2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Summer Requests – FBC Laurens

June 30, 2013

I have a simple piece of artwork that hangs in my office here at the church. It is a piece of tin that is painted white with a gold border and a gold cross in the middle. The word “blessed” is written in black across the center of the cross. What makes the item meaningful to me is the fact that the piece of tin is a remnant from a home, business or some other type of structure that was destroyed somewhere along the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina back in the late summer of 2005.

The piece was given to me by one of the members of our church at Johns Creek. We made a number of trips as a congregation to the Gulf after Katrina to do cleanup work and rebuilding. I was the minister at our church who traveled with our groups on each of those journeys. In turn, this simple work of art was her way of helping me to commemorate those experiences. It was also a way for both of us to appreciate the fact that through those trips we had been able to share the love and the hope of God in the midst of tragedy. And, this little piece of tin bearing a hand painted cross was a very clear reminder to us that God really does often bring meaning from and shape us for the better through the very worst of what life brings our way.

In essence, I think Paul wanted to communicate a similar lesson to the people in Corinth as he shared with them about his “thorn in the flesh,” which is the central topic of our text for this morning. Evidently, Paul had some type of an Achilles heel that haunted him throughout much of his adult life. Some have suggested that Paul had a physical problem such as poor eyesight or some other type of similar issue.

Others have suggested that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as he called it may have been psychological in nature. In other words Paul may have dealt with something such as depression. After all, Paul’s life was filled with huge ups and downs, which surely weighed on him in both body and spirit.

And, still others have argued that Paul’s impediment was of a spiritual nature. This idea would also make sense as it is easy to think about Paul struggling with an ongoing temptation or even wrestling to get beyond past failures such as his previous life as a persecutor of Christ’s followers before his conversion.

All of these ideas regarding Paul’s ongoing life long struggle make sense and are perfectly plausible based on what we know of Paul. But, the bottom line is that we simply don’t know specifically what it was that Paul was wrestling with to overcome. We don’t know the true nature of his “thorn in the flesh”.

What we do know, without question however, is that Paul found a way to see his struggle as something through which God could teach him and shape him for the better as a person. Now, this doesn’t mean that Paul minimized how much he wanted to be rid of his problem. It also doesn’t diminish that this problem apparently presented his life with real challenges and difficulties. After all, he is very honest in this text that he prayed on three different occasions that God would remove this issue from his life. At the same time, he had made peace with this unpleasant reality and he had allowed God to bring him to the point of appreciating the fact that God could mold and refine him into a better person even through this aspect of his life.

As a result, Paul offers us here a very strong reminder and good word in the midst of the thorny situations of our own lives. No, Paul doesn’t call us to ignore or minimize the real frustrations and struggles that temptations, physical debilitations or mental disease can bring our way. But, Paul does call us to see even the worst and most complex of life issues as experiences through which God can teach us, grow us and shape us. Like my piece of discarded tin that was turned into a piece of art, God can without a doubt take the mangled, broken places in our lives and make them something beautiful and bearable.

You see, we really do have a choice as we live through our own thorny life situations. We can see them as obstacles that endanger our ability to live. Or we can see them as difficult experiences through which God can nonetheless open us up to understanding life in a more profound, deeper and healthier way.

This meal before us today is a perfect example. Jesus said, “this bread doesn’t simply represent my body about to be broken, it represents the fact that through my broken body you can have life.” Jesus said, “this cup, isn’t just a symbol of my blood that will be shed, it is also sign of my ability to quench your spiritual thirst.” “My death will seem to signal the end of my life, but, the truth is that through these horrific upcoming events, my life and your lives will just be beginning.”

Jesus was going to transform something awful into something of ultimate meaning and value. Paul was saying that through faith, he was learning to take the same perspective on his own life struggles, and through faith, the promise is that we have the ability to do the same. Amen.