Broken materials, holy products

Proper 12B

In the name of God.  Amen.

If you’re on the vestry this year, you’ll remember Fr. Keith, the facilitator of our Mutual Ministry Review, saying this, but it’s worth sharing with everyone.  Fr. Keith told the story of someone saying that he didn’t come to church because there are too many hypocrites there.  The response the man received was, “there’s always room for one more.”

I thought of that again this week as I considered the lessons and the prayers for today.  In opening our worship today, the Collect of the Day began, “O God, the protector of all who trust in you….”  We started out by calling out to God through acknowledging that God is the one who protects us.  Not we, ourselves, but God.  God is the protector.

So often in our lives, we live as though we think we’re responsible for being our own protectors.  We live as though we think it’s our job, as Christians, to be perfect.  But our perfection isn’t what protects us – only God can do that.  And thank God for that!

If we were left to rely on our own perfection, we’d be in a world of trouble.  And it’s always been that way.  From the earliest stories of creation, and our ancestors’ first accounts of interacting with God, we’ve been a troublesome lot.  All the way back to Adam and Eve, we’ve been disobeying God and trying to find ways to have our own will be done, and not God’s.

And today, we read one of the more iconic stories of imperfection in the Bible, and among its heroes.  The story of David, God’s own anointed king, messing up.  He fell in love with another man’s wife – a man who was away fighting for the King and his kingdom.  In his absence, David sent for the man’s wife, and took her as his own, and together, they conceived a child.

Recognizing that he’d done wrong, his first instinct was to cover it up.  So he called Uriah back from battle to try to tempt him back to his wife, Bathsheba.  But Uriah was righteous.  He refused to enjoy the pleasures and luxuries of being home when his compatriots were still fighting and struggling.  But David’s need to hide his own faults was strong and persistent.  So he sent Uriah, his illicit lover’s husband, into harm’s way in the battle.  David wanted him to die.  All so that David could try to put his own sinfulness out of his mind.

It all sounds like a strange sort of story to read in church.  It sounds more like the kind of thing we might find in a soap opera, rather than a story of piety and spiritual health from the Bible.  But the thing is, that’s exactly the kind of person God works through: people who fail.  People who are broken.  People who aren’t quite “godly” enough.  People, just like us.

It’s not that David’s sinfulness wasn’t real – it’s not that God didn’t care.  The point of the story is that even through all of that, David – who used his power to harm and to exploit others – even David, could be redeemed to become a noble and qualified servant of God.  Even someone who had done wrong in an almost epic way, could still be an agent of God’s work in the world.

So the question becomes – why are we so hard on ourselves?  Of course we’re not perfect.  Of course we sin and fall short of the ideal God has imagined for us.  But why would we let that stand in the way of trying, anyway?  Why would we throw ourselves away, when God has made good work of so much worse?

There was an evangelical preacher in the early 20th century by the name of Vance Havner.  He was born in North Carolina in 1901 and began preaching at the age of 12.  By the time he was 16 years old, he was already ordained.  Sounds like someone who led a pretty pious life, right?  Even so, he had a clear understanding of how God could use people like David, and even people like us.  In one of his more famous quotes he said, “The church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

But another quote puts a finer point on it.  Havner said, “God uses broken things.  It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grains to give bread, and broken bread to give strength.”

God uses broken things.

And that’s the heart of that famous story of the feeding of the 5,000 that we read about in the gospel.  The community that followed Jesus was growing.  It was becoming unwieldy and getting hard to manage.  It was an imperfect lot – even so much so that it would have been impossible to even care for their most basic physical needs like nourishment.

But in the brokenness of that system – in the insufficiency – God made a way.  And not only did God make a way, but God made it into a way for people to see God at work in the world.  Through the hands and the mind and the imagination of Christ, God turned their situation that wasn’t good enough to even survive, into an example of God’s bounty and abundance and overflowing love.

Just like God did with David, God took a situation that couldn’t work, and made it work.  Just like God did with Adam and Eve.  Just like God did with the ancient Hebrew people that kept turning away.  Just like God did with the apostles, who never quite seemed to “get it”.  Just like God did with death itself.  God made a way through even that.  Just like God does with us.

We don’t come to church because we’re perfect.  We come to church because we’re not.  And because we believe that this community helps us to understand God a little better, and to live our lives a little better.

We will all fall short of the ideal that God imagines for us at one time or another.  And probably more often than that.  But God uses broken things.  That’s been the story from the very beginning, and it’s still the story today.  God keeps using broken things.  Even us.  Amen.