Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
November 18, 2018
Pastor Jeff Wells
Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-4, 18-19
(adapted from The Message)
Do you recognize your life in the scripture passage Sarah just read? Do you have times when you are in over your head? Do you feel sometimes like you are between a rock and a hard place? Well, this God is for you! Because the message from God that the prophet Isaiah proclaims is true. God says:
“Don’t be afraid, I have redeemed you.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you….
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end.
Because I love you and I’m about to do something brand-new…. Don’t you see it?”
Friends, our lives are filled with hardship, heartbreak, pain, and brokenness. But that is not the whole story. Another part of our story, with just as much power, is that God gives us the chance to experience our brokenness being transformed into a blessing for ourselves and for others. God meets us right there in our brokenness, lifting us, holding us up, and guiding us toward something new. And our being able to see and feel this transformation happening is a powerful part of our journey toward healing. What does it mean to be healed and blessed, not in spite of our wounds, but through them?
The image on the screen and on your bulletins is a painting of an eagle on the side of an apartment building. The painting is a mirror image of the eagle both wounded below and soaring above at the same time. That’s you and me, friends. To me, this image represents the possibility for healing and wholeness even in presence of struggles and pain. Our healing comes not through escaping our gritty, often painful reality, but in the midst of it.
I am sure that you, like me, have going through a painful break-up, a fight with someone you loved, with feeling abandoned or ignored by a friend or a relative, with feeling abused, or worse. Or, maybe you have hurt someone very badly and you feel pain and shame over what you did, but have no obvious way to repair the damage.
My younger brother, Gary, moved to New York City in 1979, when he was only 17 years old. He was a brave and precocious kid. He wanted to dance and sing and act on Broadway! And, he wanted to live in a city where, at least in some circles, you could be openly gay. I moved to New York the next year – a newly-minted revolutionary Marxist and Gary agreed to let me stay with him in his loft until I could get settled in and find work. At that time, my brother was not very political, except in a liberal way around the gay rights movement. I, of course, thought he should take a much more radical stance and I was disdainful of some of the bourgeois crowd he was hanging with. At some point I made a snide comment about some obscure member of the Luxembourg royal family he was palling around with and Gary blew up. We had a big fight and the next week he asked me to move out. I was outraged, of course. I probably called him a petty-bourgeois dilettante. That was favorite epithet among the crowd I was hanging with. Anyway, the result was that we were estranged for several years. It took time, but ultimately, I got over being indignant and came to realize how stupid I had been, how much I had hurt my brother, and how much the loss of our relationship hurt me as well. We did finally reconcile and rebuilt our relationship. But precious brother time was lost. Gary went on to be a founding board member of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus in 1982. He was an early volunteer with Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He was president of the Milwaukee Pride committee for many years in the 1990s and served on the International committee for the 25th Anniversary of Stonewall. I came to deeply appreciate his character and his commitment. Then I lost him again when he died of AIDS in 2004.
That time we had lost and Gary’s death, along with other broken relationships I have experienced, taught me to value deep and loving relationship more than always being right. It taught me to try to listen, more than expound. Now, I try, imperfectly, to model that behavior and to teach others that important lesson. I think it is part of what drove me to become a pastor. Over time, God helped me to use my painful wound to grow and to bless others through my own growth and life lessons. That doesn’t mean the wound was a good thing. God does not desire our brokenness. God does not give us hardship and struggle to make us stronger, but God does use the struggles and wound that are part of our lives in guiding us to wring the most good out of them. God helps us to redeem our pain and restore a sense of wholeness even as we continue to live with our brokenness.
“When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down,” says God.
“When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end.”
I’m not saying that God just miraculously heals all of our hurts, pain, and broken places, but God does use every possible means to help us find the light in dark spaces, to bring something good out of a bad situation, to find a way where there seems to be no way.
It may seem odd and maybe even outrageous to say there can be hurt and blessed by the same wound. “How can you say that, Pastor Jeff? My wounds and broken places are very painful. They are what keep me from experiencing the fullness of life!” Yet, in very real ways, our healing comes through, not around, our wounds.
Think of yourself as a wooden flute for a moment. You are a hollow tube with holes in it. One way to view this is you are broken. You’re no good for carving anymore. You can’t hold water. You’re broken and you can’t be fixed. Those holes can’t be repaired. But now, think of the holes in your flute as being your wounds. Your wounds are there. They are obvious. They don’t seem to be going away, although maybe they are becoming less painful over time. But now, watch this, if you cover some of the holes and blow through the flute, you can create beautiful music!
There are ways to learn to bring something good out of our woundedness. Through God’s love, through loving relationships, through loving, caring, healing community, we can learn to shift our perspective to see the holes in our flutes not as flaws alone, but as places from which we have learned, grown, and become more able to love and bless ourselves and others. God is right there with us in our hurt and in our healing – present in the “holes in our flutes” helping us to make music. Our holes don’t necessary get “fixed,” but our pain and suffering have gain meaning beyond the original wound.
God is making a road through our wilderness and rivers in our desert.
There no simple formula for wholeness, but I have some wisdom to offer:
Stay away from platitudes. They may sound good, but they tend to be simplistic. Whereas, our wounds are usually complicated and require complex and long-term healing.
Don’t seek perfection. There is no perfect person. No perfect relationship. No perfect community. No perfect society. On the other hand, do seek human connection in the best relationships and community and social systems you can find or create, because they are crucial vessels for your healing.
Remember that you are loved. Remember especially that you are loved by God. Keep yourself as open as you can to the love being offering to you, even when you don’t feel very loveable.
We humans are inclined to speak of being either wounded or healed, either broken or whole, as if these are irreconcilable opposites. But the truth is much more complex. We can be wounded and experience healing at the same time. We can be broken and still grow to the point of experiencing wholeness. Some of your brokenness never gets repaired. Some of your wounds never completely heal. But I believe there is a state of being we might call “broken wholeness.”
You don’t have to let your woundedness define you. Jesus came across a lot of wounded and broken people in his ministry. He never defined any of them based on their current circumstances or place in society or their supposed sin. Jesus never saw just the wound or ailment or disability or the demon that a person seemed to be exhibiting. He envisioned who that person could become. He could see the new person they were already in the process of becoming. God looks at each one of us that same way – seeing all the hurt and pain and brokenness, but also all of the possibility and potential we have within us. God sees the holes in our flutes, but also sees the blessings we can create out of our holes – blessings for ourselves and others. God encourages us to see ourselves the way God sees us – as full of potential and possibility. God offers us a vision of where our healing journey can lead us. This gives us the courage to keep taking the next steps.
I think of the Church of the Village as a community hole-y flutes. We all have “holes” – “wounds” – but as we strive to support and care for and love one another and as we learn together how to bring the best possible blessing out of our suffering and pain, we can become a flute ensemble, making beautiful music together. Thanks be to God for helping us find that music within ourselves.
One way we show our love and care for one another is in our recognition of Transgender Awareness Week and our honoring today in worship of Transgender Day of Remembrance. I invite Jennifer Lopez and Isaiah DuPree to join me at the table.
Copyright © 2018 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.