Speaking Of Life 3027 | Freed from Shame Michelle Fleming When I was growing up, I was extremely shy. I would avoid being the center of attention to the point that I even hid in the bathroom during multiple award ceremonies to avoid the stage. My dad was a pastor, and the first time he used a story about me in a sermon illustration, I burst into tears. My shyness and self-consciousness kept me from sharing my gifts with other people for a number of years. I think it’s kind of ironic that I now frequently speak in front of crowds. It makes me think about how we all can let shame and self-consciousness keep whispering in our ears, “You’re not enough. Who are you to stand up in this situation?” Has self-consciousness ever whispered in your ear, saying, “You’re not enough?” Has shame kept you from stepping up to share your gifts with the world? We’re not alone in this struggle. Even the prophet Isaiah wrestled with shame and self-doubt. He writes about a vision he had where he saw God on his throne with an altar surrounded by seraphs or angels. Isaiah’s first reaction is to say, I don’t deserve to be here; I’m not good enough. Let’s see what happened next: Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” Isaiah 6:6-8 (NRSV) The vision shows the cleansing of Isaiah by the angel touching his mouth with a live coal from the altar of God. This is a metaphor that shows the shift from Isaiah focusing on himself and all his perceived shortcomings to focusing on God’s love and how he could share that love in his own unique way. The vision pointed to Jesus Christ cleansing us. Thanks to Jesus, we know that our sins and shortcomings have been taken away from us and we have been made new. In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul says this: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV) Just like the prophet Isaiah, our shame has been removed and we are freed to serve others and share the gifts that God created in us. My younger self didn’t realize that sharing the love of God with others doesn’t require us to be perfect. Sharing God’s love with others simply asks us to show up and love with the same love we’ve been given by the Holy Spirit. Rest in the gift of freedom from shame that is God’s gift to you and freely share God’s love with others. I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 29:1-11 · Isaiah 6:1-8 · Romans 8:12-17 · John 3:1-17
The theme for this week is freed from shame, and our scriptures this week discuss how being freed from shame and sin enables us to love and serve others. The call to worship Psalm reminds us to ascribe glory to God who blesses us with peace. Peace is an attribute of living under God’s grace. Isaiah 6 recounts Isaiah’s vision of God and how he was cleansed of his shame and set free for service. In Romans 8, Paul encourages us to break free of shame’s hold and embrace our adoption as beloved children of God. Lastly, John 3 is our sermon text that uses Nicodemus’ story to illustrate how we move from darkness to light. This is a good illustration to help move us from bearing shame and shortcomings to sharing God’s love freely with others.
Moving from Darkness to Light
John 3:1-17 NRSV
It seems you can test for almost anything online. I recently came across a Shame Test enabling you to self-diagnose whether or not you struggle with shame. Here are some of the questions, and if you answer “Yes” or “Sometimes,” then evidently you have had an encounter with shame:
- It is relatively easy for me to criticize members of my family, people at work or school, or myself.
- I have a hard time believing that someone can fully love and accept me.
- I get defensive when others criticize me.
- I don’t accept compliments well.
- When I’m lost, I find it difficult to ask for directions or help.
- When things go wrong, I have a hard time accepting blame.
- I find it hard to rest or relax without feeling guilty.
- I feel things must be done my way.
- I feel embarrassed or humiliated by certain things from my past.
- I rarely reveal my feelings.
Basically, based on how we answer these questions, all of us struggle with shame. Before we continue, let’s define shame. Author and researcher Brene Brown says, “I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Brown goes on to say that shame is often the source of hurtful behavior and that it can make us dangerous. Most of us have faced shame and felt unworthy of love and belonging at some point in our lives.
Add to that, for Christians, shame can come when we don’t fully grasp how deeply loved and forgiven we are or that the most appropriate response to our inclusion in the relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to love and share our gifts with others. In other words, shame can come when we fail to embrace our true identity and we begin to compare ourselves to others or even to Christ. The irony is we can feel shame even when we feel blessed—because the enemy likes to see us in the darkness of shame rather than in the light of our true identity.
The issue of shame is not new. We can learn a lot about how we let go of the darkness of shame and move into the light of who we are in Jesus Christ by considering the example of Nicodemus in John 3. Let’s take a look:
Read John 3:1-17 NRSV
What can we observe about the text?
