The following is a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 3, 2014 — the day I announced to the church that I had resigned from my position and would be leaving them at the end of the month. I thought the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the day was a timely reminder that brokenness is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God uses brokenness beautifully and without fail.
“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”
— Matthew 14:19
When you think of the word “blessed,” what normally comes to mind?
Do you think of being in a place in your life where everything is running smoothly? Does it mean that things are perfectly in place, or at least on their way? Does it mean that you and everyone around you is healthy, happy, and prospering? Does it mean your career or your business is going well? Does it mean your friendships are in good places? Does it mean your love life is en pointe? Your marriage is thriving? Your schooling is going well?
I think if any of these things are in place, we would consider ourselves blessed. If we were to Tweet or Facebook about anything like this, we would probably include the hashtag “#blessed.” In fact, I know some of you who have!
But is being blessed an end to which we should strive? Is it a final destination? Do we work, pray, and work some more to arrive at the land of “blessed”? Or is being blessed just the beginning? Is it a precursor to something else? Rather than being a destination, is it instead a starting point? What if something comes after being blessed?
I would submit that being blessed is not in fact a destination; is only part of the story. It is just a beginning of any story that makes up the anthology of our faith journey. Whenever you sit back, take inventory of your life, and conclude that you are blessed, just prepare yourself. Something will come after that.
I notice in the gospels that Jesus has a habit of blessing things and then breaking them. Our text this morning is a prime example of that. Jesus thought he was going on vacation, but it turns out a lot of people needed him. But instead of saying, “I’m taking a break, leave me alone,” he had pity on the crowds and healed their sick. But it was getting late, and the disciples, being the pragmatists they were, suggested that Jesus send them away so they could get some food. Jesus had another plan — they would feed the crowds with the two little fish and five measly loaves they had among them. And he began this dinner party by blessing the loaves. Then, he breaks them.
Unless they were gigantic loaves, theologically, I must deduce that the only way five loaves of bread could feed 5,000 men (not including the women and children) is because they were blessed. They were first lifted to heaven and blessed, but even though they were blessed they were still useless. In order to be useful, the loaves had to be broken. They had to be broken so that they could be distributed to all those people. They had to be broken so that the blessing could be shared.
It’s good that we folks of faith know that the only way we can do the things we do is because of God’s blessings. It’s important to understand that if we enjoy any measure of health, financial security, career success, or any other such enjoyments, it’s because we’ve been blessed to do so. But being blessed by itself is useless. We must then be broken.
A story comes to mind of when I was in 5th grade. One of the school teachers was about to go run an errand and our teacher asked her to bring back a Kit Kat bar for her. So after our teacher stepped out of the classroom, we children had the idea to sing the Kit Kat jingle when she came back. We didn’t really want the candy. We just wanted to make her laugh. So when she came back in the room, we all broke out in song.
“Give me a break. Give me a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.”
Thinking we were so clever and funny and seeing her smile, we counted it as a success. But then something happened. She actually got up from her desk and proceeded to walk around the classroom and break us each off a piece of her Kit Kat bar! You should have seen the looks on our faces! And then she returned to her desk and ate the last piece just as contently as if she’d had the whole thing to herself.
I remember being amazed because as a ten-year-old chocoholic, there’s no way I would have done the same thing! Even at 35, I’m not sure I would share my chocolate with any of you! But she did, and she seemed happy about it, not sad about all the chocolate she was going to be missing out on.
I think we’re reluctant to be broken because we’re afraid of what we’ll be missing when it happens. When we’re broken in our relationships, we’re afraid of missing out on the times we used to share with those people. When we’re broken financially, we’re afraid of losing what we worked so hard for and what God blessed us with. When churches are broken — and they often are — we’re afraid that it will mean decline and the end of the faith tradition.
But the fact is God is especially good at using broken things. It’s in that brokenness that God can spread you out among those who need you. Perhaps losing a job means you can now volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or be more present with your family and friends. Perhaps a fractured relationship means that new ones can be fostered. Perhaps a major disappointment means you can comfort someone else in the midst of their own. God does not break things to leave them broken. Being broken is actually a sign that you’ve been blessed, and now the blessing’s reach has to go beyond you.
That was Jesus’ pattern; to bless things only to break and distribute them. That was the path of his own life, to be broken on the cross only to get up on Sunday will all power in his hand. And with that in mind, thank God for brokenness! Thank God that he was crushed with pain. Thank God that he was wounded for our transgressions. Thank God that his punishment made us whole, because without his wounds — his brokenness — we could not be healed!
Brothers and sisters, wherever it may occur, do not fear the brokenness. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, it presents some uncertainties. But trust in God’s willingness and ability to work in it. Trust that there will be beauty for ashes. Trust that where there is weeping one night, joy will indeed come in the morning! Trust that God will never leave nor forsake you. Trust that you are blessed — even and especially when you are broken! Amen.