Sunday’s Sermon: Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Lives

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  • There’s a really great book that came out a number of years ago. It’s called Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America,[1] and it’s written by a man named Mike Yankoski. In 2005, Mike and his friend, Sam Purvis, spent 5 months – from late May to early November – living on the streets of 6 major U.S. cities.
    • Read back of book
    • Overall purpose:[2]
      • To better understand the life of the homeless in America, and to see firsthand how the church is responding to their needs
      • To encourage others to “live out loud” for Christ in whatever ways God is asking them to
      • To learn personally what it means to depend on Christ for [their] daily physical needs, and to experience contentment and confidence in [Christ]
    • For Mike and Sam, this experience shocked them out of their faith comfort zones. You see, sometimes I think we get a little too comfortable in our faith. Sometimes, we need something to remind us how vital and essential our faith truly is to our lives.
      • NT scripture passage does this for us –> I have to be honest with you, this is not a comfortable passage to read or to preach. This is one of those passages that makes pastors feel a little uneasy when we see it coming up in the lectionary.
        • Lots of posts from pastor-friends on FB this week: Struggling with the Luke passage … how is everyone else tackling it this Sunday?
    • And for me, there was a very specific word that I kept coming back to as I was reading this passage from Luke this week: vulnerability.
      • Not a word we like to get too familiar with à we don’t like being vulnerable, makes us feel …
        • Awkward
        • Precarious
        • Uncomfortable
        • At the same time, I think our New Testament passage for today makes it clear that discipleship demands a certain amount of vulnerability with God.
  • Explore that vulnerability
    • Under the Overpass is full of experiences that left Mike and Sam feeling more vulnerable than they ever expected.
      • Physical vulnerability –> hunger, strain of traveling from city to city (hitchhiking, walking), threats/fights, weather (cold, heat, downpours, and so on)
      • Emotional vulnerability –> rejection, judgments of others, unsolicited hostility
        • “Wake up” experience –> pp. 63-64
        • “We Have a Policy” experience –> pp. 122-123
        • “Locked church” experience –> pp. 104-105
    • None of that sounds very comfortable, does it? Granted, Mike and Sam didn’t embark on their journey for the comfort of it. Quite the opposite. They didn’t have to live on the streets. There were families and loved ones and warm, comfortable homes waiting for them. This was an experience that Mike and Sam chose because they wanted to find out if they could truly let go of everything but their faith. And that’s the thing about vulnerability, isn’t it? It is scary and uncomfortable because in order to become vulnerable, we have to let go of all those things that keep us feeling sure and certain and secure, leaving us totally open to … whatever.
      • And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus is asking of us in this passage from Luke’s gospel this morning. Jesus is calling us to open our hands, our hearts, and our lives, and to release all of those things that insulate us – those things that keep us feeling safe and comfortable – to be totally open to being Jesus’ disciples … whatever that may bring.
        • Children’s sermon e.g.s –> can’t accept God’s love, God’s mission, God’s grace if we’re clinging too tightly to other things
          • Physical things, yes – text: None of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.[3]
          • But Jesus is also talking about more than just the physical comforts that we surround ourselves with.
            • Gr. “possessions” = connotations of entire being (“exist,” “be present”) –> So Jesus is declaring that, if we want to be his disciples, we must give of our whole selves – all that we have and all that we are.
            • Implies emotional things, too –> this is where that uncomfortable family part comes in – text: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.[4]
              • Scholar – important distinction: “Hate” does not mean anger or hostility. It indicates that if there is a conflict, one’s response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships. There is no duty higher than commitment to Jesus and to being his disciple.[5] –> So Jesus isn’t calling for us to truly hate our families in the sense we understand the word today. Phew! And while that distinction makes this passage a little bit more palatable, it’s still uncomfortable. Jesus is calling us to put our devotion to God above all other loyalties in our lives.
              • E.g. of this: Katie Davis[6]
                • Moved to Uganda in 2007 (age 19) to teach kindergarten at orphanage –> Katie left everything she knew behind – her family, her friends and her boyfriend, her culture, even her own language – to answer God’s call in a place that God had laid on her heart. She was making herself truly vulnerable for the sake of spreading the gospel message of God’s love.
                • Now: runs non-profit organization (still from Uganda) called Amazima Ministries International, provides meals to 1200 children per week, initiated self-sustaining vocational program for women, adopted 13 young orphaned girls –> Imagine how the lives of all of those people in Uganda would’ve been different if Katie had run away from her vulnerability instead of following Christ.
  • In his forward to Under the Overpass, pastor, church planter, and Christian author Francis Chan said, “Sacrifice promotes believability.”[7] This short but powerful phrase certainly describes Mike and Sam’s journey on the streets, but I think it can also speaks to why it’s important for us to open ourselves up to God despite that uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability: only when we are truly open can we experience genuine discipleship.
    • Sacrifice promotes believability –> Vulnerability, our sacrifice of comfort, promotes the dedication necessary for discipleship
      • This is what Jesus is talking about in the 2 mini-parables that we encountered today – the man contemplating building the tower, and the king contemplating going to war. In these stories, Jesus is asking us to consider the cost of discipleship in all its struggles and vulnerability before committing ourselves.
        • Not asking for perfection – another scholar: Jesus was not asking for a guarantee of complete fidelity in advance. If he had, no one would qualify to be a disciple. Through these parables, Jesus was simply calling for each person who would be a disciple to consider in advance what the commitment required.[8]
  • So why do we even consider discipleship in the first place? I mean, we don’t like being uncomfortable. We don’t like being vulnerable. What keeps us coming back to God instead of turning elsewhere?
    • Have to remember that discipleship = not always scariness and discomfort –> grace in vulnerability as well
      • See e.g.s of power of faith in vulnerability in Under the Overpass –> despite adverse situations, Mike and Sam continued to share their faith with anyone who asked about it
        • Story of Tiffany (only person to take them to dinner in the whole 5 mos.)
        • Story from pp. 110-111 (“Amazing Grace”)
    • Vulnerability also opens us up to recognize God’s unconditional love and acceptance –> seen in passage from Psalm 139
      • Now, most passages that speak of God’s creative and redemptive love in the Old Testament speak of the multitudes – the nation of Israel, “all God’s people,” etc. – but this psalm is special. In this psalm, we hear words of how God lovingly and tenderly created each and every one of us as individuals.
        • Individual creation = theme throughout but especially clear in v. 14: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
          • Heb. in psalm is complex because it’s poetry, but woven into phrasing = word for “being distinct” –> God made us each individually, lovingly, and uniquely.
          • Scholar gets to the heart of how this affects our discipleship: The presence of such love invites both fierce loyalty and sweet surrender.[9] –> “Fierce loyalty and sweet surrender” … two things that require true vulnerability. You see, we can trust God with the openness of our fiercest loyalty and the vulnerability of our sweetest surrender because we know that God loves us. Always. And we know that God cares for us. Always.
            • Children’s sermon: kids knew I wouldn’t put anything scary or harmful in their open hands because they trust me – know I would never hurt them –> This is how we can be with God.
              • Trust infuses vulnerability with the power of faith
  • So here’s my question for you this morning: How is God calling you to be vulnerable? Where is God asking you to open your hands, your heart, or your life? Amen.


[1] Mike Yankoski. Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books), 2005.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Lk 14:33.

[4] Lk 14:26-27.

[5] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 292.

[6] www.amazima.org/katiesstory.html and Kisses from Katie. (New York, NY: Howard Books), 2011.

[7] Francis Chan. “Forward,” in Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010), ix.

[8] Culpepper, 293.

[9] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1238.

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