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Be Not Ashamed

Nashville is a tricky city for us Christians. On one hand, we’re Southern enough that the church is still expected and Christianity is not completely unknown. On the other hand, we’re metropolitan enough that the social norms and ideas of the secular world are fully engrained and lived in the society around us.

In Nashville it’s not necessarily completely odd that you go to church on Sunday or have a “spiritual” life, but it is very clear that proclaiming Jesus as “The Way” and expressing traditional Christian ethics out loud in mixed company is not welcome. Nashville is the type of place where no one bats an eye at someone being a Christian, but they are shocked when your Christianity affirms things like sacraments, resurrection, and a God whose holiness impacts even our most intimate moments. In short, Christianity is fine so long as it doesn’t impact your life or your worldview in any way whatsoever.

I don’t know about y’all, but in today’s gospel reading, I identified with St. Peter. It was convicting to me. I know the times when I’ve been embarrassed by the actions of other Christians. I know the times I’ve wished I didn’t have to say the things I’ve had to say. The times where I wish I could say “not all Christians believe that” or “that’s an old-fashioned idea, we don’t believe that anymore.”

In word and deed, many times in my life my reaction to other Christians speaking and living the plain truth has been rebuke. If only they’d do that differently! If only they’d keep quiet instead of displaying our weirdness for all the world to see!

But turning and seeing his disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

It isn’t fun saying hard things. It isn’t easy saying things that people don’t want to hear. This has been true since St. Peter walked the earth and it’s true now. None of us like being different. None of us like standing out in the crowd. None of us cherish the anxiety and friction of going against the grain. It is so easy to justify keeping silent. It is a response that comes so fluidly. Ignore. Divert. Avoid. We can do it almost without thinking.

But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter.

I’ve discovered a bit of a sweet spot for St. Peter recently. It’s partially because of how he’s portrayed in “The Chosen” television series. How he falls before Jesus and declares his unworthiness and sinfulness before Jesus really resonated with me. I identify with his anxiety and desire to make everything perfect, safe, and respectable for his Lord. But, I also recently read through St. Peter’s epistles with a Bible study group and with Jennifer. What struck me this read-through was how much of a bishop St. Peter was. You could see that he was the same person from the gospels, but his words in his epistles were soaked in an experience and authority you could feel leaping off the page. St. Peter had been through it and come out on the other side more convinced of the truth than when we walked beside The Truth through the streets of Jerusalem.

Hear what St. Peter says in his first epistle:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.

These are the words of a man who is not afraid. These are the words of a man who believed. These are the words of a man who didn’t care what anyone thought about the truths he was saying. These are the words of a man who’s been soaked in scripture and prayer. These are the words of a man who boldly repeats God’s truths without shame. He just says them, plainly, as the Lord he at first rebuked taught him.

That is my admonition to us all today: speak the truth, even when it’s hard. Now, that’s not to say to be annoying. To be brash. To yell, to protest, to pester. These are not the ways of the Christian. No. We speak the truth in love. We speak in kindness, in love, in the language those we are speaking to can understand. We speak with a true curiosity and care for others. But, we speak. We cannot remain silent when called upon. We share the Good News through our actions, yes. We show our love for God and neighbor in service and presence, yes. But, the gospel also requires words.

Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth, and life. No one comes to the Father except by him. All men are made in God’s image and likeness, because of this all human life is special and highly valued by God. Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

These truths send chills up our spines. They are powerful, but uncomfortable to say at times. The Spirit moves when the truth is proclaimed. When we answer difficult or uncomfortable questions, we open the door for Him to enter our conversations. If we deny ourselves and boldly step into speaking God’s truth when called upon, Jesus will stand beside us and give us His words.

I went to a very progressive seminary. All around me my classmates found this or that doctrine to be outmoded or unnecessary. The faith and the Bible were dissected and parts discarded for the sake of modernity and being the “right” kind of Christian. Respect by the outside world and the culture was more important than fidelity to the Faith once delivered to the saints. It didn’t take long for me to get a complex. I felt I had to hide my true beliefs behind academic jargon or, sadly, often silence.

It took the sermons of a faithful priest to knock me out of this funk. He preached and he said the truth plainly. If he could say it, why couldn’t I? Why was I hesitant to say what I knew to be true?

I decided to follow his lead and I haven’t looked back since. Our words have power. One powerful statement gives boldness to another and on and on. A conversation doesn’t happen in silence. But, when we boldly proclaim the truth in love, meekness, and kindness. When we speak with true curiosity and love for the other, conversation happens. The Good News can then leak in and illumine. In conversation, we can learn of people’s deep longings. Deep longings that can only be filled by God.

Drop your shame. Embrace the moments of anxiety and friction and give them to God as our living sacrifice. When we do this and speak plainly and boldly in love, we serve His kingdom.

Words have power. In words God created all things from nothing. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Let our words be truth. As we speak, our words flow up to our God as the sweet nectar of our worship. To those around us, our gospel words are living water that quinches thirst and satisfies all needs.

He doesn’t leave us alone in our work. He’s with us every step of the way. In our prayers and scripture reading, He is preparing our speech. His words store up in us like a deep well. When the time comes, we only have to open our mouths and let His words flow back out of our soul and into another.

My friends, stand firm in the faith and do not be ashamed. Jesus is as weird and controversial now as he was two-thousand years ago. Let us learn from St. Peter. We can rebuke Jesus for making us uncomfortable, or we can fully embrace His ways as the only path to salvation. Be bold in your small ways, and stand back and see the mighty works God does in your midst. Our praise of Him does not return void.

Our God became human, and we are not ashamed. Our God died on the cross, and we are not ashamed. Our God rose the third day from the dead and conquered death, and we are not ashamed. Let us praise him with our lips in all times and in all places. Lord we believe, help our unbelief! Lord, we open our mouths, give us the words to say!