There have been a slew of films featuring comic book heroes over the course of the last few years. One of the conventions in all these films is to tell the superheroʼs origin story, which unpacks who the character was before they got their superpowers. This plot device is based on the assumption that how a character begins is important for audiences to understand where they end up. Those who compiled the scriptures had a similar idea. Our origin story is written right into the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 & 2 we read about the creation of our universe and its inhabitants at Godʼs command. We learn about how the first humans were formed out of the dust of the ground by Godʼs own hand. This origin story sets up everything else, and its placement at the beginning suggests that if we want to understand anything that comes after these first two chapters of the Bible, we need to know how things started. We need to know our origin in order to understand who we are. And according to the first chapter of Genesis we are a creature.
We are a creature and unlike comic book characters there will be no radioactive spiders or chemical spills which will make us superhuman. In fact, being a creature means that we have no superpowers at all. It means that we are limited. In the reading from Isaiah for today humans are pictured as weak. God says that even those whom we imagine to be unending sources of energy will eventually “weary and grow faint”. Many of us witness this every Sunday when the kids in our congregation finally wear out at the end of coffee hour after running around the library. To be creature means that we have limits, and to acknowledge a creator means that we accept that we are limited beings. Many of us run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We are on multiple committees. We have multiple projects going on. We run from one end of town to the other. And all the time we tell anyone who will listen how busy we are. But God didnʼt make us to live like this. We are not limitless; God is. He says that he is the everlasting one. He does not grow weary or faint. It is when we try and be limitless that we forget that we are creatures and we try to be the creator and we start to compete with God. A fight we will lose every time. Our limits are a gift to us. God has written it into our lives and our bodies. These limits allow us to say “no” to things that may overwhelm. These limits allow us to rely on Godʼs grace and sustenance instead of our own doing. And these limits allow us to experience Godʼs promise recorded in this passage from Isaiah, that he will give power to the faint and strengthen the powerless.
The gospel story from today, gives multiple examples of people experiencing just this kind of grace. Peterʼs mother-in-law lies ill and she experiences the miracle of healing, and experiences to such a profound extent that she doesnʼt even need time to recover. The scripture says that she “immediately” got up and began to serve. Mark goes on to write that others came and were healed as well. These faint we renewed. These sick and impoverished ones who knew their limits profoundly were given new strength. The gospel story for today closes with another who receives this power: Jesus who overwhelmed by the crowds draws away to spend time with God, and when his disciples find him he is charged for the next day of ministry. Now, everyone has their own unique limits. Some are physical and are therefore more obvious. Others may be less obvious. The could be internal diseases, the pain from which is masked by living with it day in and day out. Then there are those emotional, mental, and spiritual limits which we hide from others and try to hide from ourselves. The gospel story for today shows us that our God gives strength to those who are feeling the weight of their limitations. That God gives power to those who are feeling the burden of their origin as creature. He provides spiritual sustenance, restoration to the community as a full and beloved member, and he even heals those who thought they would never see healing.
The kind of power that our creator gives to us his creatures, the kind of strength he offers to those who are weak is the kind of strength and power that Paul is living in as he writes to the Corinthians. In this passage, Paul is suggesting that he has done something in his ministry that seems impossible. He has become all things to all people. There is an old saying that goes “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you canʼt please all the people all the time.” But Paul is saying that it is possible to please all the people all the time. Paulʼs example points out something important about our origins as limited beings made in the image of a limitless Creator. Though we have limits, Godʼs promise to give power to the faint and strengthen the weak means that everything is possible. There are those of us gathered here who have some pretty firm ideas about what can or cannot be done. Some of us think that they couldnʼt be a part of altar guild or that they couldnʼt share their story with the Sunday school children. Some of us believe that the continued presence of this church in the neighborhood is impossible and that it would be better to close the doors. But to put these limits on ourselves and our congregation is the same as trying to live a life without limits. To arbitrarily put limits on ourselves without testing the boundaries, means that we are not living under the promise of God to give us strength and we are asserting ourselves as the creator rather than the creature.
At Lakeridge there is lots that is happening. With faith in Godʼs promise to strengthen and empower we have taken on a lot. Arise is coming up in a few short weeks. The Sunday school has been revamped. We have partnered with multiple parishes in the Renton area for a wide variety of worship and service opportunities. We have taken on an intern. We celebrated our first year as an RIC congregation. My fear though is that the burden of all these challenges has and will continue to follow on the same people. There are those of us who are on multiple committees and for whom Sunday is as much of a work day as the rest of the week. And there are those of us who just come to worship and coffee hour without offering up the gift of their leadership and faith. There are those of us, who are very protective of our time and commitments. And there are those of us who are overreaching themselves. The gift of our community is that there are those of us who illustrate what is possible when we rely on Godʼs promise to strengthen the weak. The grace of God is that there are those of us who set boundaries for themselves and remind us that we are limited creatures and God is our limitless Creator. We are truly blessed. With this mix of people the hope is that we would all learn how to balance ourselves out a little bit more. Within our origins as creature is an invitation to take on more and the call to release those most important things.
If we want our congregation to thrive and grow we need to continue to take steps in faith and undertake new tasks challenging ourselves to take on things that donʼt seem for us and and also challenging ourselves to take off things that we believe wonʼt continue without us. If our congregation want to do great things it wonʼt be enough to say we want to grow, it wonʼt be enough to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, we must also begin to see ourselves as creatures and God as our creator who gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.!
It is to recognize our limits that we come to the communion table every week. The table is the great equalizer, no one sits at its head, just the Creator. Here no is identified by what they have done for the congregation or havenʼt done. This is absolute grace. In receiving the gifts of bread and wine, we admit that we are creatures in the hands of a creator. By receiving the physical sustenance of food and the spiritual sustenance of grace we eat and we drink Godʼs promise to strengthen and empower us. Our origins tell us that at the very beginning God made us as creatures who are meant to depend on him. As you eat and drink at this table today and as you receive the anointing of oil on your head may these things be for you a sign of Godʼs promise to strengthen your weakness and empower you when you are faint.