Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Letting ourselves be seen

Mark 7: 24-37
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 6, 2015

            Every now and then the gospel writers allow us to see Jesus being fully human. Not just flesh and blood. Not only loving, compassionate, sad, or forgiving, but angry, tired, cranky, impatient, and stubborn. Not only determined and surrounded by crowds of people but wanting to hide and have some privacy, like any parent of young children scrambling for the bathroom and locking the door. Here he’s losing his cool, letting loose with an ethnic slur, holding on to an old prejudice, backing up, trying again, and allowing a sigh to escape his lips as he loosens the tongue and opens the ears of a deaf man. All without social media coming down on him like so much fire and brimstone. Just human. No more, no less, and without shame.

          Being human is something we allow more for ourselves than we do for others, and even then we skimp on the grace. In the Star Trek universe, Captain Kirk said to his half-human, half-Vulcan first officer, “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human.” To which Spock replied, “I find that remark…insulting.” It’s hooray for our side when our humanity shines through our compassion, forgiveness, justice, generosity, acts of great courage and small kindnesses. But when we’re scared or scarred (or someone else is), when we do something stupid or hurtful (or someone else does), we shame others and ourselves, and we shrink the circle of grace.

          Letting ourselves be seen, all of who we are, our goodness and our meanness, our gifts and our flaws or somewhere in between, requires that we be vulnerable. Author Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. These are the very things we try to avoid on a daily basis because they can make us feel weak. And yet following Jesus is full of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Or at least it was for the disciples. Lately, the Christian church has become notorious for its certainty, risk-avoidance, and emotional martyrdom.

          It’s not easy for a church to allow itself be fully seen; it’s not easy for we who serve the church to allow ourselves to be fully seen, with our gifts and our flaws, our goodness and our meanness or somewhere in between; to be authentically human. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why we don’t like prayers of confession, why words like ‘sin’, ‘savior’, and ‘salvation’ disturb us, why it’s difficult to listen or deliver a message like this. We’re the proverbial Eve and Adam, naked before our Creator, yet clothed in our shame.

          Shame is something we all have; we fool no one but ourselves if we say there is no shame in us. When someone shames us, we feel as though we don’t belong, that we are unworthy of belonging, and we experience disconnection from others. When we shame another human being, in effect, we are saying they don’t belong, that they are unworthy of love and connection. When we are vulnerable (and when are we not), we are at risk for shame and disconnection.

          And yet, vulnerability is also the wellspring for joy, creativity, connection, courage, love, and the ability to be open, authentic, to be fully seen. Being vulnerable is like walking a tightrope without a net. Still, the church is called to be the net, that place of safety and trust, with appropriate boundaries, so we can be vulnerable without fear, without shame, with our whole hearts.

         We’re called to be the net, but let’s be honest; we don’t always behave that way. Sometimes we let people fall through. Maybe we’re one who’s let someone slip by or we dropped them. Maybe we’ve been one who’s fallen through. Maybe it’s happened more than once, yet we still keep giving church a second chance, feasting on the crumbs under the Table. Maybe there are times we feel alone in a room full of people who profess to care about us. There are some who are not in church for these very reasons.

          Feeling disconnected, feeling alone in a faith community is probably one of the worst feelings, and we can feel shame because of it. How do we speak of our loneliness to people from whom we feel disconnected?

          In the two healing stories from Mark, both the woman and her daughter and the deaf man were outsiders; she, a Gentile, and he, because of his speech and hearing impediments. Jesus would not have met them had he not traveled beyond his homeland, walking a great distance. God calls us to have the courage to allow ourselves to be seen, to bridge the distance, to make the first move and reach out to one another with our whole hearts.

            We make it so complicated; we place such high expectations on ourselves and on each other. Jesus said it doesn’t get any more complicated than this: to love God, to love one another, to love ourselves. Everything else hinges on these three things. It’s all about connection and staying connected to each other, especially when it is difficult. For it is love and connection that make it possible for us to be fully seen, fully authentic, fully human, and ultimately realize, we are also fully divine, each one of us an image of God.

         The Rev. Bob Degges, of Bethany Christian Church in Fort Washington, MD, proclaimed in a recent newsletter, “God has created people as mysteries, not as problems to be solved.” You, me, every living soul, we are wondrous, human mysteries. And here at this Table we meet again and again the mystery of mysteries. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. The One who was fully seen, fully vulnerable on the cross can be fully seen in you and me and the gospel lived out in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ, open our lives. Amen.

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ابو العمراوى said...
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