Sermon Manuscript September 30, 2018
Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: Job 6:22-30
“Shame 2.0: Relational Doubt”
I have received a lot of feedback on this sermon series, and it is confirmation for me that this is an important and relevant thing for us as a church to be talking about. I want to invite you to our Thursday book study group, as we discern this week what we will be studying this fall. I am wondering if perhaps doing some more in-depth study on this topic would be helpful as well as healing for many people? It is difficult to confide in others about our own stories and feel like we will be received and accepted. That is part of the difficulty with the voice of shame within. I want to start this week by reading from Brené Browns book that I have mentioned several times. This is from The Gifts of Imperfection, and it is from page 39. (Read relevant paragraphs 1-4 from book)
These 3 or 4 paragraphs are really a summary of everything I have been preaching on the past several weeks. I am not trying to repeat what Brené has done, but to show the Gospel threads that speak to these very real situations that bring us shame or keep us trapped in feeling like we are stuck in a mindset of shame. I agree with Brené that naming it and talking about shame for what it is leads to us being able to be resilient to its affects, and to owning our story and imperfections. It is courageous, it leads to greater connection and compassion for ourselves and others. These three words are ways Brené has found for us to have resiliency to shame. We cannot eradicate it from our lives, but we can become resilient to it being the loudest voice.
One of the first things I read that sticks with me this week is this: “We are afraid people won’t like us if they know who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much were struggling or how wonderful we are when we are soaring…”
This week is all about friends, and how we relate to one another. For some of us we feel we have failed others, and that we are not worthy to be their friends. For others we have a hard time making friends because the shame voice tells us that they won’t accept us even if they knew the truth of our stories. For still others we are like Job and doubt whether our friends are really listening to our stories. I don’t want to highlight Job’s friends as being terrible friends, but I do want to make the point that we must listen to one another’s stories and truth telling and not keep others feeling shame or feeling like they doubt the relationship because of our failure to listen.
Job pleads with his friends to listen to him, to see if he cannot recognize the evil that has come upon him. His friends continue to say the calamity that has come upon him is because he must have sinned, and God is punishing him. Job continues to speak of his innocence, and questions why this is happening to him. He needs friends who will be with him, listen to his story, and not treat him as if he was someone whose character they questioned. They know him, and as friends he just wants to know they trust him and his story. It is vulnerable to offer our stories to others, and good friends receive those stories, believe those stories, and walk alongside us.
We can feel as if we have breached trust with a friend on the flipside of this conversation. When someone has endured tragedy and we have few words to say, we can feel like anything we say would just add insult to their injuries. We want to offer help, and we want the relationship to continue. I believe in the practice of showing up as our full self. What I mean by this is that we enter a situation (show up) as our full and best selves.
Sometimes the best thing we can do as friends is be there for people. That means showing up, and being present, and believing people. If you want to be seen as a friend and ally, this is the way you show up. When friends are in the hospital, in prison, struggling to make ends meet, telling of a difficult time in their life we are fully present, offering a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.
I want to return to the quote about ourselves and our fear of other people liking us now. I think one of the hardest pieces to relational doubt is the idea of being unlikable. “We are afraid people won’t like us if they know who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much were struggling or how wonderful we are when we are soaring…” We aren’t always going to be perfect friends. We will fail like Job’s friends, but it won’t just be that we don’t fully listen, or don’t fully show up when it matters. Making friends is hard. Commonalities often make this easier, but when we feel we don’t have much in common or have differing views it becomes more difficult. For some of us we think: they won’t like me because I think differently, or because we don’t have enough in common, or because we disagree about important topics they won’t want to remain friends. These can be barriers, but these are not the only or best foundations for relationship.
Respect for other’s values, respect for others in general and simply enjoying another’s presence seem to me to be the best ways friendships endure. Having nothing in common does not mean you are not liked by a friend or unworthy of friendship. Friends value us, respect us, even when they disagree or see things differently. Above all they value the time they spend with us. They are present to us and our stories, and the reciprocity confirms for them that we are friends as well.
