The Sunday Sermon: A journey of vulnerability

The​ ​Rev.​ ​Cn.​ ​Jeff​ ​Martinhauk
 Proper​ ​20A,​ ​September​ ​24,​ ​2017 
St.​ ​Paul’s​ ​Cathedral,​ ​San​ ​Diego 
Matt​ ​14:22-33

The​ ​gospel​ ​lesson​ ​for​ ​today​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favorites.​ ​​ ​When​ ​I​ ​worked​ ​in​ ​pastoral​ ​care​ ​in​ ​the hospital,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​admit​ ​it​ ​was​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​frequent​ ​go-to​ ​passages​ ​in​ ​hospital​ ​visits.​ ​​ ​A​ ​visit​ ​with one​ ​woman​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​very​ ​vividly​ ​still​ ​stays​ ​with​ ​me.

She​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hospital​ ​for​ ​a​ ​fairly​ ​minor​ ​procedure,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​was​ ​very​ ​distraught.​ ​​ ​She​ ​felt overwhelmed​ ​with​ ​responsibility.​ ​​ ​Her​ ​school-age​ ​children​ ​needed​ ​her​ ​to​ ​care​ ​for​ ​them​ ​and wanted​ ​her​ ​home.​ ​​ ​Her​ ​husband​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​lost​ ​while​ ​she​ ​was​ ​away,​ ​not​ ​knowing​ ​how​ ​to manage​ ​the​ ​household.​ ​​ ​Her​ ​employer​ ​was​ ​giving​ ​her​ ​problems​ ​for​ ​taking​ ​time​ ​off​ ​to​ ​care​ ​for​ ​her body​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hospital.​ ​Being​ ​stuck​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hospital​ ​bed​ ​while​ ​so​ ​many​ ​people​ ​wanted​ ​her​ ​to​ ​be working​ ​left​ ​her​ ​feeling​ ​worthless.​ ​Her​ ​value​ ​to​ ​each​ ​of​ ​those​ ​around​ ​her​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​how​ ​much she​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​do​ ​for​ ​them.

The​ ​gospel​ ​story​ ​for​ ​today,​ ​which​ ​she​ ​and​ ​I​ ​started​ ​talking​ ​about,​ ​has​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​to​ ​say​ ​about​ ​what​ ​was bothering​ ​her.​ ​​ ​I​ ​imagine​ ​many​ ​of​ ​us​ ​related​ ​immediately​ ​to​ ​the​ ​first​ ​group​ ​of​ ​workers​ ​in​ ​today’s story.​ ​​ ​We​ ​think​ ​“it’s​ ​not​ ​fair!”​ ​as​ ​those​ ​who​ ​only​ ​worked​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​get​ ​paid​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​those​ ​who worked​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​day.​ ​​ ​But​ ​of​ ​course​ ​those​ ​who​ ​worked​ ​a​ ​full​ ​day​ ​still​ ​get​ ​paid​ ​what​ ​they​ ​were promised,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​landowner’s​ ​generosity​ ​to​ ​those​ ​who​ ​came​ ​last​ ​doesn’t​ ​degrade​ ​what​ ​those who​ ​started​ ​working​ ​earlier​ ​will​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​with​ ​the​ ​wages​ ​they​ ​earned.

But​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​is,​ ​most​ ​of​ ​us​ ​tie​ ​our​ ​worth​ ​to​ ​our​ ​productivity.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​story​ ​today,​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​who worked​ ​more​ ​complain​ ​when​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​who​ ​worked​ ​less​ ​get​ ​paid​ ​the​ ​same​ ​even​ ​though​ ​they​ ​get paid​ ​what​ ​they​ ​were​ ​promised.​ ​They​ ​tell​ ​the​ ​landowner:​ ​‘you​ ​have​ ​made​ ​them​ ​equal​ ​to​ ​us.”​ ​In the​ ​words​ ​of​ ​one​ ​commentator,​ ​“Work​ ​becomes​ ​not​ ​simply​ ​the​ ​means​ ​for​ ​earning​ ​daily​ ​bread, but​ ​a​ ​source​ ​of​ ​division​ ​and​ ​competition,​ ​a​ ​means​ ​of​ ​reinforcing​ ​the​ ​categories​ ​of​ ​winners​ ​and losers,​ ​superior​ ​and​ ​inferior”​ ​(Feasting,​ ​p.​ ​97)​ ​When​ ​the​ ​daylong​ ​workers​ ​complain​ ​“You​ ​have made​ ​​them​ ​​equal​ ​to​ ​​us​”​ ​they​ ​take​ ​us​ ​underneath​ ​economic​ ​concerns​ ​into​ ​a​ ​deeper​ ​understanding of​ ​where​ ​we​ ​get​ ​our​ ​worth,​ ​where​ ​we​ ​are​ ​threatened,​ ​and​ ​where​ ​we​ ​feel​ ​shame​ ​if​ ​our​ ​basic reward​ ​of​ ​that​ ​worth​ ​is​ ​challenged.

