(Modified 2021-06-06: Added recording of sermon)
St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 1, June 6, 2021 Canon Claude Schroeder
Today marks the beginning of a long spiritual journey for us. It’s the journey through the season of Trinity, which is the longest season of the church year.
As I mentioned last Sunday, the calendar that governs our worship is divided into two halves. In the first half of the year we rehearse the mighty acts of God whereby He has saved us in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and sending of the Holy Spirit. In Advent, we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ at Christmas, which is followed by the celebration of the manifestation of His glory in the season of Epiphany. Then comes Lent, where we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and Resurrection at Easter, which is followed by the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send us the Holy Spirit which we celebrate at Pentecost. Do you see the pattern? Preparation, Celebration, Fulfillment centered around the Birth and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so we arrive at Trinity Sunday, which was last week, and the celebration of the revelation of the name of the One True God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Then in the second half of the year, we have the long season of Trinity, marked out by the color green, which is the color of growth. During Trinity season we are seeking to grow in the knowledge and love of God. Having run through the Creed in the first half of the year, now the Creed runs through us, and that is the spiritual journey that we are beginning again today.
I remember as a child sometimes trying to walk up the escalator that was going down. I don’t know if you have ever tried that, it’s not the easiest thing to do, and it’s not the proper thing to do, but it was fun nevertheless.
But this image of trying to go up the escalator that is going down is a very helpful image for the spiritual life. We are we going on this journey? Where are we headed?
You know what we call someone who doesn’t know where they going in life? That’s what we call “being lost.” That’s not a good thing.
This spiritual journey that we are on is a journey upwards. It’s an ascent to be with Christ to reign and rule with Him in glory. This is reason for the Ascension window above our altar. It is showing us where we are headed.
But this going up to be with Christ is a struggle, it’s a struggle against all kinds of things that drag us down. It’s like trying to go up the escalator that is going down. You know what happens when you stop trying to go up? You don’t stay put. No, the escalator will take you down. The important thing is to keep going. Here is how St. Paul put it, “ Beloved I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[c] call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.13,14)
As we gradually come out of COVID, that is the mindset we need to adopt.
It’s vital whenever you head out on a journey that you have a map. It’s the map enables to plot a route that keeps you from getting lost. The same thing applies to the spiritual life. People don’t have a map for their spiritual lives, and a route to follow, get lost.
So, what our map? Our map is the Bible. And what is the route? The route is what is given us in the Church’s calendar, the Church’s liturgies, the Church’s sacraments, and the Church’s creeds. We are following in the footsteps of the Saints who have gone before us. They have marked out the path, and in fact, are walking with us. Follow the signs and you won’t get lost.
There’s a well-known joke about a tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions to Dublin. The Irishman replies: ‘Well sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here!”
That actually applies to this spiritual journey.
In our reading from the Book of Genesis this morning we are told that the man and the woman, “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3.8). This is rather strange! Why did the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord? They hid because they were afraid and ashamed. Why were they afraid and ashamed? They were afraid and ashamed because of their sin. This describes the starting point of our journey, and where we find ourselves, hiding from God, afraid and ashamed because of our sin.
It’s interesting, that the first recorded emotion that the man and the woman experienced in the garden was not guilt, but shame. There is an important difference between the two. In guilt, I feel bad about something I have done. In shame, however, I feel bad about who I am. It’s the difference between,” I screwed up” and “I am a screw up.”
Shame has been described as the Master Emotion, an emotion that is wired into the very fabric of our very bodies. It is what caused the man and the woman to cover themselves and run and hide from God. It is shame that has been the center of our emotional life under COVID. What have we been doing these last 15 months? We have been covering ourselves and hiding from each other and from God for fear of exposure!
One psychologist writes, “Shame is a wound made from the inside, dividing us from both ourselves and others.” (Gershen Kaufman, The Psychology of Shame) Our story this morning supports this claim, as the man pins the blame on the woman, but then also pins the blame on God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3.12) Shame, then, properly understood, is a sign of our broken communion with God.
Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest and theologian, points out that, shame is an unbearable feeling, one that typically morphs into one of two other emotions: anger or depression. While anger and depression are not pleasant, it sure beats feeling ashamed. Problem is, it’s a downward spiral. Shame that begets anger and depression simply leads to more anger and more depression, and on and it goes.
