Be Vulnerable and Fear Not
Earlier this week, our leadership team at work watched an online Ted Talk featuring researcher Brene Brown talking about the Power of Vulnerability. She discussed a research project with what she calls “whole hearted” people. What she found was that in order for people to feel connected – to have a sense of belonging, we have to allow ourselves to be deeply seen, vulnerably seen, she says. She notes
“vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
I don’t know about you but to me that’s a scary proposition. It takes a lot of trust and strength to recognize that the same thing that will make you whole is something that could also be used to tear you apart. It reminds me of the words we heard in this morning’s Gospel reading.
I wonder how the disciples must have felt when Jesus spoke the words we heard in Matthew 10:24-39.
Jesus is telling them that when they go out on his behalf, it is going to stir up all kinds of feelings.
As they go out and share what they have learned from him –being peacemakers, sharing the good news, healing the sick, casting out demons, it is going to cause discomfort.
Not everyone is going to be ready to hear it – many will feel threatened or afraid and it will even tear some families apart. At the same time new relationships will emerge with people who are now part of the family of Christ.
As I grappled with this text that seemed inconsistent with my understanding of the role of Jesus, I came across a commentary by Stanley Saunders says in part:
“Although Jesus has called his disciples to be peacemakers (5:9), his mission does not bring peace, but a sword, so long as the powers resist God’s rule and will. The very act of peacemaking, as Jesus’ ministry demonstrates, generates violence – for healing, restoration, and the conquest of death threaten the foundations of all human assertions of power in defiance of God.”
And in spite of all this conflict - over and over we see in today’s reading, Jesus reassures his friends telling them not to be afraid. Because he knows this is scary stuff – that it is counter intuitive.
I can imagine the disciples saying, “you want us to do what?” But Jesus assures them that they can rest in God’s care when faced with adversity. And at one point he basically says,
“What do you have to lose? You are not saying anything that is not true or that you don’t believe and one way or another, God’s message is going to be known through all the world. Don’t you want to be on the right side of history?”
Jesus is stressing to the disciples the importance of being authentic. Even though it may be scary. Even though it means being vulnerable.
I mentioned last week about the young people in Cambodia who are going against their friends and families by joining the Methodist Church – but still they are finding redemption and reconciliation and the church continues to grow.
In other parts of the world however, the risks are even greater.
A met a young Pakistani Christian couple this past spring. In Pakistan, it can be dangerous and even illegal to practice Christianity.
In September, a suicide bomber attacked the family’s All Saints Church in Peshawar Pakistan. Among the dead were this couple’s two young children and other family members. Yet the couple’s faith is so strong that they still offer a testimony of God’s goodness and find comfort in knowing that their loved ones quite literally died for their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Friends, we in the US do not have those same risks. Christians are not a persecuted minority in the United States and to the contrary unfortunately, Christians are often the ones who are guilty of using our faith as a tool for marginalizing those who we feel aren’t living out Christianity the way we believe they should.
- So where then are the places in our lives that we need to take a risk?
- Where we need to walk in faith and proclaim God’s way even from the housetops?
- Where we need to be vulnerable for the sake of being authentic?
- Where do we need to step out of our comfort zone and speak out for what we know is right?
What is your cross? The tool of oppression and intimidation that you are called to pick up and dismantle?
How do you stand up for others who are vulnerable in their weakness?
How do you use the strength of your own vulnerability to address injustice?
Jesus tells his disciples that when they don’t act authentically – When they resist or are fearful, it compromises their very souls. Have you ever experienced that?
That feeling you get when you see something happening that you know you should respond to but you are afraid of looking like you are over reacting, or you don’t want to be judged or attacked for having a different opinion?
So you push it down and walk away or maybe you even participate in the act of ridiculing or oppressing another person?
But Jesus is telling us that when we have the confidence of knowing who we are and whose we are, we can act out of our faith and God will carry us through. We don’t have to be afraid of rocking the boat.
- Have no fear!
- Do not fear!
- Be not afraid!
Those are the words we hear in this morning’s Gospel reading.
This is the Good News!
This is what it means to be justified in grace –
Once we recognize that, we can feel free to live out our faith, hearing God’s call, and knowing that when we pursue the path God has chosen for us, we move closer to perfection/salvation.