The​ ​daylong​ ​workers​ ​get​ ​paid​ ​what​ ​they​ ​were​ ​promised,​ ​but​ ​get​ ​upset​ ​that​ ​others​ ​got​ ​paid​ ​as well.​ ​​ ​And​ ​in​ ​doing​ ​so​ ​they​ ​reveal​ ​that​ ​the​ ​grounding​ ​of​ ​worth​ ​is​ ​based​ ​not​ ​on​ ​who​ ​we​ ​are,​ ​but​ ​on what​ ​we​ ​do.
“If​ ​I​ ​produce​ ​I​ ​am​ ​worthy.​ ​​ ​If​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​worthy.”​ ​I​ ​certainly​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​pressure.​ ​I​ ​imagine most​ ​of​ ​us​ ​probably​ ​can.​ ​That’s​ ​the​ ​root​ ​of​ ​the​ ​perceived​ ​unfairness​ ​in​ ​this​ ​story.

This​ ​view​ ​of​ ​worthiness​ ​is​ ​clearly​ ​not​ ​new,​ ​because​ ​Jesus​ ​told​ ​this​ ​parable​ ​long​ ​ago.​ ​​ ​But​ ​social worker​ ​and​ ​Episcopalian​ ​Brene​ ​Brown​ ​argues​ ​that​ ​this​ ​view​ ​of​ ​worthiness​ ​is​ ​reaching​ ​more​ ​and more​ ​troubling​ ​levels​ ​in​ ​our​ ​society​ ​today.

She​ ​is​ ​a​ ​shame​ ​researcher.​ ​​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you​ ​have​ ​seen​ ​some​ ​of​ ​her​ ​TED​ ​talks​ ​or​ ​read​ ​some​ ​of​ ​her
books.​ ​​ ​She​ ​defines​ ​shame​ ​as​ ​“the​ ​intensely​ ​painful​ ​feeling​ ​or​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​believing​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are flawed​ ​and​ ​therefore​ ​unworthy​ ​of​ ​love​ ​and​ ​belonging.”​ ​​ ​It​ ​is​ ​the​ ​total​ ​opposite​ ​of​ ​owning​ ​our story,​ ​with​ ​all​ ​its​ ​joy​ ​and​ ​pain,​ ​with​ ​all​ ​its​ ​blemishes​ ​and​ ​beauty,​ ​and​ ​feeling​ ​worthy​ ​in​ ​our​ ​own skin.

In​ ​the​ ​case​ ​of​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hospital​ ​I​ ​mentioned​ ​just​ ​a​ ​minute​ ​ago,​ ​she​ ​felt​ ​pulled​ ​apart​ ​in​ ​a web​ ​of​ ​shame​ ​because​ ​she​ ​could​ ​not​ ​live​ ​into​ ​the​ ​expectation​ ​of​ ​being​ ​a​ ​perfect​ ​mother,​ ​wife, and​ ​employee​ ​while​ ​sitting​ ​in​ ​a​ ​hospital​ ​bed​ ​recovering​ ​from​ ​surgery.​ ​She​ ​felt​ ​unlovable​ ​as​ ​a result.​ ​​ ​She​ ​was​ ​not​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​produce.​ ​​ ​In​ ​the​ ​gospel​ ​story,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​forced out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​group​ ​and​ ​into​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​later​ ​groups.​ ​That​ ​left​ ​her​ ​feeling​ ​unworthy,​ ​feeling shame.​ ​​ ​According​ ​to​ ​Brene​ ​Brown’s​ ​research,​ ​women​ ​may​ ​frequently​ ​experience​ ​shame​ ​like this​ ​woman​ ​did,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​web​ ​pulling​ ​her​ ​apart,​ ​while​ ​men​ ​frequently​ ​express​ ​shame​ ​not​ ​so​ ​much​ ​as​ ​a web​ ​but​ ​more​ ​like​ ​a​ ​box,​ ​trapping​ ​them​ ​in:​ ​expectations​ ​closing​ ​in​ ​around​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​pulling apart.

But​ ​this​ ​gospel​ ​lesson​ ​blows​ ​that​ ​apart,​ ​because​ ​here’s​ ​the​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​came​ ​last​ ​to work​ ​the​ ​vineyard​ ​learned:​ ​​ ​your​ ​worth​ ​isn’t​ ​dependent​ ​on​ ​how​ ​much​ ​you​ ​do,​ ​or​ ​how​ ​much​ ​you accomplish.​ ​​ ​Chasing​ ​our​ ​worth​ ​by​ ​believing​ ​we​ ​will​ ​be​ ​whole​ ​if​ ​we​ ​get​ ​enough​ ​done,​ ​or​ ​if​ ​it​ ​is perfect​ ​enough,​ ​or​ ​if​ ​we​ ​make​ ​enough,​ ​only​ ​results​ ​in​ ​an​ ​empty​ ​self.

