sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/06/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
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The way out of shame to wholeheartedness is embracing vulnerability. It takes courage, because it’s not so much a way out of shame, at first, as it is a way through shame.
It’s recognizing shame for what it is – the painful feeling that we are fundamentally flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging – and not letting it dictate our actions or responses. Instead, trusting in Jesus’ good news, we see ourselves as we are – in some real, substantial ways, vulnerable, needy, and ultimately mortal – and we embrace our vulnerability. We own it. We look at ourselves with open eyes, God’s arm around our shoulders, and we take the next Spirit-directed step forward in obedience. Which, usually, certainly more often than we’d choose for ourselves, is a step that only exposes us even more.
I’d like to talk about why this is true – so that we have the courage to give it a shot – and then talk about what it means to actually do it, using a famous story from the Bible to illustrate it for us.
Why must we embrace vulnerability? Why is it the only way forward to life and wholeheartedness?
It’s because all life comes from God, and we receive it by coming to him.
Need/desire is designed to drive us to God
Vulnerability is an awareness of need/desire.
Embracing our vulnerability is essential for receiving from God all that we need, for life, for security, for shelter, for sustenance.
This is the point of the story of the fall in Genesis 3. Humanity, listening to the lies of the serpent, chose a path of trusting in itself – you won’t die! You’ll be like God! – and found itself enslaved to shame, living in darkness. Leading to everything that is broken with everything.
Therefore the path out of shame, through shame to wholeheartedness, is a reversal of the fall. It’s light – in the form of God in human flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the light of the world – coming on the scene. You are dying. You will die. Stop running from that. Look at me! I’m the light of the world! And I will die. I will embrace your vulnerability, taking it on myself. I will endure your shame – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And I will show you that that path – the path of the courageous embrace of vulnerability – leads to resurrection life. Because God can be trusted. He does desire life for you. Your flaws have not separated you from his love. Just as my perfection has not separated me from death. You’ve been doing the math all wrong – you haven’t accounted for God’s love! He is love. He loves you. He loves me. Death is not the end of the story. It’s just the end of the old story. But it’s also the beginning of the new story. Listen to my voice, not the serpent’s, because I love you. I’m telling you that if you embrace your vulnerability as I have – instead of running from it as you have since you first listened to the serpent - you will be like your Father as I am like my Father. You will be like God. You will be courageously vulnerable – because vulnerability is the essential quality required for love – and alive with the life of the ages, eternal and undying.
Not convinced yet?
How can we make sense of this following story, unless the courageous embrace of vulnerability – and ultimately, of death, the most profound vulnerability – is the way of salvation?
21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Peter’s like us. The last thing he can imagine is anyone willingly embracing that kind of vulnerability. Never! Never! Even though Jesus had said it would end up with being raised to life.
Jesus calls him Satan for saying that. Because it’s the same voice that spoke to Adam and Eve. Avoid vulnerability at all costs – you can be like God! Except, of course, that that’s not like God, that’s a twisted view of God, a God made in our image. God is a vulnerable God. He demonstrates it, time after time, through Jesus.
Jesus makes it explicit to Peter: you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. We know what human concerns are all about, don’t we? Ever since the fall, even our holiest concerns have been laced with concerns about shame and vulnerability, about being flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging. But Jesus has in mind the concerns of God, and God is untouched by shame, because he’s never backed away from the vulnerability that is at the center of his very being. After all, God is love. Can love exist without vulnerability?
Listen to the great writer, C.S. Lewis:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
– C. S. Lewis, the Four Loves
God’s concerns are that the children he loves be set free, and that freedom required the embrace of vulnerability. It required the Father sending the Son to be incarnated in a human body. To be subject to pain and rejection. To suffer, as the Apostles’ Creed proclaims, under Pontius Pilate, a 2-bit Roman procurator who was eventually fired. To die a shameful death, naked on a hill, mocked by the basest and meanest of his own creatures. It required Jesus marking out a path to life for his followers, so that they could follow him into life. They themselves picking up their own crosses. Bending under their own instruments of shame, arms wrapped over their heads, dragging them up a hill outside the city.
25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Allow me to paraphrase:
Whoever wants to protect themselves from vulnerability will be enslaved by shame, but whoever courageously embraces vulnerability will find wholeheartedness and life.
