2 The Embarrassment of Christianity PT 2

In part 1, I set up a brutal question: is the way that we do Communion in church treacherous?

In terms of how we display our devotion to Christ, we examined being embarrassed versus being exuberant (I think the kids call it “being extra”). We hinted that, while the ritual of Communion, when done in a circle setting, should be orderly, our hearts should be bursting with joy and eager for more.

I think the directive is bigger, not just about Communion, but about the whole Christian experience. In this essay and in the actual, lived Christian experience, Communion is a proxy for the whole lot.

I can’t help but hear Paul say ‘circumcision’ every time I say Communion, and as I flesh out this essay, the anachronistic analogy gets stronger. For the Old Testament Jew, to be circumcised was to be set apart as God’s chosen. For Paul, belonging to God is a matter of the heart, symbolized by Baptism and Communion. The feelings and desires we are examining here start in the heart and work their way to the surface, or as Paul would say it, the flesh. The truth of the matter is that only being circumcised or only being baptized or only taking Communion is not enough. There must be something more going on.

The last blog also left us with a set of rhetorical questions that give shape to this point, and whose answer is in the affirmative.

The Questions:

In speaking of Holy Communion: 1) Are we not, symbolically at the very least, partaking of a meal that gives us Life like no other meal can? 2) Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested with both reverence and eagerness? 3) And shouldn’t we desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled or until we are refused?

If we go back for more, when we go back, we will not be refused; we will be filled to overflowing! Show me a place in the Bible where someone who seeks God (or Jesus) is refused. It doesn’t happen! Ultimately, in fact, through Jesus, God does just the opposite by offering acceptance to ALL people (Galatians 3:26-29).

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

God may say “No” to requests, He may delay our timeline, and He may bring justice (judgement), but God’s people are not refused. Check the full context of any place where this assertion seems false, and you’ll find one truth: God does not refuse his people. They – we – refuse God!

We are the ones who refuse.

If you don’t mind my punk, we are the ‘refused party program’! But unlike the band, Refused, we are not refusing bourgeois ideology and capitalist structures. We are refusing to fully accept, to enjoy, God’s gifts. Or, possibly worse, we take part in the Gifts meagerly, almost as if we’re embarrassed to take them. Why? Some feel as if we don’t deserve them (which is debatable), some feel as if they were not meant for us (which is constitutionally false), and too often, we refuse to accept what God shares with us because we want to get it for ourselves. (Is this not the plot of Genesis 3? Man and woman refuse to obey God’s wisdom, and choose to take the fruit of knowledge for themselves…)

In everyday life, it’s really not so simple, though. I can’t believe anyone would refuse God’s gift without some external coaxing.  Back to our topic, I don’t think anyone intentionally chooses to be embarrassed or anxious or ashamed. I don’t think anyone wants to feel those things. I do think that some of those feelings are unavoidable, even natural – hereditary. For example, I am naturally shy. Not too bad, but definitely more so than naturally confident. I would choose the opposite if I could. Similarly, Science shows that anxiety is natural in all of us; a little keeps us from being too cavalier. Unfortunately, for some it is paralyzingly, and nobody would choose to have a panic attack!

But the embarrassment and anxiety that we are looking at is not the natural kind, it is the type that is synonymous with shame. And shame is not a natural state. (Read that again, and believe it!)  We aren’t born ashamed. We are born in the same state that Adam and Eve we’re created: we don’t even know we are naked until somebody tells us. We are not created to be ashamed, we are created in God’s image!

Shame, then, must be a product of something else. But if it is antecedent, what precedes it?  And why do we refuse?

