A sermon preached on
March 18, 2018
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better seen.
You who are broken:
Stop by the Potter's house.
Give God the fragments of your broken life.
You who are broken:
You're in the right place this morning.
The prophet Isaiah says that we are the clay. God is the potter and we are the work of God’s hand. We are formed from dust and water from the earth, and then continually shaped and molded on a potter’s wheel.
The prophet Jeremiah declared his message from God in a Potter’s house: “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. On our Potter’s wheel, we begin with a formless lump of clay that has imperfections, a lump of clay that will be molded into something beautiful and imperfect; a clay pot that will crack at the brittle places in time and become broken.”
Like on Pastor Megan’s pottery wheel, we begin as a formless lump of clay that has imperfections; marred even in God’s hands. We are each created both beautiful and marred. We are formed and reformed, shaped and re-shaped by God’s grace but never fully “fixed.”
Over time, we crack at the brittle places and become broken.
You who are broken: you are not alone.
Most of you know that I am divorced and remarried. Most of you also know that I’m willing to be your exemplar--not for my Godliness, but for my humanity. I have been broken, and then saved by grace. I was eventually found by God, put back together eventually, and re-purposed in a time in my life that I was participating in my own salvation about as much as a lump of clay would be.
Jesus died to teach us that our God is a God of grace; who forgives and loves; that our covenant with God endures regardless of how many times we break it. I want you to know that, too. No matter what you have done or how many times you have done it, God has promised to love you. God has promised to use you for good.
And in the end, Love wins. Not sin, not death, not broken covenants. All of us who have been broken and put back together again know that Love wins, but it sometimes bangs you up a little first.
The word “sin” has been used as a weapon far too often by certain forms of Christianity, and I know many of us have found this church because we are tired of being shamed simply for being human.
But since the word “sin” is so often used as a weapon, let’s turn this sword into a plough share and put it to better use.
The concept of sin is present in every world religion and secular system of ethics in every culture. Sin is of central importance to the Christian tradition. The “problem” Christianity tries to solve is sin, with the salvation of Jesus Christ. Sin means, in it’s most useful definition, separation from God.
Last week we learned that “salvation” (root word salve) means healing. So if sin is separation from God, salvation is the healing of that separation.
Our separateness from God is only healed through revolutionary love for God’s people.
Remember, this isn’t the Hallmark card kind of love. Jesus is not a Hallmark kind of savior. This is the “love your neighbor as you love yourself” kind of love, this is the “love your enemies” kind of love, this is the “everyone’s welcome to the banquet and no one is cast out” kind of love, this is the “crossing boundaries” kind of love, this is the “touching the untouchables” kind of love, this is the "healing the sick” kind of love, this is the “dying on the cross for the sins of Empire” kind of love, this is the “forgive them father for they know not what they do” kind of love.
We need this kind of love right now. We need this kind of healing.
These are hot mess times in this country. We are undeniably separated from one another: Fox News, CNN and every internet comment section where humanity goes to die tells the story of our separateness. We insist on the illusion of dis-unity. And we need a savior.
I’m waiting every day for the Potter to put us back together again, looking for signs. I expect it to look like the rapture, or an end to the Russia investigation, or something.
But God never puts it all back together the way we expect. Instead, God will invariably put some guy in front of me who doesn’t share my political ideologies who I can’t help but love, and gently suggest that I go to the gun range with him to learn to shoot semi-automatic weapons.
And grace becomes my teacher again. The Potter re-shapes me to love people in ways I didn’t expect to.
Saint Paul in his letter to Ephesus says that we are saved from our sin by grace, not works. We can’t save ourselves through “behaving” the right way, or by our own action. We are clay in God’s hands. Over and over again, God steps in even without being invited, healing us at the broken places. Re-shaping us.
We are due for a radical re-shaping. It’s gonna bang us up a little bit first, but in the end love wins. If love hasn’t won yet, it’s not the end.
So I’m not saying the world was saved, but at least the year 2018 was saved by a Netflix TV series called Queer Eye. This is our 8-episode reminder that love is universal, that healing is possible, that masculinity is far less narrow than we give it credit for, and that God is good.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the show is a reboot from the early 2000s make over show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The premise is that five gay men called the “fab five” swoop in to make the life of a straight guy with low self esteem, a messy house and bad fashion 100% better. The Fab 5 do a home make over, a clothing make over, a grooming make over, teach how to cook an easy fancy dish for a dinner party, and buck up one lucky guys’ self esteem. He invariably lives in ill-fitting cargo shorts and a house filled with light up beer signs.
Yes, the show plays on the stereotype that straight men are so busy doing “man stuff” that they don’t have time for cooking and fashion and that every gay man lives in New York City and has a degree in interior design.
In the re-boot, the premise is similar, but this time the producers of the show set out to make “red states pink.” In the opening mission statement, the token British member of the “Fab Five”, Tan, says: “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.”
It accomplishes far more than that. The show reaffirms that despite the divisions in this country, we are all human, and we all need love. The subjects are never depicted as helpless buffoons, nor are they treated as uncouth idiots; the problems that are raised are those of an unwillingness to be vulnerable or the social embarrassment surrounding the notion of self-care.
The connections made between the New York City-based Fab Five and the people they help in the rural areas of Georgia are heart-warming and grace filled. They learn as much in the process.
In episode 3, Fab Five member Karamo, who is black, has a truly open and honest conversation with “straight guy” and white police officer Cory, about the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements. This culminates in both men crying, having reached a new and emotional level of understanding one another.
Karamo says “I’m open. I’m not saying a conversation with one police officer and one gay black guy is going to solve our country’s problems, but maybe it can open up eyes.”
If you want to be reminded of the goodness of grace, watch it.
God shows up to heal our separation from one another in the most unexpected ways. Like city dwelling gay men waltzing with small town firefighters, and anti-gun liberals learning to shoot an AR-22. That’s the hand of grace. It doesn’t look how we expect it to look, but it molds us into a new creation.
Here’s what I want to leave you with:
Clay pots, no matter how imperfect, are made to be used. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says this: we’ve been saved for the purpose of good works. We are healed to be a healing.
So those of you who are broken on the ground right now: hold on. Grace is coming. Those of us who have lived through the dark night of the soul are holding that little glimmer of light for you because we know that you can’t quite see it yet. We are reminding you that the darkness will end, that God has sent out a search party for you and that you will be found. God’s grace will mold you into a new creation, one far more beautiful for having lived through what you are living through.
Kintsugi, meaning ‘golden joinery’ is an art-form in Japan that restores cracked vessels or broken ceramics with gold, leaving the piece even more beautiful than it started out. The broken places of the pottery shine with sparkling gold when they are finished.
The idea behind it is not to hide the ugliness and brokenness but instead to use gold to make it shine; to illuminate and expose the damage. And at the end of the process the piece is even more beautiful for having been broken.
So, you who are broken stop by the potter’s house. You will be put back together.
You who despair stop by the potter’s house. You will find comfort.
You who are guilty stop by the potter’s house. You will be forgiven.
You who are fearful stop by the potter’s house. You will be at peace.
You who are lonely stop by the potter’s house. You will be found.
You who are outcast stop by the potter’s house. You will be welcomed.
You who are addicted stop by the potter’s house. You will be healed.
You who are depressed stop by the potter’s house. You will find joy.
You who need mending, stop by the potter’s house. You will be hemmed in.
You who need healing, stop by the potter’s house. You will be blessed.
All who are separated, stop by the potter’s house. You are one in the Body of Love.
Give God the fragments of your broken life.
Let Love put you back together again.
Healed people heal people. Healed people heal the world.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org