Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
(You can read the verses by clicking here.)
My first year in graduate school, I interned at a homeless day shelter for women. I met women who lived on the streets, who shivered with cold, who had temporarily lost their jobs, or who struggled with mental illness or addiction or expensive Boston rents.
Their stories broke my heart and filled me with despair. What kind of world is this that we live in?
As I pondered this question I began shadowing the resident social worker Emily and sitting in on her meetings. One day, a guest named Jackie comes to meet with Emily and me.
Our meeting space was situated on the second floor of a church and so we go up in the elevator to this cold, dim meeting space. We enter the room and Emily sits in one chair, Jackie in another and me in the last one.
Jackie, a middle aged woman, begins to explain that she had been held up by a fourteen year old boy. “He came up to me,” she says, “and put a gun to my forehead and demanded money. Fearing for my life, I gave him everything I had. He took it and, looking me in the eyes said: I should still shoot you. A chill ran through my entire body.”
Jackie explains that the boy didn’t hurt her and the police caught him and charged him with armed robbery. The case is now in trial and she doesn’t want to testify.
As she tells the story, Jackie stops suddenly and looks into Emily’s eyes, saying:
“I don’t want the boy to go to jail. I want him to be rehabilitated. Everyone one thinks I’m crazy. You probably think I’m crazy but I’ve forgiven him.”
Emily responds firmly, “I don’t think that’s crazy at all. In fact I think that’s really beautiful. Forgiveness is really freeing for the victim. I think that’s beautiful.”
What kind of world is this that we live in? I thought again.
We live in the kind of world where beauty can even break into places of deep darkness.
Yes, suffering happens in our world. We live in a world where people have the freedom to choose to act for good or for evil. We live in a world with fragile human bodies, where evil ensnares and lures individuals and institutions to dominate, alienate, and exclude.
Yet, what I learned was that, even in places of deep suffering, there remains an ability to defy and resist evil. There remains an ability for love to persist, for new life to sprout up, for forgiveness to occur.
Out of the broken pieces of our world, God forges something beautiful.
For me, this message gets to the heart of the Gospel text today. In the Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples: the Messiah will suffer, be rejected and killed, and then after three days rise again.
Jesus is speaking openly about the suffering that he will endure on the cross. Jesus is telling his disciples how he will step into places of hardship and shame, places of despair and dead-ends. These places, Jesus tells us are not the final word. Jesus steps into these places so that we might know that, even at our darkest hour, we are never alone. God is present and at work in our lives.
Jesus will rise again. Resurrection will occur. New life will be shaped out of all the hard and sharp places of our lives.
This is what Jesus says but the disciples quite understand what he means yet. Peter especially becomes concerned and takes his friend aside. What you are saying? He says … fearful about what will happen to his beloved friend and teacher. Peter reminds us how hard it is to walk the path of discipleship. We can fall into hopelessness and despair and give up. We can fall into negativity. We can let fear take us over. We can succumb to ego. We can fight and coerce.
Jesus sees this in Peter; Jesus sees this in all of us, and so he invites to come gather around, telling us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Jesus is calling us to life abundant, to weave love through everything and constantly open to the Mystery of God. Yes, the path of discipleship is hard; Yes, it takes commitment and practice. Yet, Jesus reminds us that it leads us to life.
In this passage, when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, I wonder if Jesus is calling us to deny the self that cuts us off from God and others. I wonder if Jesus is calling us to deny the self that says:
I can do this all by myself.
I don’t need any help from God or others.
I am more deserving of love than my enemies.
I am not deserving of love at all.
Instead, Jesus invites us to know the truth of who we are:
We are, children of God, all of us.
We are children, who may make messes and mistakes, who have experienced pain and suffering, who God loves and in whom God is at work tenderly making something new.
I heard the story recently of a man named Sven Warner who lives in Rochester and makes mosaics out of broken glass. Sven is a community artist who has worked for years on mosaics, developing his own creative methods for making tile, painting the tile, breaking the tile and shaping them into things of beauty.
Sven goes out into the community and he works with people who have experienced brokenness of body and mind and traumas of life experience. He leads them through the process of taking broken pieces and shaping them into something meaningful. This is more than a metaphor … it is an enactment that changes things, that changes their own journey, a journey we all take to shape the pieces of our lives, some parts look so sharp and hard and ugly, and slowly and carefully and creatively forge them into the wholeness of ourselves, allowing our hurts to become part of an artistic and healing wonder that is our lives. This is holy work.
Kirk Byron Jones say “Bless your broken pieces, child of God, and create something new.”
Isn’t it interesting that nothing is lost in this process? All these bits of our lives are lovingly included in a new and greater reality as we grow into new creations with the help of one another and the help of God.
Sven’s story reminds me of our own Lisa Laing, who does Interplay work with cancer survivors. I just met someone the other week from her class, who was telling me how meaningful the work is. The people in her class have experienced struggle and loss and hard times. And in the midst of all it, they gather together each week, creating hand dances, moving together, babbling aloud, sharing their truth and their love with one another.
In their movement together … they experience something powerful and real.
Out of the broken pieces, God forges something beautiful.
Like a shard of glass that shines as brilliant as a diamond, like a Mosaic made from the broken pieces of our lives, like a hand dance created from our places of pain and suffering, woven together with love and tenderness and care.
Out of the broken pieces, God makes something beautiful.
Like the unexpected forgiveness of a woman for a teenager boy who robbed her.
“I want him to have another chance,” Jackie says.
Out of the broken pieces of our lives, God makes something beautiful.
As we gather for Communion today, we proclaim this Gospel truth. We eat bread and drink grape juice, proclaiming that “Christ is risen” and that death is not the end. We celebrate the truth that even now God is calling us toward life abundant; God is gathering all of us and all pieces of us; God is reaching into places of impossibility and despair to make a new creation. God is making me a new creation, God is making you a new creation, of bread and wine, of forgiveness and rough edges, that one day we all might gather around the table, healed and liberated, restored and reconciled, rejoicing in the beauty that has forged among us.