Station III: Vulnerable

“Station III”, painting by Chris Gollon
Commissioned in 2000 by
St. John on Bethnal Green, London

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 7:25
The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

The third station of this Way of the Cross is the image of Jesus falling under the weight of the cross.  It is one of the non-Canonical stations and yet we know that the sheer exhaustion alone would be enough to make this a reality for any human.  That’s right.  Lest we forget, Jesus was human.  God did not come to earth to live as a figure resembling one of our super heroes, above the fray, untouchable, undaunted by the difficulties of human life.  No, God came as one of us, struggling and vulnerable.  And as Jesus falls, we feel that vulnerability.  It is uncomfortable for us.  After all, if this one on whom we rely, in whom we place all of our hopes and our dreams, is vulnerable, what does that say about out own lives?

Maybe the crux of this Walk is that we ARE supposed to be vulnerable.  Living a life of faith does not place some sort of impermeable bubble around us.  Regardless of what many will tell you, walking this walk does not guarantee that you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  If anything, it points to our vulnerability in the most profound way.  As humans, we will at times experience sadness, despair, and the deepest grief imagineable.  We experience those not because we are weak but because we are real.  And Jesus experienced the same thing because he, too, was real.  And, when you think about it, what kind of God is it who will plunge the Divine Self into the deepest of despair and the vulnerability?  It is the kind of God that does more than pull us out of it but rather lays at the bottom of it all and cradles us until it subsides.  But we will only experience that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we allow ourselves to be real, when we finally allow ourselves to need others, to let them in to our darkness.

This depiction of Jesus falling under the weight of the Cross affirms that vulnerability is part of us.  It also compels us toward the vulnerable, the hurting, the outcast, for it is there that we will find in ourselves empathy and compassion, and, finally, a Love greater than we thought we could have.  If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we will be able to see the same in others.  We are not called to become a Super Hero; we are called to cross boundaries and be Christ for others when they need it the most and, perhaps with even greater faith than that, we are called to let others into our grief and pain.  We are the ones who both lift the fallen and allow ourselves to be lifted.  Sometimes we will fall.  Sometimes life will hurt.  But we are never there alone.  But it takes great faith to know that.

Jesus will fall two more times on this Walk.  Life goes on.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli  

LENT 2B: Safe Travels

Lectionary Passage: Mark 8: 31-34 (35-38):
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

We want to be safe.  We want everything to turn out alright.  We want some minimal guarantee of what is going to happen in our life.  We want safe travels on this journey.  But that was never part of the promise.

We’re just like Peter.  Sure, Peter got that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew the words.  He had been taught the meaning probably from his childhood.  He knew that that was what they had been expecting all along—someone to be in control, someone to fix things, someone to make it all turn out like they wanted it to turn out.    And now Jesus was telling them that the way they had thought it would all turn out was not to be, that instead this Messiah, this one who was supposed to make everything right, was to be rejected and would endure great suffering.  “No, this can’t be,” yelled Peter.  This cannot happen.  We have things to accomplish.  We are not done.  This ministry is important. (To whom?)  It cannot go away.  You have to fix this. You have to fix this now! 

Now, contrary to the way our version of the Scriptures interprets it, I don’t think Jesus was accusing Peter of being evil or Satan or anything like that.  I doubt that Jesus would have employed our semi-modern notion of an anthropomorphic view of evil.  More than likely, this was Jesus’ way of reprimanding Peter for getting hung up on the values of this world, getting hung up on our very human desire to save ourselves and the way we envision our lives to be, to fix things.  But what God had in store was something more than playing it safe.  I think that Peter, like us, intellectually knew that.  We know that God is bigger and more incredible than anything that we can imagine.  And yet, that’s hard to take.  We still sort of want God to fix things.  We still sort of want God to lead us to victory, to lead us to being the winning team.  Face it, we sort of still want Super Jesus.  And, of course, Peter loved Jesus.  He didn’t even want to think about the possibility of Jesus suffering, of Jesus dying.

Safety can be a good thing.  I would advocate that we all wear seat belts.  I think having regulations for how children are to ride in vehicles is a prudent practice. (In fact, I’m not real impressed when I see an unrestrained dog in the back of a pick-up!)  And I lock my doors at night.  But our need to be safe can also paralyze us.  It can prevent us from moving forward on this journey as we settle for taking cover from the darkness rather than journeying toward the light.  And in our search for safety, for someone to save us, what do we do with a crucified Savior?  What do we do with the cross?  Well, let’s be honest, most of us clean it up, put it in the front of the sanctuary, and, sadly, go on with the security of our lives.  So, what does it mean “take up your cross and follow”?  I think it means that sometimes faith is hard; sometimes faith is risky; in fact, sometimes faith is downright dangerous. 

In all probability, none of us will be physically crucified for our faith.  But it doesn’t mean that we should clean it up and put it out for display either.  Sometimes our journey will take us through waters that are a little too deep and torrential; sometimes we will find ourselves bogged down by mud; and sometimes faith takes us to the edge of a cliff where we are forced to precariously balance ourselves until we find the way down.  The promise was not that it would be safe; the promise was that there was something more than we could ever imagine and that we would never journey alone.  And along the way, we encounter a Savior that will save us from ourselves.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this ninth day of Lent, give up that thing in your life that is keeping you safe and secure on this journey of faith.  Begin to move forward into what God has promised for you. 

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

LENT 1B: Driven

Judean Wilderness, near Jerusalem, Israel, 2010

Lectionary Passage: Mark 1: 9-12 (13-15)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Jesus was driven out into the wilderness.  First he gets baptized and the Spirit descends upon him.  He is claimed by the Spirit.  And then the same Spirit that claims him somehow compels him to go out into the wilderness alone–no supplies, no map, no compass, no cell phone with that neat little GPS app.  Driven out into the wilderness…You know, I used to think that I understood this wilderness thing.  I used to picture Jesus going out into the wilderness, into the trees, into nature, to pray and commune with God.  Perhaps my idea of a wilderness was somewhat skewed by visions of thick East Texas pine trees or perhaps the clammy sensation of the Costa Rican rainforest.  After all, nature is always a great place to become closer to God.

And then I saw the Judean wilderness, the same wilderness into which Jesus was driven by the Spirit.  I stood there on that mountain with a view of winds and sands and nothingness, the true depiction of forsakenness and despair.  And, standing there, I thought about this image of Jesus going out into the wilderness.  On purpose?  He went on purpose?  This is not a wilderness for the faint of heart and certainly not for one with such a faulty sense of direction as I seem to have.  This wilderness has no trees, no real markings of any kind.  The faint pathways change as the winds blow the sands wherever they want.  Even if one began this wilderness journey with some faint sense of where he or she was headed, the pathway would move in an instant and the traveler would be stranded, vulnerable, with no real sense of direction at all.

So into this vulnerable state, Jesus was driven.  If you read the passage, the Spirit claimed him at his baptism and then drove him into a journey that had no obvious pathway at all.  The mere thought of it terrifies us.  After all, don’t we do everything we can do to avoid the wilderness, to avoid a loss of control, a loss of our sense of direction, a loss of the knowledge of where we are and where we are going. But last I checked, the same Spirit supposedly descended on me as descended on Jesus.  So am I to assume that that Spirit is now driving me into the wilderness?  As one who was also baptized, who also had this same Spirit, am I being compelled to go beyond what I know?  But, I will tell you, I did not plan for the wilderness.  I do not have everything I need.  I need to pack.  I need to prepare.  (I probably need new shoes!)  And so I wait.  But that baptism thing keeps tugging at us.  You know, it’s not really meant to be a membership ritual.  It is meant, rather, to be the driving force in our lives.  It is the thing that drives us into the wilderness–if only we will go.

Contrary to the way most of us live our lives, faith is not certainty or knowledge.  It is not, I’m afraid, a sure and unquestioning sense of where one is going, even, for us seemingly progressive theologians (because we are ALL theologians!), in a “big picture” way.  It is not about being saved from something.  Faith is not about learning or being shown the way.  We are not given a map.  It’s just not that clear.  In fact, it’s downright murky, almost like sandy in the air.  No, I think that faith is about entering The Way, being driven into the wilderness, where one is vulnerable, unprepared, and usually scared to death.  And in that death, in that yielding, in that realization that we’re not really sure where it is we’re supposed to go, we encounter God.  And then in the next instant, the winds will blow the path away and, once again, we are in darkness until we realize that God is still there, not pointing to show us, but walking with us.

Every Lenten season we read of the wilderness into which Jesus was driven.  It is the affirmation that Jesus was not a superhero or a star of Survivor.  Rather, Jesus was driven into the deepest depths of human frailty and vulnerability and, unsure of where to go, found God.  Wandering the wilderness is not about finding your way but rather being open and vulnerable enough that The Way will find you.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this fourth day of Lent, think of those things that you work to control–time, space, people.  Let go of something that you control and be vulnerable, if only for a day.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

The promised land lies on the other side of a wilderness.{Havelock Ellis}

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli