vulnerability is our strength Listen
Lent 1 – March 9, 2014
Roy W. Howard
We were siting in a coffee shop. I need to find myself the young man said. In a lame attempt to be funny, I said, where did he go? Ha. Ha. He didn’t laugh. No, seriously, I’m going to wilderness, he said, I need to figure out who I am. I’m going to walk the Appalachian Trail by myself. I need your advice. We talked a lot about the best hiking gear, different terrain and stuff like that, until we finally got to the real point the conversation. He was struggling with his vocation and his identity. I don’t think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing anymore and I don’t even know who I am. Eventually he phrased his discomfort differently. “I’m not doing what God wants me to do and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’m gonna do this hike in the wilderness and when I come back I’ll tell what I think.”
That was that. Sure enough, he quit his job, did the hike, and his vocation changed. He became an EMT, went into Nursing School, and never regretted the journey.
The wilderness – whether the Judean Desert or the Appalachian Mountains or, less literally and closer to home: the unexplored, sometimes frightful terrain of your heart – compels us to consider our lives at a closer look. And when you dare to take that journey, you often come out clearer about your identity and your vocation. That is the risk that the season of Lent encourages us to take. Jesus’ own journey into the wilderness is a case in point.
We need to remember that Jesus didn’t exactly go willingly into the wilderness. Matthew and Luke tells us the Spirit led him up the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. That makes it sound like Jesus was following a guide along a long hike into unknown territory. Mark, on the other hand, says the Spirit drove him out to the wilderness. That is much more bracing, but in either way the gospel imply there is something quite necessary about this journey that Jesus takes into the wilderness where he will confront the deepest challenges to his identity and purpose. We should note right here that the journey to the wilderness following immediately upon Jesus’ baptism when the voice descends upon him sopping wet in the Jordan river bestowing upon him that wonderful blessing – You are my Son, the Beloved. It’s as if this ordeal in the wilderness is the necessary experience that clarifies just what it means to be the Incarnate One, the Beloved.
Jesus’ alternate name that we recall with joy at Christmas is Emmanuel – God with Us. But just how seriously do we take that joyful affirmation that lies at the heart of our faith? God with us? Really? You must be joking; that’s only a Christmas sentiment; holiday poetry. You can’t really mean that God is with us, precisely at the place where your deep secrets troll around your heart – if anyone knew that about you, then surely you would be cast aside, exposed and humiliated. God with us!? You must be joking; God with us at precisely the place where you are most afraid of losing your job, your spouse or even life itself as you glance awkwardly at death’s door in a hospital corridor? Seriously? God with us when you whip yourself for being such a lousy parent, saying things you can’t take back, let alone doing, OR forgetting (Again!) your child’s lunch or worrying that this parent thing has you underwater for life? Really? God with us at precisely the place where you are most tempted to fall away with a wink or a nod into the thing you never wanted to do, and when no one is looking and do the very thing you know you’ll regret if you ever come to your senses? C.S. Lewis once said of temptation that if it came to us as a Devil dressed foolishly in a red suit with a sly grin and a pitchfork in his hand, none of us would ever fall. But it comes to us at the very place where we are the most vulnerable and likely to fall.
God with us is not just a holiday song.
During this season of Lent at Saint Mark we are going to be exploring together this astonishing notion that God – yes that GOD the source of all life, the great inscrutable mystery – became for for us human and quite vulnerable. And we’ll consider what that could mean for our own life long journey toward what Brene Brown calls “wholeheartedness.” She says, “Wholeheartedness is the capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace — not in that self-help-book, motivational-seminar way, but really, deeply, profoundly embrace — the imperfections of who we really are.”
I believe this “Wholeheartedness” is the good news that Jesus came announcing and for which he became vulnerable in his journey toward his suffering and death.
Jesus – God with Us – opened himself to the source of all temptation. In his Cottonpatch gospel, Clarence Jordan calls that source The Great Confuser. The one who seeks to confuse the very human Jesus about his true identity and purpose. “Be spectacular and gain the adulation of others.” “Be the great rescuer.” “Be the King before whom others bow.” All of these were within his reach, yet none of them would fulfill his true purpose; and he knew it.
The number or the kind of temptations isn’t the point; what matters is the mind-boggling, news that God-with-us – Jesus – actually became vulnerable before the Great Confuser. He displayed what Brene Brown says, “It is only when we explore the darkness that we can know the infinite power of light.” This exploration is what it means to Dare Greatly and the result is to Come Alive in this very precious mortal life.
The wilderness that you and I dare to travel into with Jesus is the necessary exploration of all temptation, all shadows, all fears and anxieties so that by becoming vulnerable we might know the infinite power of the Light. This is the invitation during this season of Lent. I dare you to go with us. It is not to merely to look upon our sins and failures – the things that bring us shame and bind us to the conviction we are not good enough. The purpose of our journey into vulnerability – into our wilderness – is to embrace what Brene Brown calls wholeheartedness and what Jesus calls, “Life Abundant.”
Let us begin the journey again here at the Table of the Lord.