Not only are we compelled to stop doing the things that go against Jesus’ teachings, but we are compelled to do good – to help others – to be the hands and feet of Christ.
According to Howard Thurman,
when we know who we are and whose we are with the affirmation of Jesus, we are then in a position to appraise (our) own intrinsic powers, gifts, talents, and abilities … (We) can think of (ourselves) with some measure of detachment from the shackles of (our) immediate world.
And think about it … From the time of his birth, Jesus represented the marginalized – the vulnerable. He was born in a manger and welcomed by the dirty shepherds. He lived his life being ridiculed by the faith leaders and ultimately was killed by the Romans who occupied the land.
The idea that Jesus is Lord, turns upside down the paradigm of how we define greatness. It is through being vulnerable that we can be whole hearted, connected people.
I invite you this week to remember that you are worthy of God’s love.
You are a beloved child who belongs to God.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable – to be authentic and trust that God has got your back.
Because, by being vulnerable, Jesus assures us, those who lose their life for his sake will find it.
Thanks be to God.
Park UMC, Weehawken, NJ
Loving God of all the seasons of our lives,
we come before you filled with many
emotions and cherished memories.
Help us to trust you as we face a time of change,
remembering that we rest in your care.
Today as we pray for our friend and colleague,
we give thanks for the ways her
grace filled presence has left an imprint on this place while
leading us to share your work in the world.
We pray that your Spirit
will surround her and her family as they
loosen their ties here and begin to
put down roots in a new place.
Give them the courage to let go of those
things that are not needed for this
new season so that
they may step lightly onto the path
you have set before them.
we pray that each of them will
know your presence and grace
in this time of transition.
May they find in you
relief of their anxieties,
comfort in their goodbyes, and
rest for their journey.
Help them to feel assured that
you have gone ahead of them to bless
their offices, and
We pray that you will prosper the
work of their hands as they
enter a new ministry.
May all of their gifts be fully used to
equip your people to grow closer to you in ways that
bring justice, love, and peace to your world.
We pray that their love as a family will
continue to grow stronger and be a
faithful witness to your love.
while the pattern of the tapestry may change,
we give thanks for your never-ending love
that is tightly woven throughout our connection
with you and with each other.
It is in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
We’re on a Co-Mission From God
The mission statement of the United Methodist Church echoes this morning’s Scripture reading – “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This scripture is also referred to often in my work at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. One of our priorities is to send missionaries throughout the world.
People often seem surprised to find out that The United Methodist Church still sends out missionaries. It sounds so old fashioned. But in fact we have more than 350 missionaries and next month will commission 50 young adult missionaries to be sent into the world.
United Methodist missionaries are not only from North America serving in Africa or Asia but more than half are from outside the US serving in other countries including in the US… as close to us here as Harrison, NJ and New York City. As my boss, Thomas Kemper, likes to say – the 21st Century missionary goes from everywhere and to everywhere.
The concept of missionaries is something that many people struggle with – particularly when we are engaged in more pluralistic circles of friendship or other relationships. We don’t want to offend Muslim or Jewish friends by trying to convert them to Christianity. And we don’t want to be thought naïve or self-righteous by atheist or agnostic friends. At the same time, we are called as United Methodists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called in Scripture to share the Good News of Christ. So how do we live out our faith authentically in ways that offer an invitation to grace that meets people where they are but doesn’t leave them there?
For so many centuries, this morning’s Gospel lesson has been twisted to justify colonization and other injustice done in the name of Jesus. The word discipleship has been confused with saving souls … but what Jesus instructs in this passage is to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded of you.”
And while this reading is often referred to as the Great Commission, Jesus did not call it that. What he does call “great” earlier in Matthew is the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” Jesus instructed in Matthew 22: 37-40.
One commentary I read explains that
Discipling means to do with others what Jesus has done with his own disciples, and with us … It’s about walking with people, in the power of the Spirit and the confidence of the kingdom of God, so they, and you, learn to live the way of Jesus, the way of God’s reign.
