First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Holy Vessels: Shattered

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Holy Vessels: Shattered, Psalm 56:8; Psalm 51:1-12
Pastor Toni Carmer 

Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent. During the next 40 days, which does not count Sundays, we’ll be preparing ourselves for Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

During this time, we’ll be walking toward Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will give himself up for us.  

There are different ways that we can walk along with Jesus during this time: we can plan to add something to our usual routine, particular Lenten devotionals or prayers or gatherings that help us to keep our minds focused on the season, on what we’re doing.  Sometimes folks do just the opposite, they “give something up,” feeling as though that will help them focus.   It doesn’t really matter what one does or doesn’t do, really—but our desire is to be prepared.  You can’t have a great party without being prepared/without being ready, and Easter is really the party to end all parties!  We want to be ready to really celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: the ultimate expression of God’s love and grace offered for us!  And so our hearts and minds need to be ready.

We begin our preparation on Ash Wednesday, talking about Sin.

I’ve had friends in every church all along the way who have said that we United Methodists don’t talk enough about sin.  We don’t address it as completely, as thoroughly, or as critically as we ought, they’ve said.  It isn’t a concern that people aren’t DOING it, but a concern that we as a church are IGNORING it, or minimizing it, which I think is said because we don’t preach enough hell fire and damnation.  I’ve always thought—there’s so much sin and brokenness all around, what I think we need to hear, really—is about God’s love and grace, offered to us even in the midst of our sinfulness.  (For the record, brokenness I would say is a product of sin, and sometimes I use the words inter-changeably).  

But then, not all that long ago, a friend told me that sin seems to be my primary message: that’s about all he hears from me.  So, as I think about sin, and Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, I realize that perhaps what we may need to most hear tonight, is that there is an amazing IMBALANCE in how God responds to our sin. Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s the way of our world.  But that’s NOT the way of God.

We sin, yes.  We do things that separate us from God and one another.  That’s the basic definition, and I’m not going to go through a detailed definition of the different ways we sin.  What I’ve noticed, particularly in the last few weeks as I’ve looked at scripture being raised up as reason for excluding persons from the church, is that we tend to weigh other folk’s sins as greater than our own, particularly if it’s not an issue we personally deal with. For example, I may rail against my friend’s addictions to smoking, drinking, gambling and pornography if those are issues I’ve never had a problem with. But, I’d rather not talk about those sins that tempt me; we’ll just skip right over those.  That’s too personal.  That’s none of your business.

But here’s when the great imbalance becomes evident: I experience it as I repent of my sin.  When I want to be better, to be whole, to be freed, to live my life according to God’s purpose for me, God’s response is always, YES!!  God reminds me of the love that has been there all along, and God offers me grace and forgiveness.

Psalm 51 that we read tonight is a Psalm of David, as he repents of the terrible thing he did in taking Bathsheba even though she was the wife of someone else, and then killing her husband in order to “cover up” what he’s done “freeing himself” to marry her “legally” when he knows his sin will be revealed in her pregnancy.  It isn’t until David is confronted by the Prophet Nathan that the king’s sense of entitlement is shattered and he turns to God, asking for forgiveness.

God forgives him.  God’s unbalanced love was with him before he carried out this selfish act, and it remains with him.  God surely wept at David’s sinfulness and at all the grief and sadness and pain that occurred as a result of his sinning, but David is given the forgiveness he finally acknowledges he needs.   

We too, can be forgiven, for whatever we’ve done, or left undone.  Because God’s love for us is unbalanced.  God’s love tips way over on the side of grace.

You and I live in the midst of all kinds of sinfulness and pain.  Our world is a broken place.   We’ve been hurt, and we hurt others, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not.  

There is brokenness in our own hearts and minds, in our homes, in our families.  Two of my adult children have done their best to avoid each other for almost 3 years now.  They are both such good people and they’ve hurt each other with their words and actions, and I can’t seem to fix it.  But I can pray.

There’s brokenness in the church.  That isn’t a new thing, unfortunately, but our own church is front and center as the poster child of brokenness right now.

We’ve said for years that we have Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors, but that’s not what it looks like right now.  But I can pray.   

And you know what?  I don’t think it’s just the Pollyanna in me:  I still believe the Church is the hope of the world.  The church is the Body of Christ, and though it is broken, I believe that new life will come out of it.  I believe that healing can occur.  That resurrection happens.  I don’t know what God has in mind for our church, but I do trust it will be a good thing.

Out of the brokenness something new will emerge.  I’m praying.

This Lenten season, we’ll have beautiful glass bottles sitting on the communion table.  We’re calling them “holy vessels,” and when you see them, think of them as metaphors, or symbols of ourselves.  We’re different sizes and shapes and colors, we’re beautiful.  We can describe these bottles in all kinds of ways: waiting to be filled, empty, just floating along (if it were thrown into the river), fragile, easily broken.  

It’s the broken that we think about on Ash Wednesday.  Any of these bottles can be easily broken. Shattered.  But even after breaking, a bottle can be made beautiful again.  Something happens to broken glass when it’s spent time in the ocean.  When we used more glass and less plastic, and when we weren’t as careful with the ocean, but did a little more tossing of our trash into it, you could find sea glass more easily than you can today. When you find one, it can look almost like a gemstone.   From what I understand, it takes about 7 years or so, but the broken edges of the glass will eventually wear down from the movement of the sea and the sand, creating something beautiful.  I’ve brought man-made sea glass, which isn’t as beautiful or as valuable as the real thing…but I think can still be worthy reminders that God can re-create even that which has been broken into something beautiful.  It can take some time, but God is working in us and among us and around us, re-creating, and re-forming us… 

Because God’s love for us is like that.  It’s really unbalanced.