Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Whose shame?

Sermon for Pentecost 20, proper 22C, preached on Sunday, October 6, 2013.

    Was yours among the chorus of voices wondering whatever happened to sweet little Hannah Montana after watching Mylie Cyrus' VMA performance.  Is there no modesty left?  No shame?  But of course that is exactly the problem.  We have no modesty or shame when it comes to what we think and do.  We bare our souls on social media, we announce our sins with pride, we post pictures and videos of our indiscretions, and we sext and text with abandon.  It's all good, our culture says.
    But at the very same time we ARE ashamed of something – we are ashamed of faith and doctrine.  We wish the Lord were more tolerant and understanding.  We wish the Bible had not said some of the things it did and had said more about the things on which it is silent.  We wish the Lord had given us some secret path to physical health, earthly success, and wealth and we did not have to suffer any troubles or trials.  We are embarrassed about God who does not give us what we want but we have no shame over ourselves.  Such is what sin has done.
    St. Paul found the same problem long ago.  Some have recently suggested that perhaps Paul had a stuttering or stage fright problem since he is so eloquent in print but people seemed to have no shortage of complaints about how he was in person.  In any case, there were those who were ashamed of Paul and of Paul's Gospel.  They believed that truth was supposed to be smooth, neat, clean, sophisticated and pleasant. St. Paul was not that.  Neither was his Gospel.  But the Gospel He spoke was truth and power to those who heard and believed.
    Do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, he says.  In other words do not be embarrassed about doctrine, the content of what we believe, or about the morality in which serving is greater than being served and forgiving is without limit or condition.
    Do not be ashamed if your life is filled with suffering, says St. Paul. Was not our Lord's life filled with temptation, struggle, and suffering?  Do we expect to be insulated from that which our Lord endured by a world that neither understood Him nor believed in Him?  We seem to believe the troubles and trials are the exception to an otherwise wonderful life but St. Paul would say that in every life are troubles and trials.  This is especially true for Christians who go against the grain of the world because of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel.
    Do not be ashamed if you lack what the world boasts about – esteem, recognition, behavior beyond reproof...  Our glory is not in our selves but in the Lord.  We proclaim not a gospel of me but a Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  This is a scandalous truth in a world which glorifies “me” but it is the only truth that saves.
    Do not be ashamed of weakness, says St. Paul.  In this he is bidding us to confession and forgiveness.  There is no shame in sinners who speak their sins to God in repentance, trusting in the mercy and merits of Christ. But there is no end to the shame of a self-satisfied people, sure they are doing just fine without God’s help.  Do not be ashamed if your need drives you to this table where you receive forgiveness and life. Instead, you ought to be ashamed if you do not feel compelled to receive its life-giving food more often.
    Instead of hanging your head because the Gospel of Christ crucified is not more relevant or contemporary, we should be praying for the holy boldness to speak the word of the cross before the world.  If sinners are ever to know a clear conscience and peace, if those living in the shadow of death are ever to know life, it will come through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified.  Here is the only place where we have hope for forgiveness, hope for joy, and hope for eternal life.
    The Gospel is a scandal to a world enamored with reasonable words or looking for mighty works to guarantee pleasure and happiness.  But to those who believe, this Gospel is the power of God to salvation.  No matter how great or small our success, we stand on the merits of Christ alone.  No matter what we have done or left undone, we trust in the Word of God that does what it promises and the Sacraments that deliver what they pledge.
    Guard this deposit, keep this holy treasure.  You received this holy hope in your baptism and by the means of grace God is right now at work sustaining you in trouble, holding you in trials, keeping you in sorrows.  When your conscience pricks you with guilt, when your behavior shows no sign of improvement, when worldly success eludes you, Christ is there with forgiveness, with His righteousness to cover you, and with His life to lead you to eternal life.
    There are those who suggest the Church would be more successful if we updated the message and made worship more entertaining.  Our success is conditioned upon our faithfulness in preaching and teaching and the only worship worth having is that which delivers Calvary’s treasure to the sinner in need.  The Lord IS out of step with the world.  The Gospel IS hopelessly old fashioned in its insistent talk of sin and forgiveness, death and life.  The Church is in conflict with our modern society and values.  But this is not a scandal.  It is our glory and hope.
    Some years ago a book was published with the title "Entertaining ourselves to death..."  It was not particularly Christian but the title gets it just right.  Now it is easy to hand your head and want for more or want for something different but there is one Christ and one Gospel of the cross, and one hope to sinners dead in trespasses and sin.  That is the THIS Gospel we heard today, we will confess in the creed, and we will receive in the bread and wine that is Christ's body and blood.  The Church is not failing because we preach an outdated message.  The Church is failing because we preach some other truth than Christ crucified. 
    We stand before the Lord in the humility of faith.  Every Sunday we begin with our hidden sins brought to light and exposed before the Lord in confession.  Why?  Because where we would expect condemnation, we find the surprise of forgiveness and life.  Even the good works we do are not our source of pride for we have only done our duty.  The path of life and the shape of morality put me after God and after others and this is how the last become first in the Kingdom of God. 
    We are not quick to adapt to technology.  We worship with forms and content at odds with the world around us.  We continue to speak of sin when the world knows no shame.  We continue to speak of righteousness when virtue has lost its shine.  But Christ is not our problem.  Christ is our hope.  Our shame lives not with the Gospel but with the way we surrender its eternal truth to fit into the moment... as individual Christians and as a church.  The Gospel will always be a scandal to a world in love with self but it is the power of God to save us.  How can I be ashamed of Christ when Christ is not ashamed of me.....  Amen.

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