Psalm 25:1-10 and Shame by Marion Strobel (July 1931)

Sunday February 21st, 2021

Welcome to this first Sunday in Lent! Like many of you, I have been reflecting on what this year has done and seems to be doing with our sense of time. Which day is it? Which month is it? Oh my goodness, I cannot believe it is nearing the end of February. Thank you for joining us today, however you are connecting, whether you are near or far, what a gift to be able to come together, even however imperfectly.

Now is time in our worship where we dive deeper into a message from our sacred texts. So, I invite you to take just a few moments to be present, let yourself show up more fully, to arrive as much as we can to a place of openness. As you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19.

God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame! The psalmist cries out.

Throughout human history, shame has been used by those in government, religion, places of business, child rearing and more as a tool or a weapon. Many Western societies, including the American colonies, used to rely heavily on shame to enforce certain behaviors. But even then, before much science and psychology, they likely knew of the potential damage to the human spirit that shame could cause. Founding Father Benjamin Rush wrote in 1787, that shame “is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death.”

And yet, Nicole Dudenhoefer points out that “Though often tied to personal punishment, public shaming has also been understood to be a positive social practice.

“a long-standing public ritual that helped to uphold social bonds and make sure people within communities were equal and understood the norms, and to ensure no one got too high or mighty,” says Amanda Koontz, UCF associate professor of sociology. She goes on to share an example from the !Kung people, a band society in southern Africa, observed by a Canadian anthropologist Robert Borshay Lee who presented the group with a large ox as a gift. But members of the group made fun of his offering and called it a big “bag of bones.” It was later explained that this “shaming of the meat” practice was standard to keep someone humble whenever they brought back a large kill.”

In recent years, as the use of social media increases, public shaming has taken on a new dimension. You might remember Amy Cooper, a white New York woman who called 911 on a Black man Christian Cooper. Their exchange over her illegally unleashed dog went viral. The backlash from the world on twitter was huge. She was fired from her job. She was later charged with a misdemeanor for filing a false police report. And I am sure the ridicule hasn’t stopped and her name won’t soon be forgotten. She apologized for her actions that day. And I wonder will this change anything in her, with her, for how she understands the construct of race and how it plays out in America and how much harm has been caused in the name of the fear of white people?

Dr. Amanda Koontz writes of the incident, “When you have these forms of public shaming [oftentimes through] filming these interactions, it turns social issues into something that is completely individualized. It puts great responsibility on an individual, and it does not [always] encourage actual societal change. We haven’t taken care of the larger institutional or systemic issues.”

I am left to ponder, is shaming effective? Is shamed used like this generative? Maybe?

Perhaps you saw or read of the uproar this last week over the pictures of Texas Senator Ted Cruz leaving his state in crisis to bring his family to Cancun because his own home was out of power and freezing. The shaming has ensued- highlighting the hypocrisy of taking his family to another country for safety, sharing old tweets of him mocking California for power outages, reminding the world he voted against emergency aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I suspect this shaming will go on for a while. But I wonder, will it make the Senator feel more empathy for those who don’t have the privilege of leaving? Will all of this ridicule help him understand that most of the people whom he is charged to advocate for and legislate for, don’t have the option of a first class ticket to a warm beach somewhere else? I am not so sure. But maybe. If there was a way for him, for any of us, to name the truth and not deny it and not try to hide it but to instead to shift it, so it can be compost for being led to the garden of another truth. And as we heard from the poet Marion Strobel who wrote, “Where black earth falls black upon, The place it is, it is not gone… It will be seen no matter where You bury it…”

That is kind of what the Psalmist says because the lines that follow the plea to not be put to shame go like this, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” As if to say- don’t let the public or private shame be forever, instead make me know your way, teach me, lead me to…. Name it and to not deny it or try to hide it and so it can start to be transformed.

So, I wonder if this Psalmist is pointing us to the difference between shame and guilt? One of them can keep us in the ditch and another one can help us shift.

