Have you ever broken something precious and known the sinking feeling that comes when you see it in pieces on the floor?
That was the feeling I had as I ran into the kitchen after hearing the shattering of glass on the floor. Someone had been trying to get something off the top of the refrigerator, and in the midst of their stretching and reaching they had accidentally knocked down the pottery bowl that we stored up there. I gasped when I saw it in a pile on the floor, for this wasn’t just any bowl. For one thing, this was perhaps one of the largest bowls I had ever seen, used for mixing bread by a resourceful baker. For another thing, this was a precious antique that had survived five or six moves with no mishap. But the most important thing was that this was Kay’s grandmother’s bowl, the bowl that she and Kay used when Kay was a child to mix and make bread. This was more than a family heirloom. This was a part of Kay’s childhood and a point of connection back to the family of her origin. In the pile of shattered crockery there on the floor, I also saw broken dreams and visions.
Of course, like all of us when we see something like this break, I gathered up the pieces in the hopes that we could glue the bowl back together. It would never be the same, but at least it might retain its form a bit. And the pieces currently lie in a Kroger bag in our dining room, waiting for restoration.
The problem is the glue. You see, I have tried to glue these types of things together in the past, and haven’t had great success. It takes just the right type of glue – one that is strong and durable but cures very quickly since the pieces can’t really be clamped together. Based on the TV commercials I’ve seen, it sounds like a task for Super Glue, but Super Glue never quite works like it does on TV. The pottery is too porous and if you get enough glue on the pieces to handle the porosity, then it never seems willing to dry. There’s always Elmers, but that dries too slowly and needs clamping. Rubber Cement is too messy. Gorilla Glue might work, but it’s really designed to work with wood. Epoxy is a good choice but it sets up so fast when mixed that you have to be Houdini to get the thing back together before the glue dries.
What I need is a particular kind of glue . . . the kind developed just for this kind of problem. It’s a glue with a high viscosity, pulling the pieces together quickly, but with enough flexibility to allow me to slide the pieces into place. It is a glue designed for repairing pottery, and while there are many, many different types of glue on the market, it is THIS glue that I need to buy . . . and will when I get the time.
Now it is popular to say today that we live in a broken world, shattered in the cosmos, in need of repair. The world that we live in seems out of control, fractured and convoluted.
It wasn’t that long ago that everything seemed alright with the world. In fact, for many in this room, there is a memory of simpler times – times in which our world seemed whole and centered. We found comfort in common ways of thinking, common institutions, a common story of who we were. Yes, there were dangers in the world, things we learned about at school when we were told to “duck and cover” or by hearing Senator Joe McCarthy pontificate on the television, but these dangers didn’t stand a chance in the face of our common identity as Americans, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
But then, almost without warning, this foundation, the center point of our identity in this world, began to come apart. People began to reach and search for new things, ideas and concepts that they couldn’t quite see. They began to ask questions of the things that centered us and held us together, and as they did, we began to realize that our commonality was more illusion than fact. In that knowledge, we found ourselves falling down a precipice as the world around us began to change . . . faster, and faster, and faster . . . until we found the stories and institutions that had held us together in the past broken and in a pile on the floor.
Nowhere has this story been more true than in the church, especially those churches like the United Methodist Church. Back in our more certain days, we were called “mainline” churches, for we were rooted in the center of our community’s story. Our lives rotated around the institution of the church, a world built on common programs and common stories around which we built our lives. These were stories about the nature of progress and God’s manifest destiny, a belief that the “Protestant Work Ethic” was part of the biblical story. But then, as the rest of our world began to fall into chaos and uncertainty, the church likewise found itself in a free fall. The assumptions upon which we had built our lives together no longer held the same meaning for a new generation built on television and technological change. Our communities became fragmented and folks moved from the neighborhoods of their childhood to the suburbs and bedroom communities outside the city in search of that simpler life, and as our communities became fragmented, so too did the church which had become nothing more than a reflection of the world around it.