When we get out of the unlikable box because of our faults, our differences, or because we fear we will mess things up we begin to realize that our presence is the key. As I said earlier, friendships and being a friend is about being present, showing up, listening and reciprocating what is offered you. I like all of you am still learning how to do this, and my shame voice speaks really loud with this more than many of the others. I have a few meaningful friends, but I have a hard time feeling worthy or feeling like I am being as present to others as they are to me. Perhaps you can relate to this? Some friendships don’t require much energy and effort, but all relationships take work. If we aren’t doing any work towards a relationship I think we can expect not much to come back to us. When we show up, show love, listen and respect others as friends I believe we can expect reciprocity.
Job’s friends show up in the beginning. They sit with him in his grief for seven days. This was customary in their culture, and it is the right thing for them to have done. Where they went wrong was in offering advice that showed they did not believe their friend. They lacked respect for Job’s story and the truth they knew about him. Perhaps the greatest way we can make new friends is to be kind.
Respect for me is not something we need to earn; unless trust in a relationship has been breached. I believe all people are worthy of respect, kindness, and friendship. I believe this is the way God relates to us. God does not require us to earn God’s respect and love. That is contrary to grace. If we had to earn God’s favor, respect, and love it would be a works-based relationship. Instead let us offer compassion, trust, respect, and grace from the beginning. I believe that will make our relationships richer, fuller, and make us confident that we are showing up as a friend to all. In Christ’s name. Amen
Sermon Manuscript September 23, 2018
Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Luke 18:9-14
Outward appearances versus inward appearances. ‘Looks’ is our keyword today.
We live in the world of airbrushing, photo shop, and plastic surgery. It is a world where we can look ‘perfect’ on the outside. Magazines, music, movies, and media of all sorts sell an image of perfection that is attractive as well as manipulative. Beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder, but we are told the beholder is supposed to only like a certain type of beauty. We use categories of binary terms, fat and thin, ugly and pretty, tall and short. These terms are unhelpful and are not a full picture of a persons appearance or their value.
People who are different, are often bullied, ostracized, and/or ridiculed for the way they look or dress. Our middle and high schoolers here can relate to this. How many of you have felt pressure from peers to look a certain way, dress a certain way, or pressured also to not hang out with certain people? We all can think back on how we were included or not based on the way we dressed, who we chose to spend time with, or based on our families. We are sometimes told be peer pressure who we should and shouldn’t be around based on their looks. Attractiveness and looks are not a bad thing, but they have become the measurement for worth and value for others. We take outward appearances and apply it to the judgment of a whole person.
It is difficult to overcome, but I believe the Gospel of Grace mandates that we do so. We fell ashamed of the way we look or the way we dress, and instead of just owning that we are who we are and are worthy of love no matter what, we try to fit in.
We trade true belonging for the status of ‘fitting in,’ or being one of the crowd. We compromise; we hide behind a mask; we allow others perceptions to influence our own perception of ourselves.
In our passage today with David and Jesses sons we hear about Samuel’s searching out of the new king of Israel. It doesn’t take long for us to see that Samuel is looking for the tallest, strongest, and most fit for battle among Jesse’s sons. Seven sons are brought before Samuel and God continues to say that they aren’t the one. Samuel hears from God that he should not look at outward appearances, because God doesn’t judge on outward appearances, that God judges the heart. Samuel finally resolves to ask if there are any other sons, to which David is called in. David is attractive, but he is young and small of stature. He is a boy out tending the sheep, doing work that isn’t considered strenuous, albeit still important. We would expect the strong, tall, and well built son to be the obvious choice like Samuel, but God tells us that he is looking for a king with the right heart, or the right character.
What if character was the measuring tool we used when we look at ourselves and others? It is all too easy to feel like we are nothing special, that we don’t have the looks or the appearance that everyone else desires. It is comforting to know that God sees our hearts, and that God does not judge us by those standards but on our character and the nature of our relationship to God.
