I’ve been reading and re-reading the 12th chapter of II Corinthians because I want to use it as the scriptual backbone of the Garland Women’s retreat in February. I’m going to focus on the verse where Paul says God’s grace is sufficient. I love the idea that God steps in to take care of the details and our job is simply to believe that the creator of the entire universe can handle something as small and simple as my little old self. I love the idea that God is doing the heavy lifting and God’s grace will be “enough.”
The problem is the rest of the chapter. Like most amateur theologians I found one phrase that I like and have taken it out of context. But I know that to be a good leader my job will be to provide the context before we can get down to any study of the one sentence I want to talk about. However, I found a tiny little problem-- The rest of chapter 12 makes absolutely no sense to me. Paul gets his syntax so garbled that I get a mental picture of him stepping on his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Listen to this one:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
Help! If there is anyone out there, clergy or lay, who can explain all that gobbly gook please help me out. Send me an email, give me a call, send a dove with a tiny little scoll of written instructions carried in his beak. Any and all advice is appreciated. (Did I just call scripture gobbly gook? Can I do that?)
Paul also says something about his weakness being his greatest strength. I think I know what it means. I can work with that concept.
One of the many weaknesses I have, the most socially acceptable weakness, is my inability to carry a tune. My instincts and understanding of music are so miserable that I can’t even describe what it is that I lack. It would be like a deaf person explaining a symphony. It’s just not there. When people talk about sharp or flat I’m lost. Nancy Gray loves to talk about major and minor keys and I can only bow to her understanding. I have no idea what she's talking about. I think I might be able to tell a high note from a low one but I couldn’t say how high or how low. I know it’s there but I can’t really understand it.
I am able to identify this as one of my weaknesses and surmise that it must be great for the egos of the people who hear me. “Wow, I thought I was a bad singer but get a load of Jane over there. She makes me sound great.” My weakness makes others feel strong. There is a point at which it is obvious that I'm not in control and merely surf along on the wave of God's Holy Spirit.
Even though I cannot duplicate it, I do appreciate good music. And because I can’t fully take it in I judge all music as great, no matter if it really is or not. I’m always the choir’s biggest fan no matter what they sound like to others. The great thing about sitting on the front row is that all the sound, all of it, just pours over you there in the center of the front row; the sound behind you and the sound from the choir loft, it all washes over you like a blanket and enfolds you with warmth.
When Sarah was around two I had her with me in church one day. At this point I could hold her while we stood to sing a hymn. I would hold the hymnal in one hand and her in the other. I think we were singing “When Morning Guilds the Skies.”
Sarah had never heard the song before; she couldn’t read the words and the notes on the page meant nothing to her. Yet somehow she understood the concept of music versus the spoken word. And she wanted to participate with the rest of the congregation. So she pulled out the only song she knew and started singing along with us. The only difference was that while we were singing “When Morning Guilds the Skies” Sarah was singing “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.” And she sang with gusto and pride in her own participation.
That day I understood how simple it is. We each have a song or two to sing. And it might not be the song everyone else is singing. But that doesn’t matter. It’s like Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise.” It doesn’t need to be a pretty noise it just has to be joyful. God’s strength is revealed in our weakness.
My kids gathered over the holiday to celebrate not just Thanksgiving but my birthday. I’ve never felt like the center of attention for my birthday because it always gets blended into Thanksgiving. It's a fantastic occasion with family but it's also Thanksgiving. The exception was when I was little and in those years it was actually kind of an ego-boost. Our family would gather with my father’s two brothers and their families. We would have a gigantic meal with lots of desserts and I spent the whole day playing with my cousins. It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized this huge party wasn't for me; that it was our family Thanksgiving celebration. For those few years I thought I was the most special kid in the world.
I've graduated to a time when birthday gifts aren’t necessary. Beaven and I are both at the point where we don’t “need” anything so shopping for us must be a real chore. But of all the presents handed to me last Wednesday, Sarah’s was the best. She had used her own money to buy me a “Senior Citizen’s Survival Kit” that she had assembled herself. It had an assortment of small gifts like socks to keep my feet warm, and ACTII popcorn to enjoy “the next act of my life” and encourage me to “play my part well.” Clearly she put a lot of thought into the gift.
Once more she was singing music of her own. She participated with the rest of the family but sang her own song-- the song she knew best.
Take some time today to think of your own song. It doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s song. It doesn’t have to be pretty or sound beautiful. Let it be your own individual and unique song. Then sing it at the top of your voice. Sing it to the glory of God. Just sing.