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!