Sometimes Things Get Broken

Years ago, my mom gave Mariah a Peruvian nativity set. You can tell that it’s Peruvian because of how the figures are dressed, and because one of them is playing a flute, and because there are llamas. And we set it up. And because we’re lazy about Christmas decorations, it stayed up.

Hildegard’s favorite game is fetch, which she likes to play with a stuffed squeaky slipper. And, sometimes, when you’re throwing a stuffed squeaky slipper around the house and there’s a Peruvian nativity set on an end table… the slipper hits the nativity set and a llama falls off the end table and the llama’s leg breaks off.

And you leave it for a while, because there’s a slipper game on… and after that there’s dinner to make… and suddenly it’s three days later. But, eventually, you get out the glue and reattach the leg and the llama stands up again… and leans just a little… and everything’s okay.

Sometimes, things fall apart. Sometimes, things get broken. Sometimes, we can put things together again.

And sometimes we can’t.

In the old days, God ruled over the people of Israel, raising up prophets when he needed to remind the people of their covenant, raising up warriors when he needed to lead them into battle. But the people saw the nations around them, and the people saw their kings, and the people wanted to be like them.

So God gave kings to the people. First, there was Saul. Then, there was David. Then, there was Solomon.

And Solomon build a temple for God, and a palace for himself, and all sorts of other things. He took the people’s wealth, and he took the people’s labor, and he used it for himself. So there were people who were… unhappy with his reign.

And Solomon married women who worshipped other gods. And he turned from the Lord, the God of Israel. And he worshipped Astarte of the Sidonians, Milcom of the Ammonites, Chemosh of the Moabites, Molech of the Ammonites, and more. So the Lord, the God of Israel, was… unhappy with this reign.

And when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became the king of Israel.

Now, a man named Jeroboam led the people and came to Rehoboam. And they said, “Your father, Solomon, made our yoke heavy. He took our wealth and he took our labor. Lighten our yoke and we will serve you.”

And Rehoboam went to his advisors. Some said, “Lighten their yoke.” Some said, “Double down. Make their yoke heavier.” And Rehoboam listened to the advisors who told him to double down. He said to the people, “You thought your yoke was heavy. I will add to it. Where my father used whips, I will use scorpions.”

And many of the people of Israel rebelled. And Rehoboam, the king of Israel, became the king of Judah, the southern kingdom. And Jeroboam became the king of Israel, the northern kingdom.

And, eventually, the Assyrians invade, and they conquer the northern kingdom, and they deport the people who live there… and we never hear from them again.

Sometimes, things fall apart. Sometimes, things get broken. Sometimes, we can put things together again.

And sometimes we can’t.

The church is a broken thing. Not this church—but, probably, this church, too—but the church. The whole big thing. It’s been broken for a long time. And today is a day where we recognize that brokenness. Today is Reformation Sunday.

In the old days, Jesus guided the disciples face to face. And after he died and rose and ascended to heaven, those disciples and their community lived together and worked together and shared together and ministered together. And sometimes they disagreed and argued. And sometimes they figured out how to do things together even when they disagreed.

And as the church grew, things got harder. And, sometimes, some Christians said to some other Christians, “We will go over here, and you go over there, and we don’t need to talk about it.”

And then…

On October 31, 1517, a priest named Martin Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz and said that he disagreed with some of the things that the Catholic Church was doing and teaching. And that led to arguments and fights and John Calvin and Johnathan Edwards and John Knox and John Wesley and a bunch of people not named John.

And it led to a bunch of denominations, each saying, “Here is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

And sometimes, that has been bad. And sometimes, maybe, that has been good.

You see, I know that we a church that strives to welcome everyone. No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

But I also know that we aren’t the church for everyone. There are people who are looking for something else. 

We have an important part fo the gospel of Jesus Christ to share with the world…

…and so does St. Joe’s… and so does Emmaus Road… and so does Grace Lutheran… and so does the E. Free Church… and so does the United Methodist Church… and so does each of the two Cornerstones.

And sometimes, people need our part of the gospel, our little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

And sometimes, people need one those other parts of the gospel, one of those other little consulates of the Kingdom of God.

And there is beauty in that. Christ is the sure foundation, the head and cornerstone, not only of one congregation but of this whole big thing called the church. We are the United Church of Christ… and together with all of those other churches who we agree with and disagree with and argue with and fight with… when all of us are at our best… we are, together, a church united in Christ.

But here’s the thing: that only works when we are true to our part of the gospel. That only works when we don’t try to be everything to everyone. That only works when we are boldly ourselves.

You see, sometimes things fall apart. Sometimes, things get broken. And, sometimes, that’s okay. We don’t have to try to put them back together again. We can do our thing and trust that God will see everything through to the end that she has envisioned since the beginning.

Martin Luther wasn’t trying to break anything when he sent his letter. He was trying to share some truth with the church.

I don’t think that Jeroboam was trying to break anything when he and the people went before the king. He was trying to share some truth with the king.

And I don’t even think that Rehoboam was trying to break anything when he threatened the people. He was trying to hold everything together.

But the truth is that we are broken people in a broken world, living in broken nations and worshipping in broken churches.

And the deeper truth is that God uses all of that brokenness. God uses each an every one of us—each and every one of these broken people—to heal the world in some small way… to make something beautiful.

There is a Japanese art called kintsugi. I’ve mentioned it before. In it, you take a broken thing—a piece of pottery or maybe a llama from a Peruvian nativity set—and you put it back together with a lacquer mixed with gold or silver or platinum. And you work the repaired imperfection into the design of the piece. 

The brokenness is repaired. The wound is healed. The scar becomes part of the beauty.

And while we don’t see it today’s reading, and while we don’t always see it in the world, God is always repairing the brokenness within us and around us… and healing the wounds that we bear and that we cause… and making all these scars into something beautiful: a kingdom of his own making, a shining city on a hill, a world of greater justice and mercy.

Thanks be to God!

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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