And, the commentary says, not just live it—participate in it, announce it to others, go where the Spirit sends you, and act fully as Christ’s representatives in the world. Put another way,” according to the commentary, “discipling others is inviting them to experience and respond to the fullness of the Triune God alive and active always, everywhere.
As I have gotten to know the United Methodist missionaries, I have come to understand that is exactly what they are doing. The 21st century missionary lives and works within communities, incarnating the Good News of Jesus Christ in his or her role as teacher, farmer, doctor, pastor, environmentalist, and even airplane pilot. They are certainly not forcing their beliefs on others or making financial support contingent on a profession of faith. They are living out the great commandments – loving God and loving their neighbor and offering an invitation to others to do the same.
A couple of years ago, I visited our mission in Cambodia where we have a number of missionaries. Cambodia is a country that 20 years ago did not have a Methodist presence. It is a nation that because the Khmer Rouge genocide took the lives of many of the educated adults, more than 70% of the population is under the age of 30 and 50% are children. There is a sense of suspicion and anger because of past hurt during the war that has poisoned the society. People in the Methodist Church are not always trusted but somehow the church keeps growing.
The intensity of Christianity in this country that had endured unimaginable terror was hard for me to wrap my brain around. What is it that is changing their hearts? Why are young people going against their parents’ and friends’ wishes and joining this faith? Over and over I heard that Christianity provides a channel for forgiveness – a peace that passes all understanding. People had become so guarded with each other and many had done terrible things during the genocide. Through Christ, they found forgiveness of themselves and of their neighbors.
The missionaries in Cambodia are working themselves out of jobs as the Cambodian leadership is growing stronger and is beginning to disciple their own communities.
How amazing and beautiful is God’s love manifested out of the ashes of war and genocide?
This is RESURRECTION!
And when we are looking for it, we see that it is happening in our own lives, in our own families, and in our community. Out of pain and suffering can emerge something new and glorious! And we are invited to be part of bringing it forth!
How have you been transformed by your faith?
Where have you seen or experienced the healing power of God?
This invitation to be on a co-mission with Jesus is not only for disciples 2,000 years ago. It is not only for missionaries around the world. It is for you and me.
We are invited to teach others how to follow the teachings of Jesus. We can model what it means to love God and love our neighbor. We can be part of God’s transformation of the world simply through our LOVE and in the name of Jesus.
I was at the NY Annual Conference a couple of weeks ago. One evening as I walked into the auditorium, I heard some awesome singing. The diverse choir was made up of about 30 young adults who were joyfully singing God’s praises.
I found out that they were from Anchor House, a United Methodist organization “where men and women become “new creations” after a life of addiction. They move back into society with a job, an apartment, and a faith that will anchor them from the storms of life.”
These young people have been discipled and now they are models of God’s transformative power that can be an invitation to grace for those who they touch. They are active participants in the co-mission with Jesus Christ.
Enuma Okoro writes,
We must acknowledge that God chooses to invite us, without merit, to participate in the new thing God is already doing through Christ. New creation, whether at the beginning of our sense of time or in the historical reality of the incarnation, is always a sign of God actively giving to the world.
How do we not share the experiences of God’s goodness?
How do you not share how has Jesus touched your life?
What is it that brings you back to this church week after week?
How do you pass on that gift you have received to others?
How do we participate with God in our Co-mission with Jesus?
When we pray with a friend – or stranger – in need, we are living out our faith with authentic love.
When we volunteer in the community – tutoring, cooking a meal at the PERC shelter or for someone who is homebound, or when we help clean up a city park – in the name of Jesus as a member of this church - we offer an invitation of grace to our neighbors.
When we share the story of our faith journey, we are participating in God’s mission, discipling others into a life of fullness through Jesus Christ.
The Great Commission is a Spirit led Co-Mission from God with Jesus Christ and with each other.
I challenge you to this week think about how you are called to join in that mission. I invite you to celebrate the places where you see the Spirit at work and where resurrection is happening. It’s all around us and we are invited to participate in it. Thanks be to God.
GO THEREFORE … with the confidence that you are on a Co-Mission with Jesus Christ offering an invitation to God’s grace in the name of God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer. Amen
This is an excerpt of a sermon I preached at Park United Methodist Church in Weehawken, NJ.