Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guest Moodler: Sermon on Vulnerability

My dearest friend is giving the sermon at her church again today, and it's one I definitely appreciate. Of late, my beautiful young daughters have made me more aware of my limitations and the fact that I no longer fit with young society... and my body just isn't as strong as it used to be. I'm vulnerable, and yes, aren't we all aging! But it's all okay if we can be ourselves...

Enjoy some words of wisdom!

Thanks again, Cathy, for letting me share them here!

Sermon on Vulnerability
August 25, 2013
Cathy Coulter

How many of you know a teenager that has said, “I don’t know anything”? Isn’t it much more likely to come across a teen who thinks and acts like they know it all? Here are a couple of lines you can use them in such times: the first one is  “Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting that I’m not young enough to know it all.” Or maybe you can gently advise them that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
 Our reading today from Jeremiah tells us of a young man, Jeremiah, who wasn’t like our typical teen. Jeremiah says to God, “Hold it God. I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy.” God tells Jeremiah, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll be right there looking after you.”
In contrast, our reading from Luke tells of a woman “so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up”, who’d been suffering like this for eighteen years. I imagine her as an older woman.  Jesus heals her and sets her free.
          These readings made me think about the journey from youth (Jeremiah) to old age (the bent over woman). I’m fascinated by the journey into old age. I’m on that journey, of course, like everyone else -- and like everyone else, I have my regrets and complaints but I’m also curious and yes, fascinated. When I discovered my first grey hair, I remember being amazed. That thing was growing out of my head, just like an old person! What a disconnect between feeling as young as we always have and the reality of our bodies wearing down.
          I like grey hair by the way. I’m trying to learn to love wrinkles, achy joints, and rolls around the middle as well. Or at least accept them.
          I’m also fascinated by how aging is perceived in our society. I could have become a social researcher and studied it but instead, I’m a nurse and I witness it. We don’t value aging. And we don’t prepare people for it. Many people are taken by surprise by aging. We still think we have the capabilities of the much younger selves we imagine ourselves to be. Sometimes I want to say to people, what did you expect? That it wasn’t going to happen to you?
          We keep the discussion of aging in the closet. We don’t talk about dying either. As a Hospice nurse I want to talk about it, to normalize it, so we can get on with the business of doing it well – doing aging and dying in a way that is rich in gifts and blessings for ourselves and others. I’ve witnessed this way and have been gifted by it.
          So I was all prepared to stand on my soap box once again and deliver another variation on how we should age but ….and here comes my pun…it was feeling kind of tired. I think my theme is getting old!
So now it’s Friday night and I still don’t know what I’m going to talk about on Sunday morning. And then I remembered a speaker we heard at the Global Leadership Summit.
          The Global Leadership Summit is a two day event of amazing speakers that is video cast all over the world to develop leadership in churches and I would like to use this moment to thank the Visioning Committee for funding ten members of this church to attend this summer. Several of us have gone for two or three years and I believe it has provided some amazing vision and commitment to this church and its mission in our community.
          Brene Brown is a social researcher who wanted to study connectedness and ended up studying shame and vulnerability. Shame is a subject like aging. It’s pervasive and nobody wants to talk about it. Brene Brown says shame is the gremlin that tells you that you’re not good enough. We need to feel connected to others and if we don’t connect or feel like we don’t fit in, we feel shame – we feel we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or attractive enough, or successful enough or whatever enough. And that feeling of shame leaves us feeling vulnerable.
          But paradoxically, Brown discovered that vulnerability is the birthplace of love and belonging. This is the message of Jesus, and the beauty of the Gospel. God turns the way the world works on its head and takes what looks like weakness and powerlessness and turns it into the power of love, abundant life, grace and joy. It is the way to God. Think about relationships. The most intimate, life giving relationships are the ones in which we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to let our authentic selves be seen, the good and the not so pretty sides of ourselves. Our best, most loving relationships are just a taste of the life-giving goodness of God when we let ourselves be open to it.
          We believe that to be vulnerable is to be weak. But in reality, it is a place of great courage.  People who risk vulnerability have the courage to be imperfect and to be kind to themselves for not being perfect. They have authentic connections with others because they are willing to let go of who they should be to be who they really are. They are willing to say “I love you” first. They are willing to admit they made a mistake. They are willing to do something with no guarantees of a certain outcome. They are able to breathe through the waiting for the results of a medical test and say, “I’m scared.”
