There Is Hope for the Broken Spirit!
April 8, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Happy Easter!
Our key word for today is hope. There is hope for the broken spirit! That is our topic for today. I’d like to lift up this scripture for us, friends, from the epistle from I Corinthians: “All will be made alive in Christ.” All will be made alive in Christ.
We had a few nice days these past few weeks, and it reminds us that summer is coming. Those of you who know me well know that one of my favorite places to be is the Jersey shore. How about you? Do you love the shore?
I was down there a few weeks ago, and I was reminded of a story that I’d like to tell you. I ran a retreat at the shore several years ago for a group of adults. One morning I thought it would be an interesting exercise to invite people to walk out on the beach and take some quiet time alone with the Lord. While they were doing that, I asked them to gather some shells and tell us about them and share them when they got back.
Well, I actually didn’t have high expectations for that exercise. I figured everybody would gather pretty similar stacks of shells and bring them back. But was I surprised at what people did! When we got back to the boardwalk pavilion and the table where everyone had set their piles of shells, I was amazed, because every group of shells was absolutely different from every other one.
See what you think of this: one group contained identical shells. They were a group of beautiful, bleached white, round shells – sand dollars. I asked the person who’d found them to tell me about them, and she said, “I only collect sand dollars.” I thought she must be an investment banker; what do you think?
Then I went to the next group, and I saw that all these shells were spaced absolutely evenly, in ascending order of size, all the same kind. I looked at that group, and thought – must be an engineer who’d line the shells up like that.
And another person had a group of elongated shells. She said she was going to tie them to strings and make a wind chime out of them. Must be a musician.
Well, absolutely everyone had a unique pile of shells, but there was one pile in particular that I want to talk to you about this morning, because it didn’t look like it had a theme to it. It was just a small group of shells, irregular in shape. I asked the man who’d put them there to tell me about the shells. He sighed and said, “I only collect the broken ones.” I wondered what was going on in his spirit. What would you say to someone who only collected the broken ones? I wondered what was in his heart.
This Easter morning, my friends, I want to say a word to those people who might feel like some part of their lives is like a pile of broken shells. I want to talk with them this morning. And the first thing I want to say is that I know a man whose life was like a pile of broken shells. It seemed meaningless and over. He had had some success in His career, but at the end of His life – His very short life – all His friends deserted Him. He was put up for a false trial. He was condemned to death. He went to a death on the cross, between two thieves. All his friends abandoned Him, and His body was laid in a borrowed grave. It looked like it was all over.
But the good news I want you to know is this: it wasn’t all over in God’s mind. God said, “Oh no, this is not the end for my beloved child.” And on the third day, as the sun began to rise on Easter morning, that hopeless, closed, locked, sealed tomb had something wonderful happen to it. There was an enormous burst of power, and the stone at the tomb’s entrance was rolled away. And that man came forth from the tomb with a new kind of body, a body that defies description in our mortal terms, but a body that was very real, a body that could eat food and yet could pass through doors and walls. He was risen! God took the brokenness of His life and restored Him to fullness.
And if so for Him, my friends, it is so for us. God’s word is beyond our last word. God has the last word, and the last word is “yes.” He took that man’s life and made something wonderful out of it, and He can take ours and do the same. That is what I would say to a person who thought that his life was like a pile of broken shells. That man, of course, was Jesus Christ. And if so for Him, so it is for you.
The next thing I’d tell that person is, that wonderful person, Jesus Christ, as He came forth from that tomb, wanted to help other people. You see, there was a woman named Mary Magdalen. She loved Jesus, but her life was suddenly like a pile of broken shells. She went to His tomb and wept and wept. She was shocked and disturbed to find that His body was not there. But you know what? Jesus didn’t leave things there. He came up to her quietly and said, “Say, friend, why are you crying?” And she said through her tears, “They have taken the body of Jesus, and I do not know where they have placed it. And if you are the gardener and you have taken it, I ask you to tell me where it is because I will go and I will remove it myself.”
Her eyes were blinded with tears. He went to her, and He said the most beautiful sound in the world – He said her name. He said, “Mary.” And she looked up, and she said, “My teacher!” And she threw herself at His feet and she hugged His feet so hard. And He said, “Mary, you don’t have to hold me down. I’m not yet risen to the Father. But I have a job for you. Go and tell my brothers that I am risen and I’m going to meet them in Jerusalem. Go and tell.”
Mary was suddenly filled with purpose and meaning, and her life was put back together. What looked like broken shells all came together in a beautiful whole. She had dignity again. That’s what Jesus does for people whose spirits are broken. That’s what Jesus does for people whose lives are like a pile of broken shells.
Mary went to the disciples and she simply said this, words that were the symbol of her transformation: “I have seen the Lord.” Friends, if so for Jesus, if so for Mary, then so for you and for me.
I’m wondering if there are those here today whose lives are like a pile of broken shells. Maybe your heart has been shattered by grief. May you know that Jesus can take those broken pieces of your heart and knit them together again and make you stronger, make you a person who is more sympathetic with others who go through grief. Maybe your heart has been shattered by regret. Maybe you’ve made some unwise choices. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Live every morning as a new start. God can take those broken pieces of your life and put them back together again and make something wonderful happen. Maybe your life is symbolized by deep regret, by things that you wish you could change. Oh friend, you can take that pile of broken shells, of broken dreams, and take them back to the ocean of God’s love, and give them back. And God will give you a new, restored shell, beautiful and whole, because this is the day that He has made. If so for Jesus, if so for Mary, then so for you, my friends. God can take the broken pieces and weave them into a beautiful mosaic picture, something unique for you, something uniquely wonderful, and bless you into the future with hope for your broken heart.
May you go forth from this place, my friends, not so much with an intellectual idea but with a feeling inside, with a conviction in your heart, with the knowledge that your life can begin again starting today in a new and wonderful and positive way. That, my friends, is what God wants for you. That is Easter power, and it’s there for you, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed Easter. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski