WHEN YOU FEEL HELPLESS
by James Chipps
based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6: 1-6
Have you ever felt helpless? That sinking feeling that the world has gotten
too big, that events have pushed you down to snake-belly low? That you can’t
get there from here? · Journalist David Osborne certainly felt that way. He was
excited about the purchase of his new home at 58 Glebe Street in the suburbs of
Renovations were nearly complete, and he was due to move in
within a week. After work, he drove to his new address to check on some of the
final details. When Osborne arrived, he found a "what's wrong with this
picture" scenario beyond his ability to believe. His dream home had become
a nightmare. A huge crane with a wrecking ball towered over his property. Every
floor in the house had been removed. Thousands of dollars in renovation
materials including a valuable antique fireplace had been transformed into a
large pile of debris.
Standing in the rubble that was his home was New South
Wales Housing Minister Frank Walder. The Housing Minister offered this
explanation: "The contractor and demolition crew were told to go to 58
Glebe POINT ROAD, but instead went to 58 Glebe STREET." Oops! A minor
misunderstanding. Sorry about that.
Imagine that you are David Osborne
standing there peering at that mountain of rubble that was your home. How would
you feel? Angry, perhaps? Frustrated? Helpless? Some people have experienced
what it means to see a home destroyed--by floods, tornados, earthquake. But that
is not the only disaster that can leave us feeling desolate. A health crisis--a
tumor, or a stroke, or a heart attack, a divorce, the loss of a job, a business
failure. There are those events that happen in life which we are powerless to
avoid and with which we are helpless to contend.
St. Paul was one of the most
influential men who ever lived. He was courageous. He was brilliant. He was a
man of unparalleled faith and understanding. But he had a problem he could not
conquer. He called it his "thorn in the flesh." Some scholars believe
it was epilepsy; others, that it was a painful eye disease, and still others
that it was recurring, incapacitating migraines. Whatever it was, Paul, who had
helped so many others, was helpless to help himself, just like you and I are
helpless at times to help ourselves.
I think of my Dad now, as his health is
failing. It all started with a hip replacement that went bad. Infection set in,
unnoticed for some time, apparently, until it erupted into massive septicemia
that was life threatening. Whether he will recover is still not known.
things happen to people all the time. We think we have life under control, but
adversity strikes--a disaster strikes our house, our family, our body--and
suddenly our plans are washed away. Life can change overnight. As I said last
Sunday in my sermon: Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other
Even Jesus knew what it was to feel helpless--and it occurred long
before he went to the cross. After he began his ministry, Jesus returned to
Nazareth, his home town. The next Sabbath he went to the synagogue to teach. The
people were astonished, even skeptical, that he could preach and do miracles,
because they had known him all his life: "He's no better than we are,"
they said. "He's just a carpenter, Mary's boy, and a brother of James and
Joseph, Judas and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us." And the
citizens of Nazareth were offended that Jesus presumed to teach them!
prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown and among his relatives and
by his own family," Jesus said. Now, listen to the next thing Mark tells
us: "And because of their lack of trust in God, Jesus couldn't do any
mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and
heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of trust."
Jesus was helpless because of the people's lack of trust in God. Sometimes like
St. Paul we are unable to help ourselves. Sometimes, like Jesus, we are unable
to help others. Some of you are or were the parents of teenagers. Is there
anyone more helpless at times than the parent of a teenager? Life is filled with
so many perils at that stage of life. Hormones and mood swings, defiance of
parents and assertion of independence, maybe drugs, or promiscuity,
boyfriend/girlfriend problems that mean the end of the world; and always the
“I WANT...” What's a parent to do? It is a helpless feeling
are frustrated because we are unable to help ourselves. Other times we are
unable to help others. We need to recognize that helplessness usually describes
an attitude and not a situation. We are never really helpless. St. Paul had his
thorn in the flesh. He could not get rid of it, but he didn't let it defeat him.
We too need to recognize that it is in our weakness and sense of helplessness
where we most readily meet god's strength.
St. Paul searched as we search for
a reason that God has not removed this thorn in the flesh from him. Eugene
Peterson’s translation of today’s epistle puts it this way: “So that I
wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in
constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down;
what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around
high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to
remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough;
it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Once I
heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and
began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on
my weakness. Now I take limitations and disappointments in stride, and with good
cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size–abuse, accidents,
opposition, and bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I
get, the stronger I become.--the less I have, the more I depend on him."
Paul concluded that his physical weakness was actually one of his greatest
strengths, because it taught it him to trust God.
Perhaps Jesus concluded the
same thing. Imagine that Jesus had been successful in his hometown. He might
have been tempted to settle down there. After all, there is no place like home.
Jesus could have opened his own synagogue in Nazareth--with the crutches of
those he had healed lined up around the walls. He could have opened a seminary
and devoted time to training his disciples for the ministry to which he had
called them. Since it was his hometown he could have looked after his mother
Mary. More significantly, he could have avoided Jerusalem and the beatings and
the cross. The most fortunate thing for those of us who know Jesus as our Savior
and Lord may be that he could not go home. · And because he couldn’t go home
again, we’ve received a gift from him: a gift of power and authority. It is
his power and authority which enables us never to feel helpless again in the
face of any crisis or adversity.
In the very last chapter of Matthew's
Gospel, Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. He tells his disciples “All
authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me, so now I send you out: Go
therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
God has given us authority and
the power, through Jesus Christ, to heal, to proclaim Good News, to liberate
people from hopelessness, to bless, to call to repentance and also to forgive.
That is a great deal of power and authority. And it all hinges on one thing: to
trust God to be with us.
I mentioned earlier about my father’s illness.
Part of his sense of hopelessness is his lack of trust in God. I am blessed with
a wonderful wife, who is a wonderful priest. We were on the phone together last
week talking with Dad, and she pressed him on this. We prayed together for him
on the phone, for which he was grateful, but again he expressed his lack of
faith, of trust. So Kate asked him to repeat after her this prayer of offering:
“Lord Jesus Christ, I give as much of myself as I can, to as much of you as I
understand.” He repeated this without reservation. Then Kate promised him that
Christ would be with him, and to expect that there would be significant changes
in his life. The most significant change in this week is that his sense of
hopelessness has departed. That, I count as a miracle.
Perhaps some of you
have never made an intentional offering of yourself to Christ, to invite him
into your mind and soul and body to dwell with you. I urge you to do so. It
might begin with the baby step of “Lord Jesus Christ, I give as much of myself
as I can to as much of you as I understand.” It might end with the whole
shebang: “Lord Jesus Christ, I give myself entirely to you to be your dwelling
place: come into my life, come Lord Jesus.” That is putting all your trust in
him. I guarantee he will never leave you helpless again. AMEN