All of us have had times in our lives when we have been left broken and shattered. Everyone has gaps and breaks in their lives. Everyone has been shattered by some destructive experience.
Life breaks us, in a variety of painful ways. And unfortunately we often deny it.
A friend hurts us deeply, and we retreat inside ourselves.
We lose a job or suffer a pay cut, and pretend like everything is really okay.
A spouse abuses us, but we never speak up.
We sense that we have a drinking problem, but feel too embarrassed to ask for help.
A marriage begins with intimacy and anticipation, and ends with alienation and anger.
All this is to say is that we would rather disguise our brokenness than undergo repair.
But perhaps we would reconsider such if we knew the repairs would render us not only whole again, but even more beautiful.
Well there is a method that does such to broken and shattered ceramics that can server as a model and inspiration for us.
The Japanese call it “Kintsukuroi” (keen-tsoo-koo-roy).
We would translate it as: “Golden repair.”
“Kintsukuroi” or “Golden Repair” is what Japanese artists do when a precious piece of pottery has been broken.
How it works is that lacquer resin is mixed with powdered gold, and then the glue like resin is used to put the broken pieces together.
The end result is a pot with cracks in it, but the cracks are filled with gold.
Such restoration creates a gorgeous piece of art and makes a spiritual statement.
The art of “Kintsukuroi” asserts that breakage and repair is part of the unique history of an object, and not just something that a person strives to deny, or if it does happen, disguise.
Imagine such a thing—our brokenness not hidden, not disguised, but rather displayed for all to see.
But not displayed so that others can gawk or pity, but illuminated for all to see that that which was broken has been made whole again.
“Kintsukuroi.” Golden repair. Brokenness into beautiful wholeness.
The apostle Paul knew, better than most, the significance of brokenness in the life of faith.
In II Corinthians he complained of a thorn in the flesh, calling it, “a messenger of Satan [sent] to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.”
We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s thorn— it could have been chronic eye problems, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, a speech disability or some kind of temptation. It could even have been a person, someone who did him harm— we all know people like that!
But whatever it was, Paul’s thorn caused him a lot of pain, and rendered him broken.
He would go on to say, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”
Jesus did not remove Paul’s thorn, but promised to fill his broken places with grace.
That grace, which is nothing less than the gift of Christ’s own self, is the most powerful kind of golden repair.
Paul actually boasts of his cracks and his gaps, because he knows that Christ can come into him only if there is an opening, saying, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Finally, he concludes, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
In all of this we see how Paul experienced God’s “Kintsukuroi,” God’s “Golden Repair.”
Whenever we invite Christ to fill our breaks and knocks, then He works powerfully in us and through us to turn our brokenness into beautiful wholeness.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we roll over and allow ourselves to be pummeled by the things that break us.
But it does mean that we allow Christ to enter our places of brokenness and help us face the hardship of life without giving up or losing our sense of personal worth.
It means moving through the calamity of life without feeling that all is lost.
The Apostle Paul was weak—he admitted such.
But by doing so he invited, and allowed, the presence and strength of Christ in; believing that he would be made stronger and more beautiful in having done so.
But the transformation didn’t end with just Paul.
It would actually resonate beyond him to others…even us.
This brings us to our text for today.
In Acts, the apostle Paul travels to Ephesus, which is modern-day Turkey.
There he finds twelve disciples, and asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
They reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
These disciples might be disciples, but they are clearly broken. Not only have they not received the Holy Spirit, they don’t even know that it exists!
They answer, “Into John’s baptism.”
And suddenly Paul understands.
Paul explains, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Paul knows that John baptized with water, while Jesus baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” as outlined in Luke 3.
On hearing this, the disciples are baptized in the name of Jesus, and when Paul lays hands on them the Holy Spirit enters them. Immediately, they speak in tongues and prophesy, just like the first Christians on the day of Pentecost.
Suddenly, the gaps in the lives of these disciples are filled, and they are made whole as disciples of Jesus.
But notice that there is no attempt to deny or disguise their deficiencies.
Instead, God fills their broken cracks with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, making them stronger and more beautiful.
By acknowledging and accepting their brokenness, by seeking out wholeness, they were able to become true Disciples of Christ—exactly what God wanted them to be, and exactly what they themselves wanted to be.
Several decades ago, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin delivered a sermon to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City.
It was, however, just 10 days after his son was killed in a car accident
He said, “As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm … my 24-year-old son Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.
“Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: ‘The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.’”
Coffin concluded, “My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.”
Love not only begets love, it transmits strength.
That is the wonder of Kintsukuro, of golden repair.
William Sloane Coffin discovered for himself that when a terrible tragedy broke him, then the Christian community stepped in to fill him with love and strength. And he no doubt became a better pastor, and a better person, after experiencing that golden repair.
For it is in brokenness that we learn, truly, about wholeness.
It is in brokenness that we learn about ourselves and those around us.
It is in brokenness that we are able to appreciate and celebrate wholeness.
And it is in brokenness that we acknowledge, and return from, that we can faithfully and effectively help others.
At Saddleback Church in California, members are encouraged to listen to the pain of others, and to participate in small groups in which people search together for healing within the Christian community.
In that congregation, you cannot lead a small group that is focused on healing unless you have struggled with the particular brokenness being addressed by the group.
Therefore, to lead a group of alcoholics, you must be a recovering alcoholic.
To help those who are healing from the trauma of divorce, you must have had a divorce.
Members of Saddleback know that the treasure of Jesus Christ is found in fragile clay jars, so that—in the words of the apostle Paul—“It may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Most of us realize that the strongest and most beautiful people around us are those who have cracks filled with gold.
The parents of an autistic child who give valuable guidance to others in the same situation.
The AA sponsor who patiently helps a fellow alcoholic to remain sober.
The survivor of abuse who provides a lifeline to those who are being abused.
The wife of an Alzheimer’s patient who offers support to families dealing with various types of dementia.
Within all of this brokenness is extraordinary power that leads to wholeness.
Such power belongs only to God, and is delivered when people open the cracks in their lives to the golden repair of Jesus Christ.
That extraordinary power enters us when we discover that something is missing and then we ask for help— like the 12 disciples in Acts who had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.
When they agreed to be baptized in the name of Jesus, their cracks were filled with spiritual power, and they were made whole.
Each of us has cracks and gaps, so let’s not deny, disguise or hide our brokenness.
Instead, let’s allow the light of Christ to fill us, and the power of Christ to make us strong, whole, and beautiful.
For when we do, then not only will we truly be made whole again, but those around us will see that we are someone who can help them find what they need, and who they need, to empower them to move from brokenness to beautiful wholeness. Amen.