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Sermon 5: For the Shame of It All

For the month of September I was the guest speaker/preacher on Sunday mornings at Cypress Bible Church. The five-week series was titled “A Faith That Can Change the World.” Here’s a brief summary of the final sermon:

For the Shame of It All

For the past four weeks I’ve been talking about “A Faith That Can Change the World,” yet the reality is that more and more Americans are concluding that church is irrelevant–that church bears little significance to their lives–and as church attendance continues to decline, the murmurs of, “How is this relevant?” continue to grow.

But why? Why is the church in America struggling to communicate the message of Jesus Christ in a  meaningful way?

In his book Honor and Shame, Roland Muller writes:

“One of the basic foundations [in our western culture] is our belief in right versus wrong. This understanding is so deeply ingrained in our western culture, that we analyze almost everything from this perspective. Most of our forms of entertainment are built upon ‘the good guys and the bad guys.’ It is so familiar to us, that few of us question its validity. It is such an integral part of our religion and society, that we often cannot imagine a world where ‘right versus wrong’ isn’t the accepted basic underlying principle.

Almost every major issue the west struggles with involves an aspect of deciding whether something is right or wrong. We arrive at this basic tension in life because almost everything in our culture is plotted on [a matrix of] guilt and innocence.”

While Western theology has focused on the guilt of Adam and Eve, Eastern theology has focused on the shame of Adam and Eve. Muller writes:

“Christianity…in the eastern world was caught up in the shame-honor relationship that was prevalent in societies scattered from the Middle East to the Far East. Eastern Orthodox theology didn’t deal directly with sin, guilt, and redemption. They deal more with the issue of us being able to stand in the presence of God or not, and in our relationship with God, and with others around us.”

Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Leon, this lesson on culture is fascinating, but how is it relevant?”

It’s relevant because in American society we are experiencing an epidemic of shame.

Listen to these statistics. According to the US census Bureau:

  • “The number of divorced people has more than quadrupled from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996” 
  • “The proportion of children under 18 years living with two parents has declined from 85 percent to 68 percent between 1970 and 1996”
  • “The number of children born out of wedlock has increased from 10% to over 40% between 1970 and 2008”

These are staggering statistics! It typically takes several generations for a society to evolve, but in America, in the span of just one generation, the “traditional” family has disintegrated. As a result, we are a society burdened by the shame of our broken relationships. However, instead of addressing the issue of shame, the Western church continues to focus on guilt  and the penalty of sin. So as the church continues to preach Jesus dying for our guilt, people are slowly dying of shame.

So the pressing question the church in America needs to address in the 21st century is this: “What are we supposed to do with our shame?”

There is an answer.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, what was he wearing? If you look at the crucifixion account in the Gospel of John, you’ll see that the soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothes–all of his clothes–before nailing him to the cross. Yes, Jesus was naked on the cross. Do you think that was a coincidence?

You see, in bearing our guilt, Jesus also endured the shame of it all. With open arms, his naked body hung on display, exposed for all to see. In bearing our guilt, Jesus also bore our shame. Yes, the good news of Jesus Christ is about Jesus dying for our sins, but it’s also about God restoring our dignity and honor; it’s about God adopting us as his sons and daughters; it’s about humankind experiencing a restored relationship with God and one another. In a world of broken relationships, is there any message more important, more relevant?

For the church to be relevant in the 21st century, we need to get beyond the simplistic, individualistic message that “Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins so that I can go to heaven,” and understand that Jesus bore our shame so that we can experience a restored relationship with God and one another today, tomorrow, and forever more. That, my friends, is a relevant message, and it’s the message of a faith that can change the world.

To listen to the sermon, click on the podcast link below.

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