Vulnerability and the Cross

Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 13, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Have you ever noticed how most Anglican churches and Protestant churches in general have "cleaned up" the crucifix?  There's something about that near-naked Jesus writing in pain on the cross that makes us really uncomfortable--or even gives some of us the creeps. 

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  To see him exposed like that--exposed bodily, and exposed in his suffering, is very disconcerting.  We would much rather look at a smooth wooden cross, or maybe a cross with nice flowers or leafy ends to the beams.  To see Jesus suffering with that much vulnerability may make us extremely ill at ease. 

It takes courage--real grit--to show to other people what is not judged appropriate in our culture, doesn't it?   Maybe his extreme vulnerability on the cross is why a lot of people DO NOT LIKE looking at the Roman-style crucifix.

Well, of course, it's not just Jesus who made himself vulnerable in the first century.  I was struck in today's epistle by what Paul writes of himself.  He makes himself extremely vulnerable, too.  He's making the case to the Christians in Philippi--in Macedonia--that he's left behind any concern with earthly credentials, and he's basing his self-image exclusively on Christ.  Did you notice the stunning way he begins the passage?  He lists all his accomplishments-- "circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin:  a Hebrew born of Hebrews.  As to the law, a Pharisee." 

OK stop there:  he's saying he has the CV to distinguish him among his people.

But now what:  this is striking--and he just lets it slip into the list:  "as to zeal, a persecutor of the church."  OK he's writing this to the church, and confessing to them that he himself was someone who worked hard to rub it out. 

And that is quite a confession in the context of this letter.

Then he picks up the thread again..."as to righteousness under the law, blameless."  He's just said that he has every reason to be considered by the Jewish community a defender of the faith.  And then he turns it on its head by saying, "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him." 

Paul has found the more excellent way, and he isn't shy about saying so.  He gives his credentials matter-of-factly but then he turns to put himself in perspective next to Christ Jesus.

Paul strikes me as a person at peace within his own skin.  He’s accomplished, yet humble.  He’s a fabulous role model, knowing his accomplishments and yet owning his role in having Christians abused and killed.  And then he turns in thorough vulnerability toward what's better.

 

Vulnerability.  It's something we may not feel very comfortable with.  In our culture it's often avoided because it looks like weakness.  To be vulnerable is to expose those places where we can be hurt most effectively. 

Most of us have grown up with the idea that it's best to hide any vulnerability as a kind of self-protection.

I wonder how many of us have watched the TED talk by Brene Brown that’s devoted to vulnerability—or how many of us have read her book called Daring Greatly.  She’s such a gifted presenter--it's like she's in your living room being really real with just you. She is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.  (You can find the TED talk on YouTube--just search for "Brene Brown vulnerability" and up it comes.  It’s been seen millions of times and a friend of mine requires couples to watch it as they prepare to be married.  That’s a great idea.)

Brown makes the point that vulnerability is absolutely and utterly essential if we wish to make deep links with people.   In order for solid connection to happen we must let ourselves be REALLY seen.

And she tells us that what often gets in the way of our ability to be vulnerable and to share our selves at depth is the shame we all carry:  the feeling that I'm not good enough, what will people think of me if I let them in too close, no one has thought the kinds of awful things that I've thought, no one has done the things I've done...I cannot let myself be fully known.  That's called "shame." 

 

It's really helpful to own our shame--believe me, I know this firsthand.  A therapist can certainly help with this.  First we summon up the courage to love ourselves through and despite our imperfections.  Then we show some compassion for ourselves--for what we've been through and the suffering we've had.  And once we know who we are--and understand that in the eyes of God we're loved anyway...then we can move forward.

It's risky to be ourselves fully--to be vulnerable--with other people.  WE may feel that we need to keep on protecting a part of ourselves around folks who don't feel safe.  But the goal is to be OUT there...accepting we're worthy of God's love and of other's love, despite all the imperfections we carry.

 

Brene Brown goes on to say that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.  And that right there is reason enough to pursue it.

She ends the talk by saying that as we let ourselves be seen deeply and vulnerably, as we love with our whole hearts even if there's no guarantee of a good outcome, as we believe more and more that we ARE enough--then we begin to change.  We begin to start listening better to other people who are themselves so very imperfect.  We are able to be kinder to them and to ourselves, too.  Compassion grows.

So I do commend this TED talk to you--or the book called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  These things have the power to change lives.

 

Now I’m going to get personal.  Last week at announcements I spoke about the foot-washing rite that we perform on Maundy Thursday afternoon and saw several folks at each service visibly recoil.  Think about what this involuntary recoiling might mean.  Are we indeed so afraid to show those parts of ourselves that we usually keep hidden?  Why can we show them on the beach and not in church?  And what does it say about our trust of other members of our community here in the parish?

I chose the cover illustration today because what it says about Jesus in his vulnerability.  No, he’s not hanging on a cross.  But he’s freely giving his feet to a woman he knows and respects to anoint before his death.  The picture is worth more than a thousand words. 

Why not take the bulletin home and pray with this image this coming week?

 

So, the ultimate questions are these:  are we being called to be more in tune with ourselves?  Are we being called to bring out the issues that cause us shame into the light? 

And then, what's the call for our lives together in this community--are we being challenged to allow them to deepen-- or not?  Are we content with lightweight spirituality or do we want to share our truer and deeper selves and grow more--together? 

 

Just imagine how we could be opening our eyes to see the Light of Christ right here, right now ... if only.

Amen.