2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“‘My grace is sufficient for you. For power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me….for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
This is certainly is a strange passage, especially in our time, when we often want to look better than we are, when we hide our mistakes, inflate our accomplishments, and act as if we can go it alone. This passage certainly doesn’t celebrate the self-made man or woman, often lifted up as our American ideal.
The gospel reading, at first glance, is just as unusual. The miracle worker, the savior, our Lord, appears to be limited in power. His hometown companions scoff at him, doubting his unique relationship to God, and create a situation in which, as Mark’s Gospel says, “Jesus could do no great deed of power there, except he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
Over the past few weeks we have been talking about the importance of faith in giving us courage to face the storms of life and opening us to new energies that can transform our cells as well as our souls. There seems to be a divine-human partnership in which we make a difference to God and God’s work in the world: our faith can open or close the doors to God’s vision of abundance for us and our world. We make a difference to God, and that difference can add to or subtract from God’s impact on us and the world.
One of my teachers, Bernard Loomer, spoke of two kinds of power: coercive and relational. Coercive power is unilateral; I have all the power and you don’t have any. Its goal is control and absolute obedience. It acts but does not receive; and does its best not to be dependent on others. Relational power, in contrast, is the power of loving partnership, the power that grows out of our mutual need for one another. Relational power is not about control but greater freedom and creativity that emerge when we work together on a common cause.
Perhaps God doesn’t want to control the world as much to invite us to become partners in healing the world. Jesus said that he came that we might have life in all its abundance. Abundant life involves more creativity and more freedom, guided by our commitment to care for each other.
Recently, Pope Francis challenged persons of faith as well as seekers to work toward a world that balances relationship with initiative, and responsibilities with rights. Noting the disastrous impact individualism without relationship on the well-being of the planet and its peoples, Pope Francis counseled us to embrace community as well as creativity. He reminded us that we are not as strong or independent as we think: we depend for our survival on a healthy environment and cooperation with others. He reminded us, following the apostle Paul’s image of the body of Christ, that our destinies and well-being are linked with one another.
We can’t go it alone. We need each other and a healthy environment of oceans, air, animal life, and earth not only to flourish but to survive in the years ahead. As the apostle Paul said to the Christians at Corinth: “If one member succeeds, all succeed; if one member is in pain, all are in pain.” This same spirit of interdependence is found in Benjamin Franklin’s affirmation: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
It may seem weak to focus on relationships rather than individuality, and creative cooperation rather than ruthless competition. But, the greatest gifts of life come from loving creativity and support that nurtures a child to be a responsible adult and builds cultures of love rather than death. This was the counsel that Governor Winthrop gave to the Puritan settlers nearly 400 years ago: “We must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities, we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality … always having before our eyes … our Community as members of the same body.”
On this Fourth of July weekend, it is good to celebrate freedom and affirm our nation’s uniqueness. We need, however, to declare our interdependence as much as our independence. We need to see that we are united in one fabric of destiny, as Martin Luther King proclaimed, in which “I cannot be what I am meant to be until you are what you are meant to be, and you cannot be what you are meant to be until I am what I am meant to be.”
As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, we need remember the Psalmist’s affirmation that “the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and claim our role as partners in healing the earth, focusing on relationship with the non-human world, and affirming God’s grandeur in our nation’s ponds, soils, oceans, and skies. We need the good Earth – for in our weakness, our relationships of give and take with our brothers and sisters and nature around us – we find our strength, destiny, and vocation as God’s children.
We are part of something bigger, and our small acts can make a difference. Few of us can directly shape national policy, but we can, despite political differences, be stewards of the earth: live more simply, shop with reusable bags rather than plastic or paper, conserve water, use less electricity and gas, and find ways to let our leaders know that what happens to the Earth matters and encourage them in the spirit of the Old Testament prophets to create policies that take into account our grandchildren’s children and beyond. Future generations need us and God needs us to step up and become builders of this good Earth, recognizing our dependence on the non-human world, and claiming our role as stewards and gardeners, not owners, of God’s wonderful world.