Shame, Shame, Shame: No Place for It in God’s Realm – March 19, 2017

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A Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St, Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2017

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

Shame, shame, shame on you
If you can’t dance too.
Can’t stop me now
hear what I say
my feet wanna move so get out my way

I’m gonna dance, dance, dance
Till the break of day.
Shame, shame, shame on you
If you can’t dance too.

I say shame, shame, shame Shame, shame on you
If you can’t dance too.

Some of us remember that 1974 number one hit performed by Shirley & Company. It was the era of great disco and I recall cutting the rug to it in a haunt called “Penelope’s” in East Orange, New Jersey.

It’s funny how dancing can be both a lot of fun and yet for some people conjure up the kind of shame of which the song speaks. We can be so very self-conscious about the simplest of things like how others will rate our moves when we are on the dance floor. What will they think of us? Are they staring at me? How lame must I look? Shame is a killer of one’s healthy sense of self.

Shame is a feeling of being unworthy, bad or wrong. Shame doesn’t tell us we’re making a mistake. Shame tells us we are a mistake. Shame is different from guilt—the responsible recognition that we have somehow messed us. Shame is wedged deep down in our gut and says we are messed us—somehow disordered. Conversion Therapy uses it as the tool to debase and do often irreparable harm to LGBTQ folk. Chronic shame originates in childhood and teen years and often brings people into the professional counselor’s office. Fortunately, uncovering the experience that led to shame can help relieve it and help foster a sense of goodness and worth.

Scripture records it in the book of Genesis, probably the first evidence of it. Shame distorts our ability to see ourselves as worthy of God’s loving care and regard. It is the culprit that leaves us uncomfortable in our own skin and, like Adam and Eve, wanting to hide from the world. It can cause to wear a mask behind which to hide in the hopes that no one discovers the secret unlovable self behind that façade.

The Gospel we just heard introduces us to a nameless woman from Samaria who went to Jacob’s Well. She comes round every few years in Lent to tell us her story. She knew well what it meant to be a pariah, to want to hide. She was a Samaritan, a half-breed and a pagan, and shunned by Jews and even some of her peers. In her day, women were not even permitted to worship with men. They had no place in public life. They were to be seen and not heard and men did not speak to their own wives in public.

So-called “respectable” women came to the well to draw water in the morning and in groups. She, however, shows up at noon—evidence that she was not welcome among the ladies who gathered earlier, probably aware of how much they would gossip about her, what contempt they held for her.

Jacob’s well lay at a crossroads kind of like a service station on the thruway today. Camels require water. And they transport men—lonely, maybe decadent men. A woman coming to the well when the camel brigade is there may have suggested to her critics that she may have been looking for more than a jug of water.

This is a story that has been preached with many angles and slants. Indeed, it lends itself to that kind of broad exegesis. It is a story about God’s grace and unconditional love. It speaks to fear of the other, the alien, and the evil of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. It is also a story about shame and the ramifications of that damaging condition. This makes it our story.

It is most significant to note that the longest recorded conversation Jesus had with anyone is with this Samaritan woman. Jesus talks longer with her than he does to anyone else in all the Gospels—longer than to his disciples, longer than he talks to anyone he had healed, longer than he talks to the Pharisees.

It’s difficult for us to get the full impact of what this story meant for the earliest Christians who heard it. If we could get inside the head of a thirty-something, successful, religious Jewish male who is hearing it for the first time I am sure we would be surprised at his reaction to what happened in this chapter of the Gospel of John.

Imagine if Jesus showed up here today at coffee hour and passed by almost everyone one of us in the room and went off into the corner to strike up a conversation with someone who just appeared from nowhere and who, by his dress, her demeanor, her upbringing, his lifestyle was clearly someone who society would deem on the fringe. The most charitable among us would probably wonder why he just smiled and walked by us. Some might take real offense.

Jesus approached this woman in spite of the cultural prohibition against a single Jewish man engaging in a private conversation with a woman—at Samaritan woman no less—not just because of his human thirst for a drink of refreshing water but because of his divine yearning to confront her sense of shame and restore her to wholeness as one of God’s beloved children. Jesus know every detail of her life and still loved her and treated her with dignity.

We may not have the sordid past of this Samaritan woman stashed away in our closet but we all have a skeleton or two and we all are familiar with the obsession of rating ourselves for better or worse in relation to others—whether or not we’re on the dance floor. If we are honest, we will admit that our minds are busy making those comparisons all the time. Those nasty tapes that play in our heads may tell us that we’re not smart enough, fashionable enough, attractive enough, successful enough, socially connected enough, have the wrong body type and on and on and on.

Additionally, a lot of people are “church-damaged” having experienced painful humiliation that has exacerbated their bottled-up shame often in God’s name. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we all have our peculiar nakedness that we desperately try to hide from others and which fuels our inability to debunk and even curse the lie that we are unworthy of God’s unconditional and even outrageous love.

Restoring the woman at the well to wholeness and recognizing her as the wonderful creation of God that she was—that was the first big sip of the living water Jesus had to offer her. He offers it to us today. It is new life in God. It is the gift of seeing oneself as God sees us—a unique person made in God’s image. This wonderful story is evidence of that transforming power called grace. It’s not just a story about a nameless Samaritan woman whom Jesus met two thousand years ago. It’s a story about us.

So no matter who we are or where we may be on our own life journey, no matter what skeleton lurks in our closet, no matter what our class, gender, education, sexual orientation, age, or marital status, we all have a past—just as did the woman at the well. And God knows it better than we do.

So step out and dance— dance without shame. Celebrate the embrace of the God who loves you. Take a long, refreshing drink of the living water—inhale the sweet recognition that you are—like the Samaritan woman—precious in God’s sight.


Categories: Lent, Sermons, Worship