homily preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Curate
Wednesday in Holy Week, April 1, 2015
“And it was night.” Night has fallen on Jesus. Betrayal has been set into motion, and nothing now will stop it. This week is steeped in frightening inevitability.
A friend of mine mused this week, “It’s surprising that we don’t hear about crucifixions happening in our world today.”
I replied, “I think we do—every single day. They just don’t tend to involve actual crosses.”
Aberdeen is a city in Washington with a 25% poverty rate, in a county in which 46% of residents rely on social services. The Rev. Sarah Monroe, our diocesan missioner with Chaplains on the Harbor in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor, and Westport, says, “In the face of dismal statistics, and in the face of a sense of communal despair, we seek to live in the light of the Gospel.”
A few weeks ago, a group of citizens in Aberdeen who have no homes were ordered to disband the largest homeless encampment in town. They have been evicted before. The city’s long-term goal is the development of a waterfront park—something that might be good for tourism and some eventual economic recovery, but which to date has been carried out with no consideration of the fate of today’s homeless citizens. At least once in the past, the city has burned their camp. The message from the city rings loud and clear: “We do not recognize your right to exist.”
What can we do? Can we quote today’s collect to these, our fellow citizens, and ask them “to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time”? I wouldn’t dare. But I would certainly question what this prayer we pray today might mean.
Earlier this week, along with many other concerned people, I emailed the mayor of Aberdeen, Bill Simpson, urging him to give his citizens more time and asking him to work on creative solutions. He wrote me back and asked me for my ideas, and then he said, “In my solutions to most situations like this, I ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’”
But before I could reply, I found out from Sarah Monroe that the mayor had already given his decision: no more time. No reprieve. The eviction would go forward as scheduled.
Aaron Scott works for Chaplains on the Harbor. I told her what the mayor had told me. “What would Jesus do?” she wondered. “Jesus would die for the people in this encampment.”
Indeed, he would. Indeed, that’s why we’re all in church this week.
I bet that the people living in this encampment in Aberdeen are feeling betrayed: betrayed by their government and their society. Jesus knows something about betrayal. What did Jesus do? As we hear in the letter to the Hebrews, “For the sake of the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”
Those who have been homeless know far more about shame than I have ever known. And, by the way, shame is not the same thing as guilt. Episcopal author and TED Talk veteran Brené Brown has come to this conclusion in her fourteen years of research, which centers on vulnerability and shame. She defines guilt as an appropriate feeling that comes when you know you have done something wrong. God sometimes points our guilt out to us so that we can benefit from it. If our hearts are open, guilt leads naturally to confession, learning, and self-correction.
Shame, on the other hand, is never God-given. Shame is imposed on us from outside by fearful voices. While guilt admits, “I did something bad,” shame insists, “I am something bad.” It’s all too easy to wonder whether a person has brought homelessness on himself through his bad decisions. Maybe we’ll feel less bad about a person’s misfortune if we can lead ourselves to believe the person deserves it. Funny thing about Jesus, though—he favored mercy, and mercy can only come to those who don’t deserve it. Mercy comes because we are God’s good creations.
And so the shameful cross was imposed on Jesus. Shameful eviction is imposed on the homeless in Aberdeen. Shame hides behind a cloak of respectability and tells us that we must always get what we deserve. Shame tells us, “You don’t get it, and you never will.” Shame can never lead to joy, because it has already written an ending in which joy can never again be possible. Shame is a liar, because it has given up on what God has created. It tries to rob us of our right to exist. In the end, shame did this to Judas.
But Jesus endured the shame that was imposed on him. He endured it in order to expose it for the lie that it is. Shame cannot win, because in God’s reality, shame has no power to destroy us—even when it takes our very lives.
It is for this reason that Jesus could say, at the moment of his betrayal, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Even on the cross, Jesus was already reigning victoriously. What does victory look like, or royalty, or glory? We should know by now that our ability to identify these things is severely impaired. Somehow, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas spelled the beginning of the end for the forces of darkness.
We might ask, “If Jesus suffered so that we wouldn’t have to suffer, then why is there still so much suffering?” But Jesus didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t have to suffer. Jesus suffered in order to show us how to suffer. And so we do pray, “Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed.” Despite all appearances to the contrary, suffering will lead to glory.
But woe to those by whom suffering comes!
Why? Those who oppress others, who dismiss others, who give up on people, who impose shame on them … does God shame and condemn these people?
No. Because shame never comes from God. And that’s a good thing, because I’ve been one of those by whom suffering comes, and I bet you have, too. I have been a part of systems that perpetuate injustice. I have personally shamed other people, giving up on them. I have said to people some form of, “You don’t get it, and you never will.” Have you?
Imperfect creatures just tend to shame each other. Woe to those by whom suffering comes, because we have so much painful growing still to do. And may God bless us, and may God give us the grace to accept our guilt and to begin to grow.
This is why we need Jesus. We need Jesus to go ahead of us to the cross, to show us how it’s done, so that we can bear our crucifixions, tiny and great, without bitterness, without rage, without losing our souls. We can suffer without shame. And maybe Jesus will also stoke compassion and self-awareness in us: compassion to keep us from rushing to the judgment of others, and self-awareness to keep us from crucifying others.
To whatever degree that can happen—to whatever degree we can free ourselves and others from the cycle of shame—the Kingdom of God comes. Indeed, it is already here! We just need to decide to participate in it. We need to decide to be citizens of the society where there is no shame, no withdrawal of necessities for supposed lack of deserving, no crucifixion of those who are inconvenient to us.
To accept suffering joyfully does not mean to accept it cheerfully. It means to accept in our hearts what we may not yet fully believe with our minds—that suffering will always lead to glory. That there is no death without resurrection. This is joy!
It is from this perspective that the prophet Isaiah can proclaim, in the voice of the suffering servant:
The Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
This is holy work: to be disgraced, and then to stand there and insist that we are not actually disgraced … to endure the hostility of those who are afraid of us … to stand there, to all appearances completely broken, and to name ourselves as beloved of God and completely whole. There is NO SHAME in God.
Yesterday clergy and citizens gathered with the homeless in Aberdeen to advocate, to strategize, and to make sure that all those affected know their civil and human rights. Then today I read this update from Aaron Scott:
For everybody keeping watch on the situation of our friends at the river encampment in Aberdeen: no eviction has taken place. The mayor has indicated that a no-trespass order will be in effect for April 13. Campers are considering their options, service providers are stepping up with offers for support, community members are engaged in the ongoing discussion about real solutions, but no decisions have been made yet. What we DO know: any true progress that happens here will come from the leadership of camp residents themselves. Nothing about us without us!
So you can see that God, and God’s people, are hard at work in Aberdeen. Today there is a beam of hope. And if tomorrow brings the kiss of betrayal, may it lead without delay to God’s glory, in some way we cannot yet see.
Night has fallen on Jesus. Betrayal has been set into motion, and nothing now will stop it. This week is steeped in glorious inevitability. Tomorrow night we will observe Jesus’ new commandment: “Love one another.” This command was also given to Judas—a love that bears no shame, but calls out guilt, all the while offering a generous invitation to grow. Amen.