          Learning to be vulnerable gives us great strength, a power that cannot be taken away. This is a paradox that is hard to understand. It’s the power of a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. It’s the power of love that death cannot destroy.  It’s the power of knowing we are loved as we are, and no one can diminish us or make us feel unworthy.
          Vulnerability, like aging, doesn’t get good press in our society. It’s not a comfortable place to be. So we avoid it. We avoid it by numbing our uncomfortable feelings, not realizing that feelings are all or nothing and when we numb the uncomfortable ones, like embarrassment, guilt, shame, we also numb the ones we seek like joy, love, gratitude. We avoid vulnerability by making the uncertain certain. We tell ourselves we have all the right answers so they must be wrong. Or, I won’t try anything new because I don’t know how it will turn out so I’ll stick with what I know, even if it’s not working so well for me.
          We avoid vulnerability by being perfect at all costs. Looking perfect, doing things perfectly. And if we can’t be perfect, we don’t even try. Would I ever give a sermon without having every word prepared in front of me? Not on your life. I would become tongue-tied, embarrassed, and utterly incomprehensible. I would be too vulnerable.
I have problems with vulnerability too. I might pretend otherwise, being in a warm and fuzzy, caring profession. But scratch the surface and you’ll find strong walls.
I see the advantage of letting those walls down. Letting myself be deeply seen, sharing intimacy and deep connection, loving with my whole heart, practicing gratitude and joy in the face of discomfort. Believing I am enough. I see the gifts of vulnerability but I don’t know how to get there.
Brene Brown, in her research in discovering the importance of vulnerability, promptly had a breakdown or as she prefers to call it, a spiritual awakening. She was a researcher with a measuring stick, who liked control, predictability and answers. She went to a therapist and said she wanted to learn how to be vulnerable but it was hard for her. She said to the therapist, “I want a strategy.”
          We can’t learn to be vulnerable with a strategy. That is just more control, predictability, certainty. We can only risk, with a courageous heart.
          Jeremiah was feeling pretty vulnerable. God was asking him to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah wanted to avoid vulnerability by throwing up the excuse of more vulnerability…. “I don’t know anything!” Little did Jeremiah know that vulnerability is exactly God’s way. “You don’t know anything? Perfect! You’re the one for me.” If Jeremiah had been an expert politician or motivational speaker, his own ideas of the right thing to say would likely not have been God’s ideas.
          In the Global Leadership Summit, there was a comedian telling jokes between speakers. His name was Michael Junior and he was very funny. During one set he told a bit of his story, how the pressure of stand-up comedy became more bearable when someone told him he wasn’t out to make people laugh but to give people the opportunity to laugh. Michael Junior told the story of when he agreed to do some stand-up comedy in a maximum security prison. As he walked into the prison he didn’t know what jokes he would tell to this audience. He was a blank. He was a mess. He kept walking and nothing was coming to him. He kept walking hoping against hope that when he got to the front of the audience he would have a joke. He reached the front of the stage and looked down at all the men staring back at him, not with any degree of sympathy. He had three more steps to go until he reached the centre of the stage and he still didn’t know what he was going to say. He reached the centre of the stage and looked down at a man right in front of him, a man with a long white beard  and believe it or not, a name tag that said “Moses”. Michael Junior thanked God silently, pointed to the man and said, “Hey Moses. You should go to the warden and say, let my people go.” That brought the house down and then he was away. He gave those men an opportunity to laugh. After he told that story, Michael Junior said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do or what I was going to say until I got my feet in the right place.”
          When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, God tells us where to go and what to say and is right there looking after us, just like God said to Jeremiah.
          The woman of the story in Luke was vulnerable: a woman, bent over, likely old. She was in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. It doesn’t say what the woman was doing there but maybe she came to hear him. She didn’t stay home and hide. She came out in all her vulnerability and that was where Jesus saw her and set her free. Perhaps it took great courage for that woman to come to the synagogue. Or perhaps the synagogue is a place where vulnerability was welcome.
          Is our church a place where we can be vulnerable, where anyone can be themselves, just as they are? The number one barrier to belonging is feeling like we don’t fit in. When we don’t fit in, we feel shame. Is that why aging is so hard for us because we no longer fit in to our young society? I want this church to be a place where we can say, “Be here, be loved. Be here, be respected. Be here, belong…whoever you are.” If we bring our authentic, vulnerable selves here, or anywhere, God will be with us and will set us free.
Let us pray.
Oh humble and vulnerable God,
Show us the way to be humble and vulnerable ourselves, so that we can find our way to your loving heart and in so doing learn to love ourselves.
In the name Jesus who shows us the way,

Amen.

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