You might already know the difference between the two. Guilt are those feelings of responsibility or remorse for something that we did or imagine we did wrong. Shame are those painful feelings that arise from the consciousness of something deemed dishonorable.

Guilt says I did something that isn’t me and can invite us to ask how can we listen, learn and live better? Shame says, something happened or something about me makes me insufficient and can make us feel like we need to ask how can I hide, suppress, avoid being vulnerable because I don’t feel completely worthy?

It is noteworthy to me that shame is mentioned in such old writing as the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible. It feels important for us to know that so long ago shame was named like this. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame! Because shame is debilitating. And many professionals contend that shame is often what is underneath other hurts that can lead to illness. When many layers are peeled away, what remains at the core, what is revealed as the root cause is often shame. As Hannah Rose writes, shame “keeps us stagnant, keeps us sick, and that keeps us feeling broken.”

If we do not go all the way down deep and deal with our shame, if we live with the belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Brown, 2012), this may result in our unconscious and conscious need to create barriers and boundaries to receiving love and being included.

Aniko Blake argues that shame creates a fear of unworthiness and rejection, which leads to us to building walls, which leads to the fears coming true. She writes, “This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy: we are choosing to collect and respond to specific evidence, proving a belief that we fear to be true, thus manifesting it into reality.”

Public and private shame can make us close off.

Which is why for the season of Lent, we are exploring mental wellness and our theme is Spiritual Practices for Surviving the Wilderness. We don’t want you to feel that whatever you are holding needs to be buried. We don’t want you to feel ashamed about what is, about your life and about who you are or what you have experienced. We are letting our stories be told and our lives to be seen. Our aim is to create brave spaces for all kinds of conversations.

We want church to be a place where shame is transformed, where we can be unstuck. I have been pondering over this time, the years and prayer and therapy that I have spent undoing stories told to me about what it means to be a woman. Undoing the stories about women being bad drivers or not good leaders. I had internalized so much shame that in my 20’s, I entered a deep depression.

I love what Anais Nin wrote, “Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

So we would hope our Lenten journey, might be a time to unbury old lies, so we can plant and live new truths. We are talking about suicide, depression and anxiety, addiction and recovery. We want to unbury whatever it is that is weighing us down. In the words of the Psalmist, we can be led not in that lie, but instead in God’s truth. So beloved of God, let us unbury and become unstuck, to name it instead of denying it or trying to hide it, so it, so we can start to be transformed and to bloom. May it be so.

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As I prepared for this sermon, I was both humbled and a bit overwhelmed to preach on the Transfiguration and Racial Justice. How to draw parallels that make sense and speak to the reality of now. On this last Sunday of the season of Epiphany we read in the Gospel of Mark about an appearance of not just 1 divine being, but 3 – Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

The transfiguration of Jesus is a mountaintop experience. One of those experiences that is simply unforgettable. Amazing. Awe inspiring. Words don’t come close to describing the experience.

Jesus and 3 disciples climbed up a high mountain. I’ve not been to the holy land so I have no idea what the mountains look like – I imagine our mountains and that this was not an easy hike or climb. Climbing up, I imagine, was inspiring itself. Stopping to catch their breath occasionally. Looking at the views, the landscape. Listening to one another and the wanderings of their mind and imagination. And there on the top there was this miraculous event, this epiphany and Jesus literally changed before their eyes. The great prophets Moses and Elijah showed up and they watched in wonder … the text says they were terrified. What was happening? Why? What do we do? What do we make of this appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus? It seems as if Moses & Elijah are blessing Jesus to carry on their work. And Peter, terrified & uncomfortable, searching for something to say or do blurts out something to try and make sense out of the situation. And God speaks and that was that. I imagine the 3 disciples were discombobulated. What just happened? That was spectacular, What now? And they were brave enough to stay and not run away. That’s something.

Transfiguration … a complete transformation of Jesus before their eyes. The text does not say this, but I make up that the 3 disciples were transformed too. How could they not be after witnessing such a spectacular event? But don’t tell anyone until after the Son of Man is dead. Clearly, since we know the story, they were brave enough to share their experience and the epiphany they witnessed. Some listeners, no doubt, made fun of, dis-believed or tried to discredit this as nothing but wild imagination.

