A sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Shared September 23, 2018
Scripture: Mark 2:1-12
Earlier this week, I was planning to talk with you today about vulnerability. I was planning to tell you that when we risk being vulnerable and are received with love, we get a glimpse of the way God loves us. That when people come to us in vulnerability, when they are open about who they are, about their sacred stories, when they give us access to their lives and very selves, that we can show GOD to them by treating them with exquisite care in vulnerable situations.
That’s what I was going to talk about. And I was going to encourage you all to be vulnerable with the people in your lives and with one another.
And then this week happened. With the Christine Blasey Ford story all over the news, I thought, “Why in the world? Why in the world would I stand up in front of my congregation – people I love – and tell people that it’s a good idea to be vulnerable?” And the more I thought about that, the more I realized…I didn’t know what the heck I was going to say. Until a good friend helped me to see the flip side of my thesis.
It is true that when we risk being vulnerable and are received with love and care and gentleness, we can get a glimpse of the amazing way God loves us. And it is also true that if we risk being vulnerable and are abused, it can do almost irreparable emotional and spiritual harm.
And so, for the first time in my preaching career, I am going to issue a content warning. Today, I am going to talk about sexual assault, so please, if you are uncomfortable and need to leave at any time, you are welcome to do so.
Let’s start the conversation by looking at our scripture.
In our scripture today, the paralyzed man is in some big trouble. He is in a very vulnerable situation. He is physically unwell and unable to get around without his friends who carry him on a mat. But somebody gets the idea – either him or his friends – we don’t really know…that if he can get to see Jesus, he might be healed. He might be made well.
But there’s a problem. There are so many people who want to see Jesus, that they can’t get the man and his mat through the door. But that does not deter his friends. This man’s friends care about him so much, that they get up onto the roof of the house and dig a hole in it so that they can lower the man down into Jesus’ presence. And the text says, when Jesus sees their faith, he tells the man his sins are forgiven, and Jesus heals the man too. The man picks up his mat, miraculously healed, and walks home.
But none of that would have happened without the man’s friends. When the man was broken and vulnerable, he needed his friends to help him get close to Jesus in order to be healed.
If we hear this story of physical healing as a metaphor for spiritual and emotional healing, I think it can be applicable to our modern lives. Sometimes we need the help of our friends to encounter Jesus, to experience the presence of God. Sometimes, especially when we are hurt and vulnerable, it is the exquisite love and care of the people around us that makes us able to see ourselves as God see us: as beloved, as sacred, as whole, as enough.
But sometimes when we are vulnerable, people betray us. Sometimes when we speak our sacred truth out into the world, we are ignored, dismissed, questioned; and our emotional & spiritual hurt is magnified.
Now, I don’t really want to get into the politics of what is happening with Christine Blasey Ford. I think the way her story has been handled in relation to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is a mess all around. To be honest, I doubt the intentions of politicians from both sides of this political football game when it comes to how they have treated her story.
However, I do want to talk about how culture and media and people are talking about sexual assault.
When we talk about sexual assault, especially in public places like in the news or on Facebook…what we say is being heard by many, many women who have experienced sexual assault themselves. The numbers are devastating. 1 in 6. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Some sources say 1 in 5. (1 in 6 is the low number.) If that number does not horrify you, does not make you sick, does not turn your stomach, then you have never really heard the story of someone who has survived sexual violence.
Now, that 1 in 6 statistic only includes assaults that rise to the definition of attempted or completed rape. Almost every woman I know, including myself, has a story of someone using coercion, taking advantage of them being drunk or sleeping, and/or using physical intimidation to try to get sex from them when they are clearly not consenting.
When we as a culture and individuals talk about victims of sexual violence, other victims are listening.
A female clergy colleague shared this week on Facebook (and gave me permission to share) her story of a college boyfriend who became sexually aggressive with her and only stopped when she made enough noise fighting him off that he thought he might be caught. She broke up with him as soon as they were apart and she was safe, and he responded by harassing her with angry, abusive texts for weeks. Two years later, he reached out to her to apologize. He was engaged to someone else and claimed that God had changed him. She thought talking would be healing. During that meeting in a public place, he tried to kiss her without consent again.
She explained why she shared this story online. “What I want, is for my friends to imagine me, or any one of the amazing women they know, when they begin to talk about [any victim of sexual abuse]…I want for my friends to watch…closely, to pay attention…and to imagine that those officials are speaking about one of the beloved women in their life. Because so many of us listen to her story and hear our own.”
The way that women have experienced what has been said about sexual assault survivors this week is one tragedy of this situation. The other is what boys have heard. It is so disturbing to me when the discourse drifts into saying that drunken sexual assault is just something that happens in high school, just something that boys do. I think that is harmful to both girls and boys.
Boys need to be affirmed for their love and gentleness with their partners. Boys need to hear that it’s okay to hold both themselves and other boys to a higher standard when being with girls and talking about girls. Boys need to hear that it is not just okay, but that it is required that they be the boy who treats girls as if they are not just a conquest or a body. Boys need to hear that – because teenage boys are just as capable of treating others with compassion and kindness as anyone else.
Because everyone has a choice. When faced with a person who is vulnerable – whether that is physically, emotionally, or even spiritually vulnerable – everyone has a choice about how they respond. First, we have a choice of whether we even show up for vulnerable people. Sometimes we just choose the easier path and walk away, either not noticing and not caring when someone longs to share something of themselves with us. But when we do show up, we have the potential to treat a vulnerable person with affirmation and compassion – that helps them get a glimpse of the love with which God loves them.
I have a story of my own, a good one, that involves an 18-year-old boy when I was a 16-year-old girl. Brian was and is my friend, and he gave me permission to use his real name. It was the summer of 1991, and my mom had come home from talking with the neighbor lady one day. She hesitantly told me that she had heard a rumor about my friend, Amy. That Amy and another boy in my class, Tom, had been in a car accident. She didn’t have many more details, and this was before the days of texting and immediate access to information, so it wasn’t super easy to find out what was going on.
I knew that Tom was on the football team with my friend, Brian. So I called Brian, very worried, and I asked him if he knew anything about what was happening. He told me he would try to find out.
I have a vivid memory of sitting at the kitchen table, picking at my lunch, when there was a knock at the door. It was Brian. He had ridden his bike across our small town to come and tell me that Amy and Tom had died the night before in a car accident. Brian, this 18-year-old boy, with whom I had a complicated teenage on-and-off-again dating relationship, got on his bike to come to my house because he knew this wasn’t the kind of news you told someone over the phone.
And I have an equally vivid memory of Brian holding me in his arms as I sobbed and sobbed there in my family’s garage, next to the fridge where we kept all the soda, and with my parents looking on, not quite sure what to do.
Brian walked with me through the following days, through the funeral, afterward sitting at the park with me for hours on end, listening and holding my grief and my vulnerability with such exquisite compassion.
When someone is vulnerable with us, in body or in spirit, we have a terrible and beautiful power in how we choose to respond.
And we can choose the beautiful. Every time.
May it be so.