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"The Weak Church" Seventh Sunday After Pentecost - July 7, 2024

Let me ask you a question. It’s something I’ve been struggling with.

Just something for you to think about.

It seems to be a question that many centuries have asked, in one way or another. 

The question is: 

What makes a healthy church?

There have been many responses to this question. I won’t attempt to summarize them, as I would inevitably fail to do their complexity and church history justice. But…as you might imagine there have been MANY responses to the question of…what makes a healthy church. 

The majority of the New Testament are letters written by Paul or someone writing on Paul’s letterhead to encourage, nurture, and exhort all kinds of churches in all kinds of places to health. And it seems for Paul one of the defining characteristics of a healthy church – not THE ONLY ONE, you understand…but an important one, a crucial element of what makes a healthy church is…weakness. It seems for Paul a healthy church is a weak church. 

A weak church? We don’t like that word. Weakness. 

Who wants a weak church? Isn’t that what’s wrong these days? Don’t we need strong churches? Ones that really know how to make a mark…know how to bring ‘em in…know how to pack the pews…churches that everyone knows are strong, super-spiritual, and sustainable.

A weak church. Please. 

See. We don’t like that word. Especially here in the United States. Part of our self-understanding, our DNA, our narrative is that we were this rag-tag colony that overthrew the world’s greatest empire and grew into the world’s greatest super-power. This past week we celebrated Fourth of July. Ericka and I driving back from the mountains of New Mexico – the highways dotted with firecracker stands. Small towns decked out in red, white, and blue – parades, marching bands, Chamber of Commerce BBQ’s – all of it! We came out of a Mexican food restaurant here in town the evening of the Fourth and I heard one man say to his friend, “You think all ‘dem firecrackers gonna scare our dogs?” “Nawww,” his friend replied. But I could tell in their voices, you could hear it – they were hoping not only would it scare the dogs, but the kids, and all the neighbors. 

Big fireworks shows, music blaring, ” and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”

There’s something in us that gravitates toward displays of power. And there’s this impulse in the Church to be the same…a photocopy of power.

Of course, we don’t want to hear about weakness. 

That doesn’t make us unique. I think there’s been that impulse there all along. 

That’s one of the reasons Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. 

You see, the church there has fallen under the influence of some preachers who refer to themselves as something akin to “the super apostles.” Their teaching, evidently, criticizing Paul and emphasizing three elements. First, claiming a particular and exclusive heritage to the Christian faith. Second, proclaiming a mastery over life’s sufferings and adversity. And third,  boasting in their own transcendent spiritual experiences. Now…how appealing is that, huh? How seductive. A teaching that said, “You can be part of an exclusive group, you don’t have to suffer anymore, and you can have all these wonderful spiritual experiences.” Of course people gravitated toward that. Of course it was appealing. Because…it’s an expression of power. 

And these super-apostles, these celebrity preachers pointed their fingers at Paul and said – “Look how he’s letting everyone in. Look at his puny speech and presence. Look at how he suffers. There’s no power there.”