Tag Archives: Brene Brown

Wilderness Testing

A Sermon for 10 March 2019 – 1st Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:1-13. On this first Sunday in the season of Lent, we hear the gospel of Luke’s version of what happened to Jesus right after he was baptized. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the LORD your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown states: “Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians always have used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials, to a refuge of nature and beauty where we seek space for contemplation.” Brown writes: “What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest” (Braving the Wilderness, 2017; p. 36).

I think of Dr. Brown’s work when we hear the reading from the gospel of Luke put before us today. For what else are we looking upon in the story of Jesus after his baptism, than his very vulnerable encounter during his very real emotional, physical, spiritual quest? Each year we begin the season of Lent with Jesus in the wilderness. Long has the Church looked upon this text as the perfect place for our attention on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. We’ve just entered the time in the liturgical calendar when we begin a more fervent listening and watching and learning how best we can follow as disciples of the Christ – all the way to Jerusalem and beyond. Lent is our time to willingly stand with Jesus in the wilderness – not only to see what he encounters there, but also to be taught our own need for wilderness. The like-it-or-not time we must face in order to be who God would have us be.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brown is using the metaphor of wilderness to present her research and lived findings on what she calls “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone” (Ibid.). Which sounds exactly like Jesus, doesn’t it? Brown is talking about living so entirely as your true self that you belong not to the voices that surround from culture, family, ego, and even religious institutions. Wilderness is Brown’s understanding of, what Carl Jung defined as, being our capital S Self – the wholeness of Self that regulates our center. That inside, which “some speak of . . . as the God within or the Christ-within” (Unopened Letters from God, Robert L. Haden, Jr., 2010). The Divine Spark that animates us to live our best selves. Biblical commentators might say: wilderness is where – and when – we live as the authentic creation God made of us at our start. Before we forgot and got entangled in the mess of how this world too often goes. In my reading of it – especially according to the gospel of Luke, I would say that wilderness is where we must wrestle any other influences – the demons within and without – in order to authentically be who God created us to be.

Dr. Brown reminds that wilderness is “an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching” – surely Jesus knew that, not only from his first forty days there, but from the many times, according to the gospel of Luke, when Jesus deliberately returned to wilderness. When he stole away as often as he could to return to time alone with God. Brown writes: wilderness “is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness,” Brown states, can feel “unholy because we can’t control it . . . but it turns out to be the place of true belonging.” The bravest, most sacred place we ever will stand (Braving the Wilderness, p. 36). The place of honest integrity before God – honoring our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer – as Jesus did in the wilderness. Being so firmly resolved to trust the One he often called Abba, heavenly Father.

Unlike the other gospels which claim that immediately after his baptism Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, the gospel of Luke uniquely claims that “full of the Holy Spirit” Jesus “returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). Instead of an emphasis of the Holy Spirit seizing him in his baptism to lead him out there to withstand alone whatever would come, the gospel of Luke focuses us upon the Spirit’s role with Jesus the entire time, when he seemingly went to the wilderness as a voluntary act. Which might leave us wondering if the gospel of Luke is emphasizing that like our need for a deepening of connection with God during Lent, Jesus too needed a time alone to hear what was to come. To listen for what it all meant that he’d just heard The Voice declare in his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22b). To have the opportunity to choose – to sort out the ramifications of the message of his baptism. Like his ancestors who are recorded as having wandered forty years in their own experience of testing in order to reveal their true selves. We’ve got to wonder if the wilderness will strengthen Jesus’ resolve to move out to be who God has made him to be. Will he choose acceptance of and obedience to The Voice? Will he emerge ready to unite himself fully with his authentic, true self? So that even when the most difficult challenge was to come – one night about three years later in a garden outside Jerusalem, Jesus still could be found praying: “Not my will be done, LORD, but yours” (Luke 22:42). In advance, wilderness shows if the Beloved faithfully will be the Beloved, or not.

I love the words in Braving the Wilderness that Dr. Brown quotes from a friend who is a religious leader in a Christian community that is known for lacking full inclusivity. Of wilderness, Brown’s excluded friend says she has discovered that “the wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers always have lived, and it is stunningly vibrant.” She writes, “the walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life” (p. 152). For belonging so fully to the Self we discover God has made us to be, ends up linking us fully with all the others devoted too to being their true Selves. Those who cannot not live as God has created, called, and sustained them to be! In other words: it’s best we remember that no matter how difficult wilderness can be, it is entirely worth it! Just ask Jesus. What would his life among us have been had he not relied upon and lived in full the Way The Voice had called? Had Jesus not lived his authentic self, no one ever would have gone on to proclaim his name! No 5,000 plus fed on just five loaves and a few fish. No impassioned plea to follow after him. No bread broken and fruit of the vine outpoured as sign and seal of a God of infinite grace. No death at the hands of his enemies. No resurrection in power from a grave. No Life everlasting offered for all forever, Amen!

One biblical commentator writes: “In Luke 3:21 – 4:13, we see that the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus in baptism and his faithfulness to God amid testing constitute Jesus’ preparation for his mission. (For) being chosen and anointed is not sufficient preparation either for our ministry gathered or for our ministry scattered.” The commentator writes: “We must be tested, often by being led to places of hunger and despair. Only then do we learn dependence on God, who graciously provides for all of our needs in all of life’s seasons” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr., p. 44).

Brothers and sisters of Christ, especially during Lent; wilderness is where we belong – in our lives individually and in our life together. For in wilderness the Spirit is with us. The tests provide opportunity to choose. Jesus knows it’s difficult and that we could so easily lose the Way. But wilderness forces us really to finally, fully rely upon God. To wrestle with all the other voices until we too earnestly pray as our Savior and Lord has taught, saying: “Not our will, but Thy will be done, O God!” . . . Grateful for one another and all vibrantly alive out there, let us embrace wilderness in order to be who God would have us be.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

The With-us Potter

A Sermon for 4 September 2016

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 18:1-11. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

I wish we each had a lump of clay in our hands today. That would be the best way to spend some time with this text from the prophet Jeremiah. All of you sitting there with a ball of the soft stuff. Squeezing and kneading and working it in your hands. . . . If you’ve ever held clay before, then you know that it has such potential. It can become anything you want it to be: a pinch pot, which typically is the first thing you learn to make in a pottery class. A long snake of clay that you then can wind together into a flower vase. You can flatten it out in your hands as thin as a pancake in attempts to make a plate. Tear it into smaller bits to fashion little balls for earrings or even into the shape of a cross for a necklace.

Throwing a pot is a bit different. First you have to work the clay. Push down one way, then turn it to force it down the other direction. It’s kinda like warm up stretches before running. You’ve gotta get the clay ready before you put it on the wheel. It’s a process of moving around the molecules and getting out any air. In pottery class, they always said this is the most important step, which never ever should be skipped, even though so many novice potters wanna get right to the wheel. . . . After you have your clay ready, you finally take it to the wheel. Water and equal pressure on both sides are key – it’s what is needed to center the clay. Something you have to get right if the clay’s gotta a shot of becoming anything. Next, cutting into the centered clay, all the while keeping the wheel turning at a slow and easy pace. Too fast and the clay goes spinning out of control. Too little or too much water and the clay won’t form as you’d like in your hands. Too much pressure too quickly from one hand or the other and the next thing you know, the clay is collapsing between your fingers. Your intended beautiful bowl falls into a misshapen mess. . . . It’s fascinating to watch a master potter at work – and if you’ve ever attempted it yourself, you know it’s no where near as easy as it looks!

A lot of potters will tell you you have to listen to the clay. Let it tell you what it wants to become. . . . But not according to this text! According to Jeremiah, the potter has a good plan for what the potter wishes to make. That clay in the potter’s hands has an intended purpose. . . . I remember the pottery instructor always saying that to create on the wheel, you have to be willing to let go. Fail and begin again when the clay wobbles off center out of the form needed for a bowl. It’s not really that there’s only one way to make it, but it is the case that a pot thrown with too thick a bottom or too thin a wall won’t last the firing in the kiln. When the clay goes array on the wheel, it’s better to scoop it off to begin again because once it begins to set out of form, the clay will be wasted entirely. No use at all when it breaks in the scorching fires of the kiln.

