In the Star Wars movies, particularly the Satanic Myth of the original movie, Part IV, to create confusion, the battle between good and evil is, in fact, a battle between might and weakness. It is ironic that the power of Darth Vader is the same as the power of the Jedi, except, we are being continually told, Darth Vader has crossed over to the dark side of the force. The difference is that the same power is being used for might rather than for… and here I am struggling, because I can’t think of a word that is opposite to ‘might’ that does not sound like ‘doormat’.
Perhaps this difficulty in trying to find a word that expresses the opposite of ‘might’ without misusing the amoral idea of ‘power’ expresses a general position in society that is opposed to the idea of weakness, that is, being weak.
If you have any doubt about this social opposition to weakness, then may I suggest our consideration of genetic testing of embryos to eliminate disease, the selection based on intelligence history at sperm banks, the use of unused embryos to provide material for stem cell research, the abortion of children because the foetus is the wrong gender or because there is something wrong with the foetus, and recent brain scanning of children for identification of genius potential, and the list could go on.
As Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, would have it, ‘If only they would use their power for good instead of evil.’
This general social attitude to weakness has found its place in the life of the church and the believers, as well. We hold up big successful churches as senior clerical positions, we expect special people to do the ministry and work of the church, we put ourselves down as too old, or not knowing enough, and we describe sin in terms of weakness. This is not a new phenomenon; it is a part of the historical issue that Paul found himself addressing as he wrote to the Corinthians.
Listen to what he said the first time he wrote, ‘When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; NRSV) He continues that idea in his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘power is made perfect in weakness.’ (1 Corinthians 12:9; NRSV) According to Paul, it seems, weakness is something to be owned, at least, and celebrated, at best, because it enables the power of Christ to be at work amongst us.
‘Weakness’ is at the essence of the gospel: Jesus victory over sin was achieved because he chose to be weak. Since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:3-4; NRSV) and For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15; NRSV)
‘Weakness’ overcomes idolatry, because as humans, we are weaker than God, to try and deny our weakness is a continuation of the sin of Genesis 3 and our desire to be like God. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations (lit. weakness of the flesh). For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. (Romans 6:19; NRSV)
Society has an inclination to consider weakness as the dark side of existence. If that is the case, I want to invite you to take a walk on the dark side, to come over to the dark side.
One of the most amazing witnesses of faith to me came for a young lady in my first parish. This young lady suffered Downs Syndrome and she served at the Lord’s table as a server. She was diligent, precise, careful, respectful, prompt, all the things you would want in a server. By today’s standards, she may have been aborted at the discovery of her disability in utero. Had she been, we would have missed her joy in fulfilling her task of ministry and witness of her faith in Jesus. For a long time, I continued, even after leaving that parish, receiving encouraging letters and cards from that young lady.
My mentor, when I first became a Christian, was in a wheel chair. He had lost the use of his legs because of a motorbike accident when he was eighteen. At first, he prayed continually that God would heal him, that he would be able to walk again. In the end, he realised, that he was doing more, and had more opportunity to talk about his faith, because of the wheelchair, than most other, able-bodied Christians could.
It seems to me that, if Christ’s power, Christ’s strength, is made known in our weakness, then we should be allowing our weakness, not just the strengths of our talents, to be a factor in discerning what our ministry should be.
One of the complaints Sandy often made about me was that when we were cooking in the kitchen, I take over, and do it all my way. Likewise, as soon as we operate in a ministry that is purely based on our strength, unless we are a truly disciplined person, we will take over and get in the way of what Christ wants to do in us and through us.
I am an introvert. I know that there will be some of you that do not believe that. Perhaps you should let that speak for itself. My weakness, then, is not being on my own, it is being with others. For this reason, I think, I find it better, easier, and more effective, to pray with others. Christ can speak more powerfully to me when I am in my weakest mode of operation. Christ strength is made known in my weakness.
When I came to this St Stephens, I could not play the guitar. I know that many of the music ministry group still think that I can’t play the guitar. I would agree with you. However, when I consider where we have come in our expression of worship, I am reminded that weakness should not hold us back. Christ strength is made known in weakness.
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. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28; NRSV)
It is ironic that the same weakness expressed as power in the dark side caused Darth Vader to save his son, Luke Skywalker. It seems to me, if we want to grow in our experience of the power of God then you will need to choose to be involved in the things of God, which are not just our strengths, but also weakness. We will need to be a people who are working in weakness, amongst the weakness of our society and with those who are weak. No longer can we use the excuse: I am too old, I am too young, I am too weak, I don’t know enough, I don’t know what to do. When you own your weakness then in that weakness, Christ’s power is able to take over.