God’s​ ​love​ ​doesn’t​ ​come​ ​because​ ​we’ve​ ​earned​ ​it.​ ​​ ​God’s​ ​love​ ​just​ ​comes.​ ​​ ​That’s​ ​the​ ​beauty​ ​of grace!​ ​Your​ ​worth​ ​and​ ​mine​ ​and​ ​everybody​ ​else’s–​ ​it​ ​stems​ ​from​ ​God’s​ ​generosity.​ ​​ ​You​ ​are worthy​ ​because​ ​you​ ​are​ ​God’s​ ​beloved.​ ​​ ​God​ ​loves​ ​you​ ​not​ ​because​ ​you​ ​got​ ​up​ ​early​ ​and​ ​worked hard.​ ​​ ​God​ ​loves​ ​you​ ​whether​ ​or​ ​not​ ​you​ ​were​ ​in​ ​the​ ​faith​ ​early​ ​or​ ​late,​ ​whether​ ​you’ve​ ​been​ ​in the​ ​vineyard​ ​working​ ​hard​ ​or​ ​maybe​ ​haven’t​ ​even​ ​been​ ​trying​ ​that​ ​hard​ ​at​ ​all​ ​because​ ​you’re​ ​tired and​ ​it’s​ ​hard.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​hear​ ​the​ ​echoes​ ​of​ ​the​ ​invitation​ ​to​ ​communion​ ​we​ ​use​ ​from​ ​Iona:​ ​Christ invites​ ​you–​ ​to​ ​be​ ​known​ ​and​ ​fed​ ​not​ ​because​ ​of​ ​what​ ​you’ve​ ​done,​ ​or​ ​not​ ​done,​ ​but​ ​because​ ​of who​ ​you​ ​are:​ ​the​ ​landowner​ ​in​ ​this​ ​story​ ​provides​ ​​enough​.

It​ ​is​ ​a​ ​gift,​ ​freely​ ​given.​ ​We​ ​so​ ​easily​ ​forget​ ​that​ ​God​ ​isn’t​ ​riding​ ​our​ ​backs​ ​to​ ​perform.​ ​God made​ ​us​ ​to​ ​love​ ​us.​ ​​ ​The​ ​work​ ​we​ ​are​ ​called​ ​to​ ​is​ ​a​ ​response​ ​to​ ​that​ ​love.

So​ ​many​ ​of​ ​us​ ​have​ ​experiences​ ​of​ ​church​ ​that​ ​aren’t​ ​rooted​ ​in​ ​that:​ ​experiences​ ​of​ ​church​ ​or​ ​lies about​ ​God​ ​that​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​enough​ ​and​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​only​ ​get​ ​to​ ​God​ ​if​ ​we​ ​win,​ ​if​ ​we beat​ ​everybody​ ​else​ ​to​ ​the​ ​vineyard,​ ​or​ ​if​ ​we​ ​work​ ​to​ ​point​ ​out​ ​how​ ​late​ ​everybody​ ​else​ ​is.

The​ ​only​ ​way​ ​out​ ​of​ ​those​ ​lies​ ​that​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​that,​ ​out​ ​of​ ​those​ ​wounds,​ ​is​ ​to​ ​be​ ​vulnerable​ ​about​ ​our own​ ​humanity.

Because​ ​all​ ​of​ ​us–​ ​all​ ​of​ ​humanity–​ ​shares​ ​in​ ​this​ ​one​ ​thing.​ ​​ ​We​ ​are​ ​not​ ​God.​ ​​ ​We​ ​are​ ​frail.​ ​​ ​We cannot​ ​win​ ​all​ ​of​ ​the​ ​time.​ ​​ ​The​ ​hustle​ ​to​ ​find​ ​worthiness​ ​in​ ​success​ ​by​ ​our​ ​winning,​ ​or​ ​by​ ​being right,​ ​or​ ​by​ ​blaming​ ​others,​ ​will​ ​not​ ​fill​ ​us​ ​up.

