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Shameless

1 Corinthians 4: 1-5, 14-21

So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and managers of God’s secrets. In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful. I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself. I’m not aware of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me innocent, because the Lord is the one who judges me. So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God.

14 I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children. 15 You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers. I gave birth to you in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 16 so I encourage you to follow my example. 17 This is why I’ve sent Timothy to you; he’s my loved and trusted child in the Lord; he’ll remind you about my way of life in Christ Jesus. He’ll teach the same way as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Some have become arrogant as if I’m not coming to see you. 19 But, if the Lord is willing, I’ll come to you soon. Then I won’t focus on what these arrogant people say, but I’ll find out what power they possess. 20 God’s kingdom isn’t about words but about power. 21 Which do you want? Should I come to you with a big stick to punish you, or with love and a gentle spirit?

               A few years back, I attended a secular meeting for young professionals, where a guy in his mid-twenties shared some of his insights as a salesperson.  He had been told, as most of us might imagine, that if you want to develop a strong business relationship with people, then you’d better steer clear of any and all discussion related to religion or politics.  But what this young man had noticed was that –first of all- these two topics were almost impossible to avoid. Those seemed to be, precisely, the kinds of conversations that people were practically itching to have –because they were interested, and they had questions. And second, in his experience, when he did have a conversation with a potential client, which ended up steering toward either religion or politics, he noticed he would make a significantly higher rate of sales as a result.

               And the reason for this, he suggested, was because it helped to establish a relationship based on shared values. 

               Now, what was really interesting to me about listening to all of this was that –here we were having a meeting about professional development- and suddenly people started talking about church!  Almost everyone sitting around that table voluntarily identified themselves as having a faith –but very few of them belonged to any kind of faith community. And the reason for that turned out to be the same reason for why it’s dangerous to talk about religion or politics in a business setting.  Can anyone guess what that reason might be? 

               If you were to guess why church might be scary to someone with faith –and why talking religion or politics can be dangerous- what would you say?

               For this group, they all agreed: the scary thing was the fear of judgment.

               Is this sinking in for us?  What I’m telling you –what I heard- was that there are people out there who would like to go to church, but they don’t, because they’re afraid of showing up and being judged!

               Isn’t that crazy?                                                                                                     

               Incidentally, it’s a craziness that I think we in the church can relate to! Because every time I’ve asked people in the church about evangelism, they all agree it’s an important thing that needs to be done!  But then when it comes time to learn about evangelism  –or better yet, when it comes time to do evangelism, most of the church people who just got done talking about how important it is won’t show up! 

               And as I talk with these church people about why they won’t do this thing they think is both good and necessary for the future of our faith –do you know what they say to me?  They say stuff like, ‘yeah, but if I go out there and start talking about God, what will people think of me?’

               And what I have always wanted to say is: Golly, they just might think you’re a Christian!

                But at the same time I get it.  Because this judgment stuff is serious business.  And none of us, including myself, want to arrive at a place where we’re seen for who we are, and found –for whatever reason- to be unworthy. 

               That is a very real human experience that none of us want to feel.  And the name for the emotional response of being found unworthy is shame

               So that’s what we’re going to talk about today: we’re going to talk about the power of judgment, and how to be set free from shame.  And to do that, we’re going to learn about Enneagram type 4s, and then we’re going to look at what the Apostle Paul has to say about the subject, in the passage we just read. 

               [Slide]

               So first off: let’s learn about 4s.  Type 4s on the Enneagram are called “The individualist.” And their basic desire is ‘to be themselves.’ 

  • Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity.
  • At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

Unlike their neighbors the 3s ,4s are not nearly so interested in impressing others with their accomplishments.  Instead, 4s crave to be known for who they are; and they value being different.  And again, this is a part of all of us –every human being wants to be known and appreciated as being unique.  We all have particular interests, and skills; histories and stories.  And none of us want to be treated like just any anonymous person –for instance, I had an art professor in college who used to call me ‘Jason,’ which for those of you who don’t know me: that’s not my name.  And at first, this didn’t bother me at all, because learning names isn’t easy for me either.  But after 3 years of having at least one –sometimes two classes with this professor each semester, some of which only had 8 people in them –certain doubts started popping up in my mind. Like, am I being known?  Here I am, routinely turning in pieces of art that I had spent hours making: expressions of my heart and personality –with my name, Jeremy Poland, printed clearly on the back.  And this professor, who I really admired, has seen these, and he critiqued and graded my work; and he had had repeated conversations with me, face to face –and still, after all that, one day, right in the middle of class, he calls me ‘Jason’ again. 

        And in that moment something inside me went: ‘Jason it is.’  What am I gonna do?  It’s been three years.  I’ll be art-class Jason.  That’s fine.

        But a 4 would likely not do that –they would not accept a foreign identity being imposed upon them like that.  4s, perhaps more than any other number, are in tune with who they were created, by God, to be.  They are aware of their feelings and their flaws, and what it is that sets them apart from everybody else. And they’re going to find a place to put it all out there –which, incidentally, is why it’s dangerous to take a 4 into a tattoo parlor.  They are not defined by the impact they have, like 1s; or the people who care about them, like 2s; or by their accomplishments like 3s; they are a person unto themselves.  And that is a beautiful and courageous thing.  Indeed, I believe that is the gift that 4s can be for the rest of us: they can show us how to be who we really are –‘warts and all.’ And when they are healthy, they can inspire us to open, and honest, and vulnerable too, which is something we desperately need help with in times like these.

