The biggest struggle during this Lenten Fast thus far has been with the concept of “embracing weakness.” This idea has already popped up in the daily devotions in the book A Place at the Table, as well as in the curriculum’s small group videos. The struggle stems from the position that I’m in. I’m a young pastor in a denomination that has been declining for 4 decades, a sting in the leg for baby boomers that now lead our tribe. From the summoning for new, entrepreneurial leaders I arrived at a call to bring revival to the United Methodist Church. Every Annual Conference proclaims the reality of our decline and the call for new, bold, strong leadership. Much like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons, I tend to hear one sound: “strong, strong, strong….strong-edy strong-strong…strongiful stronging.” And the truth is: I love it. I like to think of myself as strong, I like to be told I’m strong.
This week I cleared a day of interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry that focused on my strengths and weaknesses, but the environment was anything but the pep-rally at Annual Conference. This time my strengths are ho-hum and my weaknesses are ballooned into an impression that gives pause. And that’s the killer. I’m all good with embracing weakness when it comes to me and God; it’s another thing to embrace others’ perception of my weaknesses. It’s okay to be weak as long as you don’t know about it.
As Jesus was betrayed by his beloved disciple Judas and handed over to the authorities, the other eleven begin to fight back. Peter, as it’s told in the book of Matthew, takes a sword and cuts off the ear of a soldier. Then Jesus rebukes Peter and says: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” That’s right Jesus. Remind them how strong you are and how strong you are to submit to the authorities for sake of the cause. That’s what I would do. But then Jesus is taken to court. One by one a Pharisee, Sadducee, or other accuser brings charges against Jesus…most of them contrived with the sole purpose of ruining his reputation. Jesus doesn’t defend himself or justify his ministry; he just sits there saying nothing.
The paradox of the Christian life is that my effectiveness will be determined not on my strengths but on the ability to embrace weakness. When I’m weak, God is strong. If I’m strong, people may say, “What a great, strong leader!” But in my weakness people may say, “Look how God is working through him!” I think I choose the later. In 1 Corinthians 1:20–31, Paul says it this way:
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”