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Broken Open, Part I How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
September 11, 2016

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Television will offer us opportunities to relive the events. The world has grown seemingly more dangerous and overwhelming in the intervening years. Many of us come to church in hopes of finding comfort in the familiar stories, in a faith that has sustained us for a lifetime. But what comfort can we gain from Jesus’ parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and an Empty Bucket?

Luke puts the first two stories in the context of challenging the scribes and Pharisees to realize that God values the lost and the needy. We know that this is true. We feel affirmed in our values when we hear the stories this way. Most scholars now agree that these parables, like most of Jesus’ parables, were meant to give us a window into the Kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God? Jesus says that it is like…a man searching for a lost sheep. The kingdom of God is like …a woman searching for and finding her lost coin. The parable of the empty bucket, found only in the Gospel of Thomas, written at the time of the other gospels and considered a genuine parable of Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is like a woman realizing her bucket it empty.
Thomas 97: “The Kingdom of God is like a certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking on a road still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her on the road. She did not realize it. She had noticed no accident. When she reached her house she set the jar down and found it was empty.”

The Kingdom of God is present in the ordinary!

The shepherd may be a grand figure to us, a reminder of King David and Jesus as the Good Shepherd, but he was also just a shepherd, looking after his sheep. His job was smelly and isolating. He really couldn’t afford to lose even one of his sheep. Jesus reminds us that the small things that matter to us, matter to God.
The woman searching for her lost coin, worth just a laborer’s wage for a single day of work, matters to God too. God rejoices with us when we have enough for our daily bread! The kingdom of God is not about winning the lottery; it is about the ordinary needs of our daily lives.

The woman who carries a bucket with a broken handle and learns too late that her grain has spilled is also part of the kingdom of God. She realizes her emptiness. She is broken open by life and begins to see her absolute dependence on the holy to provide for her. Thomas is the most mystic of gospels. He asks us to see the sacred in the empty, difficult, hard times of our lives.

Today I ask you to walk with me into what Zen Masters would call “Beginner’s Mind,” as we begin a three-part journey into being Broken Open! Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ begins with these words:
         “In the middle of the journey of our life
               I found myself within a dark wood
              Where the straight-way was lost.”
To be human is to be lost in the woods!

We are broken open by life’s most challenging experiences, whether it be emotional pain, loss, health challenges, the fear and anxiety of this present age is with us and needs to be acknowledged. It was present in the time of Jesus big time too! These are the ordinary experiences of life that Jesus addressed in his parables. And the Kingdom of God can be found in the midst of them!

We tend to think that our work is to rise above life’s challenges to become more holy, to see Heaven or the Kingdom of God as “Up there/Out there/In the by and by.” Jesus offers us another way. He asks us to dare to be fully present to our own emptiness, to search for those parts of ourselves that are lost and weak and hidden, to share our deep need with others so that they can rejoice with us when we find what we are looking for, to realize we are not human beings learning to be spiritual; we are spiritual beings learning to be human!

The poet Rumi puts it this way:
“Learn the alchemy true human beings know: The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.”
The Kingdom of God is within you!
There is an ancient story told about the death of the Buddha that speaks of being broken open. It tells of his cousin Ananda who was at the Buddha’s side when he died. He was weeping bitterly and his companions were upset with him. They felt he shouldn’t feel bad about the Buddha’s passing as he was fully enlightened and all was well. But Ananda wasn’t weeping for his teacher, he was weeping for himself. After 40 years of being with his cousin and practicing and learning he was still stuck in his own stuff. So he wept hard and long through the night. It is said that he experienced enlightenment himself that very day.

But here is a story a little closer to home. I have a dear colleague Linda, who was head of chaplaincy at Mission Hospice until she retired in May. I was totally impressed with how well she managed the transition of moving to Illinois to be closer to her family. She bought a new house, settled happily into her new life and only then received the devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She had surgery. It went well. She expects a full recovery. Blessed be! But now she is angry. Now she can dare to feel her feelings. She has always taught her chaplains that there is no wrong emotion, that we need to feel what we feel and then it can change. In supporting those in transition at the end of their lives this is key, but it is always true wherever we are in life. We must feel in order to heal.

Of course, some emotions can get us in trouble. I have a friend who struggles with a nasty case of road rage. He has realized this is not good for his health. Now that he is aware of it he wants it to stop, but it is a habit that is so automatic he doesn’t know how to change. This is where the powerful wisdom of the Twelve Steps offers the Christian wisdom of the ordinary way.

We begin with acceptance ~ “Step One: Admitted we were powerless over...and life had become unmanageable.” When we can accept how we really feel, where we really are in our lives, God can begin to work with us.

We can come to believe in the presence of the Holy, the Sacred, by whatever name we may call it, which is “Step Two: Came to believe in a power great enough to restore us to sanity.” This is the power that lives at the center of our being as the core of who we really are as children of God. This High Self is too often ignored in favor of the ego and its constant chattering that we have to do everything the hard way. It is a process of coming to believe in who we really are that is the beginning of transformation.
Then we decide to begin: “Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.” We do this moment by moment, one day at a time. And when we do, transformation becomes a way of life.

Jesus’ parables this morning invite us into the transformative power of this present moment. In the ordinary experiences of our lives, extraordinary things are possible. We need to be willing to search out the lost and vulnerable parts of ourselves that have been beaten down by the overwhelming demands of our too busy lives. We need to accept, even value, our emptiness, as the beginning of wisdom, as the place that the Sacred can fill with Holy meaning.

It is in our brokenness, our emptiness, our neediness, that God can work miracles.

I love the words of Anais Nin in our Quiet Meditation this morning:
“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
Was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Now is the time to risk being opened, even broken open!

Carly Simon assures us “there is more room in a broke heart.”
Leonard Cohen declares:
“Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering /
There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in.”
And I would add, that’s how the light gets out! You are a shining star, full of God’s wholeness waiting to be recognized, honored and cultivated. This is the work of transformation and change.

And Elizabeth Lesser reminds us:
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”

May we open are hearts and minds to the ordinary challenges and broken places within us that can be the seeds of our transformation. May we be broken open this day to God’s abiding presence and love. And may we be there for each other in our vulnerability and need, rejoicing with one another as we find our way. Amen.