Luke 3: 15-17; 21-22
A wonderful long time congregation member gave me a
special book a few years ago. Written by Carol Hamblet Adams, My Beautiful Broken Shell tells about
the author’s quest to be up early in the mornings at her beachfront home to go
searching for perfect shells. She loved the quest. One day, in the midst of
things falling apart in her life, she had an awakening: instead of searching
for perfect shells, she had a desire to pick up broken ones; the ones left
behind; the ones nobody wanted. In some ways, that’s the way she was
feeling. So her beautiful broken shells—as
she called them— were a reflection of her own life. Broken. The Gospels tell us that “Jesus came to save
the lost.” But by his words and actions, we also know he came to love and
encourage those who were broken. Author
Shel Silverstein also touched many lives with his book The Missing Piece. It’s the
story of what looks like a stone disc, personified, rolling down the highways
and byways of life “looking for the missing piece.” You see, the stone disc has
a slice taken out of it, like someone who took the first piece out of a pie. So
as the disc goes down the road, it bumps; life is not smooth; it is bumpy and
that slice of emptiness hits the road with each revolution.
“Looking for my missing piece” went the song. I think there are plenty of people today who are looking for their missing p-i-e-c-e; and at the same time, seeking their missing p-e-a-c-e. I believe that in part because people of many ages—from 18 or 80; boys or girls, men or women—have told me: they have longed to hear wonderful words of life from a parent. A woman I know never heard the words: “I love you” from her mother. I’ve known men who look secure and successful, but were aching in their heart—because Dad never said, “I’m proud of you.” Sure, there was a roof over their head and food on their tables, but it is not true that “sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us.” Words can hurt. And a lack of the right words, from the right person, can leave a hole in one’s soul. I think God absolutely knew that. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he took the time—with people gathered for the adult baptism—to say wonderful words of life to the Son, with other people looking on: “You are my son; I love you; I am so pleased with you!” Do you know what gold that had to be for Jesus? Sure you do! Maybe you wish you heard it from someone, or hopefully you have! But as our Presbyterian Counseling Center now sees over 400 clients a month, I know there are more in the world who have not heard those words. In the biography Henry Bushkin wrote about Tonight Show host Johnny Carson (Johnny called him “Bombastic Bushkin,”) the author said that Johnny told him that his mother was one of the coldest women he knew; she never praised him; and she never thought his work—until her life’s end—amounted to anything. All his life he sought her approval, but no wonderful words ever came from her mouth. Johnny, as his biography points out, believed that it caused him relationship problems. Away from the camera he was caustic, broken and insecure. Who else among us is going through life that way? Jesus came to save the lost; to love those who were broken; and to say words to people in all stages of brokenness: “Take up your pallet and walk.”
At a child’s baptism, there certainly can be a grand celebration with pictures, a party, or a meal. It may make parents proud, but the helpless child will have no recollection of the event. In part that’s why we make a big deal of affirming young people at ages 12-17 who have decided to go through the months of Confirmation; so they will hear words of affirmation from their teachers, their parents, their pastors, and their congregation. Certainly when Jesus was born there were shepherds who gathered at the stable to adore the Christ child. But the baby was oblivious. Instead, as Jesus began his ministry at age 30, the voice from heaven rang out, just as others have hoped to hear it on the big days in their lives: graduation; a first job; a wedding. Sometimes the words are just offered because the time feels right. Figure out sometime for the time to be right. Even older children who have received AARP invitations may still have a missing piece.
Dr. Myron Madden, who was once the Director of Pastoral Care at Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, came to Daytona Beach for one of Halifax Hospital’s early Pastoral Care Institutes coordinated by Chaplain Jim Smith. In his book The Power to Bless, he writes these thought-provoking words:
Whoever brings acceptance in a total way brings healing. Whoever cannot accept affirmation from another cannot be healed. Those who shut themselves off from sharing their deeper selves impose on themselves a kind of isolation or banishment from healing. In seeking to work things out “by themselves” one can only revolve from self-hate to self pit and back again….A genuine self-acceptance must be started at some point outside of self; it must come from someone else who has, in turn, been able to accept healing for their own brokenness. That person cannot intrude or force themself into the picture. They must be authorized or given power by the broken one to accept and heal….Just as one life comes from another life, so blessing comes from another.”
[Broadman Press, 1970, p 141-142.]
Did you understand that the wonderful words of life are infused with unconditional love? If you haven’t heard words your heart longs to hear, it may be because a parent has, or had, a missing piece. This is not about blame; it’s about helping us embrace our brokenness. Sometimes rolling down the road bumping is what some people do best. Even those on the cusp of being ordained as Ruling Elders today may be looking for their missing piece. Many in our world are. But what they have learned in their training, is what I am reminding you of today: Jesus had unconditional love from God: what God offered him, and us, is the voice of affirmation that might be missing in your life: “You are my beloved; I am well pleased with you.” Never assume that the professionally put together girl or boy, woman or man is not, inside, a beautiful broken shell; or a person bumping through life. Jesus sought such people and still does.
Conversely, the dark side of words is criticism, even when it is gift wrapped as “constructive criticism.” There is a barb inside of that gift. Beloved wife of the late Rev. Peter Marshall, Catherine Marshall, heard words of criticism flowing from her own mouth. She was determined to change it. Her energy was low, and she seemed to be living with some unresolved bitterness. She found herself being critical of others. This was Catherine Marshall! So she dealt with it head-on. Remembering that her Savior was critical of religious people, she hoped she wasn’t become Pharisaical. She decided she was going to have a fast from criticalness. She wrote:
“The Lord continues to deal with me about my critical spirit, convicting me that I have been wrong to judge another person or situation. [Jesus said, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7: 1-2)] “One morning [the Lord] gave [her] an assignment: for one day I was to go on a “fast” from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody or anything. Into my mind crowded all the usual objections. “But then what happens to value judgments?” she asked Jesus “You Yourself, Lord, spoke of ‘righteous judgment.’ How could society operate without standards and limits?”
She wrote how difficult the fast was, but it pointed out a more critical nature than she initially believed she had. It was a learning and growing experience. At the end of the fast she wrote: “Convicted of the true destructiveness of a critical mind-set, on my knees I [repeated] this prayer: “Lord, I repent of this sin of judgment. I am deeply sorry for having committed so gross an offense…. I claim your promise of forgiveness, and seek a new beginning.” [SPIRITUAL CLASSICS, Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin, ed. HarperSanFransisco, 2000, pp. 57-59.}
Perhaps today can also be for us, a day of new beginnings.
Let us pray:
Loving God: you know those here who are broken; those who need to hear wonderful words from you and from others. You also know that at our baptism you filled our soul with rejuvenating waters of love, a gift that can overflow into the lives of others. Help us change our lives one relationship at a time. And thank you for showing us how life can be changed through the words you shared with Jesus as he and others gathered at the river. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 13, 2019 ��