With = Support + Accountability

Link to Service Bulletin

Genesis 1: 26, Matthew 28: 16-20
Sermon: “With = Support + Accountability” -Rev. Brian Gruhn
“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (Matt. 28: 17). I am fascinated by that
verse. “They worshiped him; but some doubted.”
I feel like most of us might say that if only something amazing would happen right in front of our
eyes…it would help my belief. We all relate to Doubting Thomas, we all understand the
urge to say, “I can only believe Christ is risen if I can touch the holes in his hands
Especially living in our science-centered culture, none of us wnat to appear to be gullible or
ridiculous, so it would really help if I saw a burning bush that was not consumed by the flame, and I
could hear God’s voice myself calling me by name and telling me, “I Am What I Am”…I really think
it would help my faith to get to experience these things for myself!
But, perhaps, this verse can cure us of that impulse. Apparently, these disciples saw Jesus with their
own eyes, and when they saw him, they worshiped him. But even then…some doubted.
I am so curious about their doubts. Were they doubting what was happening right before their eyes?
Were they doubting themselves? After all, these were the people who abandoned Jesus in his
greatest hour of need…and now he is appearing to them without anger. He is not shaming or
blaming them for what they did or failed to do, he is not threatening reprisal, he is not wielding
power over them in any way. In fact…he’s simply announcing that what is now his will soon be
theirs…the authority Christ has over all Creaiton will be poured upon them through the Holy Spirit.
It’s possible the disciples would have some doubts about their own worthiness in this whole
It’s also possible that their doubts are actually projected onto the future. In their short lives, these
men were raised as good Jewish boys, learning that God has ultimate authority over all things, and if
you are good enough, then God will bless you with good things. If you are bad, if you’re a sinner,
God will curse you as you deserve. And yet, throughout their entire lives, no matter how bad they
were, nothing truly cataclysmic happened…and no matter how good they were…life didn’t improve
much, either. For them, just as for us, there was a doubt about the Living God’s authority and
Then, they meet God in human form, in the man they got to know as Jesus. When they realized this
Jesus had revealed Christ among them, they learned this was not a God of Authority, but rather a
God of support. This Divine Being was working miracles right before their eyes, forgiving sins in
real time, healing the sick, freeing the oppressed, caliming storms and raising the dead. This was a
form of God that was traveling all over the countryside offering full support of God’s People,
willingly and freely. Then the world killed him. God of authority was nowhere to be seen, and
ordinary humans in uniform were able to destroy the God of support. Perhaps the disciples were
not doubting who they saw with their very eyes, who they could touch and speak with. Perhaps they
were doubting in the oldest sense of the word, derived from the old French word “doter,” meaning
“to dread or be afraid (etymonline.com).” Maybe they feared or doubted what might lie
ahead…now that the supportive God had been taken from them…and the authoritarian God never
appeared at all.
We share those doubts, we share those fears, we share that uncertainty about the future. We also
have no idea what God is thinking or planning or willing to do. All we have is Jesus’ promise to be
with us, always, until the end of the age. We often don’t know how our stories will end. However,
when we come to these moments of doubt and uncertainty, we can always remember how the story
began…and trust that the beginning of the story will often hint at the story’s end.
We read in our Creaiton Story in Genesis that humans were made in the Divine Image. In the image
of God we were made, for the purpose of having “dominion” or “authority” over all of Creation.
God wanted partners to assist with caring for this beautiful planet God made. This is shared as the
reason for our existence, and the nature of our identities as God’s Beloved, bearing the image of the
Divine in our very being. There is a crucial detail in this short verse that we really have to take note
of, or we miss the totality of this Divine image we all contain: God is speaking with other
beings…who are also God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, according to our
likeness (Gen. 1:26).’” If we were reading this story in Heberew, the word we would read here for
God would be “Elohim,” which is a plural noun. God is revealed in this story as a Beloved
Community, somehow One Creator with multiple entities. John the Evangelist might assert that one
of the beings being addressed here would be The Word, who was “with God in the beginning,”
through whom everyone came into being (John 1). Perhaps the Holy Spirit is sharing in this
conversation as well. As Franciscan Father Richard Rohr teaches, this verse reveals that “in the
beginning was Relationship.”
A particular critique of my preaching is that I’m not doing a good job teaching people how to apply
their Christian faith in their daily lives. “Can you just tell us how to practice our faith?” And yet
every sermon I have ever given is very clear: As followers of Christ, as witnesses to the Holy Spirit,
as God’s People in this place, we are called to be practitioners of Relationship. It is our call to learn
how God is in relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit, how that relationship is revealed
throughout scripture to include human beings and all the earth…and then we strive to allow that
understanding to inform how we live with one another. As God lives with us.
When Jesus ascends to heaven and tasks his disciples with baptizing others in the name of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has revealed to
them, he is revealing what has been true of humans since the beginning: Humans are in a particular
relationship with God.
