Nov 2, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 33:1-20
Sermon Title: "Shameless Love"
Over the years I’ve had the privilege to share with you pieces of my life story, remembering the people I love, those I have lost and how they shaped who I am today.
One of those people is my grandfather Herbert Hoover Miller. World War II vet, milk man, and poker player
Grandpa was a man’s man: in photo albums he’s chopping wood, camping, smoking a pipe. He spent his money on beer and cigarettes, had his own refrigerator stocked with spicy foods like mustard and anchovies, and always kept a jar of peppermints by his living room chair.
Grandpa was the chef of the family, making the greatest western omelettes and a seafood casserole filled with fresh shrimp and scallops.
Grandpa was the one who introduced me to fishing. We fished from the dock for snappers, we fished from row boats, motor boats and party boats for flounder and fluke. We’d eat baked chicken prepared the night before, and throw the bones and our empty soda cans into the water.
Too bad that as Grandpa grew older, he became a curmudgeon. He became more glued to the TV, had little tolerance for the noise of children, and had very clear rules on how men behaved.
When I was a child, Grandpa was affectionate, greeting me with a kiss and a hug, and I’d leave his house with a quarter in my hand and a pink peppermint in my mouth.
But once I turned 12, things changed. Grandpa informed me that men shook hands. No more would we kiss hello, but instead greet each other with a good, solid handshake.
A barrier was put upon around not only us, but the other men of the family. I stopped kissing my father good night, I shook Uncle Frankie’s hand.
I remember the day of my Confirmation: the family came over for dinner. Grandpa and Uncle Frankie greeted me with hand shakes, but my Godfather, known as Uncle Pete, came to the house, and when I, like a good young man, stuck out my hand to shake, he instead gave me a big hug and kissed me on the lips.
I was taken aback, embarrassed. Clearly Uncle Pete did not know the rules.
But here is the thing: a year later, Uncle Pete died, four years later so did my grandfather. The last form of physical contact I recall from Uncle Pete was that he shamelessly greeted me with a kiss.
The last form of physical contact I had with Grandpa? I have no idea. Probably looking at him from the front of a hospital bed.
Both men loved me, there was no doubt. But Uncle Pete had no problem expressing his love in a way that Grandpa would have considered shameless.
Love is often about being shameless. Love is often about not following the rules society has laid out before us.
Shameless love is the kind of love God has for us. Shameless love is what we read throughout the Bible. Shameless love is the kind of love we experience through Christ.
One of my professors, Dr. Steve Patterson, wrote a book called "The God of Jesus" which attempts to explore and uncover the historical Jesus.
One of the book’s chapters deals with the very concept of shame, particularly how shame was used in Biblical times to keep people their place.
As Dr. Patterson writes, shame and honor are perhaps the strongest way in which social norms are obeyed. We all know what it is like to be honored, to be told "good job", to be lifted up as an example for all to follow.
We learn what it takes to be honored, and we learn how to avoid feeling shamed.
Act inappropriately? Don’t follow the rules? Make a colossal mistake? Upset the powers that be? The person who does that brings shame upon themself, their family, their local community.
With shame comes feelings of unworthiness, being less-than; being labeled as a fool, a jerk.
Not one of us.
No one wants to feel like that. So, as Dr. Patterson writes, in times when police, lawyers and cops did not fully exist, honor and shame were the ways the community’s life was shaped.
To live honorably is to be a part of the community, to live shamefully is to be separated from the community. And no one wants to be alone, hence no one tries to bring shame.
An example would be that during biblical times Middle Eastern men did not run. Children ran, girls ran; but men? Na-ah: it was seen as shameful and beneath one’s stature to be caught running.
But following God isn’t about doing what society sees as the proper thing. In fact, as we see in biblical stories and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, following God is often about doing the unpopular, embarrassing and shameful thing.
For weeks now we have been immersed in the Book of Genesis, following the life of Jacob: the deceit, the blessings and the struggles.
When we began Jacob was a tent-dwelling Mama’s-boy who tricked brother and father out of birthright and blessing. We were there when Jacob discovered he was at the Gate of Heaven.
We witnessed Uncle Laban trick him into marrying both his daughters, and last week Jacob wrestled with God, was renamed Israel and given a permanent limp.
Today, we come to the emotional climax of the story. Jacob and his family are heading towards the promised land...and Esau is heading right towards them with an army of 400 men.
Jacob is with his children and their mothers. He’s limping, he’s vulnerable, he has no idea what to expect. Esau once hated his brother so much that he publicly made plans to kill him.
Is Esau’s revenge about come to be?
If this was 20 years ago, Jacob would have run away, but he has changed. He has met, and grown in the Lord. He’s become a lot less self-centered.
He puts the woman and children behind him, and in an act of courageous foolishness, he limps towards his brother, bowing to him along the way. Not just once, or twice, but seven times.
Seven times he limps and bows, limps and bows, taking on the humble, submissive role of servant to his brother. The shameful role.
Jacob is utterly and completely at the mercy of his brother and his army of men.
What will Esau do?..
...Jacob’s shameful action of submission is followed by his brother’s even more shameful response: Esau runs to his brother.
Shamefully, like a child or a girl, Esau runs to Jacob. He doesn’t care that an army of 400 men can see him.
He doesn’t care if people will think that running is beneath a man of his stature.
He pays no mind to social standards and norms.
His brother is home!
Honor has no role here.
The land between them is no longer a barrier.
The decades they spent apart: dissolved.
The rage, the anger, the need for revenge disappears, to be replaced with love, shameless love.
Esau runs towards his limping, bowing brother and embraces him within his arms. He falls upon his neck, he kisses him.
And perhaps in the greatest act of shame, the two brothers weep. Not tiny dots of water appearing in the corner of their eyes, but deep fountains of tears that well up from the pits of their stomachs, erupting from their eyes, their hearts, their souls.
Shameless: from the bowing to the running to the kisses to the tears.
And they did not care.
As one writer states "bitter animosity...is swept away by forgiving love that floods their beings; barriers of fear and hatred fall, permitting the joy of renewed friendship..."1
In their act of shameless reconciliation, life, not death, rules the day, and Jacob makes the wonderful pronouncement to his brother: "...To see your face is like seeing the face of God..."2
And indeed it is God’s face...
Throughout his career, Jacob, as undeserving as he may first appear, continued to experience God in unique and unusual ways. God appears to Jacob in a dream bestowing promises and blessings. God works through the Laban’s deceitful actions. God wrestles with Jacob.
And now, through the actions of Esau, God surprises Jacob once more, by demonstrating just how shamefully full of love God is and how embarrassing God is in his forgiveness.
In Esau’s actions heaven and earth come together, and as one writer stated "In the forgiving brother is something of the blessing God."3
The shameless love of God is revealed, and the brothers are reconciled, forgiven, healed and loved...
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? For as Christians we also know of and worship an aspect of God that became revealed to us in the limping and blessing, in the bowing down and the forgiving4, in the act of shame and the radical embrace of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus was a man who allowed the love of God, not the law of man, to rule his heart and to guide his actions. And Jesus was controversial, he was boundary-breaking, he was shameless.
Jesus, who came to us as a poverty-stricken baby born to a pregnant teen. Jesus, who humbled himself by coming to John the Baptist and submitting himself to be baptized.
Jesus, who was vulnerable and tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus, who unapologetically lead the life of a wandering man, and made known the face of God when he sat with prostitutes and other known sinners, eating dinner and drinking wine while religious leaders criticized and verbally attacked him.
Jesus, the living face of God who reached out and touched the sick, the possessed, those dripping with blood, those who were dead, and those who were considered to be the nobodies of society: women, children, foreigners, those of other faiths.
Jesus, the Son of God, stepped into human history, amidst all of sinfulness, all the political and economic corruption, all the deceit and trickery, not to hatefully wipe us out, not to unleash the wrath of God, not to punish all of us with an army of angels.
But to forgive, to reconcile us back to God, to give us yet another chance to make things right with ourselves, with one another, and with God.
And in the ultimate act of shamelessness, Jesus was willing to die for us on the cross.
As Dr. Patterson writes, crucifixion was the way in which Rome literally shamed a person to death.
Jesus was left helpless, exposed to the elements, animals, people passing by, staked outside of the boundaries of the city.
God’s range of love, mercy and grace went to the extreme extent of showing God’s face on the crucified Christ, where his body was beaten and nailed to a tree...
...but even then, he shamelessly embraced us, for the nails that pierced Christ’s flesh could not prevent his still loving, embarrassing forgiveness. Nor his ability to speak the words "Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
As today’s story reminds us, as we see in Esau’s actions, as we experience in the life and death of Jesus, our God is a God so filled with abundant, forgiving love: shameless love.
And joyfully so.
This is not a God who says "let’s shake hands because you are too old to kiss."
This is a God who, as we come limping towards him is willing to foolishly run to us, fall upon our neck, kiss us and weep with joy.
Our God is a God who calls us to forgive our brother and our sister, to let go of our hate, let go of our need for vengeance, and to journey to places we never knew existed within our souls.
To be a Christian, to be the face of God for all the world to see, means for us to be shameless in our love for one another, to be shameless, as God is shameless, in our acts of forgiveness and in our acts of grace.
Thanks be to God who reveals his face is so many ways, to Christ who shamefully lived for God and for humanity, and to the Spirit that brings us together wether we are limping or wether we run.