Sermon August 14, 2016
First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Chicago
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding/scorning/despising/destroying ( καταφρονήσας ) its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2
If you were to picture shame, imagine shame as an image what would shame look like? What about if you wanted to personify shame as a person? As a person, what would shame look like?
The ancient Greeks had a goddess named Aidos. And Aidos was the goddess of shame.
Of course, Aidos was not all bad, in the horrible debilitating, ulcerous sense of the word shame that we carry today. Aidos was also the goddess of humility (the feeling of “right-sized-ness” or the feeling of awe and wonder when we look up at the sky and feel how small we are but feel the vastness of the eternity around us). She was personified also the emotion a rich person might feel (on a good day) when he leaves his monied courts and steps out into the slums and ghettos—into the presence of poverty and poor people. It’s probably good that, being confronted with other humans (for him easily ignored) that he doesn’t feel well. Though we should be aware that his feeling is still self-absorbed, more of a feeling of an embarrassment than one of a solidarity—(remember feeling bad for people, pitying others, even “feeling” compassion does absolutely no good whatsoever for anyone unless it translated into action)… Even feeling bad in the face of injustice is still self-absorbed, unless it becomes LOVE (Eros, Agape), which has the potential of becoming, instead, community-absorbed.
Nonetheless, Aidos seems not to be totally bad, in that she does have to do with the shame that we associate with guilt—you know, with actually having done something wrong, with having hurt or wronged another.
But there’s also the other kind of shame, right? You know the kind I am talking about? Not the shame that settles in and possesses us because we’ve done something wrong, (or because we encounter inequality and feel convicted) but the shame we feel because someone tells us there is something wrong with us! Just because of who we are.
There’s this other kind of shame:
the shame we feel because someone tells us there is something wrong with us simply because of who we are.
It’s not difficult for us to list examples, right?:
-To be gay, right? That’s a big one around here. People have made up all sorts of awful names and insults to shame and attack us for just being the way we are, the way we were created, right?
-To be a woman: “You throw like a girl, right?” As if being a woman was bad, or shameful, or less-than…
-To be Black: that's huge here, too, right? There's racism and racist things being said everywhere, all the time.
-“You’re too smart,” (a geek or a nerd), too dumb….
-We’re too addicted, right? What a horrible thing to feel ashamed about, right? Like it’s our fault that we were grabbed by a disease and that our lives deteriorated because of it. Addiction shouldn’t be a source of shame. That’s like being ashamed of having an ear infection! We wanna be free, but no reason to be ashamed…
-Or maybe it’s that we’re mentally ill, right? We have high highs and low lows, and people don’t know what to do with us, and it’s easier to judge us and shame us, then to actually have a relationship with us right? So we are assigned shame…. We are told, “There is something wrong with you.”
There’s that shame that comes not from the guilt of something I’ve done wrong, but from the embarrassment and paralysis of having a person, a society, an economy, a state budget, a church, a denomination, a religion… whatever… whoever… say: there’s something wrong with you, you are not worthy, you are broken, you are useless, you are junk.
If you had to personify shame, what would shame look like?
The early Christians were often ashamed. And the defining characteristic of their shame was that:
though they claimed the peace that passed all understanding, (what today Oprah or Dr. Phil might call “inner peace,” they also claimed, unabashedly, that their faith was a faith of desire: that they wanted something more.
Unlike the Roman religion (the dominant, pop-religion) that surrounded them, that labeled people in power as gods—their governors, the royalty, the royalty’s children (I imagine something like People magazine could be their holy prayer cards, right?), Unlike the Roman religion that lifted up the monarchy (the often vicious and cruel and domineering monarchy) as gods, as Divine,
Christians, instead, rejected Caesar at Lord. Instead, they claimed Christ as Lord of all. Christ, the Lord, who they waited for with desire,
as they prayed and sang spiritual songs, not to honor caesar,
but to celebrate the end of empire when (in stark contrast) God’s kingdom would come, God’s will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Because of their rejection of reality (their “un-real-istic” longing), of Roman emperor-worship, and so on, of the world-as-it-is, Christians were shamed, they were mocked, beaten, flogged, stoned to death—by everyday people, and by officials and soldiers, who (from time to time) would also beat and imprison them (if not feed them to the lions)
The Roman empire did the best they could to shame and threaten the Christians out of existence. To convince them that they were worthless, broken, junk. To convince them that because of who they were, just by virtue of being followers of Christ… they were bad, junk, worthless, shameful.
Remember, Christ they also shamed publicly, putting him on display, in the epitome of all attempts to provoke shame—the crucifixion.
It was bad! It was really, really bad…
Read our Gospel text, right?: Families were literally split, children disowned because of the shame and fear of their parents. That’s what this text is about!
The Roman empire did the best they could to shame and threaten the Christians out of existence.
But the Christians knew better. Even though there was a lot of pain.
And it couldn’t have been easy.
But on their better days, the Christians knew better.
They knew that their worth, their pride, their hope
Did not rest in medals or merits or trophies or whatever from Rome and her military,
or their status as citizens of an oppressive country,
or members of a prestigious temple,
or the use of violence to promote the “Pax Romana” the Roman, peace...
|A Crucifix in Mexico City|
Instead, they knew (in the words of Hebrews 11)
that God made them strong in their weakness.
That God made them strong.
The same God who strengthened the weak and the persecuted form the beginning of Holy History.
That their worth was given by God, who called them all children of God, beloved, in whom God is well pleased—not by merit, but by grace, … and they knew that they were citizens of God’s “nearby” kingdom, where the first become last and lowly are lifted…
Citizens of another world, aliens and exiles all of us, longing for home and restoration.
And finally, they knew that the peace of God is a fruit of the Spirit, born not of violence, but of love, that true peace is a gift from God, not won through war or threats or swords or guns or walls or uniforms… Or any other act of coercion or manipulation…
The Roman empire did the best they could to shame and threaten the Christians out of existence.
They crucified their God!
They lynched him!
They hung him on a tree!
[Point to the crucifix].
But the Christians didn’t perish in their shame.
They gathered around the pain, they didn’t hide it.
In fact, they (eventually) displayed it,
right there out in the open.
And in their solidarity, they found Resurrection.
Between 1922–1924 José Clemente Orozco painted this image “Christ destroys his cross.” I think it was about today’s reading, the second reading. Did you hear it?
Near the end?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, DESTROYING (καταφρονήσας ) its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
How do you picture shame? The bad, bad shame? The hurtful, debilitating, paralyzing, awful shame? Not chosen, but forced onto us, not for anything we’ve done, but simply “because” of who we are?”
In the first century, if you asked someone, they might say:
Shame personified looks just like this:
[point to the crucifix again].
But the Christians saw something different.
In pain there was no shame.
But rather a reason to gather.
A reason for solidarity.
The early people of the Christian faith were always being shamed, by their neighbors, by their rulers, by their classmates, by their families and former-friends; simply because they were who they were.
And though there were days, perhaps, when they felt it, felt the heaviness of depression, or the paralysis of fear that come with shame,
together, in community, they found strength, and they reminded one another that
there was nothing to do to make God love them more, and nothing they could do to make God love them less…
that God loved them unconditionally, and without reservation or hesitation—
and that nothing could separate them from the Love of God in Christ Jesus,
whose kingdom will come
whose will will be done
on earth as it is in heaven…
They gathered in their pain, in the presence of the God of the Cross and the God of Resurrection
who calls us beloved, who calls us to the work of God’s kingdom, and who calls us to acts of love and charity and liberation in the midst of a world that often glamorizes and deifies and idolizes its opposite.
May we be assured of the promise of God’s liberating love.
May God destroy any shame that controls us, that keeps us from liberating love,
And may the peace that passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.