         But because 4s will just put themselves out there, they are also more susceptible to feelings of shame.  Since they don’t tend to try and mediate the judgement that comes their way, every negative comment can feel like a personal assault.  All of the other numbers can deflect a lot of the judgement that gets aimed at them, because it’s not them being judged as people –but instead what’s being judged is the thing they do, or the way the relate themselves to others, or the ideas they have, etc.  But for 4s, everything they do, and all the ways that they are reflect their personal identity. 

        For example, if someone were to come up to me and tell me the shirt I’m wearing is ugly –no big deal; it’s just a shirt.  Chances are, I didn’t even pick it out. And I’m probably going to assume that your statement has more to say about you than it does about me or my shirt.  But if you would make that same statement to a 4 –and particularly one who isn’t high on the health scale, then what they would likely hear is: ‘you are ugly.’ Because you’re not really talking about their shirt; you’re talking about them.

        Now, I personally don’t think it’s possible to live in the world as it is today and avoid negative judgment.  It’s just going to happen.  Probably for most of us, we’re invited to a shame-party on a near-daily basis. For teenagers, it’s way more frequent than that.  People don’t like what we do, how we dress, the mistakes we made, the friends we have, the moments we’re just not paying attention –and on and on.  And let’s not overlook the fact that a lot of the negative-judgement going around is secretly shame-inspired: where I feel bad about myself, so I’m going to try and make myself feel better by making you feel worse.  Listen closely to our political rhetoric –and it’s all a shame-war; because we use shame to try to get what we want.  Just think about the last time you heard the words: “you should feel ashamed of yourself!” 

        So judgment is going to be there; and where there is judgment, there will be shame.

        Thus the question becomes: what do we do?  How do we respond to the nearly infinite invitations to shame?

        And for that, I want to invite you to turn your attention back to our reading from chapter 4 in 1 Corinthians.  Here Paul is feeling judged.  Since he had left the city, factions had formed in the church, where some were claiming to be followers of him, while others were claiming to be followers of his ministry-partner, Apollos.  And in those first 5 verses, Paul gives us some great tools for dealing with judgment. First of all, Paul shows us how to prioritize the judgment that matters most: which is focusing exclusively on God’s judgment. Though courts, and Christians might judge Paul –and even though Paul judges himself, Paul knows that the only verdict that really matters is the one that comes from the Lord, from whom nothing is hidden.  We can deceive other people; we can deceive ourselves –but we cannot deceive God.  So focus on God’s judgment; don’t listen to human judgment –because it’s all prejudiced. All the evidence is skewed.

        Then, in the part of the reading we skipped over, because it’s long, Paul goes on to talk about how he has been shamed and put down, while those in the Corinthian church have been lifted up.  As the community has grown and taken root in the city, its leaders have enjoyed an increase in status and power.  And some people had been using Paul’s name to increase their local influence even more –meanwhile, Paul points out that he’s far away getting beaten up and arrested!  He’s pointing out: here you are using my name to gain leverage, but look what it’s getting me!  I’m homeless and in rags!  In fact, inverse 13, Paul says “We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything, up to the present time.” 

        Then, where our reading picked back up, it says: “I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children.  You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers.  I gave birth to you in Christ Jesus through the gospel, so I encourage you to follow my example.”  Now, when Paul is telling them this, he has some specific things in mind, which he had just mentioned.  In verse 12 of the chapter, as he’s describing his terrible experience, he says “Up to this very moment, we are hungry, thirsty, wearing rags, abused , and homeless.  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are insulted, we respond with a blessing; when we are harassed, we put up with it.  When our reputation is attacked, we are encouraging.”   Those are the marks of honor and integrity in the eyes of the Lord.  That is the basis upon which the Lord judges us: when evil and abuse comes our way, what do we do?  Do we shrink and succumb to that evil?  Do we return insult for insult; shame for shame?  Or have we found the power to face a curse and respond with a blessing? 

        Paul is reminding us that everything we have is an act of grace. We did not make it, or earn it, or deserve it; but our very lives were given to us as a gift.  If we are wise, or strong, or helpful –then it is only because God empowered us to act and become as such.  If we are on a pedestal or in a puddle, it is only because opportunities were given to us, or because opportunities were taken away –therefore (and this is a very important therefore); therefore, says Paul, you can’t build a case for yourself to determine what you’re worth based on what you do, or what you have, or even upon who you are.  But instead, the only thing that matters is how open you are to the grace that flows through you.  Are you generous with the blessings you’ve been given; or do you try and hold on to them, and use them to lift yourself up?  Do you acknowledge God as the source of all the good in you?  –if so, you should be humble toward yourself, and gracious with your neighbors. 

        That’s what Paul has to say.  Let’s set that next to the wisdom of the enneagram.  Some practical tips for spiritual growth for the fours in all of us are:

  • Beware of self-absorption. Listen to others when they share stories about their own suffering, and realize it’s not just you.
  • Don’t wallow in suffering, but figure out what’s causing it and do what you can to heal it.
  • When your past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say to you.

 

        This, brothers and sisters, is how we gain our freedom from shame: we discover the courage to be who we truly are, which is a particular incarnation of grace.  You are God’s goodness alive in the world.  You are a living temple –a passageway for the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, open your doors wide with confident humility, knowing that the love that comes out will be that of our cosmic creator.   Let us pray.

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