Consider the beatitudes in Luke’s gospel:
you who are poor
you who hunger now
you who weep now
you when people hate you, exclude you, insult you, and reject your name as evil
These are all pictures of people at their most vulnerable, aren’t they? And yet these are the very people Jesus says are blessed, who will have the kingdom, who will be satisfied, who will laugh, who will have great reward. Because when you are poor, when you’re hungry, when you’re weeping, when you’re hated, excluded, insulted, rejected, it’s pretty hard to pretend you’re not vulnerable, isn’t it? Which means the path to embracing your vulnerability is paved for you, and so the kingdom of God, eternal life, salvation is oh so near.
And immediately following,
To you who are rich
To you who are well fed
To you who laugh
To you when everyone speaks well of you
Why the warning? Because it’s so much easier to pretend you’re not vulnerable, to insulate yourself from all neediness, when you are rich and well-fed. Don’t be fooled, Jesus is warning. Your neediness will assert itself, eventually, and if you have come to depend on yourself instead of embracing your vulnerability and depending on God, you will find yourself in the death grip of shame.
As Jesus says in Matthew 7,
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Surely the wide gate and broad road is the road traveled by the perfectionists, and the numbed-by-busyness and addiction, and those who have insulated themselves from their mortality through wealth and technology and comfort. And surely the small gate and narrow road is the courageous embrace of vulnerability, those who lose their life for Jesus and end up finding it. [AA]
Why else would Jesus say,
How hard is it for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
It’s not because there is anything wrong with being rich – what a privilege and joy to be entrusted with much to be a blessing to many and an agent of God’s favor in this world! – but because being rich can cause us to be unwittingly insulated from the call to courageously embrace our vulnerability.
And the courageous embrace of vulnerability isn’t some kind of one time, heroic thing that we do. It’s the way of Jesus, through and through, because it’s the way of Love. The courageous embrace of vulnerability required for everything we do as followers of Jesus. (recognize shame, trust good news, embrace vulnerability, next step in obedience)
Repentance… (I was wrong! And that doesn’t make me look good.)
Receiving forgiveness… (I’m willing to accept you canceling my debt without me paying you back, because I trust that in the new creation our good standing with one another is rooted in grace and not perfectionism and that the only motivating reality is God’s love at work within us. And because I might never have been able to pay you back in the first place.)
Healing sick… (Umm, what if nothing happens? What if I get sick from them?)
Casting out demons… (Umm, what’s going to keep them from airing all my dirty laundry? And won’t I have a target on my back now?)
Announcing good news… (Umm, I might look like a fool because this news runs counter to a lot of the day to day experiences people have had – Jesus to John Wimber, “Don’t preach your experiences; preach my word!”)
Forgiving… (But if I don’t collect on this debt, who is going to make up for my loss? Who is going to make sure I don’t lose out even more in the future? Won’t I look like the fool?)
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about Jesus sending out his apostles to do his work. He said to them:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
9“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff…
16I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
Like sheep among wolves. What a striking picture of vulnerability! They can’t take anything along to make them feel less vulnerable. No money. No bag of provisions. No extra clothes. No shoes or staff even. They are to be totally dependent on God on their journey. Which is what embracing vulnerability requires us to be.
Or perhaps it what it empowers us to be.
Because if we can embrace our vulnerability, if we can see our neediness and not try to mask it or cover it with fig leaves, but instead place it, and our whole selves, in our loving Father’s hands, we can share in the resurrection life of Christ.
The fall of man can be reversed.
But only by the son of man falling to the ground, like a seed.
Alright, it’s time to look at a famous story from the Bible to see how this actually works for us, assuming we’re coming close now to working up the courage to embrace our own vulnerability and take a step in that direction, in faith.
22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The disciples are in a situation that highlights their vulnerability. It’s night. They are in the middle of a large lake. The wind is strong and waves are buffeting their boat. They must have been exhausted, since they’d been trying to cross this lake, unsuccessfully, from some time before sunset to just before sunrise.
Jesus shows up, walking on the water, lit by the predawn light. The disciples are terrified, crying out. Grown men, crying out. Some of them fishermen.
Courage! Jesus says. I am I. No fear.
I hear in this statement Jesus saying, Take courage. Look, you’re alone in your boat. You’re vulnerable. So am I. I’m alone by myself. I’m even more vulnerable than you right now. But have no fear. Vulnerability is no cause for fear. Embrace it as I have. I sent you off on your own to experience vulnerability, while I was alone in prayer on the mountainside. I embraced my vulnerability, took it to the Father, and look at me, I’m walking on water and cruising along a lot faster than you. While you, in your fear, together with each other, and in a boat to protect you from the water, no less, are afraid and not making much headway.
