“Sad to hear of Brian Haw’s death. While UK bombed Iraq a man shouting in Parliament Square was the nearest we came to sanity.”
Marijke Hoek, coordinator Forum for Change
This was one of the many tweets reflecting on the death of the peace campaigner last Sunday. For a decade his presence in Parliament Square was a constant provocation. A rebel with a cause.
On the same day, Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her birthday in freedom for the first time in nearly a decade. At the time she received her Nobel Peace prize, the citations specified that she was a shining example of "the power of the powerless".
As I laid some flowers in Parliament Square, I thought of ‘weakness’. Living out our convictions often reminds us of our vulnerability, limitations and even powerlessness in the face of the enormity of the task. ‘Weakness’ is a dominant theme in Paul’s theology. Understandably, really. At the time, the Christian community was a minority in a powerful empire, so the connotations of the word are many. It refers to their numerical weakness; their social vulnerability and their hardships of many kinds. And, poignantly, it reflects on the limitations of our humanness.
And yet, Paul’s ‘weakness’ theme is as much promising as it is realistic. For, our human weakness is the place where divine power connects best. In fact, it is the showcase for God’s power.
Whereas we may use ‘weakness’ in terms of personal shortcomings – a weakness for chocolates, gadgets or fast cars – Paul uses the term in a global context. Abraham, who had such promises of fruitfulness and yet faced such barrenness, was strengthened rather than weakened in his faith. The Christian community in Rome, though aware of their vulnerability, experienced the Spirit’s help in their weakness. Not always knowing what to pray for, they did however know that divine advocacy took place ‘behind the scenes’ - intercessions concerning God’s purposes for his world. Powerful stuff at work in their limitations, in powerlessness and hardships.
Significance is not related to numbers, status or dominance. It is not measured by ‘success’. Significance has everything to do with being faithful. Jesus reminds us of what his kingdom is like. It’s like a bit of yeast a woman placed in a large amount of flour, working its way all through the dough. ‘Power’ is not always related to having prayers answered. Paul’s ongoing hardship caused by the ‘thorn’ was the place where God’s power would be displayed. Not in spite of it, but because of it.
Our tenacity concerning God’s redemption plan for the world is fuelled by hope. Our vision and work in many different areas - banking, fairly-traded jewellery, youth, business, economy, education and more - may be the nearest we come to sanity. Something of the yeast of heaven permeating the context in which we live.
One of the characteristics of God’s faithfulness is His enduring presence, His ‘thereness’ amidst difficulty. To live in a peace camp for a decade, to be under house arrest even longer, to be faithfully present during a lifetime will work its way through our world. We may not always see the fullness of our work. We may even die one day with unfulfilled hopes. Our reward lies elsewhere and is related to our stickability to be rebels for a cause.