Monday, July 13, 2015

Weakness turned into strength

2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Lectionary 14 B, July 5, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Heidi was literally crying over spilled milk. But this was no ordinary glass of milk spilled at home. No, this was five gallons of milk spilled on the asphalt of the farmers market. As Heidi cried while mopping up all that milk, she thought about how her day had changed so fast.
On her family farm in Missouri, Heidi was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a simple breakfast of toast with homemade jam. She also had a tall glass of the raw cow’s milk that made her family famous. Her father walked up to the table and dropped the keys to the pick-up right in front of her.
Heidi looked up, confusion written across her face. “What are these for?” She pondered aloud.
He responded, “Your brother is already at the farmers market, but I have six more gallons of milk ready to go. Why don’t you bring them to the market? Whatever you earn is yours to keep.”
Heidi’s eyes lit up in astonishment. “Really?!” she exclaimed.
“Consider it an investment,” her father said, “on that prom dress you are drooling over. Maybe you can use this money to buy some chickens and sell the eggs.”
Well, Heidi didn’t have to be told twice. She grabbed those keys and darted out the door. She could barely focus on the road as she thought of that gorgeous sapphire blue dress that matched her eyes. It had just enough sequins to sparkle in the bridal shop window as she walked past it every day on her way home from school. Heidi was certain that Todd McManus would notice her if she could wear that dress to prom.
By the time she arrived at the farmers market, it had already started. She couldn’t drive right up to her family booth, so she parked in the lot across the way. Without any wheels on the cooler, she couldn’t bring it along. So, she gathered up all six gallons of raw milk in her arms and walked towards her family booth.
She had chickens, eggs, and dresses floating through her mind as she dodged patrons and their dogs. Then, when Heidi was only about fifty feet away from her brother, the one and only Todd McManus came toward her. “Hi, Heidi,” he said as he walked past. Her heart fluttered. She was so flabbergasted that he even knew her name that she tripped over the spaniel that had just walked in front of her.
All six gallons of milk flew out of her arms and fell to the asphalt. Three exploded on contact, and two others lost their caps and started spouting out. Only one gallon of milk kept its seal. A sea of spectators grew even as they gave her space to clean up her mess. She gave the remains of the gallons to her brother and began to mop up all of that spilled milk. 
She tried to hide her tears as she was overwhelmed by her embarrassment and grief. No longer was she dreaming of dresses, chickens, and eggs. As all of her dreams were mopped up with all that raw milk, Heidi felt completely empty. She had no motivation, no hopes, no desires. 
Then, in that emptiness, she realized how foolish she had been. Not because she had tried to carry six gallons of milk at once - she had done that before. No, Heidi was foolish for wanting such an expensive dress that she could only wear once. Heidi’s cousin in the city had already lent out her prom dress to three of their cousins. Why did Heidi think that she would not be the fifth?
Even so, Heidi was determined to prove to her father that she was responsible. So, she sold that one good gallon of raw milk. By the time that Heidi had returned home, her brother had already told her father what had happened. Her dad saw her expression of grief and immediately gave her a hug.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“Yeah, Dad.” She said, “I may not look it, but actually I am better than ok. Spilling all of that milk reminded me how foolish I was. I don’t need that dress. But could I still buy a chicken and sell the eggs?”
She pulled out the five from her pocket. That was all that she had earned from that one gallon sold. Even so, it was almost exactly the cost of one hen.
“What will you do with the money?” her father asked.
“I’ll donate it,” she replied, “so that people far away can also raise chickens and sell eggs.”
“I bet if you tell the church what you are doing, they will match your donations.”
So, that is exactly what Heidi did. Over the course of the next year, she and her congregation raised over $1000 for Heifer International. The apostle Paul once wrote, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Certainly it was Christ working through Heidi at her weakest to inspire her. Christ strengthened her so that she could push her emotions aside and use this mistake for good.
Often when we are at our weakest, that is when God is most able to inspire us. For when we are torn down by embarrassment, grief, or anxiety, we of our own  will can’t stand on our own two feet. It is in those weak moments when we know wholeheartedly that we cannot do this on our own. Christ is better able to fill our hearts when our hearts are already empty.
Yet Christ does not enter our lives just to comfort us. No, when we are weak, empty, and unsure of the path forward, that is when Christ guides us to beautiful new ministries. That is when Christ gently - or not so gently - nudges us in a new direction. I personally have experienced this many times, including the instance that I wrote about in this month’s newsletter. 
Sometimes these moments of Christ’s intervention are powerful and obvious, yet other times they are not. So many Sundays, I enter this church worn down from nervousness, anxiety, or simple tiredness. Those days, I do not feel that I have the energy to properly lead worship. Yet those Sundays when I feel incapable are often when I have the most energy. It is not my energy, but it is God working through me. Maybe you have experienced this too. 
Paul writes, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Yet it is not we providing our own strength in our weakness. No, it is God who keeps us standing when our knees buckle. God enables us to do God’s work at our best and at our worst.

Through our weakness, God gives us strength. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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