Exactly.

God’s power in our weakness. God’s strength through our thorns. This only becomes possible when we accept, believe, embrace and follow the truth of “My. Grace. Is Sufficient.” Enough. Plenty. Abundant. Complete. Sufficient.

The church will sustain, with or without us. Whether we participate in it or fight against it, thy kingdom will come. By the grace of God it will come.

So let us commit ourselves to the hard work of admitting our weakness, confessing our thorns, and then by the grace of God, that grace which is both amazing and sufficient, let us see God’s glory revealed in it. So I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. And that is our good news.

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Just another victim

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It happened again. After the fact, I find out a member of my church has been shot. The good news is that he lived.

The good news is that he lived.

This is what it has come down to in our community. If he ain’t dead, it’s all good. The text said, “…was shot at. He’s fine. Bullet grazed him.”

He’s fine.

Washington is in an uproar about gun control. Next week recommendations will come out. Next week the NRA will blather on about infringement of rights. Next week congress will probably have a press conference.

And next week I’ll go to another hearing to support the family of Darius Simmons. And next week I’ll be praying with the young man who should not in anyway be “fine” after being shot but who in all actuality probably is “fine.” And next week there will be suicides and domestic violence involving guns. And next week, as it was this week and last week, if they live it is good news.

I know how we protect our young men, giving them hope and a future. I know how we break the cycle of violence that plagues our city. I know how we move from a desensitized people that says a bullet grazing is fine. I know it because I see a different story lived out all the time. It begins with jobs. It begins with schools. It begins with role models. It begins with high expectations. It begins with positive places to be. It begins with men leading our communities and showing boys and teens what it really means to be a man. It begins with gun control. It begins with mental health care. It begins with a community and a Church that stands on the corners where the gun shells falls and says, “We do not give up this space. It is ours.” That says, “Not one more young man, not one more victim.”

I know all this. And still, tonight, I am comforted by the good news that he lived. And I ask how will we ever keep our young men safe? How will we break the cycle? How do we stop being fine?