I recently was blessed with learning about a paritcular tool from the field of social justice work that
opened up for me exactly what this promise of Jesus means. It’s called The Social Discipline
Window (see image below). It is a model that offers four basic approaches to addressing behavior
that needs to be changed. When we use authority to change things, we are doing something TO
others. The more authority we use, the more likely we are becoming punitive, trying to correct
behavior through coercion and punishment. When we try to change behavior through support, we
are becoming increasingly permissive, doing things FOR others. Sometimes this is a great way of
changing some bad behvior…but if we become too permissive, then we are possibly “spoiling” the
other, only increasing the likelihood of bad behavior. We also commonly take the approach of
“neglecting” the other…hoping that by withdrawing authority or support might just help us ignore
the problem until it goes away. But, according to the model, there is a 4th option, found in the
upper-right hand corner of the window–unwittingly illustrating how Jesus, the Christ of Support,
ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Authority–we see a possibility for going
WITH the other. By increasing authority AND support in equal measure, we learn to go WITH
others. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant all along, when he promised to be WITH his disciples until
the end of the age. If this is true, then we can’t simply pray TO God, with the hope that God will
do things FOR us. This model invites us to consider how a God who promises to be WITH us is
opening up a whole universe of new possibilities within all our relationships.
One day my 3 year old woke up, and the first thing he said was, “NOOOOOO!” He was just
screaming in his room, “NOOOOO!” So I rush in to make sure he’s ok, and I say, “Good morning,
son!” And he looked at me and screamed, “NOOOO! I don’t want to get out of bed!” This was
not a great way to start the day…and it carried on throughout the morning. “NOOOOOOO! I
WON’T eat breakfast! I don’t want to go potty! I WON’T be quiet! NOOOOOOOO!”
I instinctively started utilizing everything at my disposal to try and correct this behavior. It was early
in the morning, so I tried to begin with kindness, offering various forms of support, “Sweetheart,
I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time, how about I help you to the bathroom? What would you like
me to make you for breakfast? Would you like to watch TV? Anything, anything FOR you…just
stop screaming.”
So then I got into my authoritative father voice, “Young man! You STOP screaming now! Or
ELSE!” The problem of trying to do this with a 3 year old is that they are notoriously difficult to
bargain with. I don’t actually have the authority to make him stop what he’s doing…and he’s too
young to really get the idea of cost/benefit analysis. So exercising authority over very young ones
rarely works.
So then I ignored him for awhile. “Eh, I’ll let him scream, he’ll burn himself out eventually.” Have
you ever done that? Tried to ignore a 3 year old until their behavior changes? Does that ever go
Miraculously, a combination of things occurred to me in that moment. First, I thought of this social
discipline window, and thought about how I could use it as a map. Authority, Neglect,
Support…none of them were correcting the behavior that was becoming an increasing threat to my
mental health. What would it look like to be WITH my son in this moment? How might I employ
mutual authority AND support, so we could go through this together?
That’s when I remembered some teachings from my favorite parenting guru and developmental
psychaologist, Dr. Becky. Dr. Becky has written a book and runs a podcast and offers a wide variety
of online parenting workshops around a method she calls, “Good Inside.” Her central thesis is that
there is no such thing as a “bad kid,” just kids who are not yet equipped with the tools they need to
live their lives, so they get frustrated. In Dr. Becky’s view, frustrations are a sign of an unmet need,
fear is a natural and normal part of facing an uncertain world, and the biggest and best thing any of
us need to hear in moments of frustration and fear is, “Hey, you aren’t alone. I am here with you,
you are good inside, and we will get through this together.”
This sermon is already long, so I won’t go into detail about it, but…trust me…this is not how I was
raised. I had an authoritarian parent and a supportive-to-a-fault parent. I did not yet know the
power of a parent going WITH a child through a hard time.
So I got down to my son’s level. I gently put my hands on his shoulders and I said, “Buddy, I love
you. You are a wonderful kid. You seem to be having a hard time. Can you tell me what you’re
And he cried out, “I miss my mommy!”
“Oh, buddy, I get that. Mommy is at work, but she loves you, she wants you to have a good
morning with me and your sister. Could we miss mommy together?”
So he cried and I sat with him. After awhile, I said, “I think our bodies might be hungry, let me set
out some food and you have it when you’re ready.” So I just put food out on the table and sat down
to eat. After a few minutes he wandered by himself to the table and started taking bites of different
foods. Then he sat down in his special chair. After a few minutes of quiet eating, he said in a soft
and sweet voice, “Daddy, I love you.”
We all want something extraordinary to happen to us, so it’s easier to believe. We all want God to do
things for us, rewards for our faith. No one wants to be neglected.
The Good News for all of us is that God loves us enough to be WITH us in all things. Now, when I
feel frustrated or afraid or doubtful, I try to see these as signs of unmet needs in my life. I try to let
God whisper to me, as only a Good Father can, “What do you need, buddy? How can we find it
together?” The Social Discipline Window offers a map, a guide, a process by which we can find our
way into living WITH God and one another…restoring life, justice, dignity, all the things we are each
deserving of.
I pray you find opportunities to practice this in your relationships throughout the week.
Know that wherever you go, whatever you do, God is with us…until the end.