March 16, 2014 - Second Sunday in Lent
†††††††† Itís 10:29 on a Sunday morning and Iím frantically trying to button a shirt or fasten pants
that donít fit. Or I realize Iím not wearing shoes. Or else I suddenly remember
I havenít prepared a sermon. Those are the sorts of dreams I have every once in
awhile when Iím feeling stressed. I wake with this horrible dread that Iím
about to be terribly embarrassed and everyone will see my underwear or discover
that Iím totally unprepared for preaching that day.
†††††††† Iíd guess some of you
have dreams like that, maybe about work or school, maybe some other nightmare
of total embarrassment and shame. You find yourself uncovered or unready and
everyone is looking and laughing and judging. Tap into that sort of feeling and
you can understand a little better how Adam and Eve felt at the end of our text
this morning, as they wove those fig leaves together to cover their naked
†††††††† Last Sunday Mike Fargo
did a great job of looking at this text to discover the root of Adam and Eveís
sin and much of our sinfulness. He talked about how their disobedience began
when they failed to believe God, to trust in His care and provision for them.
Out of that disbelief they tried to take matters into their own hands to assure
†††††††† For this Sunday and
the next Sundays of Lent, Iíd like to look at what follows on that sin of
disbelief, the consequences of failing to trust God and being disobedient. The
first consequence shows up in verse 7 and continues into next weekís text in
the following verses. Itís shame.
†††††††† As cultural observers
point out, most of us here in America, in the west, typically think of sin in
terms of guilt. We do something wrong and conscience bothers us. We feel guilty and look for
ways to get rid of that feeling, either by atoning for our wrong in some way or
by finding forgiveness from God or from others.
†††††††† So for us westerners
we hear wonderful good news in the message that Jesus took our guilt upon
Himself when He died on the Cross. When we hear those blessed words from John 3:17, ďGod did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that
the world through him might be saved,Ē we are relieved and grateful, thankful
that our sins have been forgiven and our guilt taken away.
†††††††† Yet among Asian
people, in cultures that in some ways may be more like the cultures of people
in the Bible, the issue is not so much guilt as it is shame. Sin may not weigh
heavily on an individual in terms of a guilty conscience felt in private. But
when sin is made public, when a personís wrong-doing humiliates him or her in
front of family or peers, thatís when the real pain comes, the pain of shame.
†††††††† We often picture guilt
in terms of dirt or a stain. With the proper treatment, it can be removed,
washed away, as we like to sing in our hymns. But shame goes deeper. Shame is
the feeling that I am in some way defective. Itís not just something
sitting on the surface of my soul. Itís something deep within my soul,
something which makes me unacceptable, makes me want to hide and turn away from
†††††††† I donít want to be
guilty of stereotypes or too broad generalizations. Americans do feel shame,
and Asians do feel guilt. Weíre all human and both shame and guilt are part of
human experience. But we as Americans may be less in tune with the shame consequence
of sin which is so strong here for Adam and Eve. Especially in the Old
Testament, the Bible doesnít have much to say about the pangs of a guilty
conscience. It does have a lot to say about being ashamed.
†††††††† Look back at how
Genesis chapter 2 ended, verse 25, ďAnd the man and his wife were both naked,
and were not ashamed.Ē Now see what they are doing in verse 7 right after they
disbelieved and disobeyed God. Theyíre creating the first garments ever seen on
earth, trying to cover the nakedness of which they are now suddenly ashamed.
Their first feelings after sinning are feelings of shame. They donít just
regret what theyíve done. They feel shame. Something is wrong with them,
something that needs to be hidden, to be covered.
†††††††† Think about it. They
are husband and wife, the only two human beings on earth. Itís just them and
God, but they are embarrassed to be naked in front of each other. Further down
in verse 10 we find them hiding. Adam explains that they felt ashamed, afraid
to be naked even in Godís presence. Shame has taken over their hearts and minds
and is driving them away from each other and from God.
