The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s194e04 Sunday 27 3/10/2004
"I am not ashamed". 2 Timothy 1.12
I am not ashamed either, because my first and only thought is the up-building of others. I know that this is what God wants for me and for all people.
As soon as I start arguing about the faith, trying to commend my particular form of belief or worship, I have "lost the plot" and I would be rightly ashamed.
Jesus talks about being the cause of someone else stumbling and it seems that this is quite the opposite of trying to help someone else stand on their own two feet, without the crutches of our own version of the faith for support.
When I think about being ashamed, my thoughts turn to Adam and Eve in the garden. They were ashamed of their nakedness, their vulnerability, and they hid in fear. We are not to be ashamed of who we are. We, and all people, are created in the image of God, and therefore there is no reason for anyone to be ashamed.
If we are not to be ashamed, we do not have to live our lives trying to make up for some supposed deficiency in our make up. God wants us to stand on our own two feet, think for ourselves and make a contribution to society. God does not want us cowering and endlessly trying to placate him or herself, nor does god need this subservience for his or her own self-esteem. This is entirely unnecessary. We do not need to change the world.
God does not want any of us to lead lives of shame and fear, and when I say this I don't mean that God expects us to not ever do the wrong thing and always do the right thing so that we don't have to live lives of shame and fear. This would imply that God helps only those who manage to live up to the divine decrees, but leaves those who don't to the consequences of their actions.
God is not a debt collector. Debt collectors are not especially welcome at anyone's door.
Neither does God let those who know and acknowledge the correct divine name live lives free of shame and fear, but condemns those who don't appropriately worship the one true God.
God loves us for who we are, overlooking the times when we've shamed ourselves as much as anyone else. God loves all people equally, overlooking the times when others have shamed themselves as well.
This is the sort of God I worship.
But where will the church be without shame or fear? Are not these precisely the things that enable us to retain our hold and control on society? Are not these the source of our power over other people?
If our God does not want anyone to live lives of shame and fear, is our God likely to allow us to make others live lives of shame and fear? If our God does not want to retain a hold on and control of society, does God leave it to us? If God does not exercise power over humanity, enough to allow God's own son to be killed on the Cross, will God want us to have power and authority over other people? Does God trust us more than the divine? It is my guess not, but others may come to a different conclusion.
One of the primary charges to clergy in the service of Ordination are the words: "The church and congregation whom you must serve is his bride and his body. And if it should come about that the church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgement that will follow." (AAPB p 609-610) Before people start thinking that I have to be a personal servant to each and every one of you, this charge is no less to each and every one of you also.
You see; Jesus comes as a stone to stumble over. St Paul speaks of the Christ crucified as "a stumbling block to Jews" (1 Cor 1.23) so we can be sure that those who are actually on the wrong path will trip up. It is more likely those who "know" they are doing the right thing, usually at the expense of the dignity of someone else, who will find this happen.
So being welcoming will always be OK. It is our very welcoming of others that will be the stumbling block to some. But of course it is a stumbling block of their own making.
So it is less important for me that people follow my own perception of the truth, than it is for my wish for people to get on and appreciate one another in all our diversity.
I do not want people to come to church simply to reinforce their own prejudices against others. There is no doubt that there is sufficient biblical and historical evidence to enable anyone to do so. I would prefer people didn't come to Church at all. At least then people couldn't blame God for their own uncharitableness.
Would not the world be a better place if everyone didn't come to Church but got on with their neighbours? Modern life is often perceived to be where our present society has cast off shame and fear, and the church has lamented this fact. Can we not rejoice that this is so, and get on with trying to live together and help one another and praise the Lord as we do?
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