Inspired by Genesis 3:1-7 as found in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W
During my time off this past month, I got a massage. I knew my back and shoulders were riddled in knots, and though we were out of town at the time and couldn’t go to my usual place, I was in so much pain that I found the first place had an opening, made an appointment, and went. It was a nice place with very friendly staff and they promptly took me back to my massage room and told me to get undressed. Now, some people strip down to their birthday suit for a massage but I haven’t been that brave yet. I know, details about your pastor’s life that might not belong in a sermon! But hey, it’s me. Anyway, I am certainly glad I didn’t choose to be brave that day because of what happened next! So there I am, laying face down on the table, eyes closed, ready to be transported to nirvana for the next hour and a half.
I hear her walk back in, without a word, and all of a sudden I feel the table shift and move and that’s when I realize that she’s getting on the table! And yes, I too was thinking what kind of a place was this! But before I could even finish that thought, I feel her feet on my thigh, then her other one on my glute, as she continues to walk to my upper back like this is the most normal thing in the world! And for this place it was, because that’s when I remember seeing on their sign, “Thai Massage”, and thought, “Oh, so this is what a Thai massage is! I’ve always wondered!” How many of you have ever had one? It is a very different kind of massage, and I don’t just mean the walking on the back! It is very…I don’t know a better word than, intimate.
Those therapists are not afraid to use their whole body to not only massage you but to stretch you, to pound on you, to contort your body into unnatural positions, all for the purpose of releasing tension found throughout your body. And that she did! But I gotta tell ya, that was next-level vulnerability! I don’t think I have ever felt quite that vulnerable, and at one point, a little scared! I may not have been naked, but I sure felt like I was! And speaking of naked, I know, that was an odd path to our Bible readings. But again, it’s me. If you wanted ordinary, well-trodden paths to the Bible, you wouldn’t have come here today! I’ve preached on our first reading many times over the past decade, but I don’t think I have ever centered on this particular element of the story, their nakedness.
Like most everything else in this Genesis story, it’s not supposed to be taken literally. Another word that might be more helpful when thinking of our nakedness, is vulnerability. Is being vulnerable a good thing or a bad thing? Yes! It is both necessary and useful for growth as a human being, but also one of the most frightening states of being for us to be in. So, let’s use the words interchangeably. Whenever I use the word naked, think vulnerable. Likewise, whenever I use the word vulnerable, think naked. I don’t want to be distracted by the word naked, but I also don’t want to lose its intensity. So, what does it mean to be naked? What does it mean to be vulnerable? One of the consequences of sin in our story is the loss of comfort that we had in being vulnerable with one another.
Once humans understood what it even means to be vulnerable, they quickly covered themselves up, began building these invisible walls around ourselves, our families, our tribes, our churches, our genders, our communities, our sexualities, our nations. We cover ourselves in so many ways it’s no wonder we have trouble seeing each other. To add further complication, many times we cover ourselves up to protect ourselves from abuse. Many of us have been treated so badly by others, for reasons out of our control, like the color of our skin, or our age, or who we love, that we have very legitimate reasons to build those invisible walls! But those walls that we build to cover ourselves up with, are unstable at best, not unlike those fig leaves, but they also come at a high price.
There are many lessons from this story that we can walk away with, and one of them is to remind us that there is another way, another way to relate to one another, to live with each other. This story is a call, a challenge for us to return to that original state of being, that state of vulnerability. Now, I realize we can’t do that fully, I’m not that naïve. As long as there is sin in the world, we can never be truly, fully vulnerable with each other. But I also know that we can’t move forward as a people, as a community, as a nation, as a church, unless we are willing to be as vulnerable as we can be with one another. How else are we going to gain empathy for each other and the world? How else are we going to gain compassion for each other and the world? Do you have anyone like that in your life?
Someone who you can be vulnerable with? Someone who you can be yourself with? Maybe it’s your spouse, a friend, a sibling or other family member. One of those people in my life is my wife Sara. One of the reasons I’m always getting on her case to take care of herself so that we can live long lives together is purely out of selfishness, because if she ever left me behind, the chances of me finding someone else in this world that I can be that vulnerable with is slim to none. I hope you all have someone like that in your life. Now, imagine practicing some of that vulnerability with others, maybe even the occasional stranger! How’s that for a terrifying thought? That’s the stuff of nightmares for an introvert like me! Especially when you take into account how this ended for Jesus.
But what did we think it meant when Jesus told us to take up our crosses? That following Jesus was going to be a cakewalk? Of course not! Following Jesus isn’t always going to end well for us but it will bring our world closer to that garden, closer to the way things were meant to be, until our ultimate end, when Christ finishes that work. So, what might this vulnerability look like? Here’s a few questions to help you process that this coming week. Can we be vulnerable enough to share when we are in need of help? Spoiler alert, we are always in need of help! But imagine the chain effect that could cause in others, sharing that they need help after seeing you do it. Here’s another one, can we be vulnerable enough to share with someone or some people that they have wronged us, hurt us?
Can we imagine a world without the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King being vulnerable enough to tell the white world how much his people had been hurt by them? As a person of color, I cannot. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a world worse than this, but trust me, it most certainly could be worse. Here’s a follow-up to that, can we be vulnerable enough to admit when we have hurt others, and do that dreaded deed, apologize! You know, I have seen public apologies to indigenous peoples for the stealing of their land, I’ve seen public apologies to black Americans for the enslavement of their ancestors, I’ve seen public apologies to the LGBTQ+ community for their exclusion by the church, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a public apology to the women of the world for their disenfranchisement and exploitation at the hands of men.
Is that too big an expectation? Maybe I’m being naïve. What other ways of being vulnerable with each other and the world would you add? Here’s one that’ll really throw you for a loop! How vulnerable are you with…yourself? Are you able to truly be yourself, with yourself? Asked another way, how honest are you with yourself? Scholar Phyllis Trible calls Eve the Bible’s first theologian. For she was vulnerable enough with herself to not only contemplate who God really is, but also to interpret God’s words, and maybe even to question God’s integrity.
Talk about being vulnerable with oneself! But maybe that’s where this work of vulnerability needs to begin, from within. But, don’t forget, before you do, brace yourselves! This story calls us to some hard work, without many guarantees, save this one. That, just like the cross of Christ, it is guaranteed to bring new life. New life to you, to those around you, even to the world, as it can be quite contagious. Thanks be to the author of vulnerability, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
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