William Butler Yeats, the great poet, said it well at the end of World War I: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” And as we look around us, we can see the fragments of a world that used to be, a pile of hopes and dreams that seem never to be put back together again.
In the face of this mess, we try all sorts of ways to glue our world (and our church) back together again.
Some of us try political ideology. We think that if we simply choose the right candidates, create the right laws, or create the right climate in our world, the pieces will stick back together and all will be right with the world. So called conservatives and liberals see different ways of putting the pieces back together again, but their goals are generally the same, the restoration of a way of being that was once here but is now gone. Yet, as we continue to discover, our political ideologies drive us further and further apart as we bicker back and forth over which piece of the puzzle goes where, until we find ourselves more broken than when we started.
Others believe that our world can be centered in the marketplace, allowing commerce and the acquisition of stuff and ideas to be the common story around when we build our lives. “Let the marketplace work it out,” we say, and so we begin to structure our world around buying and selling, becoming consumers of all things and laying aside our creativity and compassion at the feet of the pile of gold that we think will give our lives meaning. The church as a whole has been especially taken by this was of thinking, trying to remake itself for a culture of “church shoppers,” believing that all will be right with the world if we simply have the right children’s program, or a charismatic pastor who makes people feel good. Yet, like a kid quickly learns when they purchase the trinket seen on TV, the good feelings that come from commerce don’t last. The things we buy always seem to break – they’re disposable, and become out of date in just a few weeks or months. The marketplace promises to make us whole, but we have learned that these promises are hollow, and do little to provide a foundation upon which to build our lives.
We aren’t alone in our desire to put back the pieces of our lives, to find a center point around which our lives rotate. The letter to the Colossians was written to a community that was dealing with many of the same issues. There was great uncertainty in the world as the world view around which so many had built their lives was changing. And, in the midst of that radical change, the people in Colossae, even those who had become a part of that new church, were engaged in all sorts of activities and practices in the hope of putting back together the broken pieces of their world.
Paul, the apostle to these new churches in a broken world, doesn’t give them a new program or a new structure to help them in the midst of their brokenness and uncertainty. He doesn’t try to get them to take on a particular political ideology. He doesn’t suggest that they can soothe their discomfort with some object bought in the marketplace.
No, Paul sings them a song.
It doesn’t sound like much, does it? After all, what can a song offer in the face of a world as broken and fragmented as ours?
But this was a special song, a song of hope, a song of understanding, a song to sing when the world is broken. It is a song the reminds us that in spite of what we might feel, there is a glue that can stick the pieces back together, holding them tight and helping us to hold on to our dreams and hopes. It is a song as old as time, but a song that never goes out of date.
It is a song about Jesus . . . It is a song with a tune that never goes out of style, a song that stirs in our heart memories of a life unbroken. This “teaching” of Paul’s was a hymn to the one who draws all things together and is the center of our being. From the beginning of time, through all the various ebbs and flows of life, this God-Man Jesus has been with us, gluing the broken pieces of the world back together, creating wholeness out of our brokenness. He was the one who created us in the beginning, and has the vision of who we are to be in the future. And, as Paul so eloquently sings to us, it is in Christ that all things hold together.
Friends, it is easy during these days to look for all sorts of things to deal with our broken lives, our broken communities, our broken churches. There are any number of voices that will tell us what we must believe, or what we must buy or what we must build to make our lives whole. These voices claim that they have the right glue that will take the broken pieces and put them back together again.
But, as Paul sings to us, there is only one kind of glue that has the power of bringing together the fragments of our lives and our world, and that glue is Jesus.
It’s a simple song, not especially complicated.
But it’s only when we begin to sing it together, recognizing Jesus as the center of our lives that we begin to see that the world isn’t nearly as broken as we thought. No, it is whole because Christ makes it so, pulling everything together better than it ever was before.
Don’t you think it’s time that we sing this song together, so that we might never forget who is at the center of all things?
Sing these words back to me as I sing them…
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things,
and he holds all things together.
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.