Tenacity, Courage & Vulnerability
"They can be tenacious in a pack!" That was the headline that greeted me when I opened my email Inbox. After spending a good hour reading commentary after commentary on the strange metaphor in this morning's gospel - Herod the fox and Jesus the hen. I decided to take a break and open my daily news feed email - which always began with one of those viral, but not really newsworthy stories from the internet world,
The "tenacity" was referencing a pack of hens, who took matters into their own hands in their hen house when a fox broke in. They ganged up on him and hen-pecked (pardon the pun) that fox to death, literally.
And while that farm event doesn't bear any similarity with what Jesus is trying to convey - the word - tenacity, tenacious - that stayed with me when the scholarly commentaries didn't. Because that fierce hold, that mamma bear love, is indeed exactly what I think Jesus is trying to get us to understand by using that metaphor. God's hold on us doesn't depend on our acceptance or rejection of it. It just is. God loves us tenaciously - a love that is courageous, strong and sacrificial.
This morning, we prayed asking God to give us a steadfast faith – a tenacious hold on trust – a courage of heart. Where does steadfast faith come from? How do we strengthen ours? What is it about letting go – a theme of Lent – that strengthens faith?
You all remember that on the last Sunday of Epiphany, before we enter this season, we always hear the story of the transfiguration. Jesus on the mountaintop – with Moses and Elijah – beaming with the glory of God. It is there that some of his disciples recognize in a new way who he is and on some level he recognizes who he is. Because after that event – his resolve, his sense of purpose becomes exceedingly clear.
After that in Luke’s gospel we read and Jesus set his face to Jerusalem – meaning – nothing will now dissuade, move, interrupt or scare him from following through on what he knows he must do. He knows where he is going and what will happen when he gets there – just like we do.
Can you relate to that sense of resolve? When you know there is something very difficult in front of you, a choice, a path a decision that will require sacrifice. Maybe you've tried every which way to avoid it but it won't just go away?
That purpose, challenge, good news and sacrifice is the symbol at the center of our faith. Its one of the hardest aspects to understand or talk about - the mystery of the cross. We proclaim Christ crucified, as Paul tells the Corinthians.
The cross is not only the place where Jesus will be killed - it is the place where he will be be put to shame, ridiculed, derided. He will experience the crowds saying – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – knowing that the same crowds will turn on him and yell – crucify.
He walks towards the place where he knows his friends will betray him – and abandon him. What he endures before he gives up his last breath – are all the very human realities that I believe we fear the most. Being alone – being exposed – being ashamed of failing at what we were supposed to do.
When Jesus battles Satan in the desert which we heard last week – it’s a rather boring scene. The devil’s temptations don’t push any of his buttons – he bats them away with phrases from scripture. It's like watching an uneventful tennis volley.
But when Jesus wrestles with human realities – being alone – being exposed – dealing with failure – that’s when he sweats blood and tears. Its through his humanity that we see God’s love for us. Its through the vulnerability of God that we see what courageous love looks like
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem – how I long to gather my children – as a mother hen gathers her brood underneath her wings, but you were (are) unwilling." Jesus cries. When I read this line, I feel his heart break. He is strong in his purpose – and so self-aware of his limits. Like every prophet before him – he will be rejected. He knows it. He will not be able to fix every problem or save every soul – because God gives all of us – Jesus included – choice – to walk towards, or to walk away.
Jesus laments what he will not be able to do – he opens his heart to what he has to let go of.
This week I heard a question that has stayed with me: does God want us to become more Christian? Or does God want us to become more human? ("Another Name for Everything" Podcast, Ep. 2)
We hear God make a covenant with Abraham this morning – to always be with him – and with his children and with his children’s children. But its not enough. God inevitably becomes one of the children. God becomes what God loves and desires to save. God becomes human. God doesn't become religious. Surely then, that's what we are called to do, too
The word courage – comes from the Latin – cor – which means heart. To live with courage and steadfast faith is to live with a wide open heart.
Open-hearted courage is the courage that doesn't avoid vulnerability. The vulnerability of confronting all that very human and very hard stuff of confronting the interior places of shame and powerlessness - the awareness of our limitations.
I’ve seen and experienced that open-hearted courage at the bedside of people who are dying – in letting go. I’ve seen and experienced that courage in the hearts of people struggling with addiction – either battling their own – or trying to stand with someone who is battling that disease.
I’ve seen and experienced that courage in the hearts of people struggling with divorce, childlessness, unemployment, financial hardship – basically anything where we are terrified we won’t survive – and terrified of judgement – our own, or other people.
All of that hard stuff – is connected with the mystery of the cross – that intersection of heaven and earth – with a human being hanging on it, at their most vulnerable.
And this is why we proclaim Christ crucified. Because through Christ we know that vulnerability isn't weakness - its the birthplace of everything life-giving. We can't get to resurrection without Good Friday. We can't get to forgiveness without acknowledging what needs to be forgiven.
When we face our own crosses with that kind of open-hearted courage – God will get us to the other side. Vulnerability is the place of connection – it is how God connected with us. Its how we connect with the struggles of others. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy* – it is the power of experiencing new life – after we’ve walked through the pain of letting go.
Stand firm in the Lord in this way – brothers and sisters – trusting that there is no cross – no place where Jesus doesn’t long to gather you up under his wings. Stand firm in the Lord in this way – brothers and sisters – by standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are walking through hard things – open your heart to stand with them – as a sign of God’s fierce and tenacious love for the whole world.
*Grateful for the work of Brené Brown in my understanding the connection between courage and vulnerability.