On this Trinity Sunday, John 3 offers the chance for Jesus to talk about all three persons of the Trinity. Verses 5-8 talk about the Holy Spirit, verses 13-15 discuss Jesus as the Son and predict the cross, and verses 16-17 go back to the foundation of the Father’s great love for all humanity and the lengths he would go to break the bonds of shame so all might know their worth in God’s sight.
Now let’s focus on Nicodemus.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:1-2 NRSV)
The Gospel of John has a recurring theme of darkness vs. light. Notice that Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus at night. Though we can only speculate, we can assume that he was moving toward believing that Jesus was sent by God (i.e., from unbelief or darkness to belief/light). Notice his words: “No one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 NRSV)
Jesus takes advantage of the dual meaning of the Greek word translated “from above” which can also be translated “again.” He lets Nicodemus’ confusion grow; he doesn’t resolve the tension or misunderstanding. Sometimes God lets us sit in our lack of understanding, knowing that as we continue to wrestle with truth, it will change us.
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 NRSV)
Jesus explains the Holy Spirit. Specifically, he contrasts our fleshly, human response (which is often shame-based, and thus confining) with the Spirit’s freedom, moving “where it chooses.”
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NRSV)
Jesus makes a reference to his crucifixion by talking about Moses “lifting up the serpent in the wilderness.” This goes back to Numbers 21:9, when the Israelites were traveling to the Promised Land and they were sinning by speaking against the Lord. Many were bitten by poisonous snakes. The way they were healed was to look upon a bronze snake statue put on a pole. Jesus compares the healing of the snake bites to the healing of our feelings of shame and separation from God. We look to Jesus for restoration and peace.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 NRSV)
Verse 16 is one of the best-loved verses, yet it isn’t complete without verse 17. Jesus came so that we could be included in the relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Verse 17 tells us that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn or shame the world, but to break the feelings of shame and separation that make us feel far off from God.
Though we all struggle with shame, as we grow in our understanding and belief in God’s great love for us, we can let go of feelings of unworthiness and embrace ourselves—imperfections and all—as beloved children of God.
- Recognize that shame affects us all and it can keep us from sharing our gifts and God’s love with others. Researcher Brene Brown says that speaking about shame helps to decrease its power, and when we focus on the high value God has placed on each individual, we can see we are all growing in grace and knowledge. Comparisons among ourselves are harmful and only lead to judgment and shame. God has freed us from shame’s hold.
- Remember Nicodemus’ story. Moving from darkness to light, from shame to freedom to love, doesn’t happen all at once. After this passage in John 3, we don’t hear any more about Nicodemus throughout the remainder of Jesus’ ministry, so we might assume he just ran off into the night. But Jesus had given him a lot to think about, and while we don’t know exactly what happened, we can see by Nicodemus’s actions that he did believe Jesus enough to honor him with Joseph of Arimathea by bringing a large number of spices to bury Jesus’s body (John 19:38-42). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus took quite a risk by doing this, given the culture of his day, so we might see this as evidence of his move from disbelief, shame, and cultural constraints to a life of love and freedom in Christ.
- Remind yourself of your true identity. Consider taking this approach when any shaming or negative thoughts come up: respond by replacing the shaming or negative thought with a biblical affirmation. For example, if you have recurring thoughts of past failures, think on 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (NRSV).
Though shame is a struggle for all of us, the story of Nicodemus shows how we can move toward a greater understanding of God’s love for us and the inherent value and worthiness he has placed on us as beloved children. By embracing the freedom we have to be imperfect-yet-loving human beings, we gift others with permission to do the same.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- In the “Speaking of Life” video, it discusses how shame keeps us “small,” afraid and unable to love others by using the gifts God has given us. Can you think of a time when shame kept you small and afraid to step out to use your unique gifting to love and serve others?
- Since this is Trinity Sunday, have you thought about how the Trinity, with its focus on relationship and love, helps us as Christians learn how to love one another better? If so, how do the unique persons of the Trinity reveal that everyone has something to offer?
- In the context of shame and believing in the worthiness that God has given each human being, how do you view the conversation as an example of how we move from the darkness of shame and separation from God to a wholehearted belief that we are God’s beloved children? Do you see the process of moving from darkness to light in your own life as you grow in your understanding of God’s great love for you?
- What are your thoughts about biblical affirmations as a replacement for negative or shaming thoughts? Have you ever used them before? If so, tell us about your experience. Feel free to share an affirmation that you’ve found to be meaningful.