Homily: July 5, 2015

PROPER 7, YEAR B; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar Wabi Sabi is a concept from Zen Buddhism.

It maintains that life can only be understood in imperfection.


It’s not what is PERFECT that grabs our imagination.

Its not the most beautiful, flawless creation that nourishes our spirit.


Truth is really found in the vase with a tiny flaw,

the green landscape with a single barren tree,

the broad smile on a wrinkled face.


As that master thinker, Leonard Cohen put it.

“There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.”


This truth resonates in our second reading

from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.


As an Apostle

one sent by God Paul had founded the church in Corinth.

Over the years he has an up and down relationship with the Corinthians.


Through three or more letters,

and probably a few we don’t even have,

Paul keeps dumping advice on them.


Page after page.

This is how you should live.


Chapter after chapter.

Here’s what love looks like.

This is how to treat each other,

Here’s how to serve God and the community.


But in this particular passage Paul is at his very best.

He pulls back the apostolic curtain,

with all its glitzy show and authority.


Like the brilliant leader that he is,

He bares his chest and the heart that beats within it.


The apostle Paul openly admits that he has one great flaw.


We aren’t told exactly what it is.

But he calls it his “thorn in the flesh”

a ”messenger from Satan” sent to torture him.


Writers and theologians have speculated over the years

over exactly what it could be.


Was it some physical disability?

Was Paul torn by desires of the flesh?

Maybe he was a closeted gay man.

Some have thought so.


We will never know-

and perhaps that’s just as well.


What I want us to focus on this morning is not Paul’s issue-

But how God uses this imperfection in his life.


Three times he begs God to take this flaw away.

“Please God, I need you to do this for me.”


Finally, the answer comes back.

It was definitely not the answer Paul wanted to hear.


“My grace is sufficient for you,

for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”


God took the Wabi Sabi of Paul’s fatal flaw

and turned it around and used it for a far greater good.


In fact,

I think Paul was great,

precisely because of the thorn in the flesh

which he was trying to flee from.


Paul had been preaching the power of the weak-

the strength of the foolish Cross-

for years.


He’d been proclaiming it to the Corinthians since Day One.

But now we see that cross etched into Paul’s own life.


God didn’t REMOVE the troubles-

God used them to make Paul a better person,

a more effective apostle,

A deeper, older soul.


Paul finally realized that the imperfection

from which he suffered was Wabi Sabi-


Not something to be fled from

Or denied, or corrected.

but something to be embraced.


This is one of the reasons that I love the Way of Jesus so much-

At its best

It is so very REAL,



As Paul says elsewhere in Corinthians,

Even Jesus himself ,

the very Son of God

who knew no sin

was made to BE sin for us,

that we might become the perfection of God in Him.


The Wabi-Sabi of Paul,

of Christ and his dying on the cross

these contain a mystery that I can’t quite explain.


But I can rejoice in it.

And so can you.

We can rejoice together.


No doubt

there is at least one thing in your life

that you’d rather get rid of.


I know there is in mine.

Heck- there are dozens.


Whatever that flaw is

is between you and your God.


You and I may have struggled with it.

We may have prayed about it,

And fought it,

And despaired over it.


But finally there comes a time when,

In our own lives

like Paul,

And perhaps even like Jesus as he hung on the cross,

we find grace sufficient,

grace abundant,

grace made perfect in our weakness.


Some of you are familiar with the program

of Alcoholics Anonymous

and other twelve step programs,

like Al Anon and Narcotics Anonymous.


The core of that program

Is the admission of strength in the midst of weakness,

power in the very heart of powerlessness.


Wabi-Sabi in the very messy process

Of coming to believe

That a power greater than ourselves could restore us to life.

I have worked with these concepts for years-

Helped people get into treatment,

Dealt with families, friends partners of those in the Program.

Done fifth steps of confession and forgiveness,

Watched people rise to recovery,

And wept as some have crashed and burned.


But it is only recently that I have begun to realize

for my own self,

that there is sufficient grace for us

inside of, outside of, any program

there is grace sufficient for us through life itself.


Because life itself IS Wabi Sabi-

Shot through with both imperfection and glory.


This is the concept behind these 27 simple words

of the famous serenity Prayer,

penned originally by Theologian

Reinhold Neibuhr:


Let us pray:


“God, grant us all the serenity

To accept the things we cannot change,

Courage to change the things that we can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”




Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse.

'It's a thing that happens to you.

When a child loves you for a long, long time,

not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'


'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.


'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'


'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'


'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse.

'You become. It takes a long time.

That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily,

or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real,

most of your hair has been loved off,

and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.

But these things don't matter at all,

because once you are Real you can't be ugly,

except to people who don't understand.”