July 2012 Newsletter

“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness”  2 Corinthians 12:9

“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.”                                                                                     Mark 6:7-8

Dear Friends in Christ,

         I sometimes think back nostalgically on my early days in ministry.  As a US-2 missionary serving in the inner city of Dayton, OH, I lived in a small furnished room with $75 per month for food and $150 stipend for living expenses.  Those were austere days.  I had no car, no computer, no money.  My sole possession of value was a little black and white 12 inch television set.  It was a simple time when I had little of the world’s goods but was richly blessed by the movement of God in the world around me.  I worked on a church staff of dedicated Christians who were devoted to ministries of justice and compassion among the poor and vulnerable.  I lived in a community where people struggled bravely from day to day against poverty and violence and injustice.  I developed relationships that I still treasure and certain friendships that endure to this day.  I was inspired regularly by the courageous devotion and faithful perseverance of the people around me.  And as an added bonus, opportunities to express my creativity through the musical and theatrical arts were abundant.  Those early years in ministry were precious.  I sometimes wonder, what happened to that young woman who was poor in things but rich in spirit?  Whatever happened to that young servant of the Lord who traveled light, living in utter dependence upon God?

        The apostle Paul was a man of many remarkable gifts who had experienced miraculous spiritual and mystical phenomena.  He knew himself to be a man among men, called by God to be a messenger to the Gentiles.  Paul was a man set apart for a holy purpose.  He was so self-assured that he did not hesitate to instruct other Christians to follow his example.  He invited his brothers and sisters to “Imitate me.” if you seek to live a Christilike life.  Paul appears pretty self-confident.

        In 2 Corinthians 12, however, Paul writes that he is afflicted by a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan sent to torment him.  We don’t know exactly what this torment entailed.  We don’t know what Paul’s affliction was and Paul never says.  We know only that Paul prayed earnestly, 3 times, that God would take it away and God didn’t.

        Some folks might respond to God’s seeming indifference with angry frustration or bitter resentment.  In Paul’s case, having given himself for God at great personal sacrifice, he might have wondered why God didn’t do a little more for him.  Paul, however, views his affliction in a different light.  Paul feels, not God’s indifference or neglect, but God’s appeal to depend on the Lord.  These words “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” capture Paul’s experience.  Paul didn’t get what he wanted from the Lord, but he was assured that God knew what he needed.  By being reminded of his frailty, his humanity, his weakness, Paul was enabled to depend solely on God.  He was empowered to embrace this amazing position:

“Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

        Paul, the powerhouse apostle, needed most of all to know that his real power and strength rested in God.

        Sometimes, we too need to recognize and embrace our utter dependence on the Lord.  The three months I spent in a hospital bed during my pregnancy with Daniel, as I hoped and prayed for the welfare of my baby boy, certainly were a profound reminder of this truth.  How humbling to realize that one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life involved total inactivity on my part and complete reliance on God.

        We in the church often need reminders that our mission and ministry are rooted in God and not in our striving; our mission and ministry are empowered by God and not by our own earthly abilities and resources.  Buildings, money, technologies, policies, procedures, material resources, pleasing people, these will not bear fruit in building the kingdom of God, only faithfulness and trust in the Lord.

        Jesus sent his disciples out two by two.  He instructed them to take no bread, no bag, no money.  It sounds nutty.  It was a tall order and a challenging test.  The disciples were to rely on the hospitality of strangers as provided by God.  They were to entrust their daily needs to God’s supply.  In their poverty, they would have no choice but to depend on the Lord.  Due to their poverty, they would not be tempted to linger in hostile territory or waste time and energy in infertile vineyards, but would move steadily on to take God’s word in Jesus Christ to all the world.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples went out two by two, to proclaim God’s message of repentance as they healed the sick and cast out demons.  Following Jesus’ command, they travelled light.  They trusted in God and bore much fruit for the kingdom.

        We live in a time and society that values independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy.  These, however, are not inherently Christian values or virtues.  In fact, these can be stumbling blocks to our dependence of God and the fruitful harvest that such dependence can yield.  Like Paul, we too need to hear God’s assurance that “My grace is sufficient for you.”  As I was blessed to live by faith in the early days of my ministry, may all of us today feel called to a radical reliance on God.  May all of our words and deeds be rooted in God.  May we all be empowered by the One who is our strength and our hope, by the One whose power is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s peace be with you. 
Rev. Peggy Ann Sauerhoff