In 1995, the Benedictine community at Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota was commissioned to develop the Saint John’s Bible. This bible is the first completely handwritten and hand illuminated manuscript since the invention of the printing press. If you open the bible you’re going to see all sorts of artist renderings of the text. If you turn to our gospel reading from Matthew chapter 5, you will see this artistic rendering of the Beatitudes.
The design is simple and yet it is insightful. On the left side you have a column that runs from the top of the page to the bottom which contain the words of Jesus. They are this brilliant gold to make them stand out. The artist wants you to notice the words. He also wants you to see how in the beatitudes, Jesus brings a heavenly blessing to one’s everyday earthly life.
But then notice the stuff surrounding the words of Jesus. It’s a chaotic cluster of letters. The letters are broken and jagged. The letters are scattered randomly in a multicolored pattern. Some are facing different directions and every once in a while they come together forming the beginning of broken words.
The broken letters all make up the same broken word. They are the same word which Jesus speaks in the gold writing. The broken word is “blessed.” As one interpreter of this page puts it, “you see blessed brokenness.” In the midst of all the brokenness, the brokenness on the page, the brokenness in the lives of Jesus’ hearers, the brokenness in our lives … the words of Jesus shine forth. What we see in this artistic rendering of the Saint John’s Bible is what Jesus does both in our Gospel reading and in our lives today. Jesus blesses brokenness.
In our Gospel reading, we’ve got Jesus sitting on a mountain top. He’s there to teach his disciples, however there are all these other people there as well. This is event takes place early in Jesus’ ministry but yet the word about Jesus and what he has done and who he is has spread. Matthew says right before our reading at the end of chapter four that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (4:23). Word is spreading about this Jesus guy and the things he can do.
But here on this mountaintop, it is not a time for healing, it is a not a time for him to do some miracle, rather, Jesus “began to teach them” (5:2). Now is a time for teaching. And His teaching, it begins in blessing. Jesus here is laying out God’s heart, He’s laying out a better understanding of God’s amazing steadfast love which He has for His people. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (5:3-4, 6).
You know, those words have always struck me as odd. It’s like you have to suffer somehow in order to be blessed. And unless you’re a paid counselor, most people don’t want to hear about that kind of stuff right? We want to know the good things going on in each other’s lives. You don’t hear people in the gym between services drinking their coffee and eating their donuts talking about how much we hunger and thirst for righteousness, with being made right with God. We don’t talk about how poor our spirit is or how much we are mourning. No. Instead we try to have polite conversations about how great things are and how things are going and how well our life fits in with what God would want me to do. It’s almost as if the church is a place where holy people gather who have their life together. When people see that or if they hear that, they get nervous coming to church. They may think that I need to clean up my act before I go to church so God doesn’t strike me down or something.
But yet, look again how Jesus starts this sermon. He starts out not with saying how much you need to straighten up before you come here, but instead, Jesus pours God’s blessing into brokenness. New life doesn’t begin with you … it begins with God.
Think of it this way. You’ve got an old plastic watering can. It’s old, it’s broken, it’s got cracks in it from being dropped or tossed one too many times. But yet, you love that old watering can and so you keeping on using it.
You go outside to water the plants. Knowing that your watering can is going to leak, you fill it to the top and go across the yard to water the flowers. As you go, that life-giving water for your flowers is going all over the place from your broken watering can.
Jesus … He knows the power of blessed brokenness. Jesus in His body is broken by the words, the whips, and the fists of those who want to kill Him. His broken body is made to carry His own cross through Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Calvary. Nailed to that cross, the broken body hangs for all to see. It is through Jesus’ broken body in which love is poured out, in which blood is shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Dying on that cross though wasn’t enough. He rose to show, to prove His ability to not only rule over all things, but also to rule through all things.
When God comes and brings someone who is broken into His Kingdom, some absolutely amazing things happen. Like that broken watering can, our lives begin to pour out His blessings. Not just in the devout lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to have it all together, but His blessings pour out in the ways which reveal what a wreck we are and in what a lost cause we would have been if God had not come into our brokenness and blessed us with His grace.
A professor tells the story of a young man who had stopped going to church while he was in college. Years later, after this young man had bottomed out in alcoholism, lost his job, and lost his live-in girlfriend that he started to come back to church. Whenever he talked about how blessed he was, he would begin to share parts of his story and one could see the tension on people’s faces. They didn’t know where to look. It was hard to hear about his life experiences. His story certainly wasn’t polite coffee-hour talk. Yet, God’s blessing was dripping out of all the wrong places in his life. Over time, the blessing of this young man ended up landing in the lives of people who would never see themselves coming to church.
What are those dark areas of our lives, what are those don’t talk about during coffee-hour moments where you can see God’s blessings pouring out through your brokenness? Our lives may not be all neat and orderly, they may not stand out like Jesus’ golden words found in the Saint John Bible, our lives may look more like the broken, jagged, backward letters which at times may come together a little … but even in the midst of those moments … the gift of God’s blessing is still there. In the midst of the days when we are poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, struggling to make peace, and mourning our loss … within these moments … there is a blessed brokenness. On this All Saints Day, we have an opportunity to remember not just the good moments in the life of God’s people, but we have an opportunity to remember all the moments of our lives and the lives of those who have gone before us. In doing so, we are trusting that God is here in midst of our brokenness bringing blessings which flow into the lives of others. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.