Beyond Guilt

by susan on June 8, 2015

Here is the sermon that was shared during yesterday’s community worship gathering:

Acts 2:37-41
Life Together Beyond Guilt

For most of my growing up years, the church was my most influential community. I have many memories of youth mission trips, lock ins, meals and choir rehearsals. I even met my future husband there! My life was seriously all about church, and I have no doubt that on at least a few occassions that probably kept me out of trouble.

The church also influenced me in another way. I remember several teachers, mostly women, who taught me stories from scripture and also showed me how to behave (including what not to do). In the south, for women “being Christian” is often equated with serving behind the scenes and using your gifts to do anything that’s not too authoritative.

I learned about being submissive, which means I also learned about guilt…because naturally, I liked to share my ideas and to be a leader. I was not very good at being submissive and every time I felt myself step out of line, even into young adulthood, I felt a twinge of guilt letting me know I was off course. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was not God’s design, but rather a set of cultrual norms being reinforced by the church.

The church is notoriously good at guilt. It’s part of our DNA.
Our knack for guilting people has caused many to leave church all together.

Even for our open-minded, inclusive, paving-a-new-way together kind of church, I find that we too struggle to find a healthy way of dealing with guilt. We seem to be a combination of “recovering guilt-aholics” (aka people pleasers) and “guilt-aphobes”, those who are so liberated they won’t allow themselves to feel bad about a thing!

The truth is though, sometimes we do get off course.
And, we need a community of sinners & saints to help us get back on track.

In a day when we are sick and tired of being guilted & shamed, what could this look like in our life together?

Tonight, we are going to let those first post-resurrection followers of Christ be our guides. Let’s look at how they began being shaped into a community, particularly how they handled guilt.

This part of the biblical story is told through the New Testament book of Acts. According to Acts, after his resurrection appearances, Jesus ascended into the sky. He left the earth, and as he promised, the Spirit came and it came in a crazy way.

The Spirit fell down on a diverse crowd of believers and Jews who were not yet believers causing them to each speak in a different language and yet to be understood in their native languages.

As usual, there were skeptics in the crowd. Their only explanation for this craziness was that there was wine involved. Some assumed they were drunk, but Peter, one of the disciples and the emerging leader, had a different explanation. He began recounting all that had happened through Jesus. He put together the pieces of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and boldly proclaimed that he was the promised Messiah and what was happening now is the fulfillment of prophecy that had been spoken for hundreds of years.

His words were obviosuly very powerful and our scripture reading describes the crowd’s reaction to Peter’s speech. The writer of Acts tells it this way:

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

This crowd had experienced something extraordinary together. Afterward, as Peter helps them undersand what is happening, something hits them like a ton of bricks.

That something was was this:
The one whom they allowed to be crucified was the promised Messiah.

If ever there was a moment of guilt or shame, this must have been it. I know we have all made some pretty dumb mistakes, but it’s not everyday you discover you were part of killing God in the flesh.

The writer of Acts tells us they are cut to the heart. This news literally broke their hearts. How could they not have recognized him? How could they have allowed this to happen?

And instead of dwelling on the past, they ask an all important question of one another.  It’s a question too many of us never go about asking. We may feel broken-hearted over something we’ve said or done, but we just let it eat at us. We let guilt and shame settle in and make a home.

Not so with this group.
They are not planning to sit there and allow guilt to eat them alive.

They ask: What should we do?

Yes, they had made a series of bad mistakes, but they were going to do something about it.

And, you know Peter. He seizes any opportunity to give advice. He tells them that their first course of action is to repent.

Repentance is recognizing we are going in a wrong direction
AND choosing to move in a different one.
At first, it feels like total crap.

In his book, The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian McLaren shares about repentance through the story of a soccer game gone wrong.

He was the coach for his daughter’s 8 & under team and they were terrible. In fact, they usually lost by double digits. He remembers during one game, Alexi, a good natured and slightly chubby girl, was playing full-back and in an unusual moment of inspired intensity, she stole the ball and dribbled – or perhaps chased is a better word – the ball up to midfield. After a breakaway and a scramble, she saw something she had never seen before: a wide open field between her and the goal. …It was as if for the first time in this sport, she knew exactly what to do and all her resources were unified in a glorious moment of clarity, hope and commitment. She – a fullback – was going to score! As she began to effectively drive down the field, there was only one problem, a problem of which she was blissfully unaware: she was driving to the wrong goal!

The crowd was yelling and screaming for her to turn around, but she was more determined than ever. As she neared the goal and looked up, it was like a little alarm went off in her brain – why was her best friend and teammate in the goal box? and why did she look so afraid?

It was too late. She was already in motion and could not be stopped.

As her right foot came forward and connected with the ball, you could see the agony of an awful recognition spread across her face. First her expression and then her crumbling body folded into a living parable of repentance as she collapsed to the dirt.

At the last second, though, the goalee’s fist grazed the side of the ball and it veered off to the left, missing the goal. Robin, the goalee had avverted disaster and the whole team, including Alexi descended on her with shouts of praise. Alexi’s mistake was swallowed up in Robin’s amazing save.

We’ve all been where where 8 year old Alexi was – with all sincerty and hope, driving in the wrong direction. Repentance is that heart-piercing moment when we realize it and begin to let our failure be swallowed up in another’s save – God’s save which so often happens in community.

According to Peter, this was the first response for this broken hearted crowd.

Peter goes on: Repent, be baptized, & receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
First, recognize your need to move in a new direction. Then, be baptized.

Baptism is making your choice to move in the way of Jesus a public one. Baptism is, like Jesus did, going public with your decision to choose the kingdom of God way over other ways.

After repentance and baptism, these would-be-followers were told they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was not for themselves, but for the good of their neighbors, for the good of all. They were invited to practice this new direction among their neighbors so that they too  would experience life in the kingdom of God, so that they too will be liberated from staying stuck in guilt & shame.

This is what life together would look like for this early Jesus community. We’ll see this as we continue reading in the book of Acts. They were not people who tried to recruit others to be part of a guilt and shame game, but people who were moving in a new direction together.

What if instead of being chararcterized as the place that produces guilt & shame, we became known as people moving in a different direction together?
What might that look like?
What new old ways would we begin to leave behind?
What new directions might God be calling us into?

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