Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sympathy or glory?

Sermon for Sexagesima

Some people always have it worse, don’t they?

You have a cold, but they’ve had flu. Your back is a little sore, but they’ve had lumbago. You’ve had to change a washer in the kitchen tap, but they had to call the plumber out because their boiler went wrong. It’s as if they want to compete for sympathy.

Is this what St Paul means when he says, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities”?


Clearly not. We already know that sympathy is not something to compete for. Yet, this is the attitude that some people have towards their lot in life. They know that they can’t win the prize for being fastest, strongest, cleverest, so they seek to win at “most unfortunate”, the first prize at “I could have done that, but…” and the cup for “poor me”.

Of course, many people have a very, very tough life. You only have to walk through a city centre to see the number of beggars, buskers or homeless people to see that. Or to pass through the corridors of an intensive care unit. Or to sit in a pew at a child’s funeral. Humanity does suffer much!

Yet St Paul is not talking about misfortune: he is talking about infirmity.

We’re tempted to see them as the same thing: it seems that every infirmity is a misfortune, and that misfortune is caused by an infirmity somewhere along the line. But an infirmity is something that is part of us – a weakness that often causes us to fall, often in precisely the same way. Can we really glory in our propensity to catch a cold?


As we approach Lent, we are using these Sundays in Gesimatide to get to grips with the things that we want to focus on during Lent. We look for particular ways in which we can discipline ourselves better so that we can grow more in Christ Jesus. If you think about it, we can use this time to work out what our true infirmities are. We can see how angry we’ve been lately, or how we’ve allowed self-pity to rule us, or how we haven’t really forgiven Mrs Miggs for knocking the wing mirror off the car.

Knowing our infirmities allows us to grow. The misfortunes that happen to us often reveal those infirmities. Yet if we look closer and with better care, we can see the grace of God in those misfortunes. Thus our misfortunes in life can wake us up to ourselves and to the presence of Our Lord in our lives.

That’s difficult to do, but it is something that St Paul has learned to do. Just as we come to know God both by knowing where He is and where He is not, by knowing Good and knowing Evil, so we come to a better knowledge of ourselves in Him by knowing what we are and what we are not. The more we recognise our infirmity, the more that we can see God’s grace working with us, plugging the gaps, changing our point of view, setting us free. Our pain wakens us up to what is wrong, but it also wakens us up to what is right.


Glory means impact. We could glory in our infirmities by looking for the impact that they have in our lives. This will make us miserable beings competing for every scrap of sympathy that we can find.

Or, we can do what Christians do best, give God the glory. We seek the impact that God can have in our lives BECAUSE of our infirmities. In knowing where we are weak, we know that God is strong. In knowing where we are foolish, then we know that God is wise.

As we examine ourselves in preparation for Lent, we look at our fallibilities and we invite God into those fallibilities to make us more of the people He wants us to be.

Do you know who you are? Will you have a better idea by knowing who you are not?

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