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"Courage with a Side of Vulnerability"

This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on July 11th, 2021 The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seeing with Compassion Series - Week 1

“Courage with a Side of Vulnerability”

Seventh Sunday after the Pentecost

2 Timothy 1:6-10

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.


I have here with me today 9 pairs of sunglasses. You might could guess that I have these to be extra prepared in case the sun comes out based on how the sun hits the preacher in this new outdoor configuration we’ve arranged. But actually, I have 9 pairs of sunglasses here because I wanted 9 sets of lenses, each with their own personality. We’re launching a new sermon series today that will tie together our spirituality with our personality. We all have a unique personality, or “lens,” through which we see the world. Maybe you’ve taken a test before that’s told you your Myers-Briggs letters, or your DiSC inventory, or your StrengthsFinder strengths. As helpful as these tests can be, there is also a clear connection between our personality and our spirituality that most tests don’t get into. That’s why I want to introduce you all to the Enneagram this summer. The Enneagram is an ancient spiritual tool for self-awareness. It goes deeper than other personality tests and helps us to see our core fears, motivations, desires, strengths, blind spots, stressors, and, yes, sins. While we are all unique and all made in God’s image, the Enneagram lays out 9 types of core fears/motivations (hence the 9 different sunglasses!). Nine different lenses that help to explain how different people see the world differently. I may go through my life wearing these (hold up one set). You may go through your life wearing those (hold up another set). Understanding which lens we are each wearing is the first step as it helps us to better see our own path for spiritual growth. But the second step is beginning to understand how my lens is different from yours, and how we can get along and bridge that difference with grace and, ultimately compassion.

In particular, the Enneagram has been a tool for doing this in post-apartheid South Africa, in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, with parolees in order to reduce recidivism rates, and yes, also between family members and friends who have known each other for years but still have trouble understanding each other… now why did they do that?

Self-understanding and the understanding of others has long been an important Christian practice. Our lives have purpose and God’s gift lives within us. We hear this from the Apostle Paul as he writes to Timothy, reminding him to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. Each of us is created in the image of God, uniquely gifted by God for God’s purposes and grace. We cannot see the image of God or what makes us uniquely gifted unless we first understand the lens through which we’re looking at the world.

So this summer we’re going to spend time each week looking through a different pair of lenses. There will probably be one week when you realize that the lenses being described resonates as your own. Other weeks you’ll recognize a friend, or family member, or co-worker. The idea is that with more understanding of others, we will be less quick to judge. And with more understanding of ourselves, we will see the image of God that may be hiding.

So that was my very quick introduction to our series and the Enneagram and why self-discovery and mutual understanding is important. We’re going to spend each Sunday looking through one lens.

Today I’d like to reflect on our scripture reading and make connections to those who see the world from the perspective of strength and power. In 2 Tim 1:7, Paul writes that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Paul speaks about a boldness that is God-given, but not a boldness that is meant to exert power over other people, but to protect others and bring love into the world through self-discipline. While we can all probably relate to situations in our life when we’ve needed to choose how to use the power we’ve been given for good or for harm, some people are particularly motivated at their core by the desire to always have power and to always have impact in every situation of their lives.

Within the Enneagram, this is type 8. This type of person seeks power and takes “a no-holds-barred approach to life, relishing the risk that comes along with it. Because of this, they act in ways that have wide-reaching effects. They have a palpable energy…When they walk into a room, people take notice” (excerpt from The Modern Enneagram). They are supremely confident, can often be found in leadership positions, and they are people who value results, and people who speak their minds. They put themselves out there courageously making cowardice the enemy.

If this is not you, you have, no doubt, known people like this. When driven by a desire for power, it’s important to understand that this way of looking at the world can lead to much good, and when done from a place of insecurity, can lead to much harm. Those who operate from a core need for power are often doing so because they have felt threatened at some point in their own life. The underlying fear is that God won’t protect them. When this fear is given permission to run rampant, sometimes they see the only solution as becoming like a god themselves. They will protect themselves and everybody else. They will hide their weakness and walk around with an impenetrable shield on.

There are healthy ways to manage a fear of vulnerability, though. God speaks to all of us in Exodus 14:14, and especially those who operate from a particular fear of vulnerability, saying, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” The Lord will fight for you. All you need to do is be still. And when we realize that God is always with us, working behind the scenes to bring healing and wholeness into our hurt, when we can begin to understand this, we realize that we don’t need to have our own, homemade coat of armor on 24 hours a day; that it’s okay to admit to God when we feel powerless. In fact, acknowledging our vulnerability before God is the pathway to the heart. It is the soft belly under the tough shell that lets God into our hearts.

And here’s the amazing connection. When those who strive for power and control begin to get in touch with their own vulnerabilities, it also opens them up to the vulnerabilities of those around them. When we admit that deep down we hurt, we put ourselves into a position of seeing the hurting of others around us. That’s empathy.

This is why a very famous and healthy example of an Enneagram Type 8, is Martin Luther King Jr…Someone whose core motivation was to have power and impact. But not only for his own self-protection. Rather for the protection of the powerless around him. This shift from a self-focused desire for power toward an outward-focused desire for power comes from an acceptance of God’s ultimate power. This is a kind of power that is rooted in love and manifest in self-discipline, as the Apostle Paul reminds us.

True spiritual courage requires risking vulnerability. It requires admitting that God is worthy of our trust. And when we trust in God’s infinite and unflinching power, we will receive the strength and courage we need to push through all of the hardest problems in the world. But it must start in our own hearts.

Let us pray.

Quiet our impulses.

Remind us that vulnerability is not the same as weakness.

Grant us permission to trust your infinite power of light.

We will not always be right. Cultivate within us humility.

May it be so. Amen.

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