Have you had any kind of mountaintop experience that left you feeling high and amazed at the spectacular, wonderous thing you just experienced? Words sometimes escape you to describe it. Others don’t understand it. And you are changed, transformed and never the same going forward. Did you embrace your courage and bravery?

Sometimes, I think, mountaintop experiences aren’t always pleasant and pretty.

Which brings me to Racial Justice. In the UCC this Sunday is designated as Racial Justice Sunday, a time to bring forth racial justice topics and issues. Once you get involved in racial justice, you are transformed. You can’t unsee what you’ve discovered. It may not quite be a mountaintop experience in terms of wonderous and amazing, but one that changes you anyway. And it requires you to summon your bravery and courage.

Before going to seminary, a friend shared with me Alice Walker’s book, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. The stories I read from her perspective as a black woman shook me. As a 20 something young white woman, this was not my experience. Stories of slavery, the civil war and reconstruction were history, not real today. We didn’t learn much in school about Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement or the brutal lynchings still occurring. Martin Luther King was espoused as a hero and martyr, but we didn’t go very deep into what really happened or what the movement was about – it was all pretty cursory and surface level. In seminary my eyes were opened further as we learned, read and talked more about the history of this country from a non-white, and non-christian perspective. It was the beginning of my own transformation and personal reckoning with my Christian faith’s involvement with and perpetuation of white supremacy and racism.

Years later, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Elijah McClain, Michael Brown and countless others unnerved me, but I felt paralyzed with what to do about the systemic nature of racism. And then last year the killings of Ahmaud Arberry, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shook something loose in me and I couldn’t contain my rage, grief and despair any longer. My white privilege had protected me for a long time, but I could no longer unsee and unknow and pretend it will all go away without some work on my part. Perhaps I was finally brave enough to face the reality of racial injustice in this country and my complicity in it.

Maybe you can relate. Many of you have felt called to join in on CUCC’s Dismantling Racism events and I am grateful that you are willing to join in on the journey to uncover, dismantle and name racism within ourselves, the church, Boulder and the country. Maybe this is today’s version of transfiguration. Seeing what is possible and helping to create and transform our church, our community, our country and ourselves.

Peggy Hahn, the Executive Director of an organization dedicated to empowering Christian leaders and transforming faith communities said this in her blog this week entitled My Part in Black History. “This is not a liberal agenda. It is an awakening of ordinary white people who have been so busy with our own lives that we have ignored our neighbor. This is loving our neighbor as ourselves. In all the uncertainty around us, as we think about the church moving forward, what will your church be known for? It starts with us, as leaders, doing our own work.” ( Peggy Hahn,

What do we want our church to be known for? What do you want to be known for? What do we need to be brave enough to look at and transfigure and what do we need to be brave enough to live into? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?

Our friend Sarah Dawn has shared somewhere, forgive me I can’t remember in what context, but she has shared that being involved in racial justice and speaking up and out about racism has caused her to lose some friends. Others of you have said the same thing.

It isn’t easy work, but it is necessary. I find the way forward is to link up with others who want to help be the change, to be the light, to do the work, so that something new can be created. As Lea’s song goes … “Let justice, love, peace roll down like a mighty stream. Children, don’t get weary, walk together believe in the dream. When the going gets rough we’ll make a new way.”

A mighty stream is made up of lots of little drops of water and water makes its way regardless of anything in its path. This stream is made up of many people seeking to heed the call of God to ensure that all of God’s people are loved and cared for and treated equally and fairly. It takes a community to make this mighty stream of justice, peace and love roll down and dismantle structures and ideologies that hold so many down.

Velda Love, UCC Minister for Social Justice wrote this:

…”In America, the topic of race continues to be difficult to discuss in many social settings. Very few Christian churches are leading bold and courageous conversations, engaging in direct social activism, and participating in civil disobedience as a way to bring attention to and disrupt racist systems and structures.

