How the light gets in

Readings
Jeremiah 31.31–34
Hebrews 5.5–10
John 12.20–33

Kintsukuroi means “to repair with gold”. When a ceramic pot or bowl breaks, an artisan puts the pieces together using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, then it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection. Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken.

_______________

It’s a bit old-fashioned now, but perhaps you’ve heard of someone being called ‘a jeremiah’. A jeremiah is someone who complains all the time or expects things to go disastrously wrong. A jeremiah is a thoroughgoing pessimist whose glass is always half empty.

We get this name from the biblical prophet called Jeremiah, who is also called ‘the weeping prophet’.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, God gave him a commission. God said (Jeremiah 1.9–10):

Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak. Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

It was Jeremiah’s job to prepare the people of Israel for the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and for the exile that they would face in Babylon once Jerusalem was gone. He was the weeping prophet because he did a lot more uprooting and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, than building and planting.

But today, we see that Jeremiah could indeed build and plant hope within the people:

The Lord says, ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant.

God had made a covenant with Israel when they left Egypt. It was epitomised by the Ten Commandments. God gave the commandments to them as a path to life, but time after time they broke the covenant.

Though God’s heart is broken by the people’s sin, God offers a ‘new’ covenant:

The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.…’

I read once about how some Jewish rabbis read this verse. They asked, Why does God write the law on our hearts? Surely it would be better if God wrote the law within our hearts?

Surely, that would be a better place. What good is it to write the law on the outside of our hearts, and leave the inside untouched?

I like the way these rabbis thought.

As they pondered this, they understood that a heart that loves is a heart that risks being broken. It may be broken by the weight of our own sin, broken by the mistreatment of others, broken by the injustice of the powerful and wealthy against the poor and powerless.

Once a heart was broken, once cracks appeared, the law could seep in between those cracks and get inside the heart.

Psalm 51 says,

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

When a heart is broken and it turns to God, then God’s law can enter in between the cracks.

This reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there’s a crack in everything
that’s now the light gets in.

A dear friend of mine had a real gift of flower arranging, and I used to look forward to her arrangements over the Three Days of Easter. In 2012, she used a cracked pot, which is captured in this painting. The pot is by the cross; the life and light and love of Jesus can enter through the cracks, and by Easter Day they have indeed entered: the pot holds a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Cracked pot 1

Art by Rev Dr Geraldine Wheeler

My friend died in early 2014; she had no idea in 2012 that she was sick. No one did.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.

That’s what he was about to do, but we must also respond to those little deaths that come to us, the the things that break our hearts:

Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.

Sometimes, good people get worried or they doubt themselves or their faith when their hearts feel like they may break.

My friend had the right instincts in placing her cracked jar at the foot of the cross on that Good Friday. And then in placing the self-same pot with the flowers on Easter morning.

Because God comes into our hearts through the cracks. A cracked pot can become a thing of rare beauty.

There is a Japanese art form known as kintsukoroi or kintsugi, in which the cracks in pots are filled with gold. The pottery becomes even more beautiful because of the way the cracks were  treated.

Cracked pot 2

This pot looks useless. You’d be forgiven for throwing it away. What else can you do with rubbish like this?

Well, you can make it into a thing of great and rare beauty:

Cracked pot 3

Even really wide cracks can be made beautiful:

Cracked pot 4

Hearts can and do break, but if we keep our focus  on God and God’s purposes for us, then the cracks can become things of beauty. We can be made beautiful inside. Where it counts!

God doesn’t use gold though. God uses something far more precious: the grace of Jesus Christ and the outpoured Holy Spirit fill the cracks of our hearts, and allow us to respond to God’s law from deep within our hearts.

Let’s finish with a reminder of Psalm 51’s words:

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

Not only that, but God can heal and transform our broken and contrite hearts, and make us into something beautiful.

And when Jesus says,

When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me

I can’t help but wonder if we are drawn to him because

Christ has shared our pain;
Christ takes our pain into himself;
Christ will turn our pain into joy.

Amen.

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Filed under Lent, RCL, sermon

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