Materials for Worship 12th February

Nerys writes: The other day I accidentally broke the handle of my favourite mug as I was doing the washing up. How ironic I thought, breaking my beloved cup during a week when I was reflecting on readings which are all about dealing with our struggle to live well with our brokenness.

The children of Israel had grumbled and bickered in the wilderness for forty years. Even now, after they had been given God’s Law, and the Promised Land was in sight, they continued to be fractious, causing Moses in his final words to them to set out a stark choice between good and evil. life and death. ‘Love God’, he urges them in Deuteronomy 30.15-20. ‘Walk in God’s ways. Keep God’s Law so that you will live and be blessed by God, otherwise you will be cursed and you will die.’

When Jesus came, nothing had changed. His people were as dysfunctional as ever. As he delivers his new interpretation of God’s Law to his disciples, his uncomfortable teaching in Matthew 5.21-37, connects everyday thoughts and feelings with actions which can destroy lives, families, communities. Human brokenness often leads to broken relationships, sometimes with catastrophic results: lack of trust can lead to litigation, lustful feelings can lead to adultery, angry thoughts can lead to murder.

Jesus came to fulfil the Law, bringing freedom to those ready to follow him. But in 1 Corinthians 3.1-9, we see that even within the Church, nothing had changed. The Christians of Corinth were at loggerheads, their community riven by jealousy and quarrelling, causing Paul to speak to them like children rather than mature believers.

Two thousand years later, nothing has changed. Today, Racial Justice Sunday marks 30 years since the death of Stephen Laurence as the result of an unprovoked racist attack in London. Since his murder, at least another 96 young people have died in similar attacks in Britain. In our society, nothing has changed. We continue to live in communities fractured by prejudice and hate. We live within broken social systems, led by broken people, and the Church is no exception to this.

In our culture we tend to throw broken thing away, however precious they have been to us. In Japan though, there is an ancient art called Kintsugi. The word means ‘to repair with gold’. Broken pottery is put together again and a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum is used to fill in the cracks. The restored vessel is considered to be even more beautiful, more valuable and stronger for having been broken.

I haven’t done any golden repairs on my mug, but I have been reflecting this week on  the way God cherishes me despite my brokenness, despite the cracks, bruises and scars which sometimes cause me to hurt others.

Rather than tossing people aside because they are damaged, God pulls them closer and restores them. During their long years in the wilderness, Jehovah Rapha, ‘the God who heals’ had ministered to the broken people of Israel. When Jesus came, he gravitated towards those in need and mended them. physically and spiritually. Today, just as the shimmery gold binds the broken pottery giving it beauty and new worth, Christ continues to heal the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds and making them new again. Christ redeems our lives. When we live in Christ who is Love, his strength and his beauty shine through our cracks enabling us to bring about healing in others.

Baptism reminds us of all of this. When we renew our baptism promises, we acknowledge our brokenness and turn to Christ. We make the choice Moses is talking about. We express our decision to renounce evil, to repent of sin, to follow Christ. We choose life. We do this, not in our own strength but standing with Christ. And again, when we express our commitment to live the Christian life following God’s call, we do so, not in our own power but in the power of Christ. As Paul pointed out in his letter, God is the one who gives spiritual growth. We make our promises acknowledging that we’re completely dependent on the help of God to fulfil them.

At baptism we become ‘co-workers in God’s service’, part of God’s Church, a community of broken people who are in regular need of restoration. Together we are Christ’s body, a broken, wounded body through which God’s Spirit works, bringing healing, hope and joy to the world. When we wonder who we really are or doubt that our lives are worth much, when we see only our limitations and dwell on our failures, when we struggle with self-destructive habits, baptism reminds us of who God has called us to be.

On the internet you can find many sayings attributed to famous people which they almost certainly never uttered or wrote. Among these is the claim that Martin Luther said, ‘Every day when you wash your face you should remember your baptism’. This doesn’t really match the reality of 16th century hygiene when daily washing wasn’t practised, but it does chime with Luther’s thinking about the central place of baptism in the life of the Christian. Here are some things that Luther really said:

Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps.
In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.
Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: ‘But I am baptized!’

This week we pray in particular for all those who have been affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria as we look for ways to work together to help mend lives and communities broken by the disaster.

Almighty and everliving God, whose Son Jesus Christ healed the sick and restored them to wholeness of life, look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your power make whole all peoples and nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen