Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Welcome

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"Welcome," Image by Nancy L. Stockdale via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

It’s one thing to be in the position of welcoming others -- into your church, into your home, into your life. You have the power. You get to make the decisions as to whom you’ll invite and when. You can control the circumstances, the setting, and the surroundings. You are able to determine when the welcoming will come to an end.

It’s a completely different situation, however, when find yourself on the other side -- the one being welcomed. The one at the mercy of another. The one wondering if the welcome will ever be for you as well.

From this brief and seemingly benign statement of Jesus, we realize another key component of the Kingdom of Heaven -- vulnerability. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”[1] I’d like to think that Jesus knew the true meaning of vulnerability. After all, to be human is to be vulnerable and so therefore, we should expect vulnerability to be at the very heart of the incarnation.

When I look at the church today -- its structures, its institutions, its seminaries, its leaders -- I see a church that has misconstrued vulnerability as weakness. And when an institution or system or leader begins to perceive its gradual loss of power, its potential demise, the last thing it wants is to be branded as weak. The church’s leaders are not immune to that which the world thinks it desires in a leader and in fact, need to maintain a certain vigilance in making sure that leadership in the church is observably different.

Yet all too often, when vulnerability is misunderstood as weakness, the end result is a kind of leadership foreign to Jesus -- a self-absorbed, self-aggrandized sense of governance that does not inspire followers but requires an allegiance blind to empathy and hope. As Brené Brown notes, “When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”[2]

When the church misinterprets vulnerability as weakness, it sidelines the very truth that could make it strong -- that God stands in solidarity with humanity and our fundamental need for connection, belonging, intimacy, and love. But, as Brené Brown notes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”[3]

In its mighty efforts to claim relevance, the church avoids discomfort and has adapted itself to the world’s presuppositions of power. The church, for the most part, plays it safe rather than take risks that depend on mercy. It covers up its ideologies rather than apologize for the way in which it has been complicit in its unwelcome. Rather than model the inherent vulnerability of the incarnation, it has placed all of its proverbial eggs in the basket of the crucifixion, thereby continuing to justify suffering as a hallmark of faith, sinfulness as that which prevents celebrating your worth, and shame that stands in the way being loved as God loves you.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an argument for eschewing the cross. But it is an appeal for a way to view the cross as more than securing atonement. It is a plea to imagine doing church, a way to do discipleship, a way to preach that is more representative of our biblical witness.

Somewhere along the line, we lost our view of the fact that God becoming human was as much of a commitment to vulnerability as God’s death. We have a vulnerable God. Relationships, by definition, are vulnerable. By instigating a relationship with us, God decided and determined that vulnerability is at the heart of faith.

In the face of excuses and grumblings, disbelief and disobedience, refusal and rejection, God keeps coming back, adamant that reconciliation and renewal are possible, certain of love for us, willing to be seen over and over again even in the face of denial and betrayal. In the end, God had to trust in the welcome of the world to make a home here, to abide here, to make the Kingdom of Heaven be known here.

When we start to imagine what it must feel like to rely on the welcome of others, perhaps then we will have a sense of the kind of vulnerability Jesus knew and Jesus lived. When you have to depend on another, perhaps even for a meal and a place to sleep, trust steps through that door first. When you allow yourself to be welcomed, perhaps that can be the first step to letting go of thinking you are not enough.

Karoline

 

[1] Brown, Brene´. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012.

[2] Brown, Brene´.

[3] Brown, Brene´.

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