In the wake of our existence, in our parades and in our dances;

Touch, see and behold the wisdom of the party program

Essential in our lifetime and irresistible in our touch

The great spirits proclaim that

Capitalism is indeed organized crime and we are all the victims

Lyrics to Refused Party Program by Refused

As emphasized before, we do not refuse the ways of our world. To the contrary, we actively or tacitly accept them. The ideology of the capitalist meritocratic model demands that we earn what we get. We are sold told that a gift is nice, but one can only truly be proud of what one earns. [By definition, wages are earned, gifts are not.] As we will see below, to labor is imperative and one does deserve one’s wages, but our society wrongly tells us that we must be able to buy, or at least perpetually rent, our status. In fact, to be reliant on the gifts of others is shameful. And for the proud person, an ‘undeserved’ gift will be refused. According to Tim Keller, “Anxiety is always a refusal to see how much God loves you.”

When pride comes, then comes disgrace [shame], but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 11:2

Why do we refuse God’s gift? The easy answer is ‘pride’. Anybody could tell you that. We could find a million examples in the Bible to support such a claim: Adam and Eve’s pride to want to know the things God knows; Cain’s (hurt) pride over God’s reaction to his offering; Jonah’s self-righteousness toward the Ninevites. Peter’s pride – at the Last Supper, saying he’d die with Christ; in the garden, when he physically defends Him; during the trial, when he actually denies Him…

Pride precedes shame in each of these cases. We can easily find infinite analogies to each of these examples in our daily lives, but it is this last example that I find the sneakiest, because it is the hardest to admit relation to. Peter’s denial of Christ came as an act of self-preservation. In his attempt (his working) to avoid the wrath of public opinion – an onslaught of negative Tweets – Peter’s pride manifested three times as denial. Then, exhausted, it’s final exhibition is shown as pride’s inverse – embarrassment, shame.

Remember, Peter accepted the bread and the cup at the Last Supper. He did so only partially though, because he could not accept the gift that came along with it: Christ’s dying on the cross. When he had no choice but to accept it, (because it was about to happen,) he refused a gift Paul would later identify – to suffer with, or as, Christ. And this may be the hardest gift to accept, even for those of us willing to accept His death as a gift.

Our death is a whole-nother situation.

Shame vs. Death

In The Passion of the Christ, the scene in which Peter denies Jesus is depicted as being in the streets of Jerusalem, with a bustling mob following the impending punishment of The Christ. The accusation of Peter’s affiliation with the condemned Jesus piles anxious-bewilderment onto his prematurely saddened state. In his anxiety if being associated with Jesus, Peter panics as if he has been exposed, and this, attempts to hide his identity. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, he tries to save himself. Jesus told him what was going to happen. He laid out the whole thing. Yet, Peter, in a lapse of faith brought on by trial, tried to save himself.

Unfortunately today, we can all relate. Social media and 24-hour ‘news’ cycles bombard us with so many conflicting opinions that every five minutes somebody is telling us that we are, in some new way, naked – exposed. There is something about being on Facebook and Twitter that allows its users to expose the truth about other users. 🙄Hard sarcasm🙄 And that truth is always the same truth: that anyone who disagrees with the post’s author is wearing the emperor’s new clothes (wantonly accepting a lie that ultimately leaves us exposed as a fool.)

This constant deluge of judgment is anxiety producing. It can easily have us feeling like Peter amongst the mob. Fortunately, (for Americans,) we probably won’t face literal death for our (Christian) beliefs, especially ones we *only* post online. We may experience any point on a continuum of figurative deaths, such as the loss of friendship or relationship with family members. Or we may only lose “friends” or “followers,” “likes” and “retweets.” While the former loses affect our IRL lives and the latter interactions may be virtual, all of our resultant feelings are real; I’m talking about stepping on a Lego real. The fact is: it can be very hard to remain steady when our beliefs are constantly challenged, and some aspect of our identity is on the line.

So, what can we do?

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

Ecclesiastes 2:24‭-‬25 NIV

Matthew 20:1-16 gives us the parable of the laborers. I hope to give a good synopsis, but you should read the whole thing to really get the full feel for it. Essentially, day laborers are hired to work a vineyard at different times throughout the day; one group is hired first thing in the morning, then another at 9am, then noon, 3pm, and finally 5pm. At the end of the day, they all get paid the same amount. Jesus states that the moral is that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the “last will be first and the first will be last.” We will tease out some of the nuances, though.

