Monday, April 25, 2011

No More Shame--Matt. 28:1-10, Heb. 12:1-2

Today, Resurrection Sunday, is considered by many the most holy day on the church calendar. I see some of you “Eastmas people” here this morning—you know, you only come to church on Christmas and Easter. Please know that we are really, really glad that you are here and came to worship with us this morning. I am so glad that you recognize the importance of this day. But I still wonder, what good is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead if you don’t know why Jesus died. Sure, it’s a cool miracle. It might help support our faith that Jesus is God, but resurrection apart from the cross still doesn’t mean all that much. The choir sings a wonderful song, which if you join us again next Sunday you are likely to hear, called “Without His Cross”. The song reminds us that without the cross, there is no crown. Without Jesus’ sacrificial death, the resurrection isn’t all that meaningful. However, when we know why Jesus died, then we really understand that the resurrection was a cosmic event. It was an incredible phenomenon that gives us much reason to celebrate. It ought to cause us to fall to our knees before God in gratitude, like the women who took hold of Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him in the account we just read.
So why did Jesus die? Most of us, even Eastmas people, recognize that Jesus died for our sins. That gives meaning to the resurrection. But the cross was more than Jesus dying for our sins. Sins are ways we fall short of God’s standards in the choices we make, actions we commit, or to which we refuse to commit. Jesus died to take away the guilt that occurs as a result of our sins. But Jesus also died to take away our shame. He died for who we are at our core. We remember that after Adam and Eve sinned, they sewed fig leaves together because they were ashamed. Something was dramatically changed in the core of their being. Shame separated Adam and Eve from each other as well as separating them from God. Jesus died to redeem us from the full affects of the curse—not just the consequences, but He died to restore our core being. He didn’t just take away our sins and trespasses.
We all feel the affects of shame. Everything that shame does to us, Jesus experienced. As Son of Man, He had to go through it all for our sake. For those of you who missed Holy Week, we will recap some of that this morning. One of the things that shame does is bind us up. It takes away our sense of freedom. It keeps us from reaching out and moving out. Jesus experienced the binding power of shame when he was arrested, bound and taken away.
A second thing that shame does is lead to a fear of rejection. Because we afraid that others will reject us, we keep silent about our shame. We are hesitant to reveal anything about ourselves that might cause others to reject us. And so we hold onto our shame and stay bound by it. Jesus experienced the shame of rejection when all of his disciples fled at His arrest. He also experienced that rejection in the betrayal of Judas with a kiss—a sign of love and affection. He also experienced the shame of rejection when Peter denied Him 3 times. Jesus also experienced the shame of rejection when the crowds that welcomed him days prior shouted “Crucify Him! Crucify Him.” He experienced rejection by the mocking of the soldiers and the thief on the cross. Over and over in the last hours of His life, Jesus experienced the shame of rejection. His rejection was our rejection, and yet Jesus faced rejection without fear. He accepted it full on so that we too might be accepted.
Listen to this prophetic Psalm which describes Jesus’s shame: READ Ps. 69:16-33.
Closely tied into the fear of rejection is the fact that Shame shuts us up. It keeps us from speaking up and speaking out. In refusing to defend Himself and keeping silent as His trial, Jesus experienced the silencing power of shame.
Closely related to a fear of rejection is the fear of exposure that shame causes. We don’t want anyone to know our dirty little secrets. We truly love darkness rather than the light. Jesus was fully exposed when He hung on the cross. The cross was an instrument of shame. Our paintings, icons and crucifixes of Jesus show Him covered with a loincloth, but most likely He was fully stripped naked. The cross was torture in as much as the pain of humiliation as it was of physical pain.
And the culminating fear with which shame leaves us is the fear of abandonment—that we will be utterly alone. Ironically, shame causes us to isolate ourselves from others so that we won’t be abandoned. How dumb is that? And yet, it is what we do. I won’t make friends so that my friends won’t betray me. Jesus experienced ultimate abandonment in that moment when the Father turned away and Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Because Jesus endured this crushing weight of sin, we now have the promise that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us! God will never abandon us. Though our families forsake us, the Lord will take us up! We are not left as orphans. We are never alone. The Holy Spirit indwells us. Abandonment is not a legitimate fear.
Because of the cross and the resurrection, we can be freed from shame and its binding fears. There is no more shame for us! Listen as I read several passages of Scripture that tell us that Jesus came to set us free from shame. You may want to jot these references down so you can read them later at home or anytime you feel the weight of shame creeping up on you. READ Is. 54:4-10, Is. 61:4-11, Joel 2:21-27, Zeph. 3:14-20.
What amazing promises of restoration these are. Jesus redeems our shame. He redeems the very core of our being. The resurrection obliterates shame. II Cor. 5:17 tells us that in Christ we are a brand new creation—the old is gone, the new has come! We have a new identity in Jesus Christ.
If you read my blog (pastorparato.blogspot.com, which you can also find linked to gracebeaufort.com), you’ll know that I gave a speech at the last presbytery meeting. Although I didn’t have time to give the full speech, I posted the full speech on my blog. In this speech, I brag about Celebrate Recovery, a ministry with which I’ve worked for the past 3 years. I want to share what I wrote with you:
I have worked as a leader in a Christ-centered recovery program for 3 years.
I’m sorry this program has to exist as a parachurch ministry when it should be the way of the church period. Our recovery program welcomes everyone just as they are. We should welcome everyone who comes to our churches just as they are. We should welcome everyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into full fellowship and full communion. We have not, and for that I am truly sorry. The church has been a place of judgment instead of a hospital for sin-sick souls.
But we should also, as we do in our recovery group, love people toward transformation so that they become more like Jesus and put off their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We must, as we do in our recovery group, never make excuses for or make light of our relapses and sins, but constantly submit all of our lives and wills to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Not that we don’t fail, but that our failings are followed by confession and repentance and not justification or dismissal.

