Dawn Cooley tells this great story
About a water-bearer in India
Who had two large pots, each hanging on the end of a pole
Which he carried across his neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it
While the other pot was perfect.
That perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water
At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house;
Whereas the cracked pot arrived only, oh, half full or so.
For a full two years this went on.
Everyday. The water-bearer delivering one and a half pots of water per trip.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.
But that cracked pot.
It felt ashamed of its own imperfection,
Miserable that it was only able to accomplish
Half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what seemed like bitter failure
It spoke up, saying to the water bearer one day by the stream:
“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” Asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“For these last two years,
I have been able to deliver only half my load
Because this crack on my side
Causes water to leak out all the way back.
Because of my flaws,
You have to do all this work,
And you don’t get full value from your efforts…”
Well, the water bearer’s heart went out to the old cracked pot.
And he said:
“As we return to the house,
I want you to notice all the beautiful flowers along the path.”
And they set off,
And indeed, as they went up the hill,
The old cracked pot took notice of the sun
Warming the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path,
And this cheered it some.
But by the end of the trail,
It still felt said, because it had leaked out half its load.
It apologized, again, for being such a failure.
And the water bearer said:
“Did you not see that there were flowers only on your side of the path
not on the other pot’s side?
I have always known about your flaw…
So I planted flower seeds on your side of the path
And every day while we walked back from the stream
You watered them.
Without you being just the way you are,
This beauty would not exist…”[i]
So this is a more pragmatic sermon than most of mine are.
I want to talk a bit about shame, but you should know its not because of you.
Really, its not.
This is something that I’ve been mulling over through a lifetime
in one church or another
ever since my mom worked feverously to tap down a cowlick one Sunday
when I was 5…you can see that it didn’t work,
–or when we got the side eye for “walking too fast” through the halls
when I was 12
–or when I felt strangely underdressed for wearing a polo shirt
to a meeting I was volunteering at when I was 18.
You should have seen me. A hot mess, apparently.
It wasn’t just church, of course
–There was the dropped fly ball when I played right field in little league
–Or when I ran through our front door
No, not the wood door
The storm door
And got this awesome forehead scar
Before Harry Potter made them cool.
–When I broke my Mother’s heart
Playing way past curfew in a bad storm
That made her sick with worry
–When I stole five dollars from my Dad’s wallet
To get candy or something at the Five and Dime
And he confronted me about it.
–The therapy I had when diagnosed with ADD
Back before there were spinners to keep my hands occupied.
Now, lest you think I was some kind of wild child
I think you know I was not, not really.
This mixture of embarrassment and guilt and shame
Not that unusual for a child, any child, all children
Even though the particulars will vary for all of us.
There are no perfect waterpots.
Adults too, even as we’ve come to grown to be more aware of our actions and decisions.
More able to control our actions, know what it is we are doing.
We cannot avoid embarrassment, none the less.
I’ll skip over decades of other amusements, but
I’m willing to confront the things that have embarrassed me, or continue to.
Friday our kids had their annual end-of-the-year music performance
They call it Music on the Green.
It was their school’s 65th anniversary celebration
And so each grade did a little medley of songs from an assigned decade
Fourth graders got the 50s
Second graders tot the 60s, and so on.
Nora and Tessa’s grade got the 80s:
Which was the BEST decade ever for music
And they sang portions of Eye of the Tiger
And Wake me Up Before You Go-Go
And it took me way to long to notice that I was
Thanks dad. Thanks a lot.….
The lectionary planners take us through this incredible journey
These Sundays after Easter.
The death and resurrection
The surprise at the tomb
Along with all that running and shortness of breath
Half words of shock and awe and amazement: peace be with you
I have seen the Lord
The appearance of the risen Christ
In locked rooms, on sea shores next to camp fires
On highways out of town
Finding the disciples where they were
To show them that, yes, Christ is alive.
And not just alive: there, present, for you,
Not a Jesus put back all together the way he was before, but
Broken, with flaws, gashes over here and wounds over there
ALIVE, and full of love.
This Jesus, who like a Shepherd is back to guide us in the ways of God
When we need a Shepherd the most
This Jesus, who comes to give us peace
So many rooms in my father’s house
So many rooms. One with your name on it. You’ll see! You’ll see.
Easter: When Christ is alive
And the whole world marvels at the notion that
love might be more powerful than hate
life more powerful than death
God might actually have meant all that stuff.
And then this
This quiet little passage from the Psalms
Tucked in cozily with the other readings assigned for this Sunday
Sounding like many of the other Psalms
A prayer of thanksgiving for God’s ability to provide safety and stability
When we need it the most.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
For your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
Take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
For you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
Some of you may have heard echoes in todays’ readings
Of our funeral services.
Into your hands we commend the spirits of our beloved, O God
Many rooms in the house of the Lord for the loved one who has died,
Thanks be to God
But these are not just memorial words.
These are not simply affirmations that take effect
After this mortal life is ended
And the life to come, in the presence of God
Whatever it happens to look like,
They are also words for us while we are living
As are all the promises of faith.
Our spirits are committed to God’s hands
While we are alive, as surely as after our final breath.
The Peace God gives doesn’t await us as some earthly parting gift
But is available here and now.
These Psalms are written as much in the present tense, the now, the today
As they are for the future
And that includes this penetrating call from the psalmist:
Do not let me ever be put to shame;
In your righteousness, deliver me.
