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Sunday Worship, February 25, 2024

“The Vulnerability of Christ, The Vulnerability of a Disciple” Pastor Josh

Deny yourself, take up your own cross, and follow me. 

This week, I read a haunting first-person account of a Christian woman whose family hid Jewish people in their home in Haarlem, a suburb outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. 

It is the account of Corrie ten Boom’s family. She and Her Father and her chronically ill sister felt God’s call to protect God’s people, to protect the most vulnerable people. The title of her personal account is “The Hiding Place.” Reading this book has profoundly impacted my life these last few days. I do not recommend reading it in just a few days, like I did. There is too much hope and pain and suffering in its 241 pages. 

Stories like this one make it hard for me to sleep, but my lack of sleep, my discomfort, and my vulnerable state of mind is not even 1% of the physical and emotional suffering the victims of the Holocaust experienced. 

Corrie ten Boom’s story is one of a gradual movement toward joining the underground. 

It began one day after Germany invaded Holland; Corrie and her father were on one of their daily walks. As they were walking, they noticed a man they frequently saw on their walks without his two dogs. They did not know the man’s name, but they could see he was forced to wear the Yellow Star of David. Thinking this was all odd. They followed him to his place. He told them he had to put his dogs to sleep because he knew that any day the Nazis would come to take him. And he did not want his dogs to suffer. 

Later, across the street from the ten Boom house, a Jewish family was thrown out of their house, and an anti-semitic, pro-Nazi family moved in. 

Corrie’s father was in his 80s and her sister Betsie was chronically ill. All of them agreed to answer God’s call. In times of doubt, Corried prayed. “Lord, Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.” 

Eventually, the Gestapo raided their home. At the time, they were providing sanctuary to some Jewish people. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to prison. Her father died there a few days into his imprisonment. One day, another sister of theirs sent Corrie small versions of the Gospels. Daily reading of the Gospels sustained her life. Corrie and Betsie would be transferred to a concentration camp. Corrie smuggled in a small print version of the Bible. The two of them, when guards were not looking, led their barracks in worship and prayers. At the end of 1944, Betsie died in the camp. Before she did so, she told her sister of a vision. She had a vision that after the war, they would have a big house where people who survived the camps could go and be helped, to be healed, to be cared for… 

By a clerical error, Corrie was discharged from the camp and she was able to return home. Had she not been erroneously discharged, she would have been killed in the gas chamber along with other women her age. 

After the war, a wealthy aristocrat offered to open her house for Corrie’s human restoration work. 

Deny yourself, take up your own cross, and follow me. 

Jesus asks his disciples who do you say that I am. Peter said: “You are the Messiah.”

What happened next perplexed Peter. Jesus said, The Son of Man must suffer many things be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then after three days, rise from the dead. 

The death of the Messiah was unthinkable to Peter. A common idea about the coming of a Christ at the time of the first century was a man would appear who would free Israel from its occupiers. He would raise an army. He would not be defeated. And the man would not die. 

So, when Peter hears Jesus say he will be killed, Peter is shocked. This is not supposed to be.  A true Messiah is not to be defeated, nearly if not completely invincible, not to be humble, not to be vulnerable, to come with a physical sword, not a proverbial one. 

Jesus says that he, as the Messiah, will be vulnerable. Vulnerability is being exposed to emotional or physical pain. So, Jesus will be vulnerable to attack, to physical pain. He will be defeated and dead on a cross.

Peter is perhaps thinking, we’ve been following this guy, and Jesus is just going to die? He’s going to be defeated? Why are we risking our lives if defeat is on the horizon? Peter feels vulnerable, exposed to his Messiah, teacher, and friend being harmed. 

What Jesus says next only adds to the shock and terror. Jesus is saying not only will I die, but You are to deny yourself, take up your own cross, and follow him. You, too, are to give up your life. He exposes them to the possibility to have the same end.

In all fairness to Peter, our brains are not wired to be vulnerable. Our brains want to protect us because we are wired for self-preservation. We do not want to feel physical or emotional pain. 

On a very basic level, we feel this avoidance when we avoid talking to a loved one about something that might cause us emotional pain. That’s why we rather avoid addressing an issue. It can take a lot of work to examine our emotional vulnerability. What triggers us? What shuts us down? 

It’s no wonder when Peter heard Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. He would have been shaken to his core. 

It’s why when we hear deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me, and we too feel discomforted and shocked. We look for every rationalization we can. We say Jesus didn’t really mean it. 

But we fail, I fail, I fail at it during those times when I see a hungry person walking on the street, asking for assistance, and I avoid looking at them or thinking to myself, I should ask them if I could take them to a nearby place to eat a meal together. I have an atheist friend who has developed connections with homeless people and has taken them to lunch. 

But I don’t because I am scared, and I do not want to be vulnerable. If I can’t do that, how can I imagine hiding people? How can I expect to sacrifice my life for the good? 

When we hear, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow me. We may think I would do the same if I were in the same position as Corrie and her family. But if we’re honest, if I’m honest, I might be too afraid that I will be like Corrie’s neighbors who kept to themselves and avoided being vulnerable to imprisonment. 

But I have faith that I will turn to God in those hours of need.  I will open my heart, mind, and soul to the call of Christ to be a disciple because vulnerability and courage meet each other in faith and discipleship. Like Corrie, the faith in a loving God, because as she wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” God works deep into our hearts to work with our vulnerable. And in that vulnerability, to paraphrase Brene Brown, we find courage. 

We can find courage to contribute even in small ways to resist those powers of oppression brewing in the distance, planning to wreck destruction to countless lives.  

Our courage will be increased because we will find sustenance in God. Our courage is empowered by God, the great source of power and strength. Our courage will see that we are God’s hands to save lives.  This courage will empower us to be vulnerable, to be vulnerable disciples, taking the risk to find our lives by standing up for others, our neighbors. 

We will pray deeply. So, we may be able to pray: “Lord, Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.” 

What we are called to take up… is to follow in the way of Christ’s vulnerability, to be disciples who examine themselves, and to examine their vulnerability because we never know when we might face a situation where we may need to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.