Recent Sermons

Recorded Sermons Click a sermon to listen or you can right click and select "Save Link As" to download the file for use on your personal music device

2015 01 18


Belonging: Vulnerability & Shame
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 18, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
 But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live
by bread alone,
but by every word
that comes from
the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels
concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will
bear you up,
so that you
will not dash your foot
against a stone.” ’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written,
“Do not put
the Lord your God
to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Devil is a bully
When you hear this famous story about
 the devil and Jesus,
  how do you imagine the devil?


Sometimes I think the devil is like a crooked
 Chicago politician, swaggering in
  with a cigar clenched between
   his yellow teeth

Command these stones to become bread,
 if you're so hot, if you have these
  so-called "powers"

Or is the devil like a vampire or wraith,
 wrapping himself in a black mist
  around Jesus

Then when Jesus finally cries out
 Away with you, Satan!,
  the devil evanesces into the air
   with a high-pitched shriek.

Or is the devil a beautiful person
 someone one wants to look at,
  to listen to, just because they're so gorgeous

Then the words have to be teased apart for their harm,
 because the messenger is so comely:
  if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down
   from the tower; the crowds will
    all be amazed.


Yes, I am the Son of God
 and yeah, I probably could do that trick,
  wouldn't that give everybody
   something to think about?
    Hmm, and this devil is mighty fine...

But I don't think those depictions touch
 the inside of that story.

The path that Jesus was beginning to see
 laid out for him to walk
  was not a path of success, and domination
   and vindication

As the saying goes, the devil is "evil" with a "d"
 And the "d" is for degradation, disrespect,
  destruction, disillusionment...

How is possible to respond to insults, misunderstandings,
 mis-attribution of motives?

It's bad enough just in traffic, let alone
 in more significant areas of life.


The path that Jesus was beginning to see
 laid out for him to walk was the path of love,
  and and what gives love its mysterious power
   is that it does not play these nasty "d"
    games of the devil.

But because of that, love must suffer, love must
 carry on even in the midst of anonymity,
  even with there is insult, and people speaking ill.

Love does not turn to strategies of violence,
 and retribution and revenge.

And that is the glorious and difficult path of love
 for Jesus and for us.

In a 21st century, modern, educated congregation
 like ours, it may be a challenge
  to get inside the trauma and terror
   of the devil tempting Jesus.

To do so, I would just ask,
 have you experienced a time
  when someone who doesn't like you,
   may actively have it in for you


seems to have built-in ability
 to find you when you're at your worst,
  when you're at your weakest,
   and least prepared

and slip a cruel remark in,
 take that moment to spread a rumor
  ask a small-spirited question,
   attempt to catch you out,
    attempt to imply something
     to your supervisor
      or neighbor or friend

I imagine the devil in this story
 to be like one of the bullies that
  harassed me in grade school.

As if he came to me while I was
 sitting alone at recess on the playground

Saying "I will like you and leave you alone
 if only you will say "uncle"
  if only you will say I am the best

Bow down and worship me,
 and I will give you all the nations of the world.
  or... I will make you the envy of the playground.
   or maybe... I will get you your dream job.

What I'm suggesting is that Jesus' experience of the devil
 was not some jolly face-off
  between competing philosophies
   not some successful competition
    between ideas or approaches

Rather, the devil swept in a shame spiral
 that went all the way down to hell,
  implying that Jesus would be a failure
   and an embarrassment,
    a nobody, if he didn't
     go along with the devil.

The devil may be seen to be
 the kind of bully who is the worst kind:
  the kind that knows you well enough
   to use things that are somewhat true
    about you against you.

Compassionate wonderworker who cares for the whole world.
 All twisted into wicked tales about
  bread stones, towers, and ruling from on high.

So Jesus cries out "Away with you, Satan".
 It is the struggle of his life:
  everything is at stake.

Vulnerability and Shame
Brene Brown has a TED Talk on vulnerability
 (Making Mistakes & her full-length TED talk on vulnerability)

She talks about the power of vulnerability?
 and shame - how shame blocks vulnerability.
And what is shame -
 the fear of exclusion, of being outside
  of being left out.

She says it is the fundamental
 fear of disconnection;
  It's a universal fear.

This is the great fear that
 a bully can use.
  It's the fear located in shame.

The only people who don't know shame
 are incapable of human relationships.

The way we tell ourselves about our fears is by saying:
 I'm not ______ enough -
  smart enough, good-looking enough,
   talented enough

And we have good reason to fear disconnection
 and we feel shame, because disconnection -
  the gaps that open up around us -
   happen all the time

We are misunderstood, misquoted, bad-mouthed to others
 We get let go from our jobs or we fail to
  achieve what we had hoped.

We are taken for granted, not heard,
 discounted, disrespected, treated as invisible.

And, we have to wait for the doctor's call
 and we struggle with our parents;
  we struggle with our teenagers
   we get the letter telling us
    no we did not win, succeed, connect,
     impress, convince   

And so we numb ourselves
 to all these misfortunes and stumbles of life.

But, Brown points out,
 we can't selectively numb,
So then: 
We also numb joy,
 we numb gratitude,
  we numb happiness

For joy, gratitude, & happiness, we need vulnerability.
 we need to not give in to bullying,
  to the fear of shame.

But the great thing is that vulnerability is not weakness.
 but actually the most accurate measure of courage

Vulnerability is walking over the bridge
 between Selma & Birmingham;
  a bridge named after a Ku Klux Klan bully -
   Edmund Pettus

and refusing to return evil for evil
 but walking with the standard of nonviolent love
  So we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King

Brene Brown gives an example from our daily lives:
 she says Vulnerability is calling someone
  who has experienced something traumatic
We know there's nothing we can say
 to make things better;
  but we call and offer our love.



And then Brown asks us to think about how we feel
 when we have made the call.
  We feel like we've acted in accordance
   with our beliefs.
    We feel integrity.

That is the feeling of courage.

I have another version of this.
 I remember back in the day when you used to
  call someone on a telephone
   for a date.

The boy asked the girl, as a rule.
 So would call girl for date
But here's the thing.
 It was a rotary phone -
  so as you dialed each number
   you would push it around,
    and then it would "tick-tick-tick"
     back into place

Dial a number
 tick - she's going to say "no" tick tick tick
another number - tick tick what was I thinking tick tick
another - I'm really shouldn't have done this tick tick tick

So by the time she actually answered,
 you were a puddle of fear and regret

And then (deep male voice)
 it's her father....
  Oh, hi, uh, sir, um I'm calling for, um, Pam....

Brown says that vulnerability
 is an honest, raw bid for connection
from the date, to the caring call, to the bridge in Alabama,
 vulnerability risks for connection.

She says she often gets invitations to speak
 to organizations about creativity, innovation & change
  but don't mention vulnerability & shame
So she says, "let me go on the record and say:
 vulnerability is the birthplace of
  creativity, innovation & change

We have to enter the arena of vulnerability & shame.
 In order to create, in order to connect,
  we have to risk shame,
   put ourselves out there for ridicule,
    pooh-poohing, tut-tutting

All the small & big ways that systems & people
 don't reward attempts at genuine change.

But, Brown says, how much worse
 to have spent your whole life saying "What if...?"

We want to say
 "I'm going to go into the arena
  just as soon as I'm bullet proof.
   but of course that will never happen
The fully safe day of superhero untouchability will never come.

To find our way to connection
 we have to risk,
  to make ourselves vulnerable,
   to make that honest, raw bid for connection

Even with the possibility that the devil will show up,
 so to speak,
  and use all that against us.



Safe enough
To do this we need places that are safe enough
 safe enough to begin stretching the risk muscles
  Not risk-free, not completely safe.
   Bullet-proof will not happen.
    But safe enough to get started.

This safety may be simply a place of people
 we trust to hold our insights and confidences
  in friendly & supportive ways.

It may mean seeking healing from past trauma:
 injuries, bullying, betrayals, threats

There's a new book:
 The Body Keeps the Score:
 Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
  by Bessel van der Kolk MD (Author)

That title says a lot.

So we need safe places
 What is a safe place for you?
  Family, Small group, friendship, marriage?

I have struggled to learn Parker Palmer's
 Circle of Trust process,
  all hedged around with it's Touchstones,

that say things like offer and receive welcome
 No advising or correcting
  Practice deep listening
   Speak your own truth in ways that
    honor other peoples' truths

And to do these over and over again,
 so that it becomes a practice,
  not just an idea to be heard

This is what belonging to a faith community
 can offer, at best,
As one person recently put it,
 a whole group of 3:00 a.m. friends
  who you can trust will receive your call
   with friendship and warmth
    even at 3:00 a.m.

A whole number of people who you can trust to
 be able to work with you
  on some of your heart's best projects

A group with whom you now that
 you will generally receive inspiration
  and support to do your best
   and to be at your best

A group who actually loves,
 therefore who, with each other
  bears all things
   believes all things
    hopes all things
     endures all things

That becomes an arena that's safe enough,
 a place to practice that honest, raw bid for connection,
  a place to let the path of love be our path,
   rather than the path of fear and shame.

And then we can show up in the world
 more wholeheartedly

And this makes all the difference.
 It is what a hurting, fractured world needs
  people of courageous vulnerability.

Not the fear of the devil
 but the way of Jesus
  who walked in love

This Web Page Created with PageBreeze Free HTML Editor