Worthiness​ ​comes​ ​not​ ​in​ ​success,​ ​but​ ​in​ ​effort,​ ​in​ ​willingness​ ​to​ ​go​ ​out​ ​in​ ​the​ ​vineyard,​ ​and​ ​to try.​ ​​ ​And​ ​when​ ​we​ ​fail,​ ​worthiness​ ​come​ ​from​ ​having​ ​the​ ​courage​ ​to​ ​get​ ​up​ ​and​ ​try​ ​again.​ ​​ ​And to​ ​be​ ​willing​ ​not​ ​to​ ​have​ ​our​ ​efforts​ ​to​ ​be​ ​perfect,​ ​but​ ​to​ ​share​ ​those​ ​warts​ ​and​ ​challenges​ ​and obstacles​ ​with​ ​our​ ​fellow​ ​human​ ​beings.​ ​​ ​Because​ ​the​ ​lie​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hustle​ ​tells​ ​us​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​the only​ ​ones​ ​struggling​ ​to​ ​win–​ ​but​ ​the​ ​truth​ ​is​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ ​very​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​find​ ​worthiness​ ​until​ ​we​ ​can share​ ​enough​ ​about​ ​ourselves-​ ​to​ ​be​ ​vulnerable​ ​enough​ ​with​ ​a​ ​safe​ ​group​ ​of​ ​others-​ ​to​ ​find​ ​that we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​alone​ ​in​ ​this​ ​struggle​ ​of​ ​being​ ​human,​ ​and​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​that​ ​other​ ​people​ ​share​ ​the​ ​exact same​ ​challenges.​ ​We​ ​all​ ​have​ ​some​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​failure,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​being​ ​wrong​ ​or​ ​not knowing​ ​and​ ​looking​ ​foolish​ ​or​ ​like​ ​a​ ​failure.​ ​But​ ​we​ ​all​ ​share​ ​in​ ​that​ ​very​ ​human​ ​experience. And​ ​sharing​ ​that​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​vulnerability​ ​is​ ​not​ ​weakness.​ ​​ ​But​ ​vulnerability​ ​instead​ ​opens​ ​us​ ​to authenticity​​ ​to​ ​our​ ​very​ ​worth:​ ​the​ ​worth​ ​as​ ​God​ ​sees​ ​us,​ ​not​ ​for​ ​what​ ​we​ ​do​ ​but​ ​for​ ​who​ ​we​ ​are: human,​ ​God’s​ ​beloved,​ ​enough.

So​ ​I​ ​invite​ ​you​ ​as​ ​we​ ​go​ ​deeper​ ​this​ ​year​ ​into​ ​cultivating​ ​community​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​this​ ​as​ ​a​ ​journey of​ ​vulnerability:​ ​a​ ​journey​ ​into​ ​the​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​sharing​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​to​ ​be​ ​human​ ​with​ ​each other.​ ​​ ​And​ ​to​ ​be​ ​gentle​ ​with​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​and​ ​to​ ​wonder​ ​what​ ​it​ ​might​ ​be​ ​like​ ​if​ ​that​ ​kind​ ​of experience​ ​were​ ​so​ ​contagious​ ​that​ ​it​ ​spilled​ ​out​ ​into​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world.

I​ ​leave​ ​you​ ​with​ ​a​ ​poem​ ​by​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favorites,​ ​Mark​ ​Nepo.

I’ve​ ​been​ ​watching​ ​stars
rely​ ​on​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​they resist.​
​And​ ​fish​ ​struggle​ ​with
and​ ​against​ ​the​ ​current.​ ​And
hawks​ ​glide​ ​faster​ ​when​ ​
their wings​ ​don’t​ ​move.

Still​ ​I​ ​keep​ ​retelling​ ​what
happens​ ​till​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​out
the​ ​way​ ​I​ ​want.

We​ ​try​ ​so​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the
main​ ​character​ ​when​ ​it​ ​is
our​ ​point​ ​of​ ​view​ ​that
keeps​ ​us​ ​from​ ​the​ ​truth.

The​ ​sun​ ​has​ ​its​ ​story
that​ ​no​ ​curtain​ ​can​ ​stop.

It’s​ ​true.​ ​The​ ​only​ ​way​ ​beyond
the​ ​self​ ​is​ ​through​ ​it.​ ​The​ ​only
way​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​what​ ​can​ ​never
be​ ​said​ ​is​ ​to​ ​quiet​ ​our​ ​need
to​ ​steer​ ​the​ ​plot.

When​ ​jarred​ ​by​ ​life,​ ​we​ ​might
unravel​ ​the​ ​story​ ​we​ ​tell​ ​ourselves
and​ ​discover​ ​the​ ​story​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in,
the​ ​one​ ​that​ ​keeps​ ​telling​ ​us.

Feasting​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Word,​ ​Year​ ​A,​ ​Vol.​ ​4.​​ ​Ed.​ ​David​ ​L.​ ​Bartlett​ ​and​ ​Barbara​ ​Brown​ ​Taylor. Louisville,​ ​Kentucky:​ ​John​ ​Knox​ ​Press,​ ​2010.
Brown,​ ​Brene.​ ​Various.

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