Have you ever thought of yourself as a body part? I know, it’s kind of bizarre to think of yourself as an eyeball or a hair follicle. But what the author of this Sunday’s scripture from 1 Corinthians* is saying is that for a community to work well we need to value and pay attention to the differences, to the diversity of people’s lives and stories—especially the people who are the most vulnerable. (To some, “vulnerable” equals “weak/less than/unimportant” and that’s why I thought “toenails” in the title might be good candidates for metaphor…)
Off the top of my head, the most vulnerable in our society today would be our children, the frail elderly, people with chronic physical and mental illness, folks recovering from trauma or grief, targeted groups for racial, religious, and gender identity, and people with disabilities. These people sometimes need more intentional care, time, support, protection…but why the heck would they be more valued in keeping the community working well?
Society tends to tell us that it’s the people with great logic and analytical skills that are the most valuable parts of the body of humanity. They solve problems like how to invent safer cars and more efficient vaccines. Or people with great physical prowess, musical artistry, and charisma—look at the fan lists of professional athletes and music stars.
But with God, there tends to always be an upside-down way of things. God wants everyone, the whole body, to have more abundant life. And this means more joy, more compassion, more justice—and this inevitably brings more genuine peace because of the reality of the other three. This doesn’t make safe cars or vaccines or music or sports unimportant, it’s just that they’re not really the point if they aren’t contributing to more joy, more compassion and more justice—which together lead to more peace.
These 4 gifts from God (joy, compassion, justice, and peace) are the main qualities of an abundant life of Love, and the vulnerable people among us pull these qualities out of the whole community—often after the larger community has reached the end of its ropes and let go of the crazy expectations of what they think life SHOULD look like— and instead let themselves be broken open to abundant life by the diverse realities of what life really IS.
For example, people who are deeply grieving are kinda hard to be around if we’re really honest—they resist our efforts to pull them out of their isolation, they refuse our ideas to cheer them up, they sigh a lot and cry a lot, and often just look pensively out the window and write in their journals…at least that’s the difficult way I have become when I’ve been grieving! But if we can let go of our own timetables and remedies for other people, and instead become open and vulnerable listeners, grieving people will teach us much about the strength of the human heart—which leads us eventually to a greater capacity for joy and compassion.
Being a caregiver of any of the more vulnerable people in the world pulls us out of our comfort zones in SO many ways—whether it’s the paperwork, time, and expense of therapies, the 24/7 level of care, the difficulty in finding friends, the awkwardness of trying to go very many places, or the never-ending worry about who will look after them if WE are no longer able—because vulnerable people on the margins do not swim easily with mainstream society for lots of reasons.
This means that some more privileged folks just swim around a person on the margins and pretend not to notice, rather than seeing that person as an invitation to take off their own masks—and the roles they play—that make them feel like they’re in control. When we risk taking off masks and roles as more privileged people, it leads to us becoming more real and authentic and vulnerable ourselves.
And as Brene’ Brown, the internationally famous social worker and author says, “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. [It] is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think, [but it is] the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.”
Last week in the Parables: All Abilities Inclusion Worship we said that Jesus was a red fish because he swam against the tide of mainstream society to bring the world abundant life in a way that had never been experienced before. He revealed the vulnerable heart of God in his depth of caring for people in all their diversity of bodies, identities, abilities, disabilities, brokenness and giftedness.
Diversity in our lives and stories is not a problem, as challenging as it can be sometimes to know how to handle it. Celebrating diversity in community means we get to know more red fish, people swimming in a different direction than the mainstream, like Jesus did. Making room for our own vulnerability in these challenging relationships with “red fish” is how we can become more open to the joy, compassion, justice and peace that abundant life in Christ can bring.
*1 Corinthians 12: 27….”You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.”
*1 Corinthians 12: 21-23, 26… “So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ or in turn the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’ Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most… If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.”