Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Families Under the Cross - Building Up One Another

Families Under the Cross: Building Up One Another as Lenten Series by Rev. David Johnson.
Psalm 139:13-18, Ephesians 4:29-32, John 16:17-33
From a Sermon by Rev. David Johnson
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Hey Johnny, that was great!  Way to go!  Good job!”  (Spoken with encouragement and enthusiasm)
“Hey Johnny, that was great!  Way to go!  Good job!”  (Spoken with sarcasm and ridicule)
Those are the same words.  What’s the difference?  One is spoken to build up, the other spoken to tear down.  The first makes the person who hears them feel good.  The second makes the person feel down and inferior.   The way we speak to each other has a great effect on the people in our families.  Words can heal and words can destroy.  Words can tear down and words can build up.  We do well to listen to St. Paul’s words:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)
He has lots to say to us, as Families Under the Cross.  Let’s see how, as we live under the cross of Jesus Christ and in the forgiveness he brings, this Word of God can be true for our families.
Each week we’ve talked about the challenge of living in our families.  Just as it is a challenge to forgive; a challenge to serve, it is also a challenge to build each other up.  That’s just not the way our minds work.  Usually our first reaction to a situation is sarcasm.  That “corrupt talk” that St. Paul warns us against comes out before we even have a chance to think about it.  One translation calls it “unwholesome talk.”  And so it is.  Just think about how often we ridicule our family members.  Just think about how so often our teasing is beyond the pale of “all in good fun.”  Again all you have to do to see this played out is visit any playground.  You won’t have to listen long and you’ll hear a put down.  What happens there happens in our families.  And as far as put downs are concerned kids are king.  
Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family says that some 80% of teenagers experience feelings of inadequacy and inferiority because of the way they look.  Put downs at this stage of life can be especially devastating for a young person trying to find a place in life, trying to fit in to the crowd.  It can even push them to do things they would never consider otherwise.  Teenagers often use drugs and alcohol, and have sex as a means to relieve the pressure inflicted by negative statements at school or even at home.  Do you see why the Apostle calls it “corrupting” talk?
We often push our family members to be what they are not, too.  “Why can’t you be like your older brother?”  “You just can’t do anything right can you!”  Words spoken like these and even words that remain unspoken leave our family members wondering if they’ll ever live up to our expectations.  Very often our family members have the feeling they’ll never measure up to the perfection we demand.  
All this tearing down, all these “corrupt” words spoken, all these unhelpful actions against the members of our family bring about a deep and abiding sense of shame.  What is shame?  It’s different than guilt.  Guilt is getting caught doing something wrong and knowing you’ve been caught.  Whey you get a speeding ticket because you were speeding, you might rationalize it to yourself, you might try to find a way to not have to pay the fine, but when you’ve been caught actually speeding you know you are guilty.  That’s not shame.  Shame is a feeling you feel about yourself.  Dr. Lewis Smedes says that shame is the feeling of “not-good-enough-ness.”  Shame is that feeling you have about yourself that says you’ll never get it right.  Shame is the feeling you feel about yourself when you fell like you are the most stupid person you know, because you keep making the same mistake again and again.  Shame is that feeling when you just what to put that great big “L” for loser on your forehead.  Kids feel it when other kids tease them about how they look.  Parents feel it when they make a mistake with their kids and say to themselves, “I’m a lousy parent.”  Nothing intensifies shame more than “corrupt / unwholesome” words spoken to us by people we love or admire.  
"At at very early age, children begin to believe the judgments about them that their caregivers express in words and deeds.  They easily pick up the message that they are in the way or a pain to care for.  Worse, they may get the message that they are no good, slow or deficient because they aren't smart enough, pretty enough, aggressive enough. Deep down children begin to believe that these judgments are true.  With such shaming experiences, children can easily develop a shame-based identity."
Those are the words of Dr. Robert Albers in an article called Naming Our Shame.  Shame destroys the goodness of living by making us feel inadequate and worthless.
One direct result of shame, the feeling of not being worth anything, is that people wonder how God could love a person like us.  When we are overwhelmed by shame we think that we’ve got get our lives straightened out, we’ve got to a better person to be worthy of God’s love.  We might know that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we might even know that Jesus died for us, but we still think that we have to do something to make ourselves worth God’s love.  This plays itself out in lots of ways, but mostly, in the church, it comes in our comparison to other people.  We see someone sitting in church and we know some of their problems.  “At least I’m better than that person.”  “I may be bad, but I’m not that bad.”  or even “I’ve got my problems but at least I’m in church!”  What’s really going on inside is quite different.  We are trying to lift ourselves out of our worthless feelings by standing on the weakness of others.
I think most of the time we know how to deal with our guilt.  We confess our sins to God and he forgives because of Jesus.  Usually we know how to let the guilt go (but not always).  Shame is a different animal.  Shame sticks to your ribs.  It’s harder to scrape it off and let it go.  But the truth of the matter is that God deals with guilt and shame in the same way.  As Families Under the Cross we live in the forgiveness won for us by Jesus.  That forgiveness frees us from our guilt and shame.  And even more importantly, Living Under the Cross, that is receiving forgiveness for our own guilt and shame helps us to do what God has specially called us to do in our families.  
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Those are words of building each other up.
We can do that because of Jesus.  On the cross Jesus died for our guild and our shame.  Jesus not only experienced the suffering for our sins, he also experienced great shame.  It was one of the purposes of crucifixion.  Public shame was the goal.  Every part of the punishment was meant to bring shame to the criminal, his family and the community.  A person nailed to a cross was exposed arms out stretched, legs bunched up in cruel spread eagle fashion.  The pictures of Jesus wearing a loin cloth are just to appease sensibilities.  Jesus was crucified stark naked.  A crucified person hung for hours and sometimes days before they died.  They couldn’t defend themselves against anything.  Birds attacked them.  Passers by mocked them.  The sun burned them by day and the cold froze them at night.  It was brutal, public, humiliation and shame.  
The book of Hebrews says it like this:
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
Jesus knew shame and guilt on the cross.  He suffered there for your shame and your guilt.  There is nothing in the world like knowing that God thought you were so worth it, that he himself went through that humiliation for you.
I think about a movie, where the new fiancé has to convert to Greek Orthodox to be able to marry his bride.  While he’s being baptized, half naked, in a rubber swimming pool, she says to her brother… “I’m just sure at any moment he’s going to turn and say, ‘You are so not worth this!”  After a short pause her brother says, “Yes, you are!”  In God’s eyes you are worth it… “even death on a cross.”
That’s another great thing we have as Families Under the Cross.  We hear from our Savior not only the words, “You are forgiven!”  But also “You are accepted.”  That’s the way that God deals with us in Christ.  He accepts us, sins and all, guilt and all, shame and all.  He loves us anyway.  I thought about using the old words for the hymn we just sang, “Alas and did my Savior bleed.”  We sang:
Alas! And did my Savior bleed, And did my sovereign die?Would he devote that sacred headFor sinners such as I?
How many of your remember the words from the old Hymnal?
… Would He devote that sacred headFor such a worm as I?
The answer is “Yes!”  Jesus wants you to know that not only did you need saving by His death on the cross, but you are “so worth it.”  You are his special loved creation, worth his death on the cross.  
You see, that’s Amazing Grace isn’t it.  Knowing how God feels about us and our families gives us the power to build one another up.  Knowing that He accepts us makes it possible for us accepts ourselves and each other.  When our children are teased on the playground we can say to them, “God created you, and God don’t make no junk!”  We said it together a few moments ago, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.” Think of the self-esteem builder it was when Martin Luther said about his wife Katie, “There are some women more beautiful than my Katherine in this world.  But I wouldn't trade Katie for all of France or Venice.”  
That’s where we live Under the Cross.  When our children do something wrong, we say, “I hate what you did, but I love you and accept you just as Jesus does.”  That’s living Under the Cross.  That’s being Jesus to our families.  
It goes right here in our church family, too.  Because here we are also a Family Under the Cross.  It’s right there hanging over us to remind us that God love and accepts us all, through death of Jesus on the cross.  Instead of speaking to and about each other negatively and tearing each other down (and I’ve heard plenty of that since I’ve been here), we can build each other up.  Instead of looking toward what we don’t like in a person, instead of remembering forever how they’ve hurt us, we can look at them as Jesus did… next time you want to say something negative about someone here try saying to yourself what Jesus said on the cross, “You are so worth it!”
Building one another up is a great benefit to our families.  When we make it a regular practice in our families we draw closer together.  When there’s trouble we know we can depend on each other.  Children know that they don’t have to be afraid of being rejected when they come to you with a problem.  
It is living Under the Cross that makes it all possible.  In because of the cross we know that we are truly accepted and loved.  It is in the cross that God's amazing and accepting grace gives us power to build one another up in our families.  Amen
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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