Friday, 17 July 2020

It’s the cracks that let the light shine through

A sermon for Provoking Faith in a Time of Isolation
The online gathering of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
26th July 2020

2 Corinthians 4.1-18

Listen to this sermon here: 

Last week a friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook which has stayed with me, and I think is relevant to helping us with our passage for this morning from Paul’s letter to Corinth. She said:

A wind instrument can only make music because of the holes in it.
Perhaps the wind of the Spirit too makes music through the holes in our lives.
Our wound is our gift.[1]

I think my friend here is echoing the insight of Paul when he said, in one of the most well-known passages from 2 Corinthians, ‘we have this treasure in clay jars’.

There is a paradox, is there not, which we all experience in one way and another, between the sublime glimpses we are granted of the glory of God, and our own mortality and fallibility. It seems that we cannot contain the mysteries of eternity, because the truth is that we are finite and fractured. The treasure of heaven is in jars of clay.

In offering us this metaphor, Paul is freely acknowledging his own flaws and failings, which he knows full-well he shares with everyone else, whether they acknowledge them or not. We are, he is saying, all human; and each of us is, in our own way, deeply flawed, and deeply vulnerable.

But the glory of Paul’s proclamation of human frailty in the light of God’s glory, is that our brokenness is the very aspect of our being, through which God’s glory is made known in the world. God is at work not in perfection but in imperfection.

Have you ever come across the Japanese practice of Kintsugi? This is the art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The story of Kintsugi is said to have begun in the 15th century, when a Japanese military commander broke one of his beloved Chinese tea bowls and, disappointed with a shoddy repair job, urged Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more pleasing method of repair.[2] It is a powerful metaphor for life, where brokenness is transformed into beauty.

Of, if you want a slightly more contemporary example, there’s a wonderful lyric by the late great Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, in which he said

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

There is great wisdom here, which is that God chooses to bring the message of life to light through deeply flawed human beings. That is, all of us. God works in and through people, bringing them to faith and service, not waiting for all the flaws to be fixed, but working through the failings in order to bring life to others.

Let me tell you about my Mum’s terracotta bowl. This was a present that Liz and I had bought for her birthday, and we’d carefully wrapped it. As we gave it to her, it slipped from our hands and fell to the floor, and the sound of it breaking was unmistakeable. I begged her not to open it, but rather to put it in the bin still wrapped, and we would get her something else, but she insisted on seeing it. Sure enough, it was shattered. She put it to one side, and graciously thanked us for the lovely thought. Well, the next time we went to their house, the bowl was there on display in the lounge. She had carefully taken each piece and glued it back together. It certainly isn’t a professional restoration job - you don’t have to look very closely to see the cracks, or the bits of extra glue. But from a distance it looks like the bowl it was always supposed to be. In some ways, for those of us who know the story of its breaking, that history of brokenness adds to the value we put on it. Would it still be on display if it hadn’t been broken? Maybe not, maybe by now a perfect bowl would have gone to a new home, or a new use somewhere else. But the bowl that has been cracked and broken and patched back together now speaks of relationship, and love, and care, and memories… and so it still sits there on display.

we have this treasure in clay jars

And I wonder about you. Are your cracks visible or invisible? Do you appear strong or weak, whole or broken? Paul knows that we all carry the scars of our vulnerability, whether we let them show or not, and his insight is profound. It is the cracks that make us more beautiful in God’s sight. Because of our cracks, and our history of brokenness, we are more able to make known the love of God, than we would ever have been able to without.

The gospel of Christ, which is the overwhelming and absolute love of God, is most clearly revealed in weakness. The cracks are how the light gets in. In our brokenness we relinquish the goal of perfection, and we trust ourselves to the one who fully embraced and embodied the human experience of brokenness. Or, as Paul might put it, we are united with the brokenness of Christ on the cross. We always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4.9-10).

It is only through God’s power that we can live out our calling to be faithful followers. Those who attend groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous know that the first two steps towards finding new life through brokenness are 1) an admission of our own powerlessness to fix ourselves; and 2) belief that one who is beyond us, the ‘higher power’ known through faith, can do with our lives what we cannot do for ourselves.

Or, as Paul might put it, we are saved through faith and not by works. But whose faith? If it is our faith, then it circles back to us and our ability to have faith… No, the faith on which we depend is the faithfulness of Christ.

Any faith we have, and any action that arises from it, comes not from our own strength but from the faithfulness of Christ in the face of human brokenness. In other words, we are saved and redeemed because of the cross of Christ. It is as we participate in the self-giving love of Christ, who gave himself up to be handed over for crucifixion, that we discover the new life that comes through brokenness.

And the thing is, there is great strength to be found here. The Kintsugi golden join in a broken Japanese pot is stronger than the pot was originally. Without the cracks the light can’t shine through. Without weakness the power of God is not made known. As any student of sci-fi films will tell you, the empire is only defeated by the rebel alliance when all seems surely lost. The significance of our lives can only be judged from beyond ourselves, and that which we experience as defeat, weakness, and failure, may in the end be the moment of greatest revelation of God’s love and power at work in us.

So do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (4.16-18).

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