Kintsukuroi Christianity – Rev. Henry Brinton (with audio)

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Kintsukuroi Christianity
January 11, 2015
Acts 19:1-7

 

Golden repair.

Japanese artists often do this when a precious piece of pottery has been broken.  After mixing resin with powdered gold, they use the resin to put the broken pieces together.  What they end up with is a pot with cracks in it, but the cracks are filled with gold.  Click here for a picture: http://www.st-cuthberts.net/jpgs/kintsukuroi-l.jpg.

They call it kintsukuroi (keen-tsoo-koo-roy).  Golden repair.

Such restoration creates a gorgeous piece of art.  It makes a philosophical statement as well.   Kintsukuroi asserts that breakage and repair is part of the unique history of an object, rather than something to deny or disguise.

We need more golden repair in our lives, because we so often hide our brokenness.

Think about this.  A friend hurts us deeply, and we retreat inside ourselves.  We lose a job or suffer a pay cut, and pretend like everything is really okay.  A spouse abuses us, but we never speak up.  We sense that we have a drinking problem, but feel too embarrassed to ask for help.  A marriage begins with intimacy and anticipation, and ends with alienation and anger.

Life breaks us, in a variety of painful ways.  And unfortunately we often deny it.  We would rather disguise our cracks than undergo golden repair.

In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul travels to Ephesus in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey.  I had a fantastic visit to that ancient city, on a blazing hot day, when I took my interfaith trip to Turkey last summer.  Paul finds twelve disciples there, and asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”  They reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1-2).

Would I be correct to call these disciples broken?  Well, maybe that’s a stretch.  But clearly they have some cracks.  Not only have they not received the Holy Spirit, they don’t even know that it exists!

Paul is perplexed.  He asks, “Into what then were you baptized?”  They answer, “Into John’s baptism” (v. 3).  And suddenly Paul understands that they need some golden repair.

“John baptized with the baptism of repentance,” explains Paul, “telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus” (v. 4).  Paul knows that John baptized with water, while Jesus baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

On hearing this, the disciples are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul lays hands on them the Holy Spirit enters them.  Immediately, they speak in tongues and prophesy, just like the first Christians on the day of Pentecost (Acts 19:5-6).

The gift of the Holy Spirit — that’s pure gold!  Suddenly, the gaps in the lives of these disciples are filled, and they are made whole as disciples of Jesus.  But notice that there is no attempt to deny or disguise their deficiencies.  Instead, God fills their cracks with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, making them stronger and more beautiful in the broken places.

That’s golden repair.  Kintsukuroi Christianity.

In her book on mended Japanese ceramics, Christy Bartlett writes that “not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated.”  Not hidden.  Not disguised.  Literally illuminated.

 Everyone has gaps and breaks in their lives — everyone has been shattered by some destructive experience.  This is illustrated by what Christy Bartlett calls “the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering” that happens to ceramics.  Mended Japanese ceramics inspire us to show compassionate sensitivity to the broken people around us, and compassionate sensitivity to ourselves as well.  As the English writer G.K. Chesterton said, “We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

When I started out in ministry, I assumed that people would be drawn to me based on my skills and abilities.  I worked hard and tried to be the best preacher and teacher that I could possibly be.  But you know what?  I have discovered over the years that people are really drawn to honesty and vulnerability.  Working hard is still important, but the strongest bonds develop in places of weakness.

When my father died 10 years ago, you really cared for me.  When I struggled with a difficult church staffing issue, you stood beside me.  When I tried to rap in the Youth Variety Show, you laughed with me.

Actually, you laughed at me.  But that’s okay — bonds develop in places of weakness.

The apostle Paul knew, better than most, the significance of brokenness in the life of faith.  He complained of a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan [sent] to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s thorn — it could have been chronic eye problems, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, a speech disability, or some kind of temptation.  It could even have been a person, someone who did him harm — we all know people like that!  But whatever it was, Paul’s thorn caused him a lot of pain, and made him feel broken.

“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,” writes Paul to the Corinthians, “but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (vv. 8-9).  Jesus did not remove Paul’s thorn, but promised to fill his broken places with grace.  That grace, which is nothing less that the gift of Christ’s own self, is the most powerful kind of golden repair.

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” says Paul, “so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).  Paul actually boasts of his cracks and his gaps, because he knows that Christ can come into him only if there is an opening.  “Therefore,” concludes Paul, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

That’s Kintsukuroi Christianity.  Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.  Whenever I invite Christ to fill my breaks and knocks, then he works powerfully through me.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we roll over and allow ourselves to be pummeled by insults and persecutions.  But it does mean that we allow Christ to enter our places of weakness, helping us to control our drinking one day at a time.  It means that we face the hardship of a job loss without giving up or losing our sense of personal worth.  It means moving through the calamity of a failed marriage without feeling that all is lost.

When I am weak, says Paul, I find strength in the presence of Christ.  I know that he is making me stronger and more beautiful through his ongoing work of golden repair.

Several decades ago, just ten days after his 24-year-old son was killed in a car accident, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin delivered a sermon to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City.  He thanked them for the flood of letters that had followed his son’s death, including one that carried a wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms:   “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

“My own broken heart is mending,” said Coffin, “and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.”

Love not only begets love, it transmits strength.  That is the wonder of Kintsukuroi Christianity.  William Sloane Coffin discovered for himself that when a terrible tragedy broke him, then the Christian community stepped in to fill him with love and strength.  And he no doubt became a better pastor after experiencing that golden repair.

Most of us realize that the strongest and most beautiful people around us are those who have cracks filled with gold.  The parents of an autistic child who give valuable guidance to others in the same situation.  The AA sponsor who patiently helps a fellow alcoholic to remain sober.  The survivor of abuse who provides a lifeline to those who are being abused.  The wife of an Alzheimer’s patient who offers support to families dealing with various types of dementia.

At SaddlebackChurch in California, members are encouraged to listen to the pain of others, and to participate in small groups in which people search together for healing.  In that congregation, you are not allowed to lead a small group that is focused on healing unless you have struggled with the particular brokenness being addressed by the group.

To lead a group of alcoholics, you must be a recovering alcoholic.  To help women who are healing from the trauma of abortion, you must have had an abortion.  Members of Saddleback know that the treasure of Jesus Christ is found in fragile clay jars, so that — in the words of the Apostle Paul— “it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Extraordinary power.  It belongs only to God, and is delivered when people open the cracks in their lives to the golden repair of Jesus Christ.  Extraordinary power enters us when we discover that something is missing and ask for help — like the twelve disciples in Acts who had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.  When they agreed to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, their cracks were filled with spiritual power.

I hope that you will bring the power of Kintsukuroi Christianity to our mini-retreat on marriage in just a few weeks.  This is not going to be an opportunity to debate or argue, but instead a chance to talk about the covenant of marriage, and what it means to us and to all of God’s people.  At this event, we will be able to tell stories, be honest and vulnerable, and reveal the cracks in our lives — cracks that can sometimes be filled by a marriage partner.

“Forget your perfect offering,” says the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen.  “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

Let’s not deny, disguise or hide our brokenness.  Each of us has cracks and gaps.  Instead, let’s allow the light of Christ to fill us, and the power of Christ to make us beautiful, strong and whole.  Amen.

 

Sources:

Bartlett, Christy. “A Tearoom View of Mended Ceramics.” Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, 2008, www.bachmanneckenstein.com.

Brinton, Henry. The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. 109.

Coffin, William Sloane. “Eulogy for Alex.” NOW, www.pbs.org.

Cohen, Leonard. Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs. London: Random House, 1993. 

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