God of the Broken

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Because he loves us, God takes all of us — “broken in pieces” — and
joins us together… makes us into one body… one humanity, made alive
and whole in Christ.  That’s what we represent and celebrate when we
come together here at Heart River every Sunday.  We are the body of
Christ, loved, healed… made whole by the grace of God.

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2013
Luke 4:14-21
Peder Stenslie

Before my wife and I were married, we decided that we didn’t want television in our home.  So that’s how it’s been for the last 20 years… no television in the Stenslie home.  One interesting by-product of that decision is that no one in our family has any tolerance for t.v. commercials.

When I visit relatives or friends and watch T.V. with them, I just can’t take the commercials.  I don’t understand people how can put up with them.   And I'm struck by how crass and cynical the whole process is sometimes.  To be sure, there are some clever and entertaining commercials; but so much of it is about manipulating our perceptions or playing on our emotions so that we come to believe we need what they have to sell. 

So often, the issue isn’t, “How do we best communicate truth?”  Rather it’s… “How do we manufacture truth so that people will see things the way we want them to.

One common technique used by advertisers is to try to convince us that really cool people (winners) use their product.  So if we want to be counted among the cool — the winners — we should buy their product. 

This technique taps into the very deep and powerful human fear that we are losers — The universal human anxiety that when compared to others, we come up short.  We are not smart.  We are not good-looking.  We are not clever or funny or interesting.  We don’t measure up so therefore people won’t like us, won’t want to be with us and so we’ll end up alone.

This is a powerful fear that lurks in the hearts of pretty much all human creatures and it is the tragic source of all kinds of destructive behavior.  This fear motivates us to try to hide our insecurities and conceal our flaws and weaknesses.

This is a typically human, but incredibly tragic way of dealing with our humanity.  Change what we look like — what we  wear, how we talk, who we hang out with, etc. — in order to hide (or deny) what we really are inside.

This is not at all the way Jesus deals with the human race.  By modern standards of marketing (by any human standards at all), Jesus makes miserable commercials.  In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus announces the beginning of his ministry by reciting the words of the prophet Isaiah:

        The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
                because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
        He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
                and recovery of sight to the blind,
                        to let the oppressed go free,
        to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus declares that he has come for and he stands with the very ones most everyone else in society wants to distance themselves from — the poor, the captives, the oppressed. 

This is neither the first nor last time this declaration has been made about Jesus.  We hear it before Jesus was born, in the Magnificat of Mary: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

During his life, we hear it in his teaching — “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

We see it in the way he lived his life which completely vexed the popular and powerful people of society.  They demanded to know: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  (In other words, “If he’s so great, why does he hang out with losers?”)

And we see it in the way that Jesus died — abandoned and alone, broken in body and spirit, crucified between two common criminals.

Jesus comes for and stands with the poor and outcast.  He also teaches those who answer his call that they are called to the same life.  We learn that that is simply the way of the Kingdom of God.  Even those whom Jesus names today… the captives, the blind, the oppressed… Jesus frees, heals and strengthens them so that they too can have this light and life in them… that they too can become a part of God’s work in the world.

From a marketing standpoint, this is not an impressive strategy.  It’s not a winner message.  “Answer the call and you can be certain that you will come into the company of losers!”  I don’t think you’re going to hear a line like that during breaks in Super Bowl action this year.

The Greek word (τεθραυσμενουs) for “the oppressed” (which is used in today's Gospel lesson) means literally “people broken in pieces.”  This declares the true condition of us all.  We are all broken in pieces and deep down inside we all know it.  This is the source of our fear.

Yet something in our nature (which many advertisers owe their living to) drives us to deny or hide this problem of brokenness we all share.  I'm here to tell you, that's not a good thing.  It's not good because — contrary to what our inner fears tell us — it is precisely our brokenness that connects us to God and to all other people.  It is our attempt to deny or hide our brokenness that cuts us off from God and other people.

It's not good because it is precisely people overwhelmed with the problem of brokenness that Jesus calls to himself.  All of the Gospels record Jesus’ words: “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”

Make no mistake, Christ would gather all people to himself, but the simple truth is that only those who know and feel their own brokenness… are those who can hear and respond to Jesus’ voice and come to him as they are called.

There is, really, no way to come to Jesus except with a confession of brokenness, having emptied ourselves of all dishonesty and deception about who we are.  We need to be filled by the grace of God that forgives sins, mends brokenness, sustains weakness and creates something out of nothing.  This cannot truly happen as long as we are denying or trying to hide who we really are.

The Good News of Jesus Christ — as today's Gospel lesson proclaims — is that Jesus has come to claim all this world's losers for himself.  That's good news because we all belong to that club; so he's come for you and for me.

The Good News is that our true worth as people is not tied up in our accomplishments, our attractiveness, our cleverness, our wealth, our power or our popularity.  The key to our worth is found entirely in the love our creator has for us.  In love, he created us.  In love, he pursues us.  In love he saves us through Jesus Christ; and in love he promises to sustain us by the gift of his Holy Spirit.

The Good News is that because he loves us… he will make his light shine in us, his grace grow in us… his love live in us.

Because he loves us, he takes all of us — “broken in pieces” — and joins us together… makes us into one body… one humanity, made alive and whole in Christ.  That’s what we represent and celebrate when we come together here at Heart River every Sunday.  We are the body of Christ, loved, healed… made whole by the grace of God.

God's love, and nothing else, makes us
whole… makes us precious, makes us worth the suffering and sacrifice of his only son.  Because of God's love, we need not fear our brokenness.  We need not be ashamed of our brokenness.  We need not hide it.  Rather, we can live honestly and boldly, placing our faith and trust in the love of our Creator; and sharing all his compassion and mercy with our neighbor.