Every once in a while you may have the privilege of being in the presence of an amazing teacher. A teacher so passionate he or she will do whatever it takes to identify with you and then communicate a life-changing, unforgettable truth.
I just had such an experience.
Forgive me if I don’t get everything just right in the telling. I still may be reeling from the encounter I had with godly, gifted scholars gathered in Key Largo earlier this week. Oftentimes while I was in the room my head was spinning as the theologians, especially, referenced authors by actually using words I’ve only admired from afar.
But I knew I was in the presence of greatness—young though he may be—when Andy Root articulated the research he hoped to contribute to our collaborative effort. The canopy under which we were gathered is a bodacious cause. We want young people to know the joy of living the good life as made possible through Jesus Christ.
That’s my version. Andy used words like “theosis” and “hypostasis” to set up the point that when youth experience ministry as “kenosis,” whether received or offered, it is so transformational we can expect they will touch the immeasurable joy of Christ.
“Kenosis” is an English transliteration of the pivotal Greek word Paul used in Philippians 2 to describe how Jesus Christ emptied himself. He did not hold onto his privileges as the second person in the Trinity. Rather, he took on the limitations of the human experience. He became like us. “Kenosis” means self-emptying.
That’s when I realized that I was in the presence of a creative genius, fully committed to teaching profound truths no matter how much of himself it might cost.
Hours earlier Andy and I had enthusiastically boarded an excursion boat that would take us to gorgeous ocean reefs where we could snorkel our way through the morning. But the sea was angry that day, my friends…or at least a bit choppy. I swallowed lots of salt water as waves washed over my snorkel. When I climbed aboard a bobbing boat after chasing brilliantly colored fish it didn’t take long for me to get a bit queasy.
Then I started puking.
Andy joined me as a junior vomiteer, retching about once for every seven times I was tossing my cookies to brilliantly colored fish. Lest she feel left out of this historical record, Caroline, another member of our joy-seeking tribe, also made a belcherous offering over the side of the boat.
Do you see what he did? He emptied himself with me hours before he taught us all about self-emptying. The richness of self-emptying ministry in the kenosis pattern of our Lord Jesus came alive because Andy Root joined me in a self-emptying adventure. He postured himself, not as a pre-eminent theologian over me, but as a co-presenter to God’s oceanic creation with me. It was exquisite empathy, deftly offered by a masterful educator who knows a teachable moment when he sees one, albeit with a bitter after-taste.
I will never forget the self-emptying lesson learned at Andy’s kneeling side on a boat near the Florida Keys. Giving your all is almost enjoyable when you have a partner who shares in your pain.