Peter gets the message. If it’s you, tell me to come out and join you on the water! You’re the master, I’m the disciple. If you can do it, I’m here to learn.
So Peter does. He courageously embraces his vulnerability. He steps out of that boat. It’s still windy. The waves are still going strong. And Peter is alone on the water, walking towards Jesus.
Peter’s a work in progress, as we all are, and he begins to sink, panics. No worries. Jesus speaks to him endearingly, gently. Peter has a journey ahead of him. As we all do. But what a great start!
So Jesus gets in the boat, the wind dies down. Makes me think of God in the garden, covering Adam and Eve with a pelt to replace their fig leaves. Jesus has mercy with us in our shame and vulnerability. He’s put himself in our boat. But he’s calling us out on the water with him, one way or another. One day or another.
We are in the same place in our lives as Peter. It can look like we aren’t making much progress. It can seem like the people around us aren’t much help. It can seem like we’re trying to do what Jesus told us to do, and still we are out on this lake, buffeted by the wind and waves.
We’re here because what Jesus wants from us is to not deny our vulnerability. Rather, to face it. To embrace it. To bring it to him.
We’re going to be tempted to do what we do every time we see our vulnerability. But we’ve got to resist Shame’s voice telling us to cover our shame with fig leaves – ineffective strategies like perfectionism, or numbing busyness and addictions. And secondly, we’ve got to not trust the story of the world that shame presents to us. The story that there isn’t enough, that we aren’t enough, that only those who look the strongest will survive. Instead, Co-operating with God by showing kindness and compassion towards ourselves. Essentially saying, wow, maybe I’m not acting like or even actually being who I really want to be. Maybe I am flawed. Or maybe I just blew it. But that’s not the end of the story. Because true worthiness isn’t a function of performance. It comes from the fact that God, for whatever reason, has chosen me. He asked me to be a disciple. So here, goes, I’m going to start doing what disciples do.
Uh, hey, Jesus, you want me out there with you? Just say the word.
In Jesus’ last conversation with Peter, after Peter had denied him 3 times, fearful and ashamed, Jesus undoes Peter’s shame, asking Peter 3 times if Peter loves him. Peter, 3 times, affirms his love for Jesus, and Jesus reaffirms his call on Peter’s life. And then Jesus says this to him:
18Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
The kind of death by which we will glorify God is the kind that is an embrace of our vulnerability. Our hands stretched out, dressed by someone else, led where we do not want to go. When we were young, God came upon us in the garden, our hands crossed over our shame, dressed by ourselves in our fig leaves, having hidden ourselves from him and each other. When we are old we will stretch out our hands to him, and he will clothe us in royal garments, and lead us to a cross where, not unlike Jesus, we do not want to go. But we will go, and the old creation will be crucified and the new creation will be born in resurrection, incorruptible, immortal, and yet, still vulnerable.
1. Name your Shame. Tell someone who has earned your trust what you’re ashamed of and/or afraid of. If you can’t figure out who that might be in your life, start with God. He’s earned our trust. It’s like taking the fig leaves off. And we’ll never be able to pick up our crosses while we are still wearing them.
2. Gratitude 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Intentionally practice gratitude, starting with 1 minute a day, and adding 1 minute each day (so, 7 minutes next Saturday). True gratitude is a form of embracing vulnerability, because it acknowledges that there is goodness in our lives that comes from another source than ourselves.
In the midst of shame triggers (you screwed up, or someone spoke critically to you, for example) it interrupts the shame cycle. Yeah, maybe I did blow it. But I’m thankful for my family. Or my health. Or the food I have to eat today. I belong with you God, even when I mess up.
In the midst of prosperity, it interrupts pride (which is just a perfectionism-born form of shame insulation) and protects us from developing a discipleship-killing distaste for vulnerability. I’m thankful for all these things which are going well and I remember that none of it makes me less vulnerable and needy than I would be without it. I am completely dependent on your grace, God, for every good thing.
3. Come to Jesus. Embrace Jesus as your master. You’ve heard him inviting you. But perhaps you haven’t felt worthy of being his disciple. To sign up as his follower requires you embracing your own vulnerability. Requires you allowing him to embrace you in his vulnerability. Requires you to be open to the vulnerability his path holds for you.