Last month, before I and my family headed home from our camping trip last month, I bought a pack of gum. When we opened it up, one of my kids said, “Hey, this is the gum that has “Truth or Dare” on the wrapper!” So our kids started playing a game of “Truth or Dare” using the questions that were printed on the gum wrappers. And everything was going well until this question came up, “What is the worst thing that you have ever done?” And someone in our family answered, “Sometimes I eat too much” which is a safe answer, but at least it was better than what I did which was not answer the question at all.
There is something very powerful about shame, and we all experience the power of shame. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God at all, or if you believe that God exists but you are not sure what that means or if you identify as someone who is trying to follow this person named Jesus, all of us have felt the soul-crushing power of shame. We are all the same here. And if you are here for the first time, I hope that you feel welcomed and supported and encouraged here because our dream is that this would be a church where people of ages from all backgrounds are welcomed into the family of God. And if you only remember one thing from today, let it be this: Jesus turns our shame into glory for us.
To explore how Jesus does this we are reflecting on an event described for us in the Bible in John 2:1-12. That reading described events that took place at a wedding and so here is some information about weddings in Bible times that will be helpful for you to know because wedding customs back then and there were different than they are today. First, the father would choose a bride for his son and then the son, or groom, would pay a price for the bride. The bride and the groom would be betrothed to each other. The betrothal was just as binding as a marriage and, like a marriage, it could only be broken by divorce, but the bride and groom did not live together, nor was the marriage consummated. The bride continued to live in her parent’s home, while the groom went back to his father’s home and began adding on to the family residence to build a home for him and his bride. This usually took about a year, and when it was complete, the father told the son that it was time for the wedding. The groom and his best men would go to the home of the bride and then bring the bride and her attendants back to the groom’s home for the wedding and a week of feasting and celebrating. Then the bride and groom would live in the home that the groom had prepared for them.
This background information on ancient marriage customs in the Middle East is important for more that our reading today because word pictures about marriage show up again and again in the Bible. God uses the word picture of marriage to describe our relationship with him. Everyone who believes in Jesus is part of the universal Christian church. And the church is called the bride of Christ.
But marriage customs are also used as a road map to describe how the future will unfold. God the Father chose us to have a close intimate relationship with his Son. By coming to earth, living a perfect human life and suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus paid more than the full price for his bride. He has made a promise to us that he belongs to us and we belong to him and, from his side of the relationship, that promise is unbreakable. Jesus has now returned to his Father and is preparing a home for us. And when his Father says that the time is right, Jesus will come back to earth in a visible way to take us back to the home that he has prepared for us. And when we get to that heavenly home, there will be a huge celebration, much like an ongoing wedding feast with the best of aged wine and the finest of tasty food. We will live forever in the new heaven and earth, the home which Jesus has prepared for us.
Hospitality in the Middle East was very important then, and it is still important today. The groom and his family were expected to provide food and drink for all the wedding guests throughout the seven days of celebrating. To run out of wine in the middle of a wedding feast would be a huge embarrassment. People would be talking about this for years bringing huge shame upon the groom and his family. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was also at this wedding. Perhaps she was a close relative who was visiting in a back room with the groom’s family and that is how she came to know that the wine had run out. Discretely, she came to Jesus and told him what had happened. Jesus told the servants to fill up some stone water jars with water and when some was drawn out and taken to the person in charge of the feast, that person was amazed at the quality of wine that the water became. He went up to the groom and praised him before all the guests, saying, “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” (John 2:10) Jesus took the shame of the groom and turned it into glory for him.
In the article “How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys” author Mark Greene describes an event he witnessed as he and his wife were swimming in the Frio River in Texas. There are some high rocks along the river that people would climb up and then jump into the river. One young boy climbed up the rocks, but then had trouble mustering up the courage to jump off into the water. Several times he walked up to the edge of the rock, looked over the edge and then stepped back. People were shouting up words of encouragement to him. And then it happened. One boy hollered out in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “What are you, a girl? You’re just a scared girl!” Here was one boy shaming another and degrading all the girls within earshot at the same time.
The shame-er had probably been shamed himself at some point. He knew that it hurt and he knew how to do it. The father climbed up the rocks to his son. He tried to comfort and encourage him, with no success. Finally, the father threw his son off the rock and jumped in after him. The young boy fell awkwardly, hitting the water with a belly flop and when his head surged above the water he let out a scream of anguish. The father grabbed hold of his son and held him as he swam to shallow water. Then he carried away to a quiet place as tears spilled down his son’s face.
How do you or I make shame like that go away? We can’t. The best that we can do is to try to say that things are okay, when they are not. But Jesus has a way of dealing with shame that is beyond what any human can do. It starts with love. Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance of us is what gives us the courage to even look at our shame and see what is there. Do we feel shame because of something wrong that we have actually done? Jesus’ love comes with total forgiveness for all of our failures. Do we feel shame because of something wrong that was done to us? Jesus’ love comes with truth that tells us that we are not responsible for the abuse that we experienced. Do we feel shame because the soundtrack of our lives has been playing “You’re No Good” for so long that we have begun to believe that it is true? Jesus’ love comes with a playlist of songs like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” which gives us a new identity. Because of Jesus, you are a pure, beloved, righteous child of God and Jesus is crazy in love with you.
Jesus’ love is what heals and removes your shame. And Jesus often does that through a relationship with another human being. Ken Dyck, who along with his wife Bonnie, founded Freedom Session, says that we may share our shameful secrets with other people, but there is about 10% of those secrets that we will take to our grave. We don’t tell anyone the things that we are most ashamed of because, we believe that, if we did, that would change the way that the other person would feel about us. Through the Freedom Session program, special relationships are set up where people can share their deepest, darkest secrets with another person who has been trained to hear those things with grace and love. And when you share your most shameful secrets with someone else and that other person still loves you in the same way that they always did, then you know that you were believing a lie and the truth has set you free. And when you have been set free from your shame, then God often brings people into your life who have the same kind of challenge that you have. And as Jesus’ love flows through you, then you become a conduit for them getting set free. And their freedom is your glory. Jesus turns our shame into glory for us. I have experienced this myself through Freedom Session and it is a beautiful thing.
Imagine what it would be like if this could be a community of faith where more people could come with their shame-filled secrets and find fellow sojourners who are little further down the road than they are. And through the special relationships that people are able to form here, they are set free from their guilt and shame by Jesus. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
The risen Jesus is here today. He has promised us that he is present in this special meal that we are about to enjoy. We do not fully understand it, but we believe Jesus’ words when he said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” This sacred meal called Holy Communion is a foretaste of the great wedding banquet to come at the end of time. As we come forward to share in this meal, we are not only celebrating this meal with Jesus and with each other, we are also sharing this meal with all the faith-filled people who have gone before us into heaven and with our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. This is a meal where you can experience Jesus’ love for you.
Remember, Jesus loves you. And that is what changes everything for us. Amen.
(This message was presented on September 24, 2017 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, BC.)
 Mark Greene, “How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys,” The Good Men Project (Internet; available at: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/megasahd-why-americas-culture-of-shame-is-killing-us/; accessed Sep 19, 2017).