One of our theme songs for Celebrate Recovery is “You don’t have to hide anymore!” When you come to CR, you don’t have to hide. We’ve worked very hard for that group to be a safe place, and we have done so fairly successfully. It’s so nice to be able to share our hurts, habits, and hang-ups without fear of rejection. A few weeks ago, in worship, we talked about how Jesus calls us to be salt and light. We read a passage in Ephesians that describes how we used to be darkness, but now in the Lord, we are light. That passage went on to say that it’s shameful to talk about things that are done in secret, but that all things become visible when they are exposed to the light, and in fact when they are exposed to the light, they become light! We expose our hurts, habits, and hang-ups so that we can get rid of them. So that they become light. So that shame no longer keeps us from living like Jesus.
Shame has kept our churches from being more like Celebrate Recovery. We think we are hiding, but we aren’t. Isn’t it time we let go of our shame? A couple of years ago I received some comments about spending too much time away from Grace activities, like CR. But the truth is CR was started for Grace folks. It took me about five months of being here for me to discover who was struggling with alcoholism, who was addicted to prescription meds, who was involved in inappropriate, unhealthy relationships, who was struggling with depression. Now if I just named your shame, please know that you are not the only one. Every category I just named involves or involved more than 1 person attending this church at that time. In talking with colleagues about some of these issues, and please note that I said issues, not names, that 4 pastors associated with this church either as pulpit supply, interim, moderator or other capacity knew that these issues were going on and did nothing about them. So it goes to show you that if you think you are keeping your shame a secret, you aren’t hiding it very well.
After getting over my frustration about the fact that none of these other folks dared to address these issues, I decided I would try. Churches don’t grow when there is sin in the camp. I felt like a spiritual garbage man. I learned some people don’t want to deal with their shame; they are still in denial or they like darkness more than the light. Some people left. Others decided it was time to do something about their issues, but unfortunately felt they needed to leave in order to find that safer place. And others are all in various points in their spiritual journeys, moving toward healing and wholeness.
I kept thinking that if these people actually knew that they weren’t the only ones dealing with these things, then they might do something about it. In Feb. of 2007 I bought the CR curriculum. To run CR, you need at least one leader of each gender. I prayed about who that would be, and David Bruce stepped up to be involved. We meet at Calvary because there are too many activities here. We sat on the curriculum for a year, giving us a time to work through it before we launched in the summer of 2008. The group always in flux—sometimes we just had two people, but we keep at it. And it works. Just this past month we celebrated 2 baptisms, and two more are slated to be baptized in May.
Obviously, I’m a fan of CR. I’ve personally benefited working through my own hurts, habits, and hang-ups through the program. I love that I can be in a group and be totally real. But I also know that there are many other ways besides CR that one can work through the issues that cause us shame. I don’t care if you choose CR or not. It is simply an option. But isn’t it time to get rid of your shame? Aren’t you tired of feeling lonely, isolated, and powerless? The absolute key to success is surrender to our victorious Lord, Jesus Christ, our true power who removes our shame and redeems our failures. And the other key is not going it alone. We were never meant to be alone. When Jesus came, He put us into a body. When He ascended, He created a church. We were meant to need one another. The church should be the place where we can find healing, and I hope we will continuously strive to be such a place—a place where people don’t have to hide.
No one likes having their shame exposed. It is painful and difficult, but it was a lot more painful for Jesus to carry our shame. The pain of exposure brings healing. When we name our shame, it loses its power over us. We start to gain power over it. Remember that what is made visible becomes light. Isn’t it time to trade your darkness for light? I know that some people will still like the darkness more, or they are in denial, but if you are tired of the darkness, don’t let shame keep you prisoner any longer. Don’t let shame keep you from experiencing the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Don’t let shame keep you from experiencing the abundant life that He offers to you. Let go. Let Jesus take your shame away. It is one of the reasons He died and rose again.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Whole World Has Gone After Him, John 12:9-19

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jesus--Fulfiller of the Law, Matthew 5:17ff

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Salt & Light, Matt. 5:13-16, Eph. 5:8-14

