Forgot How to Blush
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Jeremiah 6: 10 – 16, Mark 12: 28 – 34. Focus on why blushing is the bodies instinctive response to lying and deceit. And if we lose this ability we are in serious trouble. Be sure to check out Kelly Crandell & The Choir following the sermon.
Our society is not so different from the one Jeremiah spoke to in 6th century Judea. There is a sickness in our land that receives no endorsement from God. It’s a sickness that goes by many names, but its essence holds that life consists in having and getting and spending and controlling and using and eating. This value system stresses accumulation and believes that security comes from having more.
As Gordon Gekko boasted in the movie Wall Street: “Greed is good. Greed is motivation for productivity. Greed is the source of great dreams. Greed is the emotion that drives the engines of capitalism. Individual autonomy is expressed most fully through acquisition and protection of private property. Those who own and consume the most are the most valued human beings.”
So here’s Jeremiah – God’s prophet – calling the people back to reality, calling the people away from denial and false hope, ripping off the band aide that had covered the wound of the people lightly. In essence he was saying, “Until this society comes clean about its fascination with greed and unjust gain there will be no peace.
Jeremiah could have been talking to us – The people who have been seduced by the greed that has been running rampant in our land for a very long time. We borrowed more than we could afford to pay back. We wanted everything for nothing and we elected those who would lie to us and tell us it could all be ours without having to pay for it.
But there is an even more pressing problem than creating a new economic or political philosophy, though we will certainly need to do that. The real problem for Jeremiah is that the people of the land no longer felt embarrassment by what they said and did toward their fellow human beings, especially those most vulnerable and already marginalized. Widows, orphans and aliens. Blushing is the body’s immediate instinctive response to things like lying. Those who can lie and not blush are narcissists, fascist and sociopaths. Blushing and embarrassment depend on moral sensitivity, on being aware that our actions, our speech, our greed are ever before the eyes of God.
Embarrassment refers life back to God, reminding us that our lives are not truly our own. We are not free to do whatever we please. If we haven’t learned this lesson we should learn it now. We live in an unsustainable way. If you don’t think our life style comes at the expense of others then talk to unemployed workers in our land. If you don’t think that the rich get richer and poor get poorer in this world then talk to the small business owner who can’t get a small business loan, but Wall Street can get it from we the people for free!
Something has happened to our understanding of freedom. Centuries ago Saint Augustine called freedom the ability to make right choices, to be fearless and selfless enough to choose to serve the common good rather than to seek personal gain. Our revolutionary ancestors agreed with Augustine. Samuel Adams said, “We may look to armies for our defense, but virtue is our best security. It is not possible that any state should long remain free where virtue is not supremely honored.” And today I would update that quote to include where truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God, is not supremely honored.
Freedom and virtue were practically synonymous in the minds of those who designed our country’s founding documents. To them it was inconceivable that an individual would be granted freedom merely for the satisfaction of instincts, and whims. Freedom was not the freedom to do as you please, but rather, the responsibility to use or not use our freedom for God’s purposes, such as liberation, freedom, equality, fairness, justice, for all people.
So it is a good and right thing to ask as Christ followers are the policies of any government in line with those values or are they not? If they are not they must be opposed through our democratic processes.
But today, because we have separated freedom from virtue and truth telling, we have made personal and societal morality morally inferior to greed and personal gain.
And Jeremiah’s critique is as accurate today as it was when he first offered it, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?” And the reply comes right back in our face, “No they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.”
The critique that the church should remain outside of the political discussions going on in our land today is neither Biblically accurate nor true to what our founding fathers intended. The separation of church and state was meant to make sure that this country did not become a theocracy, that there be no official state religion. Not that religion be cut off from the public discourse.
You can’t open your Bible without the word of God confronting our politics, our economics, our sense of right and wrong and to do so would be the ultimate blasphemy against the prophetic word of God.
Jeremiah’s contemporaries called him a traitor because he called them to listen to a different voice. He called them to listen to a voice that demanded that they see the suffering in their land, to feel compassion for those suffering and to be awakened to the need for transformation.
You see our policy decisions do in fact reflect our values. And we must ask how many people benefit from this policy or that policy and how many are hurt by this policy or that policy? And we are the ones who should be raising these questions because today the real issue is what is happening to our humanness and what will happen when we have a new generation of young people who are incapable of blushing over man’s inhumanity to man.
Jeremiah’s voice doesn’t offer escape from the turmoil and trouble inherent in living in a pluralistic society such as ours, but it does ask that we face the very real and pressing issues of our day with a voice of truth, in the pursuit of justice and the ability to have everyone held accountable for their actions, their speech their very lives.
Thus, I believe the first, dangerous difficult, and urgent issue is to reshape our society’s imagination around truth telling and justice, which is what love likes in the public square (Dr. Cornel West). We need to recover the Biblical understanding of freedom’s purpose – that of caring ceaselessly for one another, – embracing what makes us unique in the world – our diversity – while holding firm to our common humanity. If we are capable of doing this then freedom will not only grow throughout the world it will thrive in it.
The church knows something unshakably true about what is required to live the kind of life God wants us to live. It goes like this: The sum of the law and the prophets, the sum of life itself is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength and the second is likened unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Practice this and you will experience the kind of life and kingdom Jesus was talking about. Amen