It’s a mighty metaphor for our lives in God’s hands. . . . At God’s command, Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house to hear a word from the LORD. He sees a potter at work. A typical potter who’s obviously mature in his craft. For the potter doesn’t hesitate one moment when the clay spins off track. He scoops it up to begin again. He’s not about to waste his clay. I’d imagine that potter Jeremiah was watching had been through quite a process to get that lump of clay in the first place. I don’t know everything about where you get clay and what all the right ingredients have to be, but I know clay is found in certain parts of the ground. The potter either paid a high price for his clay, or did the hard work himself of digging for it. Each piece is precious to the potter. If it all goes array, he’s going to scoop it up to re-work, re-center, and begin to create again. He’s a committed master potter, who’s not afraid to let go of what it’s become because he wants the clay to be what he knows it can be.

The process is a little scary, however, when we start to understand ourselves as the clay. That’s what Jeremiah is hearing as he sees the potter at work. The house of Israel is in the process of going array. It’s an act of love that God won’t just let it be, though the words the prophet hears seem kinda harsh. “Can I not do with you . . . just as the potter has done? . . . Just like the clay in the potter’s hands, says the LORD, I can pluck up and restart” (paraphrase of Jer. 18:6, 7). All this talk about disaster on those devising evil. We don’t really want to face this seemingly harsh-sounding God. It sounds so like: turn or else! A threat with punishment if not heeded – which doesn’t fit so well with our warm-fuzzy notions of God. And actually it isn’t the best way to bring about true, sustained transformation.

What we do know is that this is the same God, through Jeremiah, who says to the people: “For surely I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 28:11). A few chapters later, God declares: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33-34). . . . Like the master potter, God has a plan for the people’s good use. When the clay goes array on the wheel, when the people turn from who God intends for them to be; like the master potter, God will re-work the vessel as seems good to God.

If you’re familiar with the work of Brené Brown, then you may know about her research on shame and the power of vulnerability – acts that take a whole lot of trust. The first thing Brown underscores is that all of us have a need for love and belonging. Shame leaves us feelings as if we’re not worthy of such love and belonging, which in turn makes it really hard for us to be willing to be vulnerable – to be willing to trust. Brown’s research testifies that: one powerful way to send a message of shame, which leads to one being stuck immobile, is to disengage. No longer be involved with someone when their behavior is unacceptable. Refuse the healthy act of engagement by setting proper boundaries with them. According to Brown, when we fail to do so – to set those proper healthy boundaries, it actually creates a deeper sense of shame in the other. Disengaging sends the message that you’re not worthy of a sense of love and belonging from me. . . . Do you hear the truth in that? The worst possible thing the potter could do to the clay when it goes array is to let it go array. Disengage from the process and just let it be. Scooping it up to re-work, re-center, and re-create again may be a process that really hurts – a process that seems like destroying. Plucking up and breaking down in order to re-build and plant may sound kinda vicious; but with the clay, the potter stays engaged all the while. The potter sends the message to the clay that it is so entirely valued, so deeply loved, that the potter just won’t let it go into whatever the clay itself might want to be. For surely the potter knows the plans the potter has for it . . . plans for the clay’s welfare – not harm – to give an amazing future overflowing with hope.

We are the clay – not just us individually, as we so often read into this text – but us collectively as a part of the body of Christ, the church. And the Master Potter seeks to re-create us into what is needed today in this world. It’s not easy to know what exactly that will look like. After all, the clay being re-worked doesn’t know if it’s going to end up a beautiful bowl that will be able to feed those who hunger; or an amazing cup that will quench all those who thirst. The process is a mystery that takes all of our trust. . . . It has been said that “we are not so at home with the resurrected form of things despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, and the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and life . . . resurrection offers us a future . . . one that is unknown and thus scary. . . . (it’s not a) resuscitation of an old thing, but the raising up of . . . an utterly new thing” (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, 2013, pp. x-xi). In this we can trust. For a Master Potter holds us every step of the way. Indeed our Loving God continues with us until all things are entirely new! For this we give great thanks!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)