A sermon based on Psalm 130 and Mark 5:21-43 preached on June 28th, 2015
It was April 23rd, 1910 when Theodore Roosevelt found himself on the steps of the Sorbonne in Paris, France. It was on that day that he delivered one of the greatest speeches ever made, the famous “Man in the Arena.” In it, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed these words:
It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there’s not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best know in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Today, we’re continuing with our series using Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, and we’re talking about resiliency, authenticity, and showing up—each one of those is daring practice we must undertake in order to live a wholehearted life.
I’ve told this story to some of you in a bible study not too long ago, but it’s a good one, and it’s worth hearing more than once.
Brené Brown tells the story of her time at a TED Conference. TED Conferences are gatherings of highly sophisticated and professional people who get together and listen to speakers for 3 or 4 days. The people who come to these TED Talks are typically high-expectation kinda folks and the talks given by their peers hardly ever disappoint.
Brené Brown was asked to speak at one of these TED Conferences, and she said that as each speaker walked off stage after their talk, she slumped a little lower in her chair. She thought that she didn’t have anything to bring to the audience that was on par with the other speakers, and as she thought about how her talk might “work,” she realized that she would have to give up on the idea of doing it in the same way that all the others did theirs. Instead, she realized she would have to connect with the audience in a different way. Where all speakers so far had gotten up on stage and proudly proclaimed—maybe even bragged—about their own successes and how much they’ve accomplished in their field, and how their work was changing the world, Brené Brown realized she didn’t have a story like that. It dawned on her that when it was her time, she would have to get up their and risk something that none of the others speakers were willing to risk—she would have to stand up their on that stage and just be herself. As she describes it, she would have to be naked, vulnerable. And, like most of us, she hates naked and vulnerable.
When she finally walked on stage, she asked the stage managers to bring up the houselights so she could see her audience—she didn’t want to talk to an anonymous people, she wanted to connect with people. She stood there in a moment of silence with the lights up just making eye contact with many of those who looked right back at her. Then she asked her question:
How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think that vulnerability is weakness?
Hands shot up all over the place. Then she asked,
Throughout this conference, as you watched people on this stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought their vulnerability was courageous?
Again, hands shot up across the room.
We want to experience vulnerability in others, but the last thing we want to do is be vulnerable right back. Vulnerability is strength in others, but it’s weakness in me—that’s the way we all think. So, when we dare to show up like Brené Brown did in her TED Talk and go all in, taking the risk to connect to others by sharing our vulnerabilities, we open up a brand new space for everyone else around us to share in. Vulnerability isn’t weakness. Not at all. It’s the greatest dare of all. Our willingness to tell the whole truth about ourselves in front of others—or even to ourselves—is the very definition of courage.
Brené Brown has a vulnerability prayer, and it’s so short, you can memorize it. It goes like this:
Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.
Jairus was a synagogue leader. He was an important and well-regarded man with a high profile job. Everyone in the area knew him, and Jairus knew that wherever he went, he had a reputation to uphold. He was a priest, and priests are leaders, especially back in that day—so it was important for him to convey strength and a certain have-it-togetherness. But here in this moment, this noble priest comes to Jesus not as a powerful dignitary but in a puddle of himself. He’s a leader made needy because it’s his daughter, she’s about to die.
Jairus seems like the kind of father who could do just about anything for his daughter, but in her sickness, he’s made powerless, so he turns to Jesus and he asks him, “Please!” This isn’t a command—the kind any temple leader would give to peasants like Jesus. This is a plea for help.
Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live!
So Jesus followed him back to his house. And on the way to see Jairus’ daughter, Jesus is confronted by this unnamed woman who is just one more person lost in a sea of people scrounging to see Jesus. The confusion of this passage with the disciples saying to Jesus, “How can you say ‘Who touched me?!’” speaks to the chaos of these scene. But even as the crowd pressed in on him, Jesus knew of the woman’s touch—even though with her reach, she only managed to brush his clothes with her fingertips.
Over the least 12 years, this woman had been everywhere, seen every doctor there was to see, spent every dime she had, all in an attempt to be made well, and still she came up short. She must have been exasperated, exhausted, despairing after all these years of suffering. But on this day, her private and desperate search for healing had led her to Jesus. She thought,
If only, if only I’m able to reach out to Jesus, just to touch his clothing—that’s all I need.
Even after all these years, she still had that hope.
Brené Brown says that part of living a wholehearted life is to cultivate a resilient spirit. She says that hope is learned. We have this cultural belief that everything should come fast and easy and be fun, which she says is inconsistent with hopeful thinking—thinking this way actually sets us up for hopelessness. The heart of hope includes tolerance for disappointment and a strong determination that, one day, change is possible.
Jesus knows about the woman’s tenacity. He feels it. He seeks her out from among the crowd of people—actually, she speaks up for herself.
Think of what she could have done when Jesus asked aloud, “Who touched me?!” She could have taken that as accusation and chose to stay silent. For years and years, her hemorrhaging had made her silent, forgotten, dismissed, and invisible. She could have slinked back into the crowd and remained that way: forgotten and invisible. She could have touched and run. But she didn’t. She spoke up. Finally, after 12 years, it was time for her to walk into the light and make herself known to others, to tell the whole truth about herself right then and there—to bring it all into the open. And that she did. She did it with fear and trembling, but she did it.
Speak up. Even if you’re your voice shakes, speak up and tell the whole truth about yourself. Jesus invites us to. Jesus listens to us as we risk that—as we come to him and into his church community and share all of who we are. Jesus wants authenticity—he wants us to show up and let ourselves be seen no matter how broken or whole we feel we are, no matter if we think we have it all together or if everything about us just seems to be unraveling.
Both Jairus and this unnamed woman fall apart in the presence of Jesus. But sometimes the greatest thing we can do for ourselves is to fall apart so that God can put us back together again.
After Jesus healed the woman’s hemorrhaging, she would have shown herself to the local priest, and after he deemed her well, she could return to her family, her husband, her children. After 12 years of forced isolation and alienation, she would be able to have her life back—and that’s the real healing. The same thing happened for Jairus’ daughter. Jesus took her hand and said to her “Little lamb, get up.” She began to walk around, and then Jesus told her family to give her something to eat, restoring her back to her family through the sharing of food.
Restoration back to community—maybe that’s what healing really is. It’s shedding all that stuff about our lives that seeks to shame us, cut us off from others around us, making us feel small and forgettable and forgotten. The power of healing is in our renewed ability to walk out into the light and share the whole truth about ourselves—to take the chance, like Jairus and the unnamed woman, to dare greatly and show ourselves—our real selves—for those around us to see. To come to Jesus and admit our need—to admit to him that there are things we can’t do for ourselves that only he can do for us.
Sometimes, the most courageous thing we can do is show up and let ourselves been seen, to fall down before him, to reach for him—touch just a piece of him, and tell him the whole truth.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!