During my time away, I slept a lot, ate too much and enjoyed spending time with friends and family. But I also did a lot of reading. Not only did I *finally* finish the first book in the Game of Thrones series, but I also read Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”. In Brown’s work, she talks a lot about “Wholehearted Living”. I don’t know if she identifies as a Christian, but I found that her reflections and insights provided me a deeper meaning of Christian living and challenged me to hear Jesus’ words anew. For me, that is one of the joys of reading something new…it informs and changes my perspectives and understandings.
As I was preparing for today, I was struck by a few things in particular from the readings…from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus telling those who had gathered for dinner to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind, and you will be blessed, and from the letter to the Hebrews to “let mutual love continue” and “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”. Now perhaps you’re already making the connections between the two readings…basically, love one another, share with one another, invite the traditionally unwelcome and you will be blessed. These are pretty simple instructions for Christian living, and we hear them repeatedly from Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.
But do these simple instructions really challenge us or do we just nod our heads in agreement, then go about our business?
For me, sometimes it’s easier to just nod.
A while back, there was the great Christian marketing craze of WWJD…What Would Jesus Do. It was on tshirts, bracelets, bumper stickers and coffee mugs. You couldn’t get away from it. While I don’t know the specific intention of the folks who developed the WWJD movement, I would like to think that it was a challenge to Christians to think bigger about the way they were living out their calling of discipleship. If someone was hungry, what would Jesus do…feed them. If someone was lonely, what would Jesus do…visit them. You get the point. And while you can still find the WWJD swag in Christian bookstores, most of us have returned to nodding our heads in agreement and going on about our business.
But what if we look at these instructions from Jesus and the New Testament writers through a different lens? What if we started to reflect on the ideas of courage, compassion and connection as a way of understanding our calling to discipleship? What if we asked anew “What Would Jesus Do”?
In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene Brown writes a lot about vulnerability. When we hear the word “vulnerability” we often think of weakness and so it gets tied up in guilt and shame. But Jesus was vulnerable, and we don’t usually think of him as being weak or driven by guilt and shame. If we understand vulnerability as a characteristic that allows us to be fully exposed, fully living in the image of God, then we can start to understand the important roles that courage, compassion and connection can play in our development of Christian living.
Brown defines courage as living in our heart….that it is to speak our truth from the heart, for better or worse. Parker Palmer says that courage is “the center place where all our ways of knowing converge”. When we act and live courageously, when we open ourselves up to those who are in need, when we let mutual love continue, we are being vulnerable, and we are living as disciples. To be courageous is to experience a metanoia…a change of heart…to no longer live for ourselves alone, to no longer hide behind our privileges and boundaries, and instead entertain the angels among us.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist and teacher defines compassion as “learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us”. Again, a call to vulnerability. While Chodron probably didn’t have Jesus’ dinner party in mind, imagine how scary it was for the Pharisees and others in power to be told not to sit in places of honor, and to invite in the unclean and unwelcomed. Jesus was preaching a countercultural message and it was terrifying!
Sometimes, we are scared too. It’s hard to be tender and fully open to others. It means our own vulnerabilities might be exposed. How can we be present to someone who has lost everything, knowing that our deepest fear is that we too might lose everything? To be compassionate requires courage and vulnerability. What would Jesus do? He would be generous, honest, and present to those who came to him. When we follow in his way, when we are courageous, compassionate and vulnerable, we are blessed.
And finally, there’s connection. Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”. When Jesus instructs those gathered for the dinner party not to take seats of privilege, when he instructs us to invite the traditionally unwelcomed into our communities, when we are reminded to do good and share what we have, and to let our mutual love continue…these are instructions about connection. When we are truly connected, we are not only strengthened by the relationships we share, we are also at our most vulnerable. And when we are vulnerable in the way Jesus was, then we can give and receive with an open heart.
When Jesus shares a meal with those in his community—his friends, his opponents, and the marginalized—he is giving them a glimpse of the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, there are no boundaries and privileges. In the Kingdom, there is welcome for all and there is a sharing of all God’s blessings. When we go out into the world, may we be mindful of what Jesus did and practice courage, compassion and connection with those we meet. Let our mutual love for God, one another and all creation continue. May we do good and share what we have…that’s what Jesus would do.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.