One of our favorite movies right now is The Greatest Showman, a film that looks at the life and work of P.T. Barnum. The musical is full of good messages, and more than likely is a romantic telling of about 70% of his actual life. Some liberties are taken, but we are talking about a movie and so we can expect that.
The most striking thing is that Barnum did find people who were outcasts because of their looks; odd looking people by the world’s standards and welcomed them in as they were. At one point one of the critics says that if he could move himself to say it he would say that it was a celebration of humanity to have all those different people on stage with Barnum. Treating them as equals celebrates the fact that they are people just like him. I don’t like that it takes bringing them into the circus world to perform for others to recognize their inner beauty, but it is still wonderful for Barnum to have done. At one point there is a song sung that speaks to the shame all the performers have felt because of the way they look. The bearded lady sings these words from a song called “This is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman
“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one'll love you as you are
But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me”
(hear the full song with lyrics here:)
This song reminds us to not be ashamed of who we are. Later on in the song the words speak about “knowing that they are worthy of love.” It calls us to hear a different voice, to see a different truth, and to believe that we as well as others are beautiful and worthy no matter what we may look, sound, or dress like.
Scripture also tells us that God isn’t looking at outward appearances when it came to choosing King David. I believe and know that is true for everyone else, not just David.
Christ came to live and love all people, and then to die for all people to bring them full worth and relationship with God. We are first and foremost worthy because everyone is worthy, regardless of our faith tradition, looks, sexuality, gender, and cultural identity. We are all worthy of love and belonging because we have a common humanity. We need to belong in fact. It is part of our physiological needs like we need food, water, shelter; we need to belong in a social way in order to be healthy. Why do we make it so hard for others or ourselves to belong?
We are also challenged further by both scriptures because one encourages us to see ourselves by the character of our heart, and view others in the same way, and the second to not be so quick to judge as is expressed with the pharisee and tax collector. The pharisee parades himself as being righteous, devout, and not defrauding others or living in sin. He inflates himself. The tax collector instead beats his chest, and knows of the wrong he is doing. He knows he is taking more than his fair share and cannot even bear to lift his eyes toward heaven. Instead of get himself off the hook by saying he is doing the best he can, which he is, he pleads for mercy from God.
Judgment towards others and ourselves almost always leads to shame. When we are like the pharisee and believe that we are better than others and begin judging them in these ways it brings shame upon them. I think it also brings shame upon ourselves. Jesus makes this point as he says that the one who goes away with the right mindset is the tax collector. The one who knows that they may have faults, that they are not perfect, but is humble to say that they need God’s love and mercy is the one who is viewing things right. Saying that people aren’t worthy of love, worthy of our acceptance, and judging others before we get to know them will keep people trapped in the box of shame. Looks are not everything, but our relationships are.
What if instead we loved others, made them know they belong for who they are, and took on the attitude of Christ in welcoming all people. I think we would be wise to look at people’s hearts more than we discern someone’s worth by their outward appearances. Maybe if you are a parent with a teenager or even a pre-teen it would be helpful to sit down and talk with them. Who is being excluded and why? Have they felt ashamed of who they are for what they look or dress like?
Know this today: you are loved, you are worthy, and you are beautiful just the way you are. Let us love one another in such a way that we let them know that no matter what they may look like they are worthy of love and belonging and that we see them as beautiful and want to know their stories. Let us not judge by looks, but on peoples stories and their hearts and I believe we will see them as God does. As the beloved children of God they are. Amen.
Sermon September 16, 2018
By Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: Luke 15:11-32
"Shame 2.0: Doubting our Self-Worth"
If anyone has reason to doubt their self worth it is this prodigal son character in Jesus’ famous parable. We are kind of set up that way. You will recall when I preached on this before that the whole story and the whole parable itself is about three characters and focusing too much on one character takes something away from the rest of the story? Well I am going to break from that and focus in on one character. I am going to focus in on one line from the whole story. This is out of the ordinary for me, but I think it is important to do so. Sometimes we look broad, and look for as many touch points as possible, but other times we must go deep and focus in microscopically on something specific. Both ways of reading, learning, and teaching are important.
