From Pastor Kenny's Desk
March 17, 2019
Just then, some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “You need to get out of town, and fast. Herod is trying to kill you.”
Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘Today and tomorrow, I’ll be casting out devils and healing people, and on the third day I’ll reach my goal.’ Even with all that, I’ll need to continue on my journey today, tomorrow and the day after that, since no prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except in Jerusalem.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings – yet you refuse me! So take note: your house will be left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!’”
~ Luke 13:31-35
I’ve often thought that there are at least two kinds of courage. One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who, in a moment of extreme need, immediately displays the courage to face an imminent danger. This is the courage of the by-stander who pushes someone out of the way of oncoming traffic or jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at great risk to him or herself. Of course, such courage is not actually just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing but ultimately is a display of character, an accumulation of traits and beliefs, training and patterns of behavior that have been developed and exercised over the long span of life preparing one to act courageously in any given moment.
There is a second kind of courage … this one displayed not simply in a single moment or act but in anticipating a significant, daunting, or even frightening challenge and not turning away from it but rather meeting it head on. This is also a
matter of character … character that has emerged from a lifetime of facing fears and shouldering burdens and that is also being forged in the very moment of accepting challenges and responsibilities that one could avoid.
It is this second kind of courage that Jesus displays in this week’s sacred text from Luke’s story. The Pharisees come and warn Jesus to get out of town because Herod is trying to kill him. We don’t know who these particular Pharisees are or what motivates them … it doesn’t really matter. We just know that they tell Jesus to run and save his life … and Jesus refuses. Instead, he will keep to the road appointed, traveling the difficult path to Jerusalem to meet his death there like so many earlier prophets of God. This commitment to embrace his dark and difficult destiny for the sake of humanity is the very embodiment of this second kind of courage.
To be honest, I’ve noticed this before, admiring the incredible relentless courage that Jesus displays in moving toward Jerusalem and the cross on behalf of the world God loves so much. What struck me this time around … is the absolutely critical role that vulnerability plays in this kind of courage. To anticipate challenge and suffering and not look away is … by definition … to make oneself vulnerable for the sake of others.
And that, I think, is important to notice. Because as a culture we don’t often equate vulnerability with courage and strength. With care, love, and concern, perhaps, but not often with courage and strength. At our worst, we see vulnerability as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs. At our best, we recognize the need to be vulnerable to those we deeply care about … but we don’t often see vulnerability as essential to living a courageous life.
And yet in this passage I think that Jesus demonstrates that vulnerability is essential to courage, stands at the core of the Christian life and invites us to discover the peculiar strength of being open to the needs of those around us. In this passage, Jesus chooses the image of a mother bird collecting her babies under her wings for protection and safety to illustrate his love and concern for God’s people … it’s also an image of unparalleled vulnerability. To be a parent, as I discovered to my surprise the very moment my daughter was born, is to be held hostage to fate and captive to destiny. There is no way you can protect your children from all the threats this life presents … nor should you! … and that not only leaves parents profoundly vulnerable but promises a level of suffering that you simply would not endure if you had not bound yourself so fully to your child. As a friend of mine once said, a parent is usually only as happy as her or his least happy child. Now that’s vulnerability!
And it is precisely this characteristic that Jesus embodies and by extension invites us to attribute to God … that God becomes vulnerable to all the changes of human life by becoming one of and one with God’s children through the life of Jesus. In addition, Jesus’ choice of this image has helped me realize that it is our vulnerability that develops our courage and nourishes our strength simply because you can and will do things for those you love that you simply would not or could not do for yourself. And so, Jesus continues on to Jerusalem not to prove himself fearless or a hero, not to make a sacrifice for sin to a judgmental God, not even to combat death and the devil. Rather, Jesus marches to Jerusalem and embraces the cross that awaits him there out of profound love for the people around him, a mother’s fierce love that will stop at nothing to protect her children.
Through her TED Talks and books, Story-teller and Researcher Brene Brown invites us to recognize that while vulnerability inevitably opens us up to feeling things we might want to avoid, it also encourages and enables us to be more authentically human and more caring, compassionate, and courageous than we could otherwise be. She reminds us that courage comes from the Latin cor … heart … and defines courage as living from the heart, the willingness to embrace our vulnerability in order to be our authentic selves. Christian courage, then, might be the kind of whole-hearted living that comes from believing that as God’s Beloved we are enough and that those around us are also God’s beloved children and therefore deserve our love, empathy, and respect.
What if in this passage we see Jesus not merely acting courageously but embracing who he was called to be for the sake of those he loved, and thereby inviting us to be who we are called to be for the sake of those around us? Imagine … if you will … a world with unwavering social action. A world where ALL people are given and receive what they need to thrive as the Beloved of God. A world where people are affirmed for who they are and celebrated as beautiful, unique, brilliant individuals, made in the image of an all-loving God. A world where we go out of our way to be sure people are safe from the realities of hate, intentional harm and intended violence. A world where ALL are welcome to flourish no matter their race, gender, sexuality or religion. Can you IMAGINE a world where people risk being vulnerable with one another … a world that celebrates and embraces our diversity and differences are affirmed. A world where we risk being vulnerable with ourselves and others … where we embrace vulnerability with courage and strength in an effort to be liberated for our fears and in so doing liberate others.
With this in mind: what would MCC Richmond, our families, the Greater Richmond community and our world look like if we decided together to live whole-heartedly, making room to name our vulnerabilities in a cross-shaped confidence that God is with us and has given us sufficient resources … including each other! … to not simply endure the challenges before us but to flourish as we discover that God meets us most reliably precisely in our places of vulnerability?
What might happen if we as a congregation felt safe enough to name where we feel most vulnerable … whether in a relationship, a job, amid pressure from peers … and then we remind each other that God is with us in these places of vulnerability and that through God’s love and grace we discover in them a way to more fully embrace who we have been called to be and connect more deeply with those around us.
To be vulnerable is a courageous thing, and to embrace the vulnerability of the God we know best through manger and cross is also a courageous thing … courageous and needful … yet in risking the courage to be and feel vulnerable we will be transformed and in so doing … as God’s Beloved … we will be transform and we will transform the world.
Enjoy the TED Talk below: