Sermons

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

I was first in the ordination process in the Diocese of Rhode Island when I was 18 years old.  According to the Bishop of the time, I would go to college, followed by seminary and then on to ordination.  I would be the Rev. Jeffrey Mello just after my 25th birthday.  

At 22, when I was interviewing with the Commission on Ministry for permission to go to seminary, one of the members commented that, to her, it just didn’t seem like I had suffered enough in my life to be considered for ordination.  To her, I seemed to have led too easy a life to be of any use in the ministry.

I was approved for ordination 17 years later in Massachusetts, after some detours from the church.  I don’t know if it was that I had endured sufficient suffering in the intervening years, but there was, I think, one key change in me.  The second time I sat before a Commission, I no longer thought I needed to be perfect for ordained ministry.  And, equally important, I no longer thought God needed others to be perfect, either.  I had come to understand what I call “God’s preferential option for the broken.”

God doesn’t call the perfect.  God doesn’t ask those untouched by pain and brokenness to serve God in the world.  

For much of my young life, I had been working so hard to present myself as perfect that I didn’t let them see the broken-ness that existed.  I didn’t want them to see it.  I didn’t want to see it.  I didn’t even know my own broken-ness, because it frightened me.

Given God’s abundant and unconditional love for us, I don’t know where the human desire to be perfect comes from.  It is contrary to just about every story we are given about those who are called and then able to do God’s work in the world.  None of our biblical leading women and men were perfect.  

The fishermen called into service in today’s reading from Mark weren’t perfect.  St. Paul wasn’t perfect.  Neither was Jonah, and the Ninevites certainly weren’t.  

The examples scripture gives us to follow as people of faith are icons of the broken.  They were, all of them, from Genesis to Revelation, imperfect women and men who were able to do the work of God, not despite their broken places, but because of them.

Being broken is the central, the core image we are given of God.  This cross hangs in the sanctuary to remind us that God among us, Emmanuel, was broken before his life would be shared with the world.  That Body of Christ was broken so it could be shared.

At the high point of our Eucharistic Prayer, the Presider holds the bread in the air and breaks it.  This bread we claim to be the body of Christ must be broken before it can be shared.

And as a community, a church, we make up the Body of Christ in the world, and we are never more faithful to the Gospel than when we have been broken open by suffering and need in the world and we respond to that suffering from the brokenness of our own hearts.

But that’s where our comfort with any talk of brokenness tends to end; with the corporate experience of being broken, or the abstract.

We are reluctant to talk about our own, personal experiences of being broken.  Who wants to hear our baggage, after all?  What will people think of us if they know we are more than the easy veneer we work so hard to present to the world? What will we think of ourselves?

The Japanese art call Kintsugi takes broken pieces of pottery and puts them back together, sealing the cracks with gold, so the imperfections and broken pieces gleam.  In Kintsugi, the beauty is in the brokenness.

In our liturgy, as a central act of our worship together, we lift up the sacredness of brokenness. We participate in the sacrament of the broken.

And yet in our lives, even here in this community, we hide what is broken, we apologize for our need of one another and we fear anything that is less than perfect in ourselves.  And at our most fragile, we point out what is broken in others in hopes own imperfections pale in comparison.

The thing is, to pretend we aren’t broken isn’t only dishonest, it is unhealthy.  And not only is it unhealthy, but it prevents us from being the hands and heart and voices of God in this world.

If the stories we hear in scripture are tales of the imperfect arguing with God that they are not up to the task, the modern tale might be of a God who is searching for the imperfect to do the work God needs done, and not finding sufficient candidates who are willing to admit they have the proper credentials.  

For if we are fine, what need do we have of each other? If we are “all good,”  what need do we have of God?  If we can put the pieces of our lives together with the super glue of our own self-sufficiency, what need to we have for God to pour the gleaming gold of grace and forgiveness and love into the cracks?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues the radical, world turning upside down work of calling imperfect people into the perfect role for them:  love-bearers, peace-makers, justice-seekers.  And the imperfect whom Jesus calls -- they are ready.  The have tried everything.  They have little to lose and everything to gain.  So they drop their nets and go.  They leave their families and they go.  

Maybe that’s what the member of the Commission knew on that day 27 years ago.  Maybe she heard in my story someone who felt they had everything to lose and nothing to gain following God, and that, perhaps, when God called me into action, I might say, “Nah, I’m good, thanks.”

When the body of Jesus was broken, God needed us to put it back together.  When the bread is broken, God needs us to become a new body of Christ.  When the world is broken, God needs us to restore it to wholeness.  God is pretty okay with admitting when things are broken.  God is comfortable needing us.

Perhaps it is time for us to admit we might just need God as much as God needs us. Maybe it’s okay to drop the veneer of perfection in order to see the gift of wholeness.  

In my life, everyday is a struggle to exchange the superglue of “I’ve got it together” for the gold of God’s grace and love as it is manifested in the kindness and compassion of others.

Jesus says follow me. He was headed toward brokenness that the world may be whole.  That’s where the disciples were headed, though they knew nothing about it.

So, too, Jesus calls us to follow.  To broken-ness, through broken-ness, to a new wholeness and fullness of life.

May our broken hearts, our broken spirits, our broken lives glimmer with the gold streaks of God’s love and grace that we might, when God needs us, drop our nets and go.

AMEN.

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

Endnotes

  1.  While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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