I want to narrow in on the phrase this younger son says to himself and then starts to say to his father before he is cut off in his rehearsed apology. Our passage reads: “…when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ He says in that last line, ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son…’ The younger son after taking his inheritance and living a life that would be detestable for a Jewish person to live, and living among unclean animals comes back to his Father for help. He comes back to his Father who he asked this inheritance from. An inheritance that wasn’t his until his Father died.
It has been said and is worth repeating that his asking for the inheritance early is almost like wishing his father was dead. Therefore he feels unworthy, and rightly so. Wishing death on anyone is grounds to feel unworthy and not welcome in their life again. Yet I believe there is more going on here. I believe that this Son feels so much shame that he questions not only his place in the family, but any self-worth he may have had. Unworthy to be a son yes, but perhaps he even feels unworthy to be a Jew, and to be alive. I think he is so bold to go back to his Father, because he feels if anyone might welcome him back and give him any dignity, it is his Father. I wonder if he is thinking that having worked with pigs, and unclean animal, and desiring to eat their slop for his own meals, has left him feeling ashamed of his identity as a Jewish male, but also as a self-respecting person.
He is worried what the community will think, and he is worried what everyone will say because of the mistakes he has made. Most importantly he is worried what his family will think. He is resolved to be treated like a hired hand, to demote himself to that level if at all possible. He doesn’t feel like he is enough, that he matters, that he is worthy of anyone or anything. This is a depressing place to be, and I am sure at least one other person in the room we are in right now has felt that way. I have felt that way before, and it is a hard place to be in. Brene Brown who has written several books on shame as a Social Worker with special focus on this topic, writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, about self worth. She says this: “When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.” She goes on to talk about how at the end of the day we all need to feel loved, feel connected and that we belong for who we are regardless of our imperfections.
We want/need to feel loved and embraced by people around us for who we are, and not who we think they want us to be.
I imagine the younger son, or the prodigal, as a person very much like all of us dealing with the doubt of our own worthiness. Living in a culture, society, and world that perpetuates results, perfection, and sheer determination and force as the way to make it in the world leaves us in a hamster wheel of performance. A Christian author, professor, and mentor of mine Chuck Degroat in his book Wholeheartedness writes this:
This time it’s the inner voice that doubles down. Instead of saying I’m not doing enough, the stranger within offers a more troubling observation. I’m not enough. This isn’t an accusation that arises just in our minds. No, we feel it in our bodies: it burns in our chests. Its palpable. And the accusation is born of shame, perhaps the most violating inner stranger of them all.
We perform so much, get so exhausted trying to please others and ourselves that we begin just thinking, ‘I’m not doing enough.’ Then that subtle voice of shame comes in saying ‘I’m not enough.’ We think that by doing more, impressing others, and appeasing their expectations and wishes that somehow we will feel better, feel accepted, or feel like we are finally worthy.
Perhaps you have or know a story about someone who has tried so hard to please others that it ended up destroying their livelihood in the process? I think of the late Michael Jackson, and the stories he has told quite publicly about missing out on childhood due to the pressure to perform. I think of how he had many different surgeries to correct his image, and recall him stating in an interview that he didn’t like the way he looked and that he wanted to look different/ better/ perfect. I recall a time in my life where I wanted to win the love and affection of my step-father and so I pushed myself to excel in school and get all “A’s” because then he wouldn’t call me dumb or stupid. It was never enough. A moment of clarity finally came to me just a few years ago. I took many of my final courses as pass/fail. The danger of this is that those 5 or 6 classes will look like “C’s” on my transcript if I ever do more schooling, but I don’t have that on my radar now. The benefit was a freeing of myself from the need to be perfect. I didn’t have to get the A to do well or to do my best. In fact, doing my best wouldn’t affect my ‘grade’ because I was already passing. This was a freeing thing for me as it taught me to value doing something because I wanted to do a good job and do my best effort instead of receive an “A” and feel like I was accepted.
Beloved children of God, there are things in your life and my life right now that we are still seeking attention, affection, and acceptance. Let us instead know that our worth doesn’t come from others, but from our own sense of self worth and from a God who believes all are worthy in Christ.
The prodigal son comes home doubting his worth in the family, doubting his worth as a Jew, and doubting his worth in general. Yet he is worthy of love, and his efforts at making amends are good. He is enough. You are worthy of love, you are enough, and your efforts in life are good enough! We all deserve to be loved, and we all deserve to know that we belong and are worthy of other people. Sometimes this will mean we need to re-learn some things, but other times it will mean letting go of what others think, or letting go of people who make us feel like we need to be perfect to be loved by them.
The Father in our story, who is often compared to God since it is a parable, is full of compassion, love, and seeks to show honor and worth. The son is welcomed back into the family, he is shown honor by having his possession returned, and a meal is held in his honor as well. Beloved of God, this is how God is with us. God says we are worthy, that we are enough, that we do not need to be perfect before God will love us. Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking otherwise. God loves you for who you are and thinks you are worthy to be called a child of God. The shameful feeling of unworthiness, of feeling like we are not worthy of love or belonging will keep us trapped in that box of shame we talked about last week. We will feel on the outside of relationships, we will feel like we are not doing enough, and are not enough for other people or ourselves. The grace of God once again opens that box and speaks to us, “my child you are enough. I love you. I gave myself up for you in my Son Jesus Christ so that you could be part of this family. You are forgiven, you are accepted, and you are enough.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon September 9, 2018
By Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: Genesis 3:1-13
(preached on the 9th, but manuscript written after the fact):
"Shame 2.0: Doubting Original Goodness"
Typically we read this passage in an accusative way. What I mean by this is that the questions God asks of the first people of: ‘Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the fruit I asked you not to?’ God isn’t an angry parent trying to accuse children of wrong doing. This is instead one of the most intimate moments in scripture. Have you ever thought of it that way? That instead the tone is more about compassion and God lovingly searching out the creation and reminding them of their original goodness. So we are starting this sermon series on Shame by talking about this important story, not because I want us to focus on sin or even the concept of original sin. If blame continues to be the word we associate with this text we will remain stuck in a metaphorical box of shame. Instead I want the focus to be on our original goodness. That God created us originally to be good. Recall also how Adam and Eve as the representative first people of the species called humanity, walked in the garden with God in the beginning.
In Genesis 1 we hear how everything that comes into being is named ‘good,’ and ‘very good’ by God. Also recall how intimate God is in the creation account from Genesis 2, that God is involved with the earth and dirt and uses the adamah(Hebrew word pronounced ah-dom-ah) or the earth to craft Adam (pronounced ah-dom), ‘the earth creature.’ You can hear the word play there, and this human one along with his partner Eve are in the garden with God in relationship presumably walking and talking with God.
Do you recall what it says at the end of chapter 2 about Adam and Eve? It says that they were naked and unashamed. Shame isn’t a word that was known to the first people or even to the world up until this point. It isn’t until Adam states in his response to God that we learn that they were naked and hid themselves out of fear. In that case fear wasn’t anything the first people knew until this point either. Neither shame, nakedness, or fear were things that were part of the original plan. Think of it today: we would never consider that being naked would be a good and normal thing. Shame enters into the story at this point and that is why we are starting our series here. Yet it isn’t the nakedness or fear I want to focus on. I think those are things that point to the ‘box of shame’ we craft around ourselves or craft around other people. Instead I think what keeps us trapped in that box is blame.
One of the first things we do when we feel ashamed is start to name and blame why something happened. This is what we see when God compassionately and intimately asks those first questions to the man and woman. God asks, ‘Where are you?’ and the response is, “we hid ourselves because we were naked.” God follows it up in the same tone, “who told you that you were naked, did you eat of the fruit which I commanded you not to?” and the response here gets into the naming and blaming, “the woman you gave me offered me some, and I took and ate it.” Likewise the woman when she is asked says, “it wasn’t me; it was the serpent!” Don’t we do the same thing today? Who stole the last cookie from the cookie jar we are asked, and our response is, ‘not me,’ it was Judy. Blaming others is a lot easier than owning things for ourselves, and it is a lot easier than admitting our faults.
