“The Gift of Being Seen” – Room to Breathe Sermon Series
“The Gift of Being Seen”
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
October 10, 2021
I was seeing a chiropractor recently, and as often happens in these meetings the chiropractor asks if I had ever had any surgeries. And since I am there for some upper back tightness/pain, I say kind of casually, “just my left. Broke it a dozen years ago. Here are the scars from surgery.”
And she immediately looks up. “Wait. How did that happen?”
“Umm…diving for a softball. My own body weight landed on my hand. Kind of ridiculous.”
And then she goes, “Oh…so did you fall like this?” And she shows me her hand and elbow and shoulder all kind of hitting the ground trying to replicate how she imagines the dive might have happened.
And I go, “actually yes. Exactly like that.”
“I thought so…” She went on to explain that she could see some kind of past physical trauma informing my posture and left side pain (the side where the dive happened) in a way that was not there on right.
A few minutes later she is nearing the end of her initial assessment and she notes the back of my right knee where the hamstring attaches. “You ever injure your hamstring or…” “You know, in 2006 I was in Airborne school with the Army, and on my last jump, I left my right leg straightened just a bit too much when hitting the landing, and even though I got right back up in the moment…I have felt for years this strange difference between the two legs that comes and goes.”
“Hmmm…I thought so,” she responds. “That may explain the way you sit.”
And she explained that since I’d sat on the chiropractor table I had been leaning back on my hands a lot to support my body as if I am avoiding sitting on my hips squarely for more than a minute or two.
And I start to think to myself, “Oh wow…every movement I am making, everyone movement I am not making, it is creating this window where this chiropractor is able to see into injuries and pain from 12 and 15 years ago.”
And though I was deeply appreciative that she was helping me figure some things out, it was also unnerving to think that I could not hide these stories. She not only saw me, she saw the places of trauma.
Can you imagine if someone or someone(s) could see you?
I mean…not just see you but see all the stories? The injuries and the pains we have caused or have been done to us? The ones healing the ones hidden but still causing us to limp today?
The author of Hebrews declares: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”
God’s Word who is Jesus himself…Hebrews says that this Word is a double-edged sword that cuts through all of our layers…
- all of our defenses,
- all the ways we avoid talking about that
- or letting anyone know about that or need to go there.
In fact, this sword cuts to such a precise degree that every creature is ‘naked and laid before the eyes of one to whom we must render and account.’
Talk about being seen for who we are just as we are.
Dr. Brene Brown at the University of Houston has become something of a household name in the past decade because her research has pinpointed the fact that one of the most universal and challenging things that people in our society are dealing with today is shame. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear of disconnection…it’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
Since the primordial days of Adam and Eve hiding among the trees from God after not obeying the Garden of Eden, we have been terrified that we might actually one day really be seen… for there is something about me, something about us…some failings we have done or has been done to us or both, some sin or sins, some thoughts or words, some actions or inactions, some way we have not measured up… that keep us afraid that we might be found out…and cut off. Disconnected.
It is a terrifying thought that we might really be seen.
Which begs the question – Why in the world would any risk coming into a space where we declare quite plainly that this scalpel named Jesus draws close and exposes us to the light?
I have shared before with many of you about a writing class I took on a few occasions back in Richmond, VA, and I even modeled a writing class that I led here at the church this past summer after that class in Richmond.
It was this class where all 8 or 10 people in the class would be given a very open-ended prompt, write for 10 minutes consecutively, and then read their work aloud to one another. It was that last aspect – the reading aloud whatever you wrote no matter where you might have gone with the writing – that last aspect that terrified people.
For we would be seen.
And to be sure…people did ‘go there.’ I mean, plenty of us wrote about everyday things, silly things, funny things. After the first two or three weeks of the class people would also risk sharing about…
- their doubts, their misgivings, their divorce
- or the cancer or the suicide
- or the affair or what politics had done to the family
- or the child or grandchild that was no longer in communication
- or deep joys or deep anger or deep sadness.
And what struck me as someone who took this class a few times, is that even though everyone knew the reading aloud part was coming, everyone was often terrified of that moment…people signed up for the class again. They’d do a six week interaction and sign up for another. And another.
As terrifying as it is, there is also something universal about the deep hunger we to be seen… …if…if we can trust the one seeing us. In the case of the writing class, it worked because of Valley Haggard. That’s the name of the teacher who led these classes.
She also wrote alongside each class and read her work at each class – and she always ‘went there’ herself. She told stories about herself that could make you squirm or blush or laugh or weep…but she was an open book. She was always risked being seen.
Which let everyone else in the group know – “you get us. We can risk it, too, then.”
Isn’t it one of the more profound gifts in life when someone who has been through or is going through
- the same cancer diagnosis
- or the same addiction
- or the loss of a loved one
- or the same kind of divorce
- or same shame or failing or injustice…
- and rather than judge, comment on it, improve it, call it out… they make it clear that they ‘get it?’
Does not the whole soul suddenly want to open before another who can empathize?
Hebrews goes on to declare about Jesus…
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are (since he came as a human!), yet without sin. so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews declare that in Jesus we have one who sees right through us…and his most fundamental word to us is this:
“I see it all. More – I get it. And I love you.”
And the mercy of forgiveness pours over the open wound; the shame forever nailed to the cross and the one who takes it for us.
I sometimes wonder if all the mudslinging on social media,
all the hiding behind the computer screens and judging when other are exposed,
all the railing about how awful and terrible they are, those people are…
…I do wonder if, ironically, that is not a sign of just how deeply all of us long to be seen and loved…
Like a child’s temper tantrum is often a cry for love, what if the mudslinging is a cry for grace? For Jesus.
And oh how deep the cry is these days…
But we know not how to risk that….and so we keep piling it on.
Which brings me back the class once more as, again it offers a practical possibility for learning about grace. The other key ingredient to the class behinds the teacher…was the fact that we always read aloud to one another. The 20th century pastor and theologian Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Life Together when writing about how we confess our sins, how we ‘see’ one another.
Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God?
God gives us this certainty (of forgiveness) through our brother (or sister to whom we confess).
Our brother or sister breaks the circle of self-deception. A (person) who confesses (their) sins in the presence of a brother or sister knows that (they are) no longer…; that person experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.”
Bonhoeffer does not argue that every last shame, pain, hurt, sin or injustice need be named before everybody at church or even anybody; he is not arguing that we need a priest in order to confess our sins (we have direct access to God in prayer, absolutely)…but he is pressing the point, that often it isn’t until we ‘read it aloud’ before others that we know with certainty the waters of forgiveness.
There is just something about naming our brokenness, naming the stories that are sometimes more visible than we realize…naming them before another broken person who is the presence of God’s body unto us that is central to the healing. Our brother or sister breaks the circle of self-deception.
Bonhoeffer goes on to add this:
Confession in the presence of a brother (or sister) is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a (person) down, it is a dreadful blow to pride…In the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother (or sister) – which means, before God – we experience the Cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation. The old (person) dies, but it is God who has conquered (that person). Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.
Resurrection vitality coursing through our very being…by way of the grace known when the shame, the wounds, the pain – individual, collective – when they are read aloud…and received in mercy.
Is the church of Jesus Christ a space where the people can risk being seen?
In our response before one another’s brokenness…are we the merciful body of Christ one to another?
I am convinced that Jesus does look upon the church, and he sees…
- The ways in which we move and do not move.
- The places where are strong and the places we hobble.
- The places we hide.
- The things we do talk about; the things we avoid talking about.
Jesus sees everything about our body and with searing precision Jesus traces the pains and limps and injuries back to last year or five years ago or fifty years ago or 150 years ago…because it’s all there. The corporate stuff and the individual stuff. All of it is laid bare.
What if we risked acknowledging that?
Letting ourselves see what is already seen?
What if we read that aloud before another – and discovered the truth that Jesus empathizes with our weakness – and forgives?
What if God has in store for the body of Christ a new limberness, a new strength, a new resurrection vitality…and road there requires the courage to be seen in the darkest spaces…and there – precisely there – discover we are loved by the One who empathizes with our weakness? Amen.