Last week we introduced our current series called Next Level Relationships. We looked at how we all have a God-shaped hole, and when we don’t fill that hole with God, we suck it in from things and people around us.
Today we looked at moving deeper in our relationships. The answer is to express more vulnerability and authenticity. The author Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” It’s when we show our true selves, reveal the things we would rather hide, and open ourselves up to judgement and shame. So naturally this is something we all avoid. But the only onramp to authenticity is vulnerability — the courage to look imperfect (because we ARE).
This is not good news to most of us! What vulnerability looks like to most of us is being called on in class or a meeting and having no idea what they’re talking about. It’s having to say we’re sorry for a screw-up of ours. It’s when we reveal a secret we’ve been hiding for years, and we feel naked. None of us like it. So it’s understandable why we hide in our relationships.
We hide in many ways. Some of us hide by asking questions and getting the other person to talk so you don’t have to, so they don’t have to know you. Others hide behind humor, machismo, perfection, beauty, the list goes on and on. How do you hide?
How did we get here? The fall.
In Genesis 2:25, before the fall, it says that both Adam and Eve were naked (“arum” in Hebrew) and they felt no shame. This is how we were created — to be vulnerable (naked) and NOT be shameful about it.
But then came the fall. In Genesis 3:1-10, the serpent comes and tricks them with lies. The serpent is described here as “crafty.” Interestingly, this uses same the Hebrew word “arum”. Arum hints at both vulnerability itself, and the tricks we play to hide this vulnerability. It hints at the existence (or lack thereof) of a hidden agenda.
And as we know, shortly after Adam and Eve ate the apple, their eyes were “opened” and “they knew they were naked.” Adam tells God, “I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid.”
This hiding is shame. Shame stems from an acute awareness of our vulnerability (and the resulting lie that we are not enough) — and so we try to hide.
With respect to shame, we can break the cause and effect of the Fall into four main aspects:
1) The Lie.
Genesis 3 starts out with the serpent fooling Eve by suggesting that God is not trustworthy, and is somehow holding out on them. It all started with a lie.
Once Adam and Eve were aware of their nakedness, they 1) hid, and 2) blamed others. As soon as they are “caught” by God, Adam blames eve — he throws her under the bus to protect himself — he hides behind her. Eve in turn blames the serpent. Blaming IS hiding.
3) Idolatrous Performance
Once we have hidden ourselves safely away, our God-shaped hole stops receiving love from God and the others we love, it begins to feel hunger pangs. So we attempt to fill it, by grabbing worth from outside of ourselves. To this end, we perform, and show the world a false self. We don’t trust that our “real” self would be accepted if it was visible to others. So we rely on things like money, certainty, perfection, being funny, beautiful or competent. And then, if we get recognition for our show, it just perpetuates the desire to perform. Approval demands more of the same.
One of the themes this weekend is observing Martin Luther King day. His preaching in many ways intersects with this issue of deep disconnection:
“I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
We hide, we perform and we don’t show ourselves to others, so we remain fundamentally disconnected with each other — we are isolated on a deep level, which is what causes us to “suck life” from around us.
And of course, the last element of the fall is
Whether it’s death of the body or the long slow strangling of the soul, the ways of the fall always result in death.
But don’t stop reading there! Lucky for us, similar to the fall, there are also 4 equal and opposite dimensions of salvation!
1) Truth always dispels the serpent’s lie.
Say no more, amen! God is truth. As we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus it dispels the lies of the world that we are constantly barraged by. When we take our every thought captive to what we KNOW to be true according to Jesus, it melts and penetrates through the serpent’s many lies to reveal the all-encompassing love of God, no matter what you feel you have to hide.
2) Grace dispels performance.
The truth is that we are all — each person and each living creature — filled to the brim by the love of God — our flaws, secrets and sins notwithstanding. So we don’t *need* to suck life out of people or things, we only need to pull back our cloak of idolatrous performance and open up our true vulnerable selves to others. We uncap our God-shaped hole to be filled with forgiveness, love and compassion from others and from God.
3) Vulnerability dispels hiding.
When we drop the act and take the risk to expose our true selves to others, when they accept us just as we are, it feeds our deepest need for love and belonging. (And by contrast, if we are rejected when we are vulnerable, it can cause us to build even higher walls. So it is important to know how to recognize when and with whom it is appropriate to be vulnerable.) Risky though it is, vulnerability is the only onramp to connectedness. We can be fed in a deep and meaningful way when we know we are loved during and in the midst of our imperfection, since this is exactly how God loves us. And this in turn allows us to flow that love out to others.
4) Life and wholeness dispels death!
The truth is despite our deepest darkest fears of exposure, in reality we have nothing to fear! When our deepest hunger, our longing for love and belonging comes from God, then this world cannot hurt us. We truly have nothing to lose! We are loved as we are. This gives us the freedom to stop caring about which version of yourself you have to be around whom, or what this or that person thinks of you, and just drop the act and be ourselves — in all our flawed, fearful, and awkward glory!
The postscript to this sermon connects to the teachings of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, as we come up on MLK day, and how recent current events highlight how far we have still to go.
When a person in power declares entire countries or regions populated mostly of black people (in this case, Haiti and Africa) to be “sh**-hole countries,” we know that despite the improvements we’ve seen, we still suffer from a deep systemic problem of racial disconnection.
Racism is based on a lie: that some have more worth than others. This is where we need to take our thoughts captive — and remember what we KNOW to be true is that humanity was made in God’s perfect image and so by definition they/we are ALL equal and all worthy and all valuable. All deserving of freedom. God loves us like the rain falls and the sun shines, on every single one of us indiscriminately: Black, white, red, brown, green, or striped!
Racism is the embodiment of the Principalities and Powers, the perpetuation of Satan’s lie. So we must call out and fight against racial injustice when we hear it. But this fight must be nonviolent and loving. As ambassadors of the Kingdom it is not our job to be involved in politics or judgement of others because our battle is not with flesh and blood. The hope of the world is not in “hating the right people” but in loving ALL people, regardless of status or likability or skin color, oppressors and oppressed alike.
But, while loving all people, as ambassadors of the kingdom we must also call out those things that are inconsistent with the kingdom, and proclaim & live out God’s truth that ALL are loved and worthy of love and belonging.
As Dr. King said it best:
“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface tension that is already alive.”
“Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability it comes through the tireless effort‘s and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.”
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“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable net of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. And for some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”