I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish — hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:14-16)
When your house is a mess, when you have too much stuff to be organized, when what you have has turned out to be junk, you are hesitant to welcome people into your home. We feel a sense of shame about what we have accumulated, our poor judgment, our misguided desires about what is valuable and our inability to manage what we have. Marla Cilley, who was in known in the blogosphere as the FlyLady calls it CHAOS. Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.
The apostle Paul recognized that every human life is full of clutter – junk – unneeded, mismanaged, life-choking piles of stuff. Following the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul calls this stuff: sin.
Paul senses that holding onto the clutter of our sin causes us shame. Shame is a sense that we are dishonorable, unworthy in some fundamental way. He experiences that both our sins and our shame cut us off from others.
Psychologists today are as interested in the workings of the mind and emotion as the Apostle Paul was. They can catalogue the damaging effect that shame has on relationships. Within established relationships, shame limits intimacy and initiates power struggles. Shame has dramatic consequences on the ability to establish relationships.
When we are shame-filled we keep people at a distance, not wanting them to see our junked up self. Maintaining our clutter, managing our shame, is literally time consuming in our psychic makeup, making it difficult to find space and energy to be proactively or even passively hospitable. Shame-filled people, fearing a negative evaluation by others, often are suspicious of others, seeing the others faults more clearly than their strengths, devaluing others abilities and hostile toward others successes.
It’s no surprise that shame filled people are often bullies – on the personal level, in business settings and on the international scene.
Paul offers the reality, which emerges from the experience of the early church, that in Jesus Christ there is the power to be saved from this life – choking, hospitality hindering, relationship ruining stuff call sin. Paul claims it boldly, proudly without regret. When he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”, he means that he is not ashamed to depend upon the power of God in Jesus Christ to extricate him from the isolating clutter of his sins.
Experts on household organization say that the best way to get rid of the clutter is to assess it and purge it based on a series of questions. Is it useful? Are you only keeping it because you paid so much for it? Does it work? Does it make you smile? Is it beautiful?
That might be helpful advice when we look at what we are holding onto in our mind, heart and behavior. Except the questions are not about our taste and convenience. We are opening our lives to God’s inspection and intervention.
Is that habit useful in a disciple of Jesus Christ? Does that behavior help others? Is creating justice and peace? Is that attitude dirty, broken or outdated? Are you hanging onto some pattern because you invested so much in it, even though it is of little value? Does that practice bring joy to God? Is this a behavior of one created in the beautiful image of God?
When we open ourselves – even what is shameful to us – to God’s inspection and let our lives be justified in Christ Jesus, we can be the force for hospitality that we are called to be.
Freed from shame we don’t feel compelled to mock those who are different or fear them. We can go to and be grateful for the wise and foolish, the young and old, those who sound like us and those who don’t. We can be indebted to the presence protesters and pupils, policeman and even politicians. We can meet them without judging their experience or devaluing their existence. We can invite people into our homes and into our lives and into our experience.