In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever heard of the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, or as some people say, kintsukuri? I hadn’t until a few years ago, when a friend of mine who grew up in the far east, told me about it. As you may know, so many people in Japan love their tea and everything about it. The ritualized Japanese tea ceremony is incredibly beautiful and easily more than a thousand years old. And so not surprisingly, the porcelain bowls and teacups used for making tea are often exquisitely made and highly prized within Japanese culture. Therefore, when a beloved piece of porcelain cracks or breaks, it is often sent to a specialized lacquer artisan for repair. And this art is known as kintsukuroi.
Now what fascinates me about this art is that the porcelain is repaired in a very special way. Now in the west, in the west, if we break a piece of china, if we try to repair it at all, we try to repair it so that no one can ever tell that it was ever broken. We tried to hide the flaw to make the piece look perfect. Knowing that in reality, in the west, the value of the piece has been greatly reduced because it is now imperfect. In Japan, the kintsukuroi artist repairs the broken piece of porcelain with lacquer, delicately sealing the cracks and mending the broken pieces. He or she does this with great care and expertise, not to hide the flaw, but rather because the piece itself, whether it is broken or whole, is precious.
And what fascinates me the most about this repair process is that the last thing the artist does before the repair is complete, is to sprinkle the line of each crack and each break of the porcelain with fine gold dust so that every flaw is visible. And every flaw is golden. Japanese believe that the repaired piece is stronger, more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken. The brokenness is celebrated because it shows that the piece has been used, and loved, and that it has life. The piece is now especially beautiful and golden because of its brokenness.
In the gospels, the sick and the broken are constantly coming to Jesus. And Jesus is constantly healing people. Making people whole. Throughout his ministry, hundreds, if not thousands, of people came to Jesus wanting to be healed. And let’s not forget that Jesus himself was broken, broken by the nails of the cross and the tip of the spear, only to rise from the grave even more alive than he was before. I would say that being broken and yet being loved is a constant theme in the Bible. The question for each of us is how do we deal with our own brokenness? Do we try to hide it to appear perfectly repaired and flawless? Or do we realize that God has sprinkled our cracks and our breaks with a little gold dust, so that our brokenness might be a blessing to others? Because look around you there. The truth is there is not one unbroken piece of human porcelain in this room, nor sitting in front of a computer screen at home. We all have our cracks, our chips, our repaired pieces, our unrepaired breaks. It is literally the one thing that we have in common, we are all broken.
In our epistle for this morning, we have what is perhaps the most beautiful description of love ever written. The problem is that many of us have heard it read so often in the context of a wedding, that this incredibly important passage gets associated almost entirely with romantic love, when it is about so much more. It is in fact a description of divine love, God’s love, and it is meant to apply not only to how we love our spouse or our partner, but how we love our children, our friends, our enemies, and most importantly, for my purposes this morning, how God loves us and how we are supposed to love ourselves. Love is the most important thing in the Christian faith. Love is the reason God created the world. Love is the reason Christ was born in Bethlehem. Love lies at the heart of all of Jesus ministry. And love is the reason he gave himself up to die on the cross. Love is what raised him from the dead. And it is love, and only love, that promises to defeat death. Not only for Jesus, but for all of us. Indeed, God is love. As Richard Rohr once said, “We really were made for love and outside of love, we die very quickly”.
We were made to be loved and we were made to love. And without love we are nothing. The problem is that while the command to love is simple, a simple command that can be found just about everywhere in the New Testament, it is one of the hardest things to do. And in part, I think this is because in order to really love others, we must first be able to love ourselves, even with all our broken pieces. And in order to love ourselves, we first have to understand, and I mean, really understand, how much we are loved by God, just as we are.
As James Finley once wrote, and I love this, quote, “We can say that the deepest question of my life really is not what my father or my mother thought of me, or what my husband or my wife thinks of me, or what my pastor or my boss thinks of me. Really the deepest issue isn’t what I think of me, but can I join God in knowing who God knows me to be? Can I join God in seeing Who God sees me to be when God sees me? … and you know what?… what God says is ‘I am in love with you. I am so in love with you that I am utterly giving myself away [to you] as invincibly precious in my eyes. In the midst of the unresolved matters of your heart, I find in these unresolved matters no obstacle to how infinitely precious you are to me, as I pour out and give myself to you, life of my life…”
One of the things I admire most about AA is that the whole program hinges on the broken healing the broken. Recovering alcoholics, or narcotics anonymous drug addicts, working the program. They never hide who they are from each other. In fact, they do just the opposite. They use their own experience, their own admitted powerlessness when it comes to drugs or alcohol, to help others begin their own recovery. Those in recovery have found strength in admitting their weakness and they help others to do the same. They are valued by each other just as they are. And they are loved by their higher power in spite of their brokenness. In a similar way, I am always so deeply touched when someone who has struggled with cancer takes it upon him or herself to reach out and support someone else who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. I am touched and inspired when someone who has known the devastating loss of someone they love, who then reaches out to support someone else who has just experienced a loss of their own.
That’s what Henry Nouwen, the great spiritual writer and teacher meant, when he said that we are supposed to be God’s wounded healers. I believe in the healing power of God. And I have witnessed it countless times in my ministry. Our God specializes in his or her own brand of kintsukuroi. If we can accept that we are loved as we are. If we can see ourselves, as God sees us, then we have a little room and a little strength in our hearts to share love with others. If we will allow it, God can make, can take, some of the worst that has happened to us, and turn the damaged and broken parts of ourselves into powerful tools to bless others. That’s what God did with Jesus after the crucifixion, when he raised his broken body from the grave. The idea is not to hide our brokenness as if it doesn’t exist. Rather God wants us to know that we can be stronger because of it. And that we are loved in spite of it.
Friends, many of us have experienced some kind of trauma because of this pandemic. We have lived in fear. We have felt lonely, confused, depressed, adrift. Many of us have lost someone we love because of COVID 19. As a result, we are all rather raw and sad or down about ourselves and our world. But the deeper truth is that we are all precious and beautiful in God’s eyes. In the eyes of this artist who created us. We may have our fair share of cracks and breaks, but we are beloved. The question is, can we accept God’s love for us, and thereby in turn love ourselves? Can we see our own sufferings, our own imperfections, our own failings, as more than burdens to bear, but as gold dusted blessings to share? Can we allow them to be the means by which we bless the lives of those around us? Can we be God’s wounded healers? Amen.