Help: Everybody Hurts

by | Oct 16, 2022

760794291

Meg Peery McLaughlin
Help: Everybody Hurts
October 16, 2022
2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 and Matthew 7: 7-12

Prayer of Illumination

Everlasting God,
whose tenacious love holds us:
make our hearts the house of your truth,
and make our minds the realm of your wisdom
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-9

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “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.

Matthew 7: 7-12

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? 10 Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? 11 If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Jarrett saw my sermon title, and asked if I was going to sing REM.
Y’all know if he were up here, he would.
But you’re stuck with me today–no singing from the pulpit.

If sermon titles didn’t have to be so short and pithy,
I may have used the Ernest Hemingway line an old mentor of mine often spoke:
The world breaks everyone, but afterward many are strong in the broken places.
Or the Leonard Cohen quote that Tom Brown always used in his email signature:
There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

But church,
that strength in the brokenness
that light shining through the cracks
I think we like to be in charge of it.
We like to be the manufacturers of it—
Get A+s in it, or stars in our heavenly crowns for it,
to the point that we assume responsibility for it.

And perhaps as Christians, it’s not altogether hard to figure out why.
Jesus says you are the light of the world,
He says, tend my sheep, feed my lambs, He says love one another,
If you were here last week you heard Jarrett commend us to
do justice, love mercy, walk humbly
Giving help is part of our job description.

But friends, it’s not the only part.

Paul was a church rock star. Amazing turn-around story.
Church planter. ½ of the New Testament is attributed to his hand.
And if you read the whole of this chapter, you’ll overhear him talking about himself in the 3rd person. “I know a man in Christ who was caught up in paradise and heard inexpressible things.” But that’s not what he wants to focus on.
Paul gets down to business, in the first person, when he says:
Three times I appealed to the Lord
About the thorn in the flesh, That it would leave me.

People love to talk about this thorn.
In the Middle Ages, it was thought that Paul suffered from sexual temptation. Others have speculated throughout the ages that he might have had malaria, epilepsy, a speech impediment, depression.
Honestly, we just don’t know.

What we do know is that Paul is clear that this thorn comes from the powers of evil—Satan’s messenger, Paul says—not from God. Which is important, it seems to me, to note that God is not a God who goes around putting pointy painful things in people. What kind of God would that be?

This thorn, this hurt, it teaches Paul something
that is really hard to learn, it seems to me.
The difference between self-sufficiency and dependency.
My grace, God says, is sufficient for you.
Not your stubborn will muscle through on your own.

I have a pastor friend
who uses words to describe the power and love of God in a way
that makes me want to serve and sing and weep and walk in the way of Jesus.

A few years ago, she was in a hard season
where the perfectionism she poured into her work
was wreaking havoc in her heart and home.

While my friend was officiating a funeral,
a church member sent a cleaning service to her house.

My friend made it back home just as they were finishing up,
and Ben, the very nice gentleman who owned the company,
said “When your friend called to set this up,
she indicated that you were not going to like this,
that you were going to resist this kind of help.
So told us not to listen to you and to come anyway.”
And then he continued —
“And ma’am, for whatever it’s worth to you —
it’s ok to ask for help. No one can do it all.
And if you don’t mind me saying —
it’s usually best if you ask for help sooner rather than later.”

She stared at him for a long time,
Long enough for his embarrassment started to match her own
Because she was slowly realizing
that talking to a guy holding a vacuum in one hand and a trash bag in the other
she was receiving a profound theological truth.

Church, we are called to give help (appropriate) help–
But we are also called to receive help

I don’t know what your thorn is–
But I know that everyone is carrying something that pokes them in the side,
Living with something that twists their body, mind, spirit in contorted ways.
Maybe for some it’s more obvious to the eye, but nobody is exempt.
Everybody hurts—
And it is okay to ask for help,
No let me say that differently: it’s a holy act to ask for help,
to be dependent, to rely on a grace that is beyond you,
a grace that is sufficient even for you.

So Ask, the Gospel reading from Matthew today says,
Ask, and the door will be opened,
Seek, and you will find.
Yes, we hold those verbs from the prophet Micah last week do, love, walk,
BUT ALSO ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says.

At the end of his plea for us
to cry for help and admit our need,
Jesus gives what we call the golden rule.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.
Good rule.
Problem is we usually only focus on the first part—how we treat others.
What about how you want to be treated?
How do you value yourself? Your time? Your body? Your Spirit?

Sounds selfish?

Consider the greatest commandment.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself. As you love yourself.

I don’t know what all this looks like for you.
I don’t know where that thorn is tearing you up.

 

Do you need to ask for help with your marriage,
your parenting, your old patterns of coping in life?
Do you need to seek healing, forgiveness, reconciliation of the past?
Do you need to knock on the door of an AA group, a therapist, a friend?

At church, during this stewardship season,
we are having to get comfortable asking for help.

A specific ask, actually, of at least a 13% increase in contributions.
This will let UPC live within our means as a church,
keep staff and outreach and programs flat, and take care of this building,
our launching pad for ministry.

When we were planning this ask,
we didn’t plan on the boiler dying.
So it does feel like a lot of asking right now,
so much so that
someone asked if Jarrett went down to the mechanical room
and hit the thing with a hammer on purpose.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
But I don’t think beating up the boiler is what Leonard Cohen meant.

We are asking, seeking, knocking,
sending pledge cards,
setting up extra ways to contribute to the building.

But here’s the thing—
we’re doing that out of a deep theological conviction
that every single gift in response to that ask
will equip this church

to be a place that lives out Christ’s call to give help,
and receive it.

To be a church where we feed the hungry,
where we do justice for the poor
where we help our neighbor in the way they most desire it

AND

To be a church where
our thorns don’t have to hide under our Sunday best
where we can be our authentic selves
where we can hurt right here together
in the presence of the God who catches the tears that fall during the hymns
Where we can ask each other for help—
And receive it when offered
Trusting that God’s grace is sufficient,
Sufficient for us all.

Thanks be to God. Amen.