Sunday, December 4, 2016

Broken Shells

The last time we took a vacation at the beach, it was too cold to go into the ocean. While our sons were disappointed that they couldn't swim, one of our favorite things to do as a family was to take walks along the beach. They were nothing more than times we spent together just talking and enjoying each other's company. Our pace was not hurried or rushed. Part of that was because of our younger son, Cava. He kept his eye to the ground, looking for shells.

His hands were full of them because every broken shell was a treasure for Cava. He would walk along the strandlines with his eyes searching for shells. This meant he continually stopped, bent down, picked up fragments of shells and inspected them. It didn't matter that they were broken because he would see in colors in them (blues and purples and yellows) or see images (one reminded him of a bird's wing). When I first asked him why he was picking up shells the rest of us would ignore, he wisely replied, "Even broken shells are beautiful." (Deep wisdom from a child who spent his formative years in the orphanage system). Yet when he said this, he cause us to stop and pay attention to these broken shells, too.

And it was amazing to really see the shells. Some of them looked less like shells and more like broken pieces of pottery. We would pick them up and trace our fingers along the outer edges and in the crevices made by ocean tides. Just as Jesus told us to stop and notice the flowers of the field or the birds of the air, Cava made us do likewise. Little things that we might take for granted or would normally go unnoticed are now moments we have to discover the art that is in nature. God created all of these shelves differently. He didn't have to, but He did. He delighted in doing this. Once again, Cava help us to be amazed at the creation of God and were thankful for it: for the beauty and diversity.

These moments on the beach showed us that there is beauty in the brokenness of things. This is totally God's perspective of us. In our brokenness, in our fragmented selves, God sees uniqueness and art. That's why scripture reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I thought of our beach walks as I read the parable of the Great Banquet as its referred to in the gospel of Luke. While dining at the home of a Pharisee, Jesus says to his host, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you are repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (14:12-14).

The Pharisee must have been horrified. Invite those people into my home???

The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind were not even welcome in the Temple to worship (just read Leviticus 21:16-23). They were impure and outcasts in society. Those who had any type of disability were also viewed as being that way because of some sin (their parents or their own). These were all people who weren't welcome in cultural or religious circles. They went unwelcomed and unnoticed by all but Christ, who was showing people that God saw what the world did not and loved what the world did not. Such is the kingdom. Those whom society saw as unworthy, Christ showed were deeply worthy, deeply valuable. The outcasts are the kingdom of God. So often, those we value are not the same as whom Christ gives great worth to (Eugene Peterson translates them as "the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks"). Like my son with his shells, God loves the broken.

Psalm 34:18 reminds us, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."

Christ reminds us all that this is his purpose when he goes into the Temple and reads Isaiah 61:1, "The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners."

The parable of the Great Banquet makes me think of the passage in 2nd Samuel 9 where David, who's now king of Israel, and he inquires of his counsel, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?"  A question that would have been unheard of coming from a newly appointed king, as they tended to wipe out any trace of anyone who could have any claim to the throne. He finds out that Jonathan had a son who was crippled named Mephibosheth. No sooner does David hears this, he summons Mephibosheth to the castle. It is obvious that Mephibosheth is afraid for his life when he comes before David because David has to tell him, "Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul and you shall eat at my table always."

Mephibosheth is overwhelmed by this gesture of grace, mercy and compassion. His response is telling and heartbreaking, "What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?"

He saw himself as society saw him. He was an outcast. He was crippled and forgotten. Mephibosheth saw himself as unworthy, but the King did not. In verse 11, it states, "So Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons."

That is how Christ welcomes the unwelcomed to his table and calls them "sons and daughters of God." He shows in action 1st Corinthians 1:25, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, and the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man." God understands that true strength is in the weakness of the broken because only they are open enough to let him into their brokenness. His wisdom is in seeing that it takes broken and hurting people to love the broken and hurting of the world.

That's how we, as followers of Christ, are called to see the world. We are not to see "others" or "outsiders" or "outcasts," but those who are beloved of God and do not know, cannot see, or have forgotten this truth of grace. We are called to welcome those who our culture does not welcome to the table. But are we?

The modern American Church has been too often drawn to the allure of the powerful and the prosperous and have shaped their theology to fit it, but that's not where Christ has called us. As this parable reminds us, we are to welcome the the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We are to welcome the lonely, the hurting, and the broken.

In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

'But how?' we ask.

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” 

There are many who would shrink back from that and want to dismiss the absurdity of this. Like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (which really is about him and not his younger brother), we want to get indignant with the Father for welcoming back those we think unworthy and throwing a banquet for them on top of it all. That cannot be the way of the kingdom, but time and time again, Christ reminds us that it is. This is the plan of God.  

As we are going about our days, may we see those around us in the same way my son sees broken shells: as treasures. May we see them as worthy of a great banquets and feasts. That they are indeed worthy of a grace that none of us are truly worthy of.

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