Do you play fantasy football? Me neither. Do you remember picking teams for kickball in elementary school? 👀 A similar dynamic is at play when one selects laborers – simply put, those who are most fit for the job are chosen first. Treating the parable as an accurate reflection of real life, there is likely a reason that the workers picked up later in the day were not selected earlier. Just like in sports, there is a bit of shame in being picked last.

According to Abdu Murray, in the book he co-authored with Ravi Zacharias called Seeing Jesus from the East, in the region where Jesus lived and taught, to not have work would have been shameful for a man. Normally, the men not picked by 9am (and definitely noon,) these men would likely have not gotten any work that day. If they never received work, they may have had to lie about it when they got home in order to save face. It’s easy to imagine the workers in this story refusing to return home early for fear of being shamed.

But we can also imagine a humility, a humbleness, that made them stay. Fitting with the outcome of the parable, I think the workers lingered in the parking lot of Jerusalem’s Home Depot out of sheer Hope. I think that there is some honor in the men who continued to wait. They could have gone out to beg, steal, or maybe just go get drunk – they could have believed pride’s lie and given into temptation of self-preservation. Instead, they showed humility in their perseverance, and when the time came to work, they accepted it like a gift.

At  the end of the day, all the workers were rewarded the same, but I imagine that, to the ones whom were picked last, the reward carried also the scent of a gift. Jesus includes in his parable the jealousy of those who felt they had dinner more to earn their wages (and felt like they deserved more.) Recall, in the same way that Mary loved much because she was forgiven much, the late-hired workers probably loved much because they were gifted much.

To our eyes, not everyone is gifted the same way, the same amount, or at the same time. Not everyone is a preacher, or a missionary, or whatever. Not everyone can sing, and not everyone is comfortable raising their hands while they sing. Not everyone responds emotionally. Some respond intellectually. Some physically.

*********But the Bible does tell us that everyone has a gift the gift of God’s love. We also have God given gifts, our talents (if you don’t know what yours is, ask someone you trust, they may see things you don’t).

We should be comfortable with our gifts, and comfortable sharing them. At the same time, embarrassment can cause us to waste our gift. But to waste our gift is a greater shame! That would be the real thing to be embarrassed by! Don’t forget, the Bible teaches us that everyone who can work, should work.

We cannot allow shame, guilt, anxiety, or embarrassment to cause us to refuse to put our gifts into action. Not only will we rewarded for our labor, but we will find out that the ability to labor is the result of a gift! Only by accepting the gift from The True Master, can we put in any worthwhile work. And it is never too late to start laboring!

Quick tip:

Perhaps, the laborers who did not go home were only kidding themselves that they would get work… until they received work! Similarly, you may have to “fake it until you make it” to find your gift. If you do, fake the talent, the skill, or the confidence, not the Love for the gift. Paul warns us that doing things that look like Church without Love is being only a clanging cymbal. Our worship should make noise, not be noise.

The Table is Set

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelation 3:20 NIV

The offer is always already on the table. The bread and the cup sit and wait. We only have to accept it. There is no way to earn it or be good enough for it – in fact that’s what makes something a gift.

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 4:4‭-‬5 NIV

A gift is given, a reward is earned. Either can be refused, but only one, a reward, can be demanded. A gift is always undeserved, but there is always a greater reason that it is given. Perhaps it is this imbalance that imparts a fragment of embarrassment in the reception of a truly great gift. Again, we should look to children for the proper way to accept a good gift. I think it suffices to say that a child never says, “you shouldn’t have,” or “I can’t accept this.”

Never the less, at some point, we learn to refuse gifts, and be embarrassed by accepting them. And the greater the gift, the greater the embarrassment. But, as Christians, this embarrassment is an embarrassment of riches. And as Christians, this is the only embarrassment we are left with!

In Christ, our only embarrassment is an embarrassment of riches!!!

The End.

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippians 1:20 NIV

Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated…

Isaiah 54:4 NIV

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