Last night at our Thanksgiving Eve Service I preached about the thanks that should come when we receive special blessings from God. “Special Blessings Require Special Thanks” was the title of the sermon and it came from looking at two helpless widows in Scripture, the first a starving widow from Zarephath in 1 Kings and the second the widow who gave God her last two coins in Mark 12. Both had attracted the attention of God in such a way as to be remembered on the pages of Holy Scripture thousands of years after they lived! Not bad for two helpless, poverty-stricken widows!
The widow of Zarephath was a Gentile who God chose to give food and water to the great prophet Elijah at the time of the three and a half year drought. The second widow was observed by Jesus placing her last two copper coins in the offering box at the temple treasury. Both were destitute, living in abject poverty. Both were helpless to help themselves. And both were seen by God, remembered by God, and blessed by Him for they are included in God’s own salvation story, the bible.
I’m thankful for helplessness this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that these last two years of cancer, treatment and surgery have changed my life to understand that like those two widows, I am weak and frail and helpless to help myself. Oh, I always was helpless — it’s just that it took cancer to prove it to me.
You see, I live in America, the hardest nation in the world in which to believe that helplessness is a virtue! I was raised to believe that “God helps those who help themselves”. So in my Christian life and yes, in my ministry, I worked hard to do all I could in my own strength. After all, isn’t that what God wanted, expected of me? Wouldn’t that earn me His attention, even His approval?
It was in the early days of my cancer diagnosis when I’d been stripped of all ability to help myself, when the days were dark and strength in my body and even in my soul had left me, that I learned the truth. Jesus was there when I came to the end of myself, when I could no longer dance around the truth that I was completely weak, absolutely helpless. It was then I found that like those two widows from Scripture, I had attracted God’s attention by my helplessness and He had come to bless me in a special way I’d never known before. Helplessness became a virtue. Weakness became as asset. Both brought me Jesus, His love, His presence, His strength.
It’s John’s Gospel that is full of helpless people, as the Gospel writer puts them center stage with the Savior. The Samaritan woman at the well. The official’s son who is dying. The crippled man by the pool of Bethesda. The crowd that has no bread. The blind man in John 9. Dead Lazarus and his inconsolable sisters Mary and Martha.
It was St. Paul, the greatest missionary who ever lived who was beset with a “thorn in the flesh” and prayed three times for God to remove it. But that didn’t happen. Instead, God reminded Paul that in his helplessness, he would be more powerful for the Gospel than in strength. “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I wonder when we in America will wake up to realize what St. Paul knew and what many of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world have known and lived for a long, long time. We receive Jesus in weakness, in absolute helplessness and that never changes! We don’t become strong — it’s Jesus in us Who is strong! But in America, after we come to Christ, we seek to leave helplessness behind, turning to our own strength, our own ability, our own self-sufficiency to live out our Christian lives.
Yet Colossians 2:6 tells us, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” Paul boasted that he lived his Christian live in weakness, helplessness! And he admonished us to do the same. One author, Paul E. Miller, in his book “The Praying Life” says, “The Gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.”
I can’t do life on my own. I can’t even do one day on my own. I am helpless and I’m glad. I am helpless and I’ve accepted that I shall always be helpless! I am helpless and that means I’ve attacted the attention of a kind Savior named Jesus who comes to me in my weakness and gives me what I do not have on my own — His strength to live each day.
Like the widow at Zarephath and the widow with just two copper coins, I am not embarrassed to display my poverty. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for helplessness.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.