I believe that is what we read in Phil. 2 It is Paul’s “what matters most” section of his letter to the church in Philippi. And what matters most is that the believers not only act like Jesus, but think like Jesus as well. They are to have the same mind as Christ - to be united in how they think and in how they act. To do that they must have the courage to be vulnerable and show the world around them there is another way.
Most people think courage is being strong, resolute, and it is, but at its core, is vulnerability. We can probably all think of someone in our lives who has shown courage by being vulnerable. Someone who spoke the truth when no one wanted to hear it. Shared personal stories never said before. Maybe we have done so ourselves. Yet, the world often tells us that being courageous involves being tough handed or hard hearted; that it requires superhero strength.
In the Roman Empire, divine and human power were asserted through strength, dominance, and war. Being “courageous” meant winning out over one’s opponents; showing power over others and using that power and control to gain more power and control.
Jesus on the other hand, showed ultimate courage through his vulnerability; humility, compassion, and servant leadership. It was not what people expected but it was exactly what was needed to turn ideologies, paradigms, and systems upside down in order to establish a kingdom, a church, a community, of hope, love, and peace.
This passage talks about how Jesus, who is God (“in the form of God,” “equality with God”), did not assume to be better than everyone else. Instead, he became humble, gave up the privileges of his divinity, “emptying himself” - made himself vulnerable in human existence.
That is the reality we remembered and celebrated just last week, with Christmas. Immanuel - God with us. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than a baby born in a feeding trough smack dab in the middle of our human mess. That is where courage and strength prevail - in vulnerability. Jesus became vulnerable to reveal God’s strength. Jesus became vulnerable to identify with our vulnerability - to show us we too find strength in him and in ourselves when we have courage to be vulnerable. In vulnerability there is healing, restoration, and growth. There is a comfort in knowing we are not the only ones struggling, empowerment in sharing our truth, and solidarity in journeying together.
Paul used this hymn to teach those early followers who were in conflict among themselves and with outside groups. Paul is advising them to have everyone’s interest in mind, as Jesus did, rather than trying to prove themselves right or better than anyone else. It’s not about you and me, it’s about we. It’s not about us and them, it's about all.
Paul is telling them and us to have the courage to be vulnerable. Courage to remember what we are about as a church and people of God. Courage to be united when being divided is easier. Courage to admit when we are wrong or don’t have all the answers. Courage to accept, even welcome the strangers among us. Courage to love and let love. Courage to surrender control sometimes. Courage to say, “me too,” and trust God anyway. Courage to fall down and to let someone help you back up. Courage to allow brokenness to reveal God’s wholeness. Courage to say, “I am only human.”
Here comes the scary but exhilaratingly beautiful part. Having the courage to be vulnerable is risky - vulnerability wouldn’t be vulnerability if it didn’t involve risk. It’s been said that courage is showing up in the arena of life - whatever arena it is: work, school, church, family, relationships, zoom calls, new beginnings, and old barriers. Courage is showing up in those places and moments not knowing what the outcome will be and doing the hard thing anyway.
I wonder what God could do with 20 seconds of your courageous vulnerability? I wonder what it would look like to live each day with courageous vulnerability? What would your relationships look like? How would you grow and change? Where would God take you? I wonder what more this church could do with those who have the courage to be vulnerable? Finally, I wonder what your faith could do with courageous vulnerability?
Are you willing to find out? May it be so. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine