Throwing a Giant Monkey Wrench at Religious Shaming

 

 

My story


 

I walked up to the pulpit nervously. Was I really going to do this? I can’t believe I’m sharing this story in front of all these people. The small group of young people gathered that evening felt like a stadium to me because I was about to bare my soul to them. It was too much. I hated public speaking in the first place. I got nervous just responding to roll calls in class, how could I stand up and share my story? What if they rejected me?

I took a deep breath. I looked down at my notes. They just looked like blurs. I was about to hyper ventilate. I was going to pass out. At least it would get me out of this. I looked around the room in sheer and utter terror. All these faces ready to reject me like I had been rejected so many times before. Passing out would be a relief.

Then I looked beside me. There was Jesus. Smiling in approval. Reminding me how he had not only forgiven me but fully accepted me. Reminding me how loved I am. Telling me that God the creator of all the universe was looking at me in this moment as a doting Father proud of his little girl who had just come home. Proud that I was going to tell everyone how much he loved me and what a mess I had been but he loved me anyway.

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So I did it! I like to believe it was an eloquent call to follow Jesus and know the Father’s love, but it was probably a bumbling bunch of over-sharing. But I shared my story. I told this daunting group of church people not only about ways I’d been victimized but also, about ways I had hurt people. I told them how God freely forgave me and gave me new hope and joy. I was excited about my life, my ministry, my upcoming marriage, and my education career as I approached them all with Jesus by my side. I finished my speech took a deep breath and felt Jesus giving me an approving hug. We did it! I felt total joy in that moment.

But it was just for a moment. Someone interrupted us. The youth pastor rushed to the podium and nudged me to the side. I looked away from Jesus and began to listen to this pastor as I crept off of the stage.

I had been a fool. I had been suffering from a delusion. Jesus wasn’t there. He didn’t accept me. This pastor pointed out the fallacy of my crazy beliefs. God is clearly a God of justice and I clearly needed to be punished for my mistakes. I couldn’t just commit all of those sins and have joy. How could that even be possible? The way to please God was through strict adherence to the moral code of the Bible. I was so sure that I had been with Jesus, but as I sat under this cloud of shame, I couldn’t find him anywhere.

The pastor looked at me and passed his final condemning judgement on me. “Cindy will never have the kind of marriage she could have had because of the mistakes that she has made.”

How could I have ever thought that God accepted me? What was wrong with me? I didn’t even deserve this pastor’s acceptance. I was misleading all of these young people by flippantly sharing about my past as if it didn’t even affect me anymore. I needed to be more remorseful and sullen. I didn’t deserve joy...

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 The Gospel of Luke and God's Monkey Wrench

 

Of course, I never actually saw Jesus visibly standing beside me or giving me a hug, but I felt his love and acceptance. Unfortunately, I also allowed a lot of judgmental church people keep me from embracing the truth of God’s love for me.

I was thinking about all of this as I read Luke 7. I got to verses 11-16 and something jumped out at me.

In six short verses, Luke recounts the story of Jesus raising a young man from the dead. Which is not a lot of details for such an amazing event.

One detail we do know is that Jesus touched the bier that the young man was being carried on.

 

Why did Luke focus on this story and this detail?

It seems like an insignificant detail to us but for ancient people it was scandalous. Jews didn’t touch things associated with dead people. They were obsessed with dividing the world into clean and unclean. And nothing was more unclean than dead people. There were tons of rules about what to do and not to do when it came to dealing with a dead body. There were all kinds of rituals and waiting periods to go through to cleanse yourself after becoming unclean from coming in contact with a dead person or something that was touching a dead person.

So, when Jesus touched the bier of this dead man, it would have been shocking. Like dropping an F bomb in a Baptist church shocking! People were appalled. Southern Belles would have fainted. Youth Pastors would have jumped up to tell the youth “touching funeral biers is NOT allowed.”

Only, there’s this giant paradigm changing monkey wrench in all of your rules about weeding out the unclean…

Jesus raised the man from the dead! What do you do with that?

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I know most people dismiss this story as a fairytale or myth because people die and we’ve never seen any of them come back from the dead. Death is pretty final and that feels quite certain.

But to me, the most amazing part isn’t really that Jesus raised someone from the dead. If he’s truly God, of course he could do that. It’s amazing and all, but that dude isn’t still walking around. He eventually died (again).

What’s amazing is how Jesus completely annihilated religious judgmentalism. How are you going to call him unclean for touching a mat with a dead man on it after he raised the dead man?

And what seems even more amazing to me: how are you going to judge me by my past when I’ve been accepted by God Almighty, the Ruler and Creator of the Universe?

Yup. All those religious judgments about me, actually make total sense. I’m a wreck. I messed up royally. I deserve to live the rest of my life in total remorseful shame. My propensity for sin is so great that I can drag anyone who comes in contact with me down. Association with me is enough to make anyone “unclean”…Only, God threw a giant, paradigm changing, monkey wrench at religion's rules for judging me!

 



 

 He hugged me that day on the stage. Not literally, but he was there. He was with me. He walked through the religious crowd. While I was being told about how unclean I still was, Jesus did the unthinkable: he accepted me.

I don’t mean he loved me in some overarching, general, well wishing, sense. He actually accepted me and declared that I have right-standing with God the Father through him. He heard those stories that made religious leaders cringe and he said, “I can work with that.” And he allowed himself to be associated with me and my “unclean” story in a way that appalls religious people.

This acceptance is the most crazy-awesome thing in this world! I don’t think I can ever fully wrap my mind around it.

I made that bumbling speech 26 years ago and sometimes, I still feel like that scared young lady, looking for Jesus to tell me I'm OK. I just see him a lot more quickly these days!

 I pray that I learn to live it out more fully every day. I pray that we all learn to see how Jesus changed everything. How his willingness to touch the uncleanness in our lives throws a giant monkey wrench into religion’s rules and shame over us. I hope we can know this truth for ourselves and freely share it with others.

Blessings my friends!

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