He goes on to write, “Our culture’s language has become increasingly shaming in character. We make global pronouncements at the drop of a hat. The bitterness and pain of our political life, for example, is driven largely by the mutual shaming that occurs. We not only disagree with people, we globalize the argument. They do not merely disagree with me, they are racist, stupid, homophobic, Neanderthal, hater’s, etc. This is warfare rather than speech – a warfare of shaming that only deepens the spiral of misery. It becomes demonic at some point, in that our adversary utterly hates our existence. And nothing wounds us as effectively as shame.”
The shaming endured by the Anglican Bishops who opposed the proposed changes to the teaching and law governing marriage in the Church at our last General Synod in Vancouver had to be seen to be believed.
Of course, we all have our own stories to tell of this kind of toxic shaming, and the lasting wounds they create.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is subjected to the shaming of the crowds, who were saying, “He has gone out of his mind!” and this in turn brought shame on the family who attempted an intervention.
“When his family heard it, they went out and tried to restrain him.” (Mark 3. 21)
“Jesus, stop it! Enough is enough. It’s time to come home!”
Shame is a sticky emotion. When one a member of the family does something shameful, or labeled as shameful, the whole family is shamed.
A further public shaming occurred when the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons He casts out demons!” (Mark 3. 22)
So, how do we move forward?
Where is healing for the wound of shame to be found?
Obviously, the name calling has got to stop. But that actually doesn’t take us very far.
St. John Climacus, one of the great spiritual teachers of the church from the 6th century wrote,
“You cannot escape shame except by shame.”
Where did he get this idea from? Why did he mean by this?
The source of this teaching was two-fold. In their accounts of the Passion, the Evangelists show very little interest in the pain that Jesus endured on the Cross. What they do zero in on is the shaming comments that were hurled at Jesus. “He saved others, he cannot save Himself!” (Matthew 27.42) . “ “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now if he desires him, for he said, “ I am the Son of God. “ (Matthew 27.43) The work of salvation that Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross is to be understood in terms of bearing the totally of the shame that we could not bear.
The second source this teaching that “you cannot escape shame except by shame” was in the experience of confession. A major part of a monk’s struggle with sin consists in going to confession. In the same way that when you hurt yourself, you go to the doctor and show him your wound, you also go to your spiritual elder, and show him your wound, the wound of your sin. You open up and tell the truth about what you have done to sin against God in your thoughts, in your words, and your actions.
It’s very important for us to note that when the Lord came looking for the man and the woman, He did not shame them. He did not humiliate them with some verbal attack. He did not say, ‘What a bunch of screws up you are!” Rather, a simple question, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3.11)
The experience of admitting and owning up to our sin in the hearing of another person is the experience of “bearing a little shame.” It is an experience of union with Jesus Christ in His Cross. But it is also the experience of bringing healing to the wound of our shame, and the restoration of Communion with God through the Cross of Christ. It is the experience the liberation and the freedom the Christ brings us from our bondage to Satan, sin, and death. In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares,’ No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man. Then indeed his house can be plundered. (Mark 3. 27) . Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, has tied up the strong man, who is Satan, who held us captive, and has plundered his house, and set us free!
No sooner do the man and the woman lay bare their sin, than God announces the deliverance that He had already prepared. “The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3.15)
So, who is the woman? That would be Mary. And who is the woman’s offspring? That would be Jesus. It’s why in the icon of the coming of Christ, which you pass by when you come up for Communion, you see Mary, presenting to us her crucified and risen Son, and Jesus, is holding the scroll of the Scripture, and is sticking the back of his heel beyond the border of the icon. By his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is shown to be our mighty deliver from the power of Satan, sin, and death. I love how on the icon which is printed on our bulletin, the Lord is extending his hand to the man and the woman, to touch them, and in so doing to heal the wound of their shame. Of course, if they are going to take his hand, that means going to mean letting go of the fig leaf!
This is what we do in repentance, confession, and forgiveness, and through this we are able, one step at a time, to continue, against all that would drag us down, on our journey upwards and inwards towards Jesus Christ, and leave our shame behind, and to know, as St. Paul wrote, “that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 4. 14-5.1)
This is the journey that we are on, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.