The Christian Church is the catalyst for addressing historical and contemporary issues regarding the intersections of race and racism that continues to harm communities of color. The United Church of Christ acknowledges and supports the equality of all humans. In 1993, The Nineteenth General Synod called upon UCC congregations in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church. Today the call continues to go forth.

The call to be a multiracial and multicultural church is an acknowledgement that racial justice is the inclusiveness of all humans and never excludes anyone based on skin color, culture or ethnic origin. The United Church of Christ stands in solidarity with the creation narrative in Genesis 1:26-27, which clearly outlines what matters to God—all of humankind and a just world for all. God created humankind in God’s image and likeness, women and men are image bearers, sharing equal status as human beings. God did not create race, racism, superior groups of humans, and hierarchical and hegemonic social structures. God does not sanction human suffering …” (Rev. Velda Love, UCC Minister for Racial Justice – from

And so our work continues.

Some of you know I am a huge fan of Brene Brown, especially her podcasts. On an episode aired last fall, she interviewed author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor. If you haven’t listened to it, I encourage you to check it out, there is much for us to reflect about. The one thing I will share here is Taylor’s notion of Unapologetic Action. I’ll have to paraphrase, but she basically says it’s all fine & good to learn, talk and/or read books, but it’s time to do something. If you aren’t prepared to do something now that you know all this, if you aren’t actively engaged in dismantling the structure that keeps some oppressed and you in comfort, what good are you doing? What can we do today that is practical/revolutionary/transformative? (Sonya Renee Taylor on “The Body is Not an Apology” Podcast on Unlocking Us with Brene Brown)

So what actions might you take? Join us in our Dismantling Racism sessions. We will be reading me and white supremacy by Layla F Saad and working through the journal prompts she offers, doing our own personal work and looking at systemic structures of oppression. The weekly e-news is full of other opportunities for you to explore, discuss and learn more about systemic racism in our community. You could join the Boulder chapter of the NAACP and serve on a committee. You could donate to our February Justice Offering that will support a local film about being black in Boulder titled, This is [Not] Who We Are. You’ll hear more about that in a few minutes. You could participate in our Social Action Commission activities. You can look at your investment portfolio and the companies your money supports and divest from companies that are not socially responsible. You could get involved with the Colorado Poor People’s Campaign. You can seek out BIPOC owned businesses and support them by purchasing goods or services. And so much more … these are only a few ideas.

Beloved of God, let us move forward towards the light of a new day where all people are treated justly. As Amanda Gorman, the beautiful inaugural poet says –

“we have the power to author a new chapter. …

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover. …

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Let’s be brave enough together.

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Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39 and Little Stones at My Window by Mario Benedetti

Sunday February 7th, 2021

Welcome to this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany!

Thank you for joining us today! We are still here and still hanging on together! This is the time in our gathering where we dive a bit deep together, reflecting on the message from our sacred texts. I invite you to take just a few moments to be present, let yourself show up more fully, to arrive as much as we can to a place of openness. As you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19.

God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

“I'm going to keep anxiety locked up

and then lie flat on my back

which is an elegant and comfortable position

for receiving and believing news”

These words by Mario Benedetti made me laugh because they seem spot on. I am hearing that many of you are hitting a wall, feeling overwhelmed, mentally groggy, sad, depressed, angry, anxious. “I am going to keep my anxiety locked up and then lie flat on my back…”

That might just describe many of us and a bunch of the world right now. Because it is not socially acceptable to let all of our anxiety out, but keeping it locked up forever won’t work either. And it isn’t realistic or socially acceptable really to just stop everything and lie there indefinitely.

This week, it will be 11 months since we have been disconnected and separated. And we aren’t designed to be distant, not like this. Obviously it is important that we carve out time for silence and sacred space, but science and the teachings from our tradition, tell us that touch and just the nearness of others is essential for our thriving and we haven’t had that outside of our households for coming up on a year.

