Conquering death every day

Ephesians 2:1-10
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 
2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

There is a woman at the University of Texas Dallas named Brene Brown who researches shame and vulnerability. Some of you may have read her books or seen her Ted talks. She began this work by researching connectedness – this, according to her, is why we are here. Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives. What she discovered was a lot of disconnection. So she stepped back to look at the cause of this disconnection and she discovered that shame was at the root of this disconnection. People have things about themselves that they fear will cause others not to like them. I would venture to guess that we all know what this feels like. We all know what it is like to have some perceived imperfection that we fear will make others turn away from us. Many people, faced with this fear of rejection due to their perceived imperfection will build walls around themselves, hide their true selves from the world in order to not be rejected, in order to not be vulnerable. So shame leads to disconnection. When we are ashamed of who we are, we are afraid we will be rejected by each other and by God. We hide. We wear masks. We keep ourselves from real connection. We drown in our shame. Shame is the death of you and of me.

Far too many people seem to think that shame is the pathway to righteousness, that if we can really make someone feel ashamed of what they have done (or worse, o who they are), they will see the light and change. How often is this approach effective? When someone has told you that you should be ashamed of yourself, have you taken in that statement, analyzed it for the truth, seen the error of your ways and become a new person? Or have you gotten angry or defensive and told the person they could screw off? Has shaming ever strengthened a connection?

We point out the shame of others because it is so much easier than dealing with our own shame, with our own darkness. Because putting our shame out there makes us vulnerable. Admitting that I am not perfect leaves me vulnerable and that is what we are truly afraid of. Because when we are vulnerable, we could get hurt. So we fight our vulnerability. We intentionally deaden our lives through shopping and drinking and sex and television and you tube and drugs and food and all sorts of other things. We are dead in these things.  And we do a lot of them on purpose.

There are millions of people walking around the city today who are dead. There are people in this room who are dead. I think I’ve been dead at least 4 times today. We are hiding ourselves, protecting ourselves, afraid of being vulnerable. We trade connection for safety. We trade our true selves, the people God created us to be, for a sanitized version of ourselves, the version that has no problems. We live into the pressure of being that person. When we can’t perfect ourselves, we try to perfect the people around us. When we can’t control ourselves, we try to control those around us. When we don’t get it, we assert that we totally get it. We do this with ourselves, we do this with people we love, we do this with God.  And it is all death. We are surrounded by it. It stinks and it is rotten and yet we bring it on ourselves because we don’t want to be vulnerable, we don’t want to be judged – we don’t want to be loved. Just in case that love might let us down someday.

I shared this passage with a friend of mine who is totally unchurched. All she heard was judgment. And, the truth is, there is plenty of judgment to hear. The writer is all – You were like this, until you discovered Christ. The others are still like this. But you’re alive now, and they’re still dead.  The truth is that we are saints and sinners, we are dead and alive at the same time. The ultimate both/and. Both alive and dead. We hear the Grace and love of God in Christ because we KNOW the grace and love of Christ. Others hear judgment and death because they have heard a lot more of that than they have heard love.  And that’s our fault. In our attempts to deny our death, our shame, our vulnerability, we shame others. What if, in our attempts to be loved, we loved others?

Getting from death to life is not easy. It is hard work. It means dealing with ourselves, admitting our short comings. In many cases, it means realizing that those shortcomings aren’t shortcoming at all. It means accepting that we were born this way, damn it! In others, it means really working on old wounds (though that could apply to shortcomings that aren’t).  But we have got to let go of this need for perfection for ourselves and for others. We have got to stop holding everyone to this ridiculously high standard.  It is time to open ourselves up to vulnerability and there in, to live.

Because here’s the thing. The only way we can let God in is if we are vulnerable. That’s what faith is, right? That’s what this passage is telling us! We are saved when we trust in God. We are saved when we let God love us, when we let God see all of our warts. We are saved when we let God love us, when we let God’s love penetrate our hearts until they break open. This is how God gets us – because we can’t selectively be vulnerable to God and no one else, it doesn’t work that way. And once we let God’s love in and realize how deeply loved and accepted we are there is nothing that can keep us from being alive. There is nothing that can keep us from connecting with God, nothing that can keep us from deeply connecting with our brothers and sisters. Once we allow ourselves to be totally, amazingly, profoundly loved by God good works will flow out of us. Love will flow out of us.

This isn’t an overnight process. It is a daily cycle. Dead and alive, dead and alive, dead and alive. We are saved every moment of every day. We are loved every moment of every day. We are loved with all of our flaws and screw ups and in the messiness of every day life and in our daily deaths.  And it is because of this that we have life eternal every day, now and forever. Amen.



About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

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