Saints have always been part of my faith reality, in large part because as a child I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Christian tradition defines saints as people who are more like Jesus than the rest of us, which means they are almost perfect and they perform miracles. The Episcopal Church has a huge book on the saints we recognize and we celebrate one every Tuesday at the weekday Eucharist.
As a child I wondered what kind of person was so perfect in their faith that they could perform miracles like Jesus did. As an adult I’ve come to realize that being perfect is not the goal and miracles are in the eye of the beholder. I take comfort in Richard Rohr’s saying:
“We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”
The disciple Peter, for example, is a less than perfect saint. He defended his love of Jesus, but then at a critical moment Peter ran away and denied he knew Jesus. Jesus called this broken man “the rock” upon which the church was built. Jesus asked Peter to feed the sheep - which means you and me. So, we are fed by a broken saint who reminds us that even in our broken selves we too are saints. Louise Penny in her spirit-filled but secular detective novels has Inspector Gamache, her lead character, reflect on how “being broken makes one stronger.”
How is it that the message in our reading this morning from the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke gives us insight into what it means to be both broken and, perfect just as one is, an ordinary human being and a saint?
For one thing, in the Eucharist, when we tell our Christian story of how God is working in and through Jesus and in and through us, we symbolize God’s action in Jesus, God’s love, when I break the bread and we share pieces of this broken bread with one another. Being broken is holy. In Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery is broken they mend it back together with gold. The gold increases the value of the pottery and creates beautiful patterns along the broken edges. Being broken is an opportunity to be made whole in a new way, a more beautiful way. The bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ, inviting us to be made whole in God’s love.
There are many ways that we are broken, as individuals and as a parish with a 150 year history. Take for example our organ - a little over a year ago, this instrument valued at nearly a million dollars, and one of our primary assets, was failing. It was failing from age and in need of its anticipated every fifty years refurbishment. Now, after a creative and engaging campaign, the organ repairs are underway and all of the funds to repair the organ have been acquired. We came together as a congregation to raise the funds to fix the broken organ and make it whole. In the process of repairing this broken instrument we have learned much about the organ and organ music - remember the forty Sundays of mini organ concerts last year? And, the tours to the loft to see the pipes? And all the handouts on the organ? Eventually it will be back in full form and I trust that we will swell with joy when we hear it played again. In a way the refurbishment of the organ stands as another symbol, like the breaking and sharing of the bread, of how we are made better, and extend ourselves more fully, and come together more completely, through our brokenness.
There are many other ways that we break ourselves open and share ourselves. Like the people in this church who tend to our altar - making bread, setting the table, and washing the dishes. People who sing in the choir, or people who some time in its forty year history have sent their kids to Chapel Day Preschool. People who lead our Christian Formation for kids and youth and the occasional adult forums. People who work with the Evangelism Commission or Ushers, helping people find their way into this community. People who take care of the property and ensure that the building and grounds are maintained and kept beautiful. People who offer and partake in our martial arts, stretching, and dance classes. People who tend to our finances and investments and ensure that we are being good stewards of the money entrusted to this parish for our mission and ministries. People who work with the Stewardship Commission and remind us to think about God, generosity, gratitude, and practicing our faith. People who serve in Parish Life – providing coffee hour and other offerings of hospitality. People who plan our worship and lead our worship and serve on Sunday mornings as acolytes and Lay Eucharistic Ministers, people who read the lessons for us and people who take communion to people in their homes. The Vestry who, along with the clergy, discern, formulate, articulate and hold before us our mission in the world, as a Community Centered Church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes we feed people in literal ways through Blessings in a Backpack that feeds hungry kids, the food pantry that feeds hungry individuals and families, the SCHOOL project in Liberia that feeds hungry minds, the annual Holiday Market to supports local artists, and many other ways we share this building with countless people who come here every week – from AA to Creating Hope International (which is an organization that educates women in Afghanistan) to League of Women Voters to voice lessons, recitals and concerts, and many other groups and events in between.
What I hear in the beatitudes is a reminder that we are broken but we are also all blessed. Our brokenness and our blessing express themselves like gold mending the cracks when we tend to the hungry and the poor – those who are literally hungry and those who are spiritually hungry. Living an active faith does not mean that we will live perfect lives. We will struggle. Struggle with our faith. Struggle with what we believe. Struggle with whom to help and why. Struggle with those who challenge us. Struggle with those who are different. We all struggle. We are all imperfect.
When we walk to the altar in a few minutes we will offer our selves, broken or whole, just as we are, to God. You may also place your pledge card on the altar acknowledging that your gift of money is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of God’s love in our lives. Each of us here today contributes what one can in time, talent, and treasure.
So, bring yourself to this table, where the bread is broken. And in the breaking of the bread and in the offering of one’s self, may each one of us be made whole again, the body of Christ given for the love of the world.
a reflection for All Saints’ Day: Luke 6:20-31