†††††††† On the one hand, we
could do with a little more of the kind of shame Adam and Eve felt, their sense
of disgrace and embarrassment before each other and before God. Popular
entertainment seems absolutely bent on removing any appropriate sense of shame
from us. Evidently on the Discovery Channel tonight you can watch the start of
a new season of a reality show called ďNaked and Afraid.Ē A man and woman,
strangers to each other, are placed together on an island to survive, but with
this gimmick. Not only do they have no tools and no food and no water, they
have no clothes. Itís televisionís attempt to recreate Adam and Eveís
situation, but without the shame.
†††††††† Hopefully, most of America will be too ashamed to watch such stupidity. But itís sad that these men and women
being filmed are not ashamed to participate and that the network is not ashamed
to produce such junk.
†††††††† Note the connection in
the TV showís title however, ďNaked and Afraid.Ē The nakedness is an
attempt to up the fear factor in a reality show. Itís playing on the same
feeling we have in those dreams about showing up for work without our pants.
Being uncovered makes us feel vulnerable, frightened. Thatís how Adam describes
the feeling to God. They are afraid. So they cover up. So they hide.
†††††††† Thatís what sin does
to all our relationships, with each other and with God. It shames us and makes
us afraid of one another, afraid of God. Even when we try and reach out, try to
approach one another or move closer to God, we often come in shame, hiding
something, afraid to let our real selves show.
†††††††† Our Gospel lesson
began with a man who wanted to know Jesus better, who came seeking a
relationship with him. But he comes at night. Nicodemus is a Pharisee.
He wears his goodness around him all the time. Heís a leader of the Jewish
people. So heís ashamed to be seen coming to a country rabbi like Jesus.
†††††††† Nicodemus was also
embarrassed and ashamed in front of Jesus. He covered it up with praise,
telling Jesus how impressed he is with the rabbiís miracles, how they
demonstrate that Jesus must have some sort of connection with God. Yet Jesus
cuts right through the compliments, through the smoke-screen of theological
inquiry, and tells this man that he needs to lose his shame, needs to return to
original innocence, needs to be born again. Yet as Nicodemus himself asks, how
can we get that innocence back? How can we be born again, lose our shame?
†††††††† It may sound odd, but
perhaps we in North America would be closer to a new birth if we had a little
more shame, a deeper and stronger sense of embarrassment and fear regarding our
sins. We canít be born again, canít receive the gift of new innocence, because
we have no shame.
†††††††† Most of you know our
oldest daughter married a Canadian and they live in Toronto in Ontario. One of the things we chat about when we talk is the latest news on their mayor,
Rob Ford. His political career is full of questionable dealings and
allegations. Last year he was accused of substance abuse and started out
denying it all. Then the police turned up video of him smoking crack cocaine.
Since then other video and police evidence show Ford drunk, doing other drugs,
and possibly involved in criminal violence, even murder. Fittingly, the Toronto
Police called their surveillance of him, ďProject Brazen.Ē Despite admitting to
many incidents of substance abuse, Ford refuses to step down from office and
plans to run again for mayor this October. A man like that could use a little
shame. Maybe the city of Toronto could use a little shame about having a person
like that in office.
†††††††† But Rob Ford is just
the extreme of a wider problem. We are so far from the original innocence of Eden that weíve lost our shame. We sin and weíre not embarrassed. We watch films and
television shows that would make our mothers blush and think nothing of it. We
spend obscene amounts of money on ourselves for food and clothes and cars and
entertainment, and suppose we just deserve it. We say hurtful things and
imagine that weíre just being honest. For every sin we hide, for every guilty
moment that makes us ashamed and embarrassed, there are two more that weíve
forgotten to be ashamed about.
†††††††† We could stand to be a
little more like Adam and Eve in verse 7, covering up our shame, and little
less like the shameless people on reality television or the brazen mayor of
Toronto. Shame is a good and natural reaction when we have truly sinned, when
we have failed each other and failed God.
†††††††† I do need to pause for
a moment and say that there is bad shame, undeserved shame that also affects
some of us. That too is part of the distortion of sin in our lives. You may
find yourself ashamed, not because of anything you did, but because of
something that was done to you. That kind of false shame is one of the
devastating results of being abused, of being hurt by people you trusted.