We craft this box of shame to protect us, it is a defense mechanism. We feel afraid, ashamed, and maybe even threatened and so we hide ourselves. We hide our faults. We put on a mask to make ourselves look better than we actually are, because if people saw our faults or imperfections they won’t think as well of us. The blame game is not the answer though. It is a symptom that we are trapped in shame. The only things that will help us be resilient as Dr. Brene Brown and others believe is to have courage, compassion and connection, to embrace our imperfections and own up to our mistakes and feelings. I believe that this is where grace comes in to play. God comes to us to connect with us, free us from shame and sin, and free us to live with whatever imperfections we have. God doesn’t desire us to live in shame, but to live in grace. Christ came not to condemn the world and keep us feeling ashamed, but to forgive us, release us from shame, and allow us to live in relationship with God again as we were created to do. Jesus Christ comes to restore our original goodness and free us from the box of shame we have constructed around ourselves.
There are many different things that keep us trapped in shame or trapped in the box. Sometimes it is what we feel, sometimes it is because of other’s feelings about us. Shame is anytime we doubt our self or our self-worth. Shame is anytime we doubt or original goodness and think that we don’t just do wrong things but are inherently wrong. Anytime we blame others or make them question their self-worth we put them into a state of shame. Would that we had the compassion and intimacy that God has with us and with the first people in our story. Instead of accusing and blaming we would instead offer grace as a way to help people not feel trapped in shame.
Over the next few weeks we will address other things that make us feel shame like our body image, our own feelings of unworthiness, and relationships where we feel like we have completely messed up. The invitation is always grace in place of remaining in the box of shame. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon August 26, 2018
By Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
As a child I remember one of my favorite things to do was go ‘back to school shopping.’ We have now experienced the joy on the parental side of what this means as our daughter gets ready for Kindergarten. My siblings and I always told what our budget was, and the one rule was that after we got our supplies we could get whatever clothing items we wanted. Oh boy! So I remember my favorite thing to do was try on new shoes and new pants. I don’t know why but I have always had a fascination with both of those clothing items and trying them on. Shirts, sweaters, coats, undergarments and the rest I really don’t care and don’t bother to try on. Pants and shoes; I like to think I was a simple child because of that. Maybe it is the way new pants feel when they fit just right. Maybe it is the smell of new shoes that seems to freshen the air like morning dew. I still love trying things on, but there are more things that are becoming uncomfortable for me to try on.
I remember the first day my old Halloween costumes wouldn’t fit me anymore. I also remember the day I realized I was wearing shoes two sizes too small for my feet. When something doesn’t fit right we know it right away, and it can lead to extreme pain. I like this idea of trying things on as it relates to life as well. To try something on and see if it fits, and if it doesn’t be able to put it back or try something else has an illusion of control and election on our part doesn’t it? I recall the story of David and Goliath, and how David, this young teenager who has never seen a day in battle, grabs the armor to go into war against Goliath, and nothing fits right. Do you recall that story? He is basically told: here, put this on so that you will be safe when you go out to fight. He tries it on, it doesn’t fit, and to our surprise as readers he leaves it all behind!
What doesn’t fit for me well with this passage is the militaristic war language. I don’t like it. I am a pacifist. I don’t want to imagine putting on these garments like David and feel my skin be bogged down by the weight of armor that doesn’t fit. That is why you will almost never get me to sing hymns like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers…’ I know it is a personal thing, but after reading up on this passage again and trusting that maybe God had something else in there for us I came across a beautiful contextual piece that put the whole metaphor in perspective. Traditionally we read this passage as: ‘Christians, put on the armor named here so you can stand against the devil. You individually will be tested and tried, and you will need to be ready.’
The passive tense is used a lot in this passage, and thanks to doing some research in the original language we can see this nuance and several others. The passive tense meaning that we are to be strengthened, not strong on our own, but to rely on something outside of us for help. It is also important to note that the language of ‘putting on’ comes up in Ephesians before this passage in 4:24 when it talks about ‘putting on the new self.’ This new self is one that is robed in Jesus’ righteousness, with the one lord, one faith, one baptism that we talked about last week. In light of that: ‘putting on’ this week means to put ourselves in a different relation, to trust in God more than ourselves, to put on the new self as well as these metaphorical garments. We are putting on new clothing that keeps us safe as long as we remain in relationship to God through Jesus. It isn’t about arming ourselves per se, but instead about receiving help from our new identity in Jesus.
I like the way one commentator puts it: “The spiritual arming of the church in this text is nothing other than putting into practice the new reality created through Christ that Ephesians has already described. God wins victory in ways that are not our ways, by bringing peace through the violent death of the cross.” This excited me when I came across it. Did you hear that the violent pieces came about through the cross? I love that theology. I love that way of thinking of Jesus’ death on the cross. All violence comes to an end with this one act of love. God, because of the great love God has for all creation, allows the act of Jesus’ death on the cross to be the end of all violence. In that one act, all evil, sin, death, and pain and suffering is abolished, and in its place reconciliation and shalom.
So now, this idea of being strengthened, is again something from outside of us, a strengthening that comes by way of our relationship with God in Jesus. Next we are to put on the armor of God, but essentially this is an extended metaphor pointing us back to chapter 4 where we were encouraged to put on the new self we have received in Jesus Christ. This new self is marked by relationship with God, the grace of God in forgiving us, the love of God in putting an end to violence and violent ways. Even though the language still makes me feel prickly I know this isn’t a militaristic view, but instead is a communal reminder of what strengthens us as the church. Another interesting part is when the passage speaks about who is to do this it says ‘you,’ but it is a plural you more like ‘all of you,’ or if you are from the south y’all. We do this be putting on the new self, or resting in the new identity we have as a community. Similar to last week, we do this as a community with common beliefs and understandings about what strengthens us. Righteousness, scripture, faith, truth, love, the gospel, all of these pieces that are part of the ‘armor’ are the things that will keep us living the new life in Christ as a community.
I think the greatest evils we can have as a community are dissension, shame, doubt, violence, and deception. These are the things we are protected against as we share our common identity in Christ. These are the things we are protected against as we put on the new self that is full of love, justice, peace, patience, kindness etc. God has done the work to end violence once and for all, we do not need to be violent or feel tricked into some kind of holy battle against good and evil. ‘It is finished…’ were Jesus famous final words for a reason. The cross ended the fight, put an end to an evil that had control over us, and as we embrace our faith in Jesus we need not feel like we must continually struggle.
Evil does show up in many forms, and as I mentioned a minute ago I think for the purpose of the metaphor the encouragement for the Ephesian community and the encouragement for us is to rely on our identity in Jesus. It isn’t a wily devil, but the subtle words or deceptive half truths that end up causing the most harm. In a few weeks I will start a series on shame and grace, and basically the battle we are facing internally and as a community is still one where we must choose which voice to listen to. The voices we hear around us do one of two things: make us feel guilty and doubt ourselves or our worthiness, or they encourage us to continue to embrace love and grace and rest assured of our goodness as God’s beloved. Hear the voice of God today telling you to put on the new self that clothes you well, not like clothes that don’t fit, but a new self that replaces your shame, doubt and pain with love, justice, and renewed relationships. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen
Sermon July 29, 2018
By Rev. Nicholas Dorland
Scripture Text: Acts 11:19-30
Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. Integrity is that idea from engineering and construction that is about internal consistency such that the bridge won’t fall down as you drive over it. It is about trust, and it is about accountability. Integrity is about doing what you say you will do, when, how, and in the manner you said you would do it.
Persecution of the followers of the way has led to them being dispersed into different countries and regions. As they travel to these new locations they continue to speak of the good news of Jesus Christ, and it brings about change and new faith for those who hear it. Paul and Peter have been in these regions, where those who have been dispersed are now living. The past two weeks we have heard of how Gentiles are becoming part of God’s plan of salvation (Acts 9, 10). This week we hear about the founding of a community in Antioch which is a very Hellenized city.
Here a tension starts to brew between the Jewish minded followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, and the more Hellenized followers of the way in Gentile territories. The Jerusalem church is concerned with preserving the faith the way they have received it, and with continuing in their practice of Judaism alongside being followers of Jesus. This is what they know how to do.
As the official seat of the newly forming movement of Jesus followers, they send Barnabas to check out this church in Antioch.
He is from the same community in Cyprus that leads this new development in Antioch, and he is clearly devoted to the Apostles teachings as he gave up his possessions in Acts 4, and began living in the community. His job is to check in and make sure the believers are being trained right, and he stays there for a year but not without help.
Having reported back to Jerusalem these new believers in Antioch show their devotion by sending aid to the church in Jerusalem when prophets warn of a famine about to occur in Judea. True to form with Barnabas and his devotion to service this aid comes with no surprise. This church begins to have a reputation among others in Antioch. A reputation that was not necessarily a welcome one. In a pejorative way these new followers of Jesus became known as Christians for the first time. One commentator believes that this term serves to show the tension between Jerusalem and the rest of the Christian world. Next week will look at the Jerusalem council and see how all of this gets worked out.
As Christians today I think we have two insights we can glean:
First is that opposition and tension are part of the package of being a follower of Christ. It doesn’t mean we are to be combative. The insight of this truth reminds us that our faith isn’t always popular, doesn’t make sense to many others, and can be viewed as hostile from other people. It was true then in the narrative of Acts, and it is all the more true now with the religious diversity of our country and world. What should we do with this insight? Is it a call to be on our guard?
I think it simply means we understand that we continue to have tension within Christianity and from outside of it. I believe that another thing it calls us to is integrity. The believers in Antioch being called Christians was meant to be derogatory, but the fact of the matter is this: it was because of their acts of service and their loving attitude that they were called Christians in the first place. We will be less hostile to other religions and to the world if our actions match who we claim to be. Above all else Christ came to serve others, to love them, to show the way to love god and love neighbors. We do well when our actions match our beliefs.
The second insight is this: change is inevitable. We are generally okay with change, especially if it is happening around us and not happening to us. What strikes me all along this series on the book of Acts is the amount of change that occurs to people. The Spirit is not only leading and guiding the church, but most importantly is changing people for the sake of their own good, and for the sake of the spread of the good news of God’s love. At Pentecost people are changed and filled with the Spirit. Saul is changed and turns his life in a completely different direction.
Even Peter was changed from his long-held convictions that he was doing what was right by keeping ‘clean and unclean’ distinctions. We have seen the Spirit not only change people in their expectations, but also change the perception of who is welcome, who gets to hear the message of the Gospel, and who God cares for.
If we have learned nothing else from this whole series I hope it is this point. I hope we have learned that to be Spirit led as the church in Acts meant being transformed. That change had to happen to people and not just in outside circumstances. To be a Spirit led church in the 21st century will mean the same transformation.
What transformation looks like is what is different today. We know the people on the margins of our society who need to be welcomed in. Let us be bold and courageous to make our outreach for these people. We also have started to speak about our values as a church and that is paired with our traditions.
We don’t mind external changes, but what will it mean for us if God is changing our identity as a church? What would it mean for God to call us to be something different? How will we be able to handle the tension of remaining who we have always been over-against growing and changing into a community whose mission vision and values are lived out and thereby have integrity as we reach out to our community?
So church: can we practice what we preach and hold up to tension, and can we glean how the Spirit works to transform people, people on the margins of society, and even us with deep held convictions?
As I preached my first sermon here on courage so I end today with the same invitation to have courage. As I said then: courage is not the lack of or absence of fear, it is being scared and doing it anyway. Friends, let us be scared and do it anyway and I believe we will see God doing more than we ever asked or imagined. Amen!