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Beatitudes. Jesus tells us that these are what His disciples are. We also looked at Romans 12 in which Paul gives us instructions on how to live these qualities. Today’s parables of salt and light reflect back to the Beatitudes. The blessed life is a result of what happens as we are fulfilled to carry out God’s mission. Once again, Jesus tells us that salt and light is what we are in the world. These are corporate, not simply individual, conditions. That together as gathered disciples, we are salt and light in the world. We can’t help but be salt and light, but we can lose our saltiness and hide our light.
What good is salt? Salt is a food preservative against rotting. We flavor to life and preserve life and society. When we describe someone as salt of the earth, we usually mean that the person is authentic, real, genuine, down-to-earth, and whose presence adds value not only to our lives but also to the world at large.
Salt doesn’t normally lose its strength, and neither should we. Jesus never means for us to lose our saltiness. The only way salt loses saltiness is by diluting it with water. We lose saltiness when we dilute ourselves with worldly behaviors and practices. High divorce rates, hate speech, gossip, cheating, lying, unethical business practices, and selfish behaviors by those who name the name of Christ cause the salt to lose its saltiness. As salt we are supposed to retard moral and ethical decay, not succumb to it. The good news is that when the water dries up, the salt regains its saltiness. It’s reconcentrated. The same is true for us. When we get rid of those behaviors and practices that contradict the life that Jesus has set for us, we too can be reconcentrated. When we confess and repent, turning again to follow Jesus, we regain our saltiness.
If we are untrue to our convictions, we lose our saltiness. There were also merchants who adulterated the salt by adding a cheap white powder to it in order to make more profit. The church has been guilty of adulterating the gospel in order to attract more followers. When we lose our loyalty to Jesus, we adulterate ourselves with the world and lose our ability to add the flavor of His goodness and holiness.
But we aren’t just supposed to be overwhelmingly salty either. When the proper amount of salt is used in cooking, it doesn’t make the dish salty, but it enhances the other flavors that are there, bringing out their goodness. We when act as salt, we lose our self, but bring out the God-given goodness in others as well as in ourselves.
We are also the light of the world. The light, however, doesn’t originate with us. Christ also called Himself “the light of the world.” He is the light, and we allow Him to shine through us as He lives in us. We make God’s light visible to others. We witness to the light when we testify to God’s transforming power in our lives both by our words and actions. How is God transforming you? What transformations can you see in your life?
Our Ephesians passage tells us we weren’t just in darkness without Christ; we were darkness. Now as children of light we to live what is good, right, and true—things that come from Christ. We also expose unfruitful works of darkness so that they can be renounced. We don’t expose works of darkness to bring judgment, but to turn them into light. We also have full assurance in the fact that the darkness will overcome the light. Have you ever been in a place that was really dark? I went on a cave tour where at one point, they turned off the lights. They wanted you to experience the weight of the darkness and demonstrate how little light was way down under the ground. And it was thickly dark at first. No sunlight could get in. You couldn’t even see the person next to you. But then, as you stood there awhile, you could start to see a bit of contrast. Even in pitch blackness, there was light because living things emit a little light of their own, and the dampness reflected the light. The light will always overcome the darkness, so we can keep shining brightly for Jesus. I have been blessed to know many people who glow with the light of Jesus. It’s really special when I get to see it in you. You do have that potential to burn brightly with Jesus.
We are to light the way to peace and safety like a city on a hill, which would have been a welcome site for a weary traveler on the road. Do we represent safety and rest for weary pilgrims in this world? Is our church a place of safety and rest?
Light also symbolizes meaning and insight. It’s not accident that in cartoons a light bulb is used to represent when someone has an idea or epiphany. We carry the light that gives meaning and purpose to living—the light of the gospel. The light we carry gives hope to a despairing world.
We hide God’s light when our actions don’t match our words. We also hide God’s light when we are ashamed of the gospel. Another way we lose our light is by being unplugged from the source. Jesus is never unplugged from us, because we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, but we can choose not to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit.
God’s light is seen in what we do. Kingdom living isn’t passive but active. Light must shine to carry out its mission. We have a job to do—carry out God’s mission. We are to live righteously to reflect God’s glory. It is our purpose to glorify God. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say when they see our good works, we are glorified, but that when they see our good works, they glorify our Father in heaven. All of our good works belong to God and are the result of God. God gets the glory for all we do. If as we serve God, things don’t turn out like we expect and seem to be a failure, we are not failures—the results belong to God. If as we serve God, the ministry seems to be prospering, that too is God’s business. The success belongs to God. God always gets the credit. This stands in direct contrast with those like the hypocrites Jesus will criticize in the next chapter who did things to draw attention to themselves. We are to be salt and light and to do good works in such a way that attention is drawn to Jesus and not to us.
Jesus said that if you are His disciple, you are salt and light in this world. Are you adding an enhancing flavor to the world, bringing out and preserving the God-created goodness, or have you lost your saltiness? Are you shining forth the light of Christ, or are you hiding the light?