A sermon based on John 1:1-3a, 14-18 and John 17:1-11 preached on June 1st, 2014.
My mother is a crafty woman.
Throughout the years, she’s turned raw materials into artistic pieces—from painting pottery to making her own beads, stenciling on walls, to her newest love of making her own jewelry and painting wine glasses.
Her craft interests seem to go through phases. A few years ago, she was into mosaics. There were containers of grout sitting on the floor of her craft room.
Wherever she went, she had her eye out for ceramic plates and glassware that she could take home and promptly smash into pieces to begin her new project—like a hot plate or a side table for the patio.
Once she was flying home from a business trip. I forget where to, but while she was there she was shopping and she found some perfect plates for another mosaic project. She couldn’t fit them in her suitcase, so she carried them with her, (this was before 9/11 when everyone became paranoid by 50 some-year old women carrying dishware onto planes) and while going through security, she dropped her bag of plates on the floor, and they shattered into pieces in front of her.
There were a couple women there who helped her pick up all the shattered pieces. They felt sorry for her that she made it all this way with those plates intact only to break them at the airport. The women expressed their concern out loud to Mom. My mom replied, “That’s ok. I was going to break them when I got home anyway.”
The women laughed when my mom explained this to them. Perhaps they thought she was just saving face—telling a story to try to cover up her disappointment that she broke her plates. What good are broken plates anyway? Why is anything smashed into pieces worth holding onto? Who’s happy carrying around shattered pieces of glass? What good could ever be made out of something broken?
At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus is still with his disciples somewhere in the middle of washing their feet after sharing the Last Supper with them and going out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
This passage is just a glimmer of a much longer prayer that Jesus prays in the company of his disciples. What we hear in these words is Jesus praying for his disciples—he prays that even though he will no longer be with them, they will continue to be guided by God. Jesus has done as much as he could to show the disciples the way—the way to live, the way to walk, how they should love, and how to glorify God in all they do. And through this prayer, Jesus seems to suggest that everything he’s done and absolutely everything that he is—every aspect of his ministry—has only been for one purpose: to do God’s work and to point beyond himself to God, not to draw attention to himself, but to be a signpost that points beyond himself and towards God.
Jesus lived so that others could see the glory of God shining through him. Jesus came among us to reflect God’s radiance—to be a window through which people can look and see what God is like. And in this prayer, Jesus prays that we too may live to glorify God’s name and reflect God’s radiance. That we too would be transformed into windows—glass through which God’s light shines, so that all who know us will be able to see God’s glory through us.
Jesus was the perfect image and glory of God—a perfectly clear window through which God was on full display.
The rest of us are broken pieces of glass who, at best, reflect God’s image imperfectly and God’s glory dimly. But still, God can use our brokenness. God can take the shattered pieces of glass that we are, meld us together and make us into something that reflects God’s glory. More than that though, Jesus prays that we would be made one to reflect the glory of God’s name more fully.
Together, we are like a stained glass window. Individually we are jagged pieces—incomplete and unremarkable, reflecting God’s glory dimly and only in fragments. But when put and pieced together in community, we are made into an entirely different thing. When we are put together by God and illuminated by the light of God’s glory, we become something else entirely, something that tells a sacred story and reflects God’s light a whole lot brighter.
In just a matter of weeks 1,000’s of Presbyterians from all over this country will convene in Detroit for our denomination’s General Assembly. Your former pastor and a good friend of mine, Jim Musgrave will be one of five from our Presbytery and one of more than seven hundred commissioners who will vote on 68 overtures.
The commissioners of this 221st General Assembly have the monumental task of representing Presbyterians from all across the nation as well as those from their own presbyteries. They will prayerfully consider an overture that recommends divesting from companies whose business practices exploit Palestinians and their settlements, and are therefore deemed antithetical to the peacekeeping mission of the Presbyterian Church.
They will also consider an amendment to the book of order that would allow individual pastors and their sessions (in states that deem it legal) to decide for themselves whether or not to marry gay couples. They will also consider an overture that would change the marriage language in the Book of Order from “one man and one woman” to “two people”. These issues are thoroughly contentious. They have been in the past and no matter how the commissioners vote on them this month at GA, these issues will remain a point of debate for years. But there’s some beauty even in the midst of this contentiousness.
Two years ago current Moderator Neil Presa brought together a group of 10 Presbyterian pastors and elders, each having their own strong opinions about the gay marriage debate inside our denomination. Some of the 10 he picked are gay, while some others are quite against gay marriage. The Moderator tasked them with meeting on a regular basis. Every couple of months for the last two years they have gathered together to talk.
At first, their conversations were contentious and they wondered why they were meeting, but as time went on, they said—as they devoted themselves to praying with and for one another, as they got to know each other personally, as they shared in worship and in the breaking of bread together, the shells started coming off and they began listening to each other’s view points, each other’s fears—their concerns were shared. Whenever there was tension inside the room they dealt with it together. They told of their grief and pain to one another. You can imagine what was uncovered inside that room as they gradually opened themselves up to one another across these two years.
I’m not sure if any of the 10 have changed their mind about the issue of gay marriage after having been a part of this group, but that was never the point of gathering anyway. The point was to dialogue—to have open, substantial, honest, and prayer-filled conversation and debate with one another. To find their commonalities and shared faith even in the midst of their differences, and to come away with a more nuanced understanding of each other in a time when so many of us easily dismiss the person who thinks differently than we do.
The commissioners on the floor of GA will do something similar in two weeks. Before each vote, they will gather together for a time of prayer. They will listen closely to each other—they will hear different points of view from other speakers.
No matter how divided each vote may be, throughout the week all will gather together in worship and they will praise God with one voice. God can take our contentious viewpoints, our disagreements, and our incompleteness and make something beautiful out of us.
We are cracked pieces of glass—each one of us stained a different shade, trying our best to reflect God’s light—to have it shine through us as brightly as possible, even though imperfectly. But we only make sense when we are put together.
Once we were fragments, broken shards shining God’s light only in pieces. We have now been transformed by Jesus Christ—the one who prays for us to be made one. In Jesus Christ, we have been pieced together like a stained glass window—incomplete pieces who have been made a part of a new and whole creation. A newly created people who share one story—the story of our Savior who offers us eternal life now.
God is making something beautiful out of our brokenness.
To God be the glory!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.