As P.C. Ennis writes, “Some theologians even suggest that to be “created in the image of God” means that we are created for relationship, for “it is not right that human beings should be alone,” as we read in (cf. Gen. 2:18).” Further Ennis writes, “scientists and psychologists have conducted tests on primates, as well as on infant children, that were deprived at an early age of human touch, with the results showing devastating effects on the developmental skills and sociability.”

What if we are created for relationship? For connection? For our stories to be shared? For the healing touch of our caring community to be felt?

Last week, we heard the first part of this story in the Gospel of Mark. We met Jesus in the synagogue where he performed his first exorcism and today we meet him in a home- the place of Simon’s mother in law who was in bed and very sick. The scripture says that Jesus touches her hand and touches her whole body by lifting her up. And we read that after that she was healed. Then later at sundown Jesus is among a crowd and the healing continues.

Note, there wasn’t a sermon claiming that being sick is a sin or that being possessed by a demon is a dealbreaker- in fact the text says that Jesus was able to keep the demons from speaking “because they knew him.” Jesus knew the demons too? To me that means he had his own demons and maybe too that he had seen them in others and he wasn’t afraid to love whatever was there.

I have long been curious about what demons really are in the Gospel stories. Of course in a pre-science world, it could have been any number of things, but what if some of what he was referring to was those who struggled with mental illness? Or what if it was the demons that arise from distance, from the disconnection that would have been required in that time where some people were deemed unworthy for things like skin maladies or neurological differences? So while some things need medicine and time, this story made me wonder if part of what Jesus is pointing us to, is the power of being proximate, the healing that comes by coming together.

Again from scholar P.C. Ennis who writes, “The power of touch, intimacy, of nearness, to make whole: Jesus must have understood that which we are too often slow to comprehend: Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust.” I will say that again because it takes a minute to soak it in: Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust.

So to be about love, to say that God is love, that we are a community grounded in love, means that we must express ourselves in love too, that part of what our business together should be is ensuring each one of us is seen and feels loved. And that has felt harder to do since we have been apart.

Because the truth is that we are created for relationship, for connection, for the healing touch of a caring community. And many of us don’t have that so fully right now that collectively and individually we are struggling.

Perhaps you have been reading of the rise in mental health crises in our youth and the increase in anxiety and depression in adults. We are learning in these years, more than any other time, how much our connections with one another really mean. Our showing up to share coffee and sit close in, to hug, to hold hands and sing, to be in close proximity with people we care about. We haven’t had this for so long.

The Greek word used when describing the healing of Simon’s mother in law is egeiro or “to get up” and rise up and as Ofelia Ortega writes, “The expression of healing is surprising, and it can almost be seen as a paschal announcement, because it uses the same verb used to describe Jesus resurrection in chapter 16.” Egeiro!

Relationship, connection, having our individual story be taken into account, being seen, being blessed by the proximity of others who care is like a resurrection!

This is what is missing for many right now and we see that lots of the people we love and even some of us are not okay. Today, I want you to know that being unwell, being sick, feeling distant from the best that is you, is not a sin and also it is good and right to ask for help. So if you have demons in your life right now, don’t forget that something Greater might be able to offer support and keep them from speaking. Healing often happens in the context of a Higher Power and a caring community.

Over the next weeks and months we are launching important conversations about mental wellness. Suicide prevention and awareness, substance abuse, addiction and recovery, depression and anxiety. We feel the need to respond to the hurt and to let the demons know, whatever names we have for them, that we see them too. We are not afraid to name them. We feel moved to create spaces where more people hurting will be seen and touched. “Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust.” The poet reminds us that “joy throws little stones at (the) window, it wants to let (us) know that it's waiting…” And in the meantime, it’s okay if there are days where you need to “keep (your) anxiety locked up and then lie flat on (your) back,” but not every day. Because the truth is that we are created for relationship, for connection, for the healing touch of a caring community; we are each created with a story that must be taken into account. So Beloved of God, let us see one another, let us hear one another, let us offer a healing touch however we can, let us not give in, so that all who are down, might soon be lifted up. May it be so. Amen.

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