2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I vaguely remember a book from many years ago called “The Missing Piece.” It’s by Shel Silverstein. In it, a little character shaped like a circle goes looking for the wedge shaped piece of himself that is missing. He looks a lot like the original “Pac Man” that only a few of us are old enough to remember, and as he rolls along, the missing piece causes him to roll unevenly.
I don’t remember how the book goes very well, but I think I recall that he tried filling that gap with several pieces that didn’t fit. Those only made the situation worse. At the end of the book, though, our circular friend has found the right piece, and is rolling smoothly and happily into his future.
This is the image that came to me as I meditated on Paul’s words from the readings for Proper 9 in the lectionary.
I thought about how the world sees that missing piece as a liability. As something wrong that has to be fixed, filled.
And I thought about how Paul viewed his weaknesses, his missing pieces, as something to boast about.
It’s all about where the glory lands. When I am rolling smoothly through my life, others are likely to think that I might have had something to do with any blessing I leave in my wake. But when I am struggling, when I am weak, it doesn’t happen that way. My weakness serves to bring glory to God in two ways that I can think of.
First, it keeps me seeking Him.
The greater the mess my life seems to be, the more desperately I’ll be crying out to the Father for my provision. And the more desperately I rely on Him, the greater the blessings He can pour out through me. The stronger I feel, the easier it will be for me to slip and to begin to rely on my own strength, my own wisdom, my own talents. A “thorn in the flesh” helps to prevent that.
Second, my weaknesses bring glory to the Father because they deflect it from me. We live in a world that wants to glorify the individual. Even preachers and teachers often become more visible than the One they preach and teach.
Several years ago I became the proud owner of a 2005 Hyundai Sonata. That may not sound like much to you, but since I’d been driving a 1990 Volvo 240 before that, it seemed pretty cool to me. One day as we prepared for our Strawberry Festival, several of my parishioners were working around the rectory. Some other Westbury folks came by and noticed the car. “Is that your pastor’s car?” they asked. My folks proudly (they were glad to see me in something that wasn’t all faded and beat up!) said that it was. “Oh,” said the others, looking embarrassed. “Our pastor drives a Mercedes.”
My weakness keeps folks’ eyes on Jesus. My off-the-rack suits aren’t some kind of false modesty. They’re a sign that if anything good happens here, it’s not because of my competence, but because of His mercy. Your “thorn in the flesh” works the same way.
If we want to receive the Father’s riches, and not something of our own making, it’s a pretty good bet that they’ll include a good dose of “weakness.” He’ll want to encourage us to continue to rely fully on Him, and He’ll want to make sure that we draw attention to Him, and not to ourselves.
Jeff Krantz is an Episcopal priest, and has been the rector of the Church of the Advent in Westbury, New York for 12 years. A lifelong Episcopalian, Jeff experienced a crisis of faith after his ordination that led him into a life-giving way of being in relationship to his “Father” that he now wants to share. His early email ministry, “Hearing His Voice,” grew into a soon-to-be released book by the same title. He leads retreats for men’s groups, parishes, and parish leadership groups. Jeff can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.