GCI Sermon – November 7, 2021

How Not to Play the Shame/Blame Game

Hebrews 9:24-28 (NRSV)


There’s a trend online called “pet shaming.” It’s where people post pictures of their pets with signs confessing what they did. Some of them are funny [show photos from brain-sharper link]. The owners know that posting pictures of their pets and exposing their misdeeds won’t change their pet’s behavior or make them “good,” but they are humorous. Shame and blame don’t create real behavior change in animals, and they aren’t effective for real change in humans.

There have been actual public shaming sentences for some people in the U.S. where they have had to wear signs announcing what they did. This can range from having a fluorescent-colored license plate on their car to warn about a past driving under the influence conviction (DUI) to having to wear a large placard sign for eight hours for domestic abuse. There’s plenty of discussion about whether public shaming is an effective deterrent for crimes.


Psychologists continue to question whether shame and blame actually change behavior. Blame is a defense mechanism we’ve all used at one time or another, and shame is what tells us we are not good enough and will never be good enough. Hopefully, we have learned that “shame and blame are games that everyone loses.”

God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming, though some churches seem to disagree. God created humanity and he understands how we are made. We respond to love and kindness and shut our hearts to shame and blame. Christ’s sacrifice is evidence that we don’t have to make penance or feel ashamed of our human brokenness. Let’s read about it in Hebrews 9.

Read Hebrews 9:24-28 NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

First some context: This message is not to Gentiles, but to Hebrews – Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to leave Christianity and return to Judaism. Hebrews is the only New Testament book that discusses Jesus Christ as our high priest, connecting him with the Old Testament priest Melchizedek. The main purpose of the letter is to show the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26 NRSV)

These verses compare and contrast Christ’s sacrifice with the Levitical high priest who entered the Holy of Holies on one day each year. The need for annual sacrifices, presented by the high priest, interposed the religious system, in this case, Judaism, as a mediator between the people and God.

The writer points out the clear superiority of Christ who “did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands” but appears in heaven and who did not have to “offer himself again and again” as the high priest had to offer sacrifices every year. This highlights Jesus as fully divine as well as fully human. No longer was there a need for anyone to be the mediator between the people and God.

Though the repetition of the annual sacrifices reminded the people of their sinfulness, it also reinforced blame and shame, and it created a “sin rut,” one that they could see no way out of. Blame and shame do not show the way out of the rut. Christ’s sacrifice, made in love, was done once, and our “repetition” of it, found in our ritual of Communion, now reminds us that love showed us the way out of the sin rut.

In verse 26, the world translated “sin” is hamartia in the singular, not plural. However, because the letter is addressed to a community, it appears that this is talking about sin in the collective sense, as if Christ’s sacrifice was intended to dismantle systems of sin that are participated in by many people collectively, either knowingly or unknowingly. God is concerned about human-made systems of oppression that create suffering for humanity.

In addition, the passage makes us think about how we still scapegoat, shame, and blame people. This is particularly true for people who differ from us – as in race, gender, belief systems, and political views, to name a few. In some respects, it’s as if we have our own “sacrificial system” that places blame on others. Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all,” means we don’t have to sacrifice each other in a negative spiral of shame and blame. Verse 26b uses the Greek perfect tense to show that not only was Christ’s sacrifice important at that moment in history, but it is still “in force” today and into eternity. It’s as if humanity is being lifted out of the sin rut of shame and blame by the arms of love in an ongoing effort.

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 NRSV)

These verses remind us of our mortality and impermanence, something that we often try to forget or feel as if it is something we need to apologize for. Our elder brother Jesus Christ was also mortal (fully human and fully divine), and it was his mortal humanity that made his sacrifice possible. Who better to understand our weaknesses than one who “has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)? Here we are reminded that Christ promised to return, not to deal with sin but to “save” – or usher in salvation in the form of God’s kingdom or system on earth – for those who love him. Christ’s second coming is not about sin, shame, or blame. It’s about love, a transforming love that looks forward to establishing God’s righteous rule on earth.


  • Remind yourself of your value in God’s sight, and let love transform you. When we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know us intimately, the good and the bad, yet love us without reservation (remember Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all”), it’s as if our “cup of love” is filled and can overflow to others. We are not known or identified by sin or sinful behavior; that is all taken care of in Christ. God sees us in our true identity—his beloved children. We participate with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit he will lead us to change; we become better people as a result of God’s love flowing in us and through us.
  • Celebrate Communion by understanding how we have been set free from the sin rut. Each time we participate in the ritual of Communion, we are reminding ourselves and each other that we are not shamed or blamed by God for our shortcomings. Instead, we are held as precious, worth the very life of Jesus Christ, “once for all.” Love has lifted us up out of the sin rut, and loving others is how we participate with Christ in helping set them free.
  • Examine yourself for ways that you still engage in patterns of shaming and blaming others. Our culture encourages us to point fingers, compare ourselves, and engage in other shaming and blaming behaviors. By remembering who we are in Christ, and by remembering others are also God’s beloved, we can express transforming love to others even in situations where holding them accountable is necessary. We remember that shame and blame don’t change people; love does.

Even though the pictures of the guilty pets we saw in the beginning were funny, shame and blame are not funny. Shame and blame are used to put others down – the opposite of what God calls us to do – and are ineffective means of getting someone to change. That is why the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reached out to humanity in loving sacrifice, “once for all,” so that we could be transformed by love and then extend that transforming love to one another. May God help us share his love and life with others through the good news that Jesus removed our shame, and there is therefore no reason to blame.



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