Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Broken and Beautiful

Acts 16:16-34/ John 17:20-26

One of my favorite and what I think is the most beautiful metaphors for the Christian family is that of a Mosaic.  If you have ever seen or made a mosaic, you know that it is usually made up of small pieces of broken glass or tile.  When you make a mosaic, there are a couple of different ways to do it.  You can be neat and orderly using clippers so that you can get pieces the exact size you want.  Or, you can use my preferred method and put the tile in a heavy cloth bag and go after it with a hammer.  The result is still the same- broken pieces.

To me, these pieces, represent us.  God created humanity to be made in the perfect image of God.  Because of sin: individual, cultural, institutional and governmental, and because of the impact of these sins on our life circumstances, we have become broken.  Each time we sin, each time we sin against others, each time we encounter the sin of the world, we experience a blow with the hammer.  Each blow breaks us.  Each one causes a sharp edge to form.  After a while, it seems that we are so broken and so far away from the perfect image of God that we begin to feel useless. 

We walk down the street all the time and find broken glass.  It is trash, useless, not good for anything except being thrown in the trash or recycling bin.  We see it and don’t want to pick it up.  The edges are sharp and dirty and we are afraid of being cut.  When we have been broken by sin we too feel dirty with sharp edges and we too run the risk of cutting those who get too close.  We lash out, say and do things we wish we hadn’t.  We sin against others because someone has sinned against us.  We feel broken so we want others to feel broken and so the cycle continues.  Sometimes this happens and we don’t even know it.  We act out of reflex, annoyance, and frustration. 

Our scripture from Acts today shows us the brokenness of humanity, even Paul has this side to him.  He and Silas are walking through the city of Philippi, preaching and teaching the word of God to their new found friends and acquaintances.  They are not causing any trouble per se- minding their own business when a slave girl with the gift of divination begins following them around. 

She is clearly broken, possessed by a demon that gives her the gift of fortune telling and her owners are taking advantage of her.  Every time the girl sees Paul and Silas, she yells out, “These are servants of the Most High God!  They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” 

Paul might have found this amusing at first.  He may have even appreciated the free advertisement and partner in evangelism, but after days of this go by, he has had enough.  He is annoyed, frustrated, aggravated, and his broken edge begins to appear.  Without really thinking, he lashes out- reacts to his own sharp edge, he doesn’t act with compassion or care for this girl, no he acts out of selfish irritation.  He has had enough and he is going to put a stop to it- so he commands the demon to leave the girl and it does!  In doing so, he does cut her free from this burden in her life, but at the same time, he unwittingly cut her owners. 

They respond in kind and slash back and cut at him hard and deep.  Instead of accusing him of material damages, economic hardship etc. they charge Paul and Silas with subversion against the Roman government- treason!  The Roman officials cut swiftly, they don’t ask questions, they act first, think second; beating Paul and Silas with rods and locking them in the inner most cell of the prison until they could completely cut them out of the community in the morning.  They were considered just a piece of broken glass, trash, to be discarded. 

It is in this deep dark prison cell where Paul and Silas have a chance to think and reflect on the day.  How quickly things got out of control, what role they played in the outcome, what they could have done different.  They realized in that moment they stepped away from God, allowed their brokenness to get the best of them and are paying the price for doing so. 

They correct course, as we are all called to do when we hurt, exploit, lash out, act selfishly, cut people, and sin against others too.  They turned to God, prayed, sang hymns, allowed God to smooth their rough edge and allowed themselves to once again be made one with Christ Jesus.  This not only changed their perspective but it changed their actions. 

When the earthquake happened, they could have simply run for the hills, escaped and left the Jailer to face their punishment for them, which was the custom at the time.  But instead they acted with compassion.  In their actions, testimony and love for God, they showed the jailer their love for him and his family- saving his physical life as well as his spiritual life.  Their refusal to succumb to the sin of selfishness, blame and self-righteousness led another family to be united into the family of God. 