†††††††† So I want to be clear
that if you are feeling shame because you were molested as a child, or because
someone you loved betrayed you, or because an employer fired you unjustly or
out of prejudice, that shame is not good. It is a sad and ugly mark on your
soul that ought not be there. God does not want you to feel that way. You donít
deserve to feel that way.
†††††††† Yet God has the same
gracious answer to both kinds of shame. He loves us regardless of what weíve
done or what has happened to us. He sends that love to us in Jesus. We heard
that Scripture verse today which has rightly come to be one of the best known
and best loved. ďFor God so loved the world that he gave his only SonÖĒ That is
how God responds to shameÖ with love, a love that was ready to suffer shame and
disgrace in our place.
†††††††† The thing about good
shame, about the shame we really deserve and ought to feel about our sin, is
that it puts us where we need to be to feel that love of God. Thatís what Paul
was talking about when he said in our reading from Romans 4 that Abrahamís justification was not by works, was not anything he had earned. The
justification we get for ourselves is just like Rob Fordís. We shamelessly
ignore our sin and pretend it doesnít matter. But when we are ashamed, when we
realize that we stand before God naked in all our sinfulness with no way to
cover up, then we can receive the gift, the gift of justification and
righteousness which doesnít come from us.
†††††††† As we will read in the
next few weeks, sin has several consequences. Next week we will see how Adam
and Eveís led them to blame others for their sin. In two weeks we will see how
sin brought punishment from God, brought hard labor and suffering into the
world. And finally on the third Sunday from today, we will read how sin drives
us away from what is good, away from life, away from God. But we will also hear
that in the midst of all those negative consequences, God did something for
Adam and Eve, down in chapter 3 verse 21. He made clothing for them, from the
skin of animals.
†††††††† God did not tell that
poor naked couple they did not need to be ashamed. He did not write their shame
off as some misplaced or mistaken psychological condition. He addressed it
directly by covering them, covering their shame with something more permanent
†††††††† Many Bible students
have pointed out that Godís provision for covering Adam and Eve meant that
blood was shed. Animals had to die for those skins to be provided. Pain and
suffering had to enter the world for the first time. Itís a picture of how God
would ultimately cover and finally remove sin and disgrace from us forever.
Jesus would die in disgrace and shame in our place and His blood would be shed
to cover our sins. God so loved the world, loved Adam and Eve, loved you and me,
that He gave His only Son.
†††††††† Shame is a horrible
experience. Some people suggest itís no wonder that Asian cultures often have
such a deep, strong moral code. People want to do everything they can to avoid
that feeling of shame. Yet like Adam and Eve we all experience it, we all
deserve it. Inside everyone of us are things we want to cover up, want to hide
from each other, hide from God.
†††††††† Yet God came to Adam
and Eve in love to cover their shame. He comes to you and I in the same way to
cover us with the grace and love of Jesus. He does that by taking our shame on
Himself, letting Himself be humiliated so that we can feel loved once again.
†††††††† We worry all the time
these days about identity thieves. Weíre afraid they will take our good name
and use it to commit crimes. We will go use a credit card and find itís been
cancelled for fraud. We will try to get a loan and be turned down because
someone has been running up bills in our name. We will go to the bank and find
we have no money because the thief has been writing bad checks on our account.
†††††††† Yet Godís work in
Jesus Christ, the justification He gives us through the Cross, is the reverse
of identity theft. Itís identity gift. Jesus takes our bad name, our
shame, and applies it to Himself so that He can give us a new and better
identity in Him. Heís the one righteous Man who willingly trades His good name
for our bad ones. Because of Jesus we find we have credit with God again. We
have something in our spiritual bank account because Christ has covered our
checks. Heís taken our shame and given us righteousness.
†††††††† This season of Lent is
a time to remember and recover some sense of good, honest shame. Thatís part of
the discipline of prayer and fasting and reflecting on our sins. But the point
is not to be lost in that shame, but to be freed from it. From the beginning,
God provided a covering, a new life for people who were ashamed. Now Heís done
that forever through His Son. And as we heard, ďwhoever believes in him will
not perish, but have eternal life.Ē
†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj