I had the most wonderfully upbuilding conversation today with someone who used to work as a Hospital Chaplain. She talked about a paradox that is so beautiful and yet so profound it just had to become today’s blog. At one point of the conversation she shared her memories of holding tiny premature babies, often no bigger than the palm of her hand. They were the symbol of weakness and yet at the same time had tremendous power. They drew forth gifts of care, of compassion, of love, of tenderness, drew forth many skills and abilities from others. In a sense they created community, despite seeming so powerless. Actually they were the powerful centre of a coming together of people around them.
Paul, as is well known, speaks of the church as being like the different parts of a human body. There are parts of the body that seem to not merit much noticing or attention, but they are in fact essential. I spend more time shaving my face than thinking about my liver, though on a daily basis I am aware of my lungs these days! Normally the theme we concentrate on from this imagery is on honouring other people’s giftedness and accepting our own giftedness and limitations. But that is not the only emphasis of the Apostle Paul. He reminds us that there are parts of the body that get no obvious honouring or attention, and how vital they are, and then seems to say this represents people who in a worldly sense would not attract honour or attention who are now in the fellowship of the church. It is those passed over as weak and valueless to the world that become the very core of a healthy church. They are actually vital for the breakthrough of the presence of the Kingdom of heaven here on the earth.
Honouring people is a concept rightly being brought to the attention of God’s people in these days which is good and Scriptural. The Christian church should develop a culture of honour. But to be true to Scripture we need to see what that really means. It means honouring the passed over, not those who already receive visible honour in the church. Of course we are to honour those who already receive visible honour too, but the world can do that with its own, at least some of the time. What makes the church the Church of Jesus Christ is not simply honouring those whose gifts are obvious and are valued, but it means giving prime place and honour, a special deliberate heart felt honouring to the weak, to those who at first sight might be dismissed as not very important as not having much to offer. A visiting preacher from across the Pond once asked me who were the most important church leaders in Scotland at the moment so he could make contact with them – to advance his sphere of influence obviously. I told him there were none in the sense he was meaning. To have said anything different would have furthered his lack of healthy understanding and to have been complicit in his lack of Christ like thinking. The foundation of the church is not its leadership face but how well the hidden parts are being cared for. But we seem to be in love these days with trying to get contact between influential people in the church meeting influential people in the business world, meeting influential people in the political world. It sounds like wisdom, but it is the wisdom of the world and not God’s way. Jesus did not get His people, his disciples to set up a meeting between Himself and the Sanhedrin, or between Himself and Pilate. At a time when according to modern church thinking He should have been doing that, to spread His influence, He simply washed the dirty feet of an insignificant bunch of folk. Poor Jesus, he got it so wrong, according to modern ideas of how to win friends and influence people. Actually he knew that God’s Kingdom on earth gets built in places of dirt and dust, not in corridors of wealth and power. After all, behind whatever gold or silver or position or fame those we consider are important may possess, they like us all are made of dust. As human beings you and I are just handfuls of dust and dirt that heaven has kissed.
You maybe honour your pastor, your elders, those who work hard in the Lord on your behalf. Paul tells us that is a right thing to do. But the world can do that remember. What distinguished the early church is that they recognised that in places where there is obvious weakness and poverty, the Kingdom waits to break through. Weakness has power in God, just like those tiny premature babies had among people. Realising this and living it out is essential to a true and healthy community of Christ emerging in the midst of any culture to challenge it rather than simply to mimic it with a slightly cleaner version of going after the same things.
I find it interesting that now being able to do less through ill-health there are certain things I really miss. I miss the preaching and teaching of Ian our Associate minister and Ollie our youth pastor. They deserve and receive honour. But I am missing too the humour, love and grace of the people in what we grandly have called Cafe Church. Some of them are unemployed, some struggle with addictions, some have had really hard lives. But I realise that I have found grace among them, acceptance, love, compassion. I honour them because in their weakness and more obvious vulnerability they bring to me the Kingdom of God. For me that gathering of what might be labelled the weak and passed over, is a pace where more often than not I encountered the presence of God in powerful and humorous and unexpectedly gentle and tender and beautiful ways.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one that is often used to bash those who believe in charismatic gifts. “Look at all the problems they caused in Corinth.” Actually, Paul’s instruction was to get more charismatic still, and learn to prophesy instead of just speaking in uninterpreted tongues! Even those who claim to come under Scripture seem to put themselves over it when it comes to this theme of “charismatic” gifts. So those who use 1st. Corinthians as an anti-charismatic tract are simply misusing it for their own theological prejudices. Naughty, naughty! I am sure they know they are doing this but can’t admit it. Far more important though is something we forget is an underlying theme that Paul suggests as he writes to Corinth. It was a church were the poor having experienced being despised in the world, were being despised in the church, not fully honoured. It was time to remember that being a church is heaping honour on those who have been given none in the world.
There is good teaching that comes from across the pond to us and erroneous teaching. Sometimes folk from overseas come and pray in very grand ways that Scotland would be delivered from its poverty spirit. But as they do it seems to me they are praying we would live the American dream rather than a Kingdom of Heaven dream and vision. I sometimes cannot say “Amen” to what they seem to be saying is the right sort of spirit to have . I hope they are not meaning when they say that to go against what Jesus said in the first beatitude: The most accurate translation of that text is “Blessed are those who have the spirit of the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” It is where humanity is at its poorest and weakest that we discover most about the Kingdom. Someone you may be passing over in favour of other more exciting people in the room as it were, may have more to teach you about the Kingdom than that upwardly mobile and successful person. May God deliver us from ever thinking that poverty is a good thing. It causes horrendous problems. But may we never be delivered from the riches discovered where there is the spirit of the poor.
Where are you poor today? Where are you weak? Are you allowing others to bless you there to honour you there? Are you honouring your own weakness of body mind or spirit or are you seeing these things as enemies to you wellbeing and an unwelcome drain upon your friends or your church? Where you are weak you are strong, where you are poor you are powerful. Honour where you are weak, don’t despise yourself, and see how the Kingdom breaks through in fresh ways. To be healthy the church needs not just your giftedness but your weakness and poverty. Allow weaknesses to show. Allow where you are poor to show. If you and I learn to do that, we will find that the Kingdom is closer than we may think and that we are dearer to God than we can ever understand.
I suppose the church needs your giftedness, but I know it needs your weakness.
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