Sermon of the Week:
Join the Club that Would Have You as a Member?
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Keywords: Shame, Forgiveness, Groucho Marx, Many Rooms, The Cracked Pot, The Good Place.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
Dawn Cooley tells this great story
about this guy in India whose job it was
to carry water for his little village.
He had these two large pots, each of them hanging on the end of a pole,
and would carry the pots by putting the pole across his neck.
Those two pots were almost identical,
but one of them had a crack in it.
The other one, it was just perfect.
That perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water,
every trip, nothing spilled during the long walk from the stream to the village.
On the other hand, that cracked pot,
it 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 of the water you place inside of me
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 of water.
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]
Every Sunday we hold a few of these ancient texts together,
and we ask ourselves what we can learn about God from them,
and maybe, also, hope to learn a bit about us people in the process.
We’re in this sermon series called “Because he lives, there’s hope for you,”
and the underlying premise is that this Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection should matter
in some way,
for your life, and for mine.
So we’re walking through the season of Easter exploring Easter’s impact
and we find ourselves, today, holding together
this story from the Gospel of John where Jesus begins to say goodbye
to his disciples, to the people he has spend three years with, whom he loves.
This is the start of what are called the farewell discourses,
Jesus’ effort to prepare the disciples that they’re going to have to carry on
this work of being the church without him.
As John tells it, Jesus knows that things are going to change,
and the disciples like things the way they are, thank you.
Why change when things are going just fine, Jesus?
Well, sometimes things happen, and just like that, the ground shifts under your feet
your leader is no longer there with you in the flesh
or your temple is rent asunder by the roman authorities
or you’re required to stay inside for weeks on end
and you have to figure out how to do things altogether differently…
…we find ourselves holding together this story from the Gospel of John
with this interesting reading from Psalm 31:
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me be put to shame…deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me…be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save…
What I love about this little Psalm is that it begins to tackle shame head on,
and I think all of us know a little something about shame.
Shame is something that I’ve been mulling over for a lifetime
ever since my mom worked vigorously to tap down a cowlick one Sunday morning
when I was 5…you can see that it didn’t work,
still there, even as my hair grows longer without being able to go to the barber…
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.
And we’ll deal, in another sermon, with the little microaggressions
that have made some churches so tough for many people
and how we can avoid some of that by loving one another through our messiness.
It is one of the things I love about you, Kirk friends, that we aren’t thick with too much of this.
But it wasn’t just church, of course,
this stuff happens everywhere in our lives.
There was the dropped fly ball when I played right field in little league
There was the moment 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.
The time I broke my Mother’s heart
playing way past curfew in a bad storm
that made her sick with worry.
Or 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 something like ADD
back before there were cell phones or fidget 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, all of us
even though the particulars will vary for you and for me.
There are no perfect waterpots.
But shame is a real thing, you know.
As are its siblings: doubt and fear and self-questioning.
And it isn’t just a childhood phenomenon, either
this wondering if we’re good enough, smart enough, faithful enough, put-together-enough.
Shame keeps us focused on the other waterpots that all seem so perfect
with their ability to carry all that water
and to have everything so together…
I mean, their Instagram pictures are always adorable
and their kids are always above average
and they look like they never stress about anything….
Shame keeps us focused on all the other waterpots
and hide from our vision a recognition they each have their own flaws, too,
and that our apparent “imperfections” are often the very things that make us unique,
that make us, us,
and we might not even notice all those flowers that we help grow along the way.
I want to suggest to you that one of the most powerful truths
about the Gospel of Jesus Christ
is an awareness that Shame has been banished forever.
In the church, 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,
to release the person hurt, the victim, from the weight of anger and vengeance
and to allow the perpetrator, who also is broken by his harmful deeds
hope for reconciliation and justice and healing.
Forgiveness correlates to guilt.
And guilt and shame are related, too, but they’re not the same.
Guilt is the thought: I DID this bad thing. Because we can, and do, do those things.
Shame, though, 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 Psalms: 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 things so much worse
than taking five dollars from his daddy’s wallet…
for HIM, for that kid,
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.
This passage in John opens rather famously
with Jesus telling his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled,
for in God’s house, there are many rooms.
This was meant to be a comfort for them,
an assurance that we have not just this moment, this lifetime,
but also an eternal place with God, within God’s heart.
God’s house is open for all.
Which makes me think of that famous Groucho Marx line
which he delivered with such skill
about the Friar’s club in New York City
and the day he sent them a telegram that said:
“Please accept my resignation.
I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”[ii]
I wonder if we believe it you know?
That maybe God’s mistaken.
That God would save a spot for me.
No, God’s got the wrong file on me,
if only he knew the things I struggled with, my imperfections.
Last week, I talked about the fantastic television comedy Cheers
the place where everybody knows your name…
and it got me thinking about another Ted Danson comedy
The Good Place.
Have you seen that show? It is another one of those binge-worthy shows on Netflix.
The premise of the show is that the files were mixed up,
and Eleanor, the lead character, finds herself in heaven
when she shouldn’t be. There’s this elaborate point system, see,
a numerical score, based on how good you are in this life,
and, well, lets be honest, most people don’t qualify.
But, Ted Danson tells her: she did. She made it, to the good place!
And the entire comedy then unfolds as Eleanor tries desperately
to stay in the good place that she knows she’s not supposed to be in.
It’s a fantastical and funny show.
And there’s something about that that rings true, maybe, for most of us:
that nagging question of whether our lives, these lives, are enough?
But our faith tradition looks at all of this quite a bit differently.
According to John, when Jesus is there with his friends and followers
and he’s trying to help them get ready for the things to come
he tells them: there are many rooms in God’s house. There’s one for you.
If it were not so, would I have told you that I will go and make it all ready.
Its ok. You know how to do this. You’ll be ok.
One of the most powerful truths
about the Gospel of Jesus Christ
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 in the life of the church.
I mean, its ok that you still carry it,
we all do,
but the message of the Gospel is that God looks at you and says
yup, we’ll take you in our club. You can be a member.
Sometimes we don’t do a good job recognizing how faith can help us
overcome our feelings of shame.
That God sees you as you are, honestly, as you are, and says I love you.
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
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.
[i] From https://dawncooley.com/2012/04/23/perfection-and-wholeheartedness/
[ii] Recounted on the television show What’s my Line?, April 23, 1967
Cover image: Shame(SOLD), painting by Kristoffer Evang, found at https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Shame-SOLD/96712/1874428/view