I want to suggest to you that one of the most powerful things
About the Gospel is an awareness that Shame has been banished forever.
We talk a lot about forgiveness,
and in part that’s because it’s a bit easier to comprehend.
Jesus talks elsewhere about the importance of forgiveness: how many times
One? Two? Seven?
Keep going…seventy times seven…
Because forgiveness is so important for the human spirit, too
To release the one hurt, the victim, from the weight of anger and vengeance
And to allow the perpetrator, who also is broken by his deeds
Hope for reconciliation and justice and healing.
Forgiveness relates to Guilt.
And Guilt and shame are related, but they’re not the same.
Guilt is the thought: I DID this bad thing
And Shame is the thought: I AM bad.
The corollary to I AM bad is I am NOT worthy:
Not worthy of love
Not worthy of acceptance
Not worthy of compassion
Not worthy of forgiveness, when I do a bad thing
Maybe even not worthy of being.
And if that sounds pretty much the opposite of what you hear running throughout
The scriptures, you’d be right.
From Genesis: the mythic story of God tenderly and carefully crafting humankind
In her image
Placing the image of God in each one of us
To the Psalm: declaring us fearfully and wonderfully made
From the Prophets: where before we were born
we were known and loved and given purpose
To the Gospels: where Jesus tells parable after parable
Of a God who goes the extra mile
To find the one that is excluded or lost or withdrawn
The single sheep
That one lost coin
The prodigal son
Who squanders all of his inheritance
Who eats with unclean PIGS
And does so much worse
Than taking five dollars from his daddy’s wallet
For HIM, the loving parent
Runs to reclaim a son
And prepares a foolishly lavish feast
in celebration of his return.
For humankind, for us, God’s own self became incarnate
Loved and struggled and taught and resisted and healed and DIED
To counter any notion of “I am bad; I am not worthy” within us.
You are so worthy, so loved, that God would do such a thing, for you.
Many of you might be familiar with TED talks
These are 20 or 25 minute presentations given before an audience
And published online.
TED stands for Technology, Education and Design
And they seek to share “Ideas worth Spreading”
I don’t think its true any more
But for a long time, the most popular TED talk ever
Was Brené Brown’s 2010 presentation The Power of Vulnerability.[ii]
As of yesterday, when I saw it again,
its YouTube version has been watched 6 million times
and almost 30 million times on the TED webpage itself.
Brown is a researcher and storyteller
Focusing on vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame.
Apparently her work has struck a cord.
If you ever have twenty minutes I’d recommend her TED talk
And if you have twenty minutes more you can watch her sequel
Called Listening to Shame.[iii]
Her research is fascinating,
But she demonstrates how we all feel shame
We all feel inherently unworthy, bad, unacceptable.
She calls this the “epidemic of shame.”
It is magnified by feelings of guilt,
And the blurring of the lines between our actions and our essence.
Brown is really concerned with how we in our culture
are dealing with our shame and our feelings of guilt.
She argues that shame leads to self-medicating, through food or drugs or distractions,
It leads to distancing ourselves from others, to hiding
To aggressive stands for certainty over things that are more about mystery.
The cure for this, she argues, is vulnerability, authenticity,
To safe spaces where we are seen and known and exposed
And loved for who and what we are.
These are the foundations of our most healing relationships
Friends, parents, communities of caring like the church
Rooted in the unconditional, amazing love of God.
Maybe those of us, these days
Can understand what the Psalmist was trying to pray:
Do not let me ever be put to shame [O God];
In your righteousness, deliver me.
One of the most powerful things
About the Gospel is an awareness that Shame has been banished forever.
Knowing that you are powerfully, eternally loved.
That you are worth it.
That nothing in life or in death can separate you from God’s love.
There is no place for shame or guilt in the life of the church.
Sometimes we don’t do a good job recognizing how the church can help us
Overcome our feelings of shame
And we should be honest, sometimes the church
Does things to make it worse.
We could do better at giving people the side-eye for not comporting themselves
The way we think they ought to
We could stop with assertion that our particular way is THE only way to God
When that all depends only on God anyway.
We could resist the concern that we’re not doing enough
Not worshipping enough,
Not giving enough,
Not praying enough to deserve God’s love and God’s acceptance
Because, I’m here to tell you right now
God doesn’t keep score like that
And you are already accepted.
I don’t know if you tell yourself that you are the perfect waterpot
Or the waterpot with a crack in it so wide
That water falls down the side wherever you go
But whether you know it or not, God is amazed with you, not perfect you
But YOU you.
And God can use you to water the most amazing flowers
The most beautiful garden.
When we miss this, for shame!
But when we hear it, my Lord
What peace, what peace.
Not as the world gives, no
But a peace that God in Christ gives to you and to me.
This day, may you know deep in your bones that God loves you
So much that God sent Jesus for you, and the spirit for you
To help advocate for you on your down days
And may you take from that love an acceptance of who you are
So that you can be authentic and true with those around you
Vulnerable in your relationships
Trusting that, no matter what, you are worthy of being
Because of the one who made you
And journeys with you every day of your life, and ever more.
May it be so.
Cover art: Shame(SOLD), painting by Kristoffer Evang, found at https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Shame-SOLD/96712/1874428/view