“Oooooh, you shouldn’t have done that.” Almost all of us have had that thought race through our heads at one time or another. Most people have one or two moments in their lives that bring to them thoughts of shame and a fear of that one moment being exposed to others.
Even pastors. There’s probably something in each of our pasts that we don’t even let our spouses know. It might be a time of great trauma or something we actually did; it might be something that just happened, you know the way some things just happen.
For many of us it is an act of cowardice, when we should have acted one way and failed. I don’t mean some action-movie kind of bravery involving terrorist plots and split-second timing. I mean telling someone the truth when they will hate you for it, or defending someone being abused when you can certainly get away with it but it will leave you exposed.
I would suspect, using nothing more than my own past as a guide, that most of what causes the specter of shame to arise in us are the acts of omission, “what we have left undone” as we confess each Sunday morning. Those are the places where our inner darkness is at its deepest. Those are the times when we most wished to do the right thing, but could not summon the goodness from inside us.
I think this is most prevalent in the current climate of dissent and dissatisfaction, with protesters marching in the streets and blocking freeway traffic. It would appear from some of the news outlets that there is a rash of armed black folks being gunned down by the police, or if you tend toward the other news outlets, there seems to be a lot of media hype about no trend at all, just a way of whipping up ratings by demonizing the noble peacekeeping efforts of the legitimate authorities.
I honestly do not care on which side of that divide you fall because no matter which side it is, you are wrong. If our confession tells us anything it tells us that we are wrong more often than we’d care to admit.
How many of us are willing to step up and make the nuanced argument? How many of us have the courage to allow, for example, that giving a thirteen year-old boy in a rough neighborhood an imitation assault rifle is probably perpetuating a climate of violence and placing that child in danger?
Or how about this one? Would you be willing to allow that someone with a military police background in a war zone might very well need a little extra psychological screening than the average sheriff’s deputy recruit to make sure they are patrolling our streets and not those in Fallujah?
What if we went a little farther and asked why the school system is seemingly so willing to expel students and then drag their feet in reassigning them to recovery schools, allowing them to roam the streets unattended instead of educating them?
Everyone wants to be on the side of the angels. Everyone wants the people they love to be the good guys but we are a confessional people and if even we cannot admit that there are no angels, then we are stuck trying to rationalize away the facts in our faces because we are not brave enough to risk a few friendships for the sake of the truth.
Each of the three perspectives mentioned above, in reference, in case you have a short memory, to the Andy Lopez shooting, will lose you some friends. Some folks cannot let themselves believe that one or another of the factors contributed to his death.
But the truth is, the thing we hate to admit, is that we are all, to some extent, culpable of for no other reason than that we do not demand a better world and the n work to build that world at the risk of our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor like it says in the Declaration of Independence.
Why is it that the death of a Latino boy has less impact in Bennett Valley than it does in Roseland? He wasn’t undocumented, he was an American citizen, so that isn’t the problem. But just asking that question makes us all squirm a little so we don’t ask it.
The first step of the twelve steps is to admit you have a problem.
We have a problem, as a society.
Can we ask hard question in the hope of making the world a better place? Can we admit that if it as easy as it seems to find examples of unarmed black men being shot by the police that there might be a problem? Can we come to grips with the notion that the police are human beings, not heroes, not idols for us to worship but regular people who make regular people mistakes from time to time?
Can we admit, finally, after decades of research telling us so, that our culture of violence breeds in us harder attitudes about life and death, that if we make it a game we might just have a hard time taking it seriously when it is not a game?
Can we stop expecting the schools to raise our children for us and yank up our bootstraps and take some responsibility for how our kids are doing, what our kids are doing, and caring a bit about our neighbor’s children in the process?
All of these things take courage.
But all of them take mercy also, and forgiveness as well.
If we cannot admit that the police occasionally make a mistake, then we will have no mercy on them when they do because they have not just committed an error, they have betrayed our image of them and that we will not allow. If we cannot admit that policemen are human beings; albeit well-trained, well-armed human beings, then we will not be able to forgive the human being making the mistake.
We will be where we are, police and society, trying to pretend that the mistakes do not happen, circling the wagons to prevent the truth from shattering our misconceptions.
Prevent the truth from shaking our view of the world.
I thought Jesus was the truth, the Way, the Truth and the Life? Right? Is there some way we can invite Jesus into this conversation?
The other side of the argument, by the way is equally flawed. The police are not brutal, jackbooted thugs out merely to express their own aggressions on the populace in increasingly militaristic ways.
The truth, as I have mentioned from this place a fair number of times, is complicated.
But the world will never get any better unless we summon the courage to face the truth because only in facing the truth can we start to fix it, can we fulfill our callings and start to build a better world in Jesus name.
And it begins with you. It begins when you take a good look at the span of your life, the great days, like weddings or the birth of a child; the lousy days, like the loss of a friend, a loved-one, a marriage. Look back at the things you’ve done and thought and take pride in the good you have done, even if only you will ever know about it, it is just fine to feel good about doing good.
But where you find fear, or shame, that moment when your resolve failed, when you could not contain your tongue and were needlessly cruel to someone, when you lashed out in anger, when you erred.
We’ve all got one, at least one. We’ve all got something buried, maybe a sin of omission, of failing to act, but also maybe a sin of commission something we actually did that we deeply regret.
If we are to be able to embrace the humanity of those around us, their flaws and their strengths alike and to start to build a better world with and for them, then we will need to start closer to home by letting go of the shame and the hurt, old grudges long since devoid of meaning, fears and long ago sins.
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
I am so very glad that we have entered into the second year of the Lectionary Cycle. As I have mentioned many times before, Mark if my favorite Gospel and the first sentence in this morning’s scripture is one of the reasons.
This is the beginning, this moment right now, not just when Mark wrote those words, but every time they are read, every time we remember our baptisms, every time we look up to the cross and are reminded of how much was given in exchange for our salvation, that moment is the beginning of the good news.
And the ending is not in sight. Peter reminds us that the Lord will not come at an appointed time, but like a thief in the night so there is no point in predicting a day, of waiting to forgive yourself, to release yourself until just the right moment. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and so this is just the right moment.
That’s why I like Mark. It’s about Jesus starting the tide of salvation, the tide of good news for all mankind but then, at the end, there is no ending only these verses, spoken to Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and to Salome, “But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It is up to us to finish the story.
But you cannot finish a story until you begin it.
The issues that face us, that cry out for the mercy, the grace and the forgiveness of Christ are too complicated for us to be afraid to speak the truth; that nobody’s hands are clean and that we all need to show mercy as well as receive it, need forgiveness as much as we need to forgive.
If we cannot forgive ourselves then we will have precious little chance answering the hard questions and forgiving the rest of the world, of showing God’s mercy, precious little chance of moving forward into a better tomorrow, the Kingdom of God not in some faraway heaven but here, in the fellowship of the Body of Christ, in the creation that was in the beginning, deemed good by the God who created it all and placed us in it.
That is what is on offer in the gospel of Christ, that every day can be a new beginning; that every breath offers the chance to stand up and allow the fetters to fall from your body and to proclaim that Christ hat set you free and then to gird up your loins and start a’ proclaiming boys and girls, the gospel will not spread itself, it requires the voices of those who have been set free and who have learned to forgive.
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.