In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving."
But the fighter still remains… (The Boxer, Simon & Garfield)
(That may be a song you remember!) - In his anger and his shame
Shame is such a powerful thing. It can be a helpful guide for us when we ourselves use it to make ourselves better. It can also be a debilitating curse imposed by others that tear us down instead of building up.
Shame. That’s the word I heard this week in a couple of stories and it is also present in our Gospel story for this morning.
The Archbishop of Canterbury invited 37 Primates (the leaders of the different Anglican churches throughout the world, including our PB Curry) to Canterbury, England to reflect and pray together concerning the future of our Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Justin Welby invited the founder of the L’Arche movement, Jean Vanier, to visit Canterbury to speak to the Anglican Primates on one of those days. Vanier, 86, is a Roman Catholic philosopher and lay person who founded the L’Arche Communities - where people with and without learning disabilities share life together, living and working in community.
The movement began with Vanier's own commitment to living in community with people who have learning disabilities in Trosly-Breuil, France in 1964, where he still lives today. There are now 150 L’Arche communities in at least 35 countries around the world.
I saw a video about Vanier after he received an award for his work. In the video he talks about about how we used to view people with disabilities, that we put them away in institutions away from us, we saw them “as a shame”, as punishment from God, instead of a way to God, as people of God. Vanier believed we need to be in relationship with such people.
"To discover that to be a human being and therefore to be a Christian is to learn how to listen to people and to reveal to people, not to seek to convert them, but to reveal to them that they are precious." It is about love not shame that we need to share. That is what Jean Vanier was talking about & lived his life.
In Michigan, where I grew up, there has been a water crisis in the city of Flint, near where my sister lives. A city of 100,000 for over a year and a half, have had water contaminated by lead leached from the pipes by corrosive and untreated water. There are many good stories out there that talk about the man made crisis, but what grabbed my attention was this:
Soon after the switch from Detroit water to the Flint River, complaints began and the people in charge responded to concerns about Flint’s water with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved. Researchers at Virginia Tech who looked into the lead poisoning found that officials not only ignored complaints about the smell, taste and color of the water, but also lied about lead levels and tried to conceal evidence.”
In other words, them shamed people for their concerns and covered up the problem. Those affected were mostly poor and black. They were not treated equally and the consequences of this will last years, for it affects not only the neighborhoods, but businesses, hospitals, churches. And the children will bear the brunt of it. Instead of listening to their concerns, it was all about shaming the vulnerable into silence.
At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." Why is this Mary’s concern?
The celebration of a wedding in those days was not only with family, but all the villagers are there too (lots of extended family) and it would last for days. Lots of preparation would go into it but for the family hosting the celebration – disgrace would be attached for not having enough.
Because it will bring shame on the family; there must have been some connection between the bride and groom in Cana and Mary of Nazareth, two nearby villages. She is concerned and wants Jesus to do something about it. When he demurs, she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus asks.
What Jesus does is listen to his mother, he has six stone water jars filled with water and then some of the water is given to the chief steward who tastes wine. The steward praises the bridegroom for keeping the good wine until last and misses the miracle.
And although the focus so often is on the water into wine, what Jesus also does is not give into shaming the family; good wine (!) is produced and all are happy. Throughout the Gospels, I see Jesus healing and interacting with the least in society, trying to relieve any shame that is upon them.
Such is our calling too as disciples of Jesus. In the baptismal covenant from last week – we promise to “respect the dignity of every human being” and the advent preface reminds us that “we may without shame or fear, rejoice to behold Jesus’ appearing.”
In a landscape of fear and shame, we need to be the light of Jesus that brings others to the glory of God.
As Jean Vanier put it this past week, “We are in a world where people are not encouraged to listen to the inner voice, which is a compass to make us more human, and more in tune with things of God – what do you think, what do you believe? – we are in a world where people are not encouraged to believe in themselves. You are more precious than you dare believe."
May we carry that message in our hearts today and share that Good News with the world:
“You are more precious than you dare believe.” Thanks be to God! Amen.