We know this same lesson to be true in our own lives, even in our own families and amongst our friends, and church family.  We feel the pain of broken edges when we seek self-will over God’s will.  We know the regret we feel when we hurt someone, when the desire to be right overpowers being with the one who is Right, and True and Good. 

We know what it feels like when someone lashes out at us and when we lash out at others, when someone we love does or says something that hurts our feelings or we hurt someone else. 

But, I hope you also know what it feels like to be united with Christ and united in Christian love to one another; the joy of being prayed for, the feeling of blessing you experience when someone goes out of their way to love you and when you go out of your way to love someone else.  I hope you know the peace that comes when someone offers to wash your wounds- to listen to your pain, comfort you in all your brokenness and love you despite your all too often rough edges.  This is what Christ hopes and prays for you too.

Jesus’ prayer in our gospel lesson today is for us to experience this unity in Christ.  Jesus knows that division and brokenness are a part of this world.  John knows it is a part of the church in his life and ministry and we are all too aware of this same brokenness not just within our own lives and within our own church but between churches and denominations.

 We see the differences, the broken edges, the flaws of each other and so maybe we decide that we don’t want Jesus’ prayer for unity to come to pass.  Especially if it means we spend eternity next to that person or group.  Or we want unity, but only with those whose brokenness looks like our brokenness- only wanting unity with those who think and act just like we think and act. 

We live in a world full of division; them and us.  Republicans don’t want to be in heaven next to Democrats and visa-versa.  Methodists, and Baptists, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Pro-war advocates and pacifists, pro-life and pro-choice- the list can continue forever with each dividing line breaking our unity with God and with each other. 

All the fighting, the blaming, the disdain and bickering causes fissure lines, sharp edges and us to become smaller and smaller, less and less as God created us to be.  And soon, we become so small that all we have are sharp edges and all we do is cut one another, even people we profess to love.    

When Jesus prayed this prayer, he wasn’t ignoring our differences but instead celebrating them.  It is when we learn to recognize that our differences are what make us beautiful that we begin to see ourselves and the church as Jesus sees it.  When we begin to focus our lives on Christ instead of what makes us different or better than the person next to us we allow ourselves to be grounded in Christian love which then in turn makes it easier to love those who are most difficult to love. 

When we see a mosaic- there is always a bed of plaster, a line of led, or a swipe of grout.  This grout is our relationship with Christ.  It is what holds all of our broken pieces together. It is when we ground ourselves in Jesus, that we are less likely to cut someone we love because our sharp edges are encased in the love of Christ.   Jesus turns our individual pieces, things that on their own might not seem all that valuable and makes it beautiful by placing it in community with others who are just as broken as everyone else. This is church, this is Christian community.

This mosaic doesn’t manipulate or insist on conformity of practice or belief.  Instead it celebrates our differences, even the hard, sharp edges.  It knows that uniformity and conformity are not the purpose of our creation.  It knows that it is the different colors, shapes and sizes, the things that make us unique are what make the mosaic beautiful. 

And the end result is a masterpiece, a work of art, something more beautiful and valuable than it would have ever been in its individual pieces and parts.    

A relationship with Christ makes it possible to be in relationship with others.  This isn’t always easy and sometimes it takes a while to find the perfect fit in just how God wants us to be in relationship but when we give our brokenness to God, we discover that God makes beautiful things, even out of us. 

Jesus wants each of you to be a part of this beautiful mosaic.  Jesus wants you to know that it is your uniqueness that makes you beautiful- not your ability to blend in with the world around you.  Jesus knows you are broken, knows why you are broken and wants more than anything to encase you in his love. Jesus knows it hurts when others cut us and when we cut them but when we remember that they are just as broken as we are and just as loved by Christ- the wounds are a little less deep and heal more quickly. 

There will still be pain, there will still be scars and broken edges, but when we learn to love like Christ and allow ourselves to be loved by Christ we are able to better understand the work of art God designed us to become.  Praise be to God!  Amen