Some Assembly Required: Better Broken
Topic: Vulnerability Scripture: Isaiah 41:8–41:13, 2 Corinthians 12:6–12:10
There is a parable about a water bearer in India. Every day, he would use his two large clay pots to go and collect water to bring back to the house of his master. Every day, the water bearer would hang his two pots onto a pole that he balanced over his shoulders and travel to the river to retrieve the water. One of his pots had a crack in it. After the long journey from the river back to the master’s house, the perfect pot would be filled while the other would only have half the water remaining due to the crack. For years, the water bearer continued to collect water with his two pots. The undamaged pot was proud of its accomplishment and its ability to do exactly what it was made to do: carry a full measure of water. The broken pot grew more and more ashamed of its imperfection as, day after day, it was continually only able to bring back half the water that was poured into it. Finally, the broken pot could take it no longer.
The pot said to the water bearer, “I’m ashamed of myself and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” The broken pot confessed and said, “For years, I have only been able to deliver half the load of water you fill me with. Because of this crack in my side, the water leaks out all the way to the master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all this work, and you don’t get full value for all your effort.”
The water bearer felt sorry for the broken pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to take notice of the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they journeyed back to the master’s house after collecting the water, the broken pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path. The flowers cheered the broken pot some, but the pot was still ashamed when they got to the master’s house, and there was still only half the measure of water inside. The broken pot, again, apologized for its failure.
The water bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were only flowers on your side of the path and not the other side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walked back from the river, you’ve watered those flowers. For years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without your brokenness, that beauty would not grace the master’s house.”
The first time I came across this parable was more than 15 years ago, and I have never forgotten it. It speaks to a reality that is universal to all of us and yet one that we often seek to ignore or keep hidden. The simple reality is - we are not perfect. We have flaws, and we have brokenness in our stories. It’s the reality of vulnerability. Throughout our message series, we are exploring the traits or disciplines that we need to practice if we want to make our best effort to be the Church in this world and reveal the truth and grace of Jesus Christ as faithfully as possible. We’ve already looked at two practices, fellowship and study, but this morning we are exploring the reality of vulnerability. And, perhaps more so than anything else, it is vulnerability that will leave the most personal impact on the life of another person. Because if we can show others that we believe we are Better Broken instead of trying to pretend that everything is perfect, then we possess the chance to show something entirely unique compared to what is commonplace in our culture. And our text for this morning reveals to us that even the most dedicated and decorated Christ-follower is capable of leaning into the refreshing openness of vulnerability. We’re going to hear the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:6-10.
This is perhaps one of the most personal expressions from Paul that we receive in all of Scripture. It is a moment of admission and vulnerability. Paul reveals that he, yes, even the great apostle Paul, can become victim to arrogance and pride. It’s not his intention to be conceited or to think too highly of himself, but it happens anyway. And that’s when Paul shares one of the most meaningful Bible passages I have ever heard. It was one of the first Scripture passages I ever committed to memory and one that reveals something as uncomfortable as it is true. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul sums it up in the most meaningful and powerful way possible. We are Better Broken.
We spend almost our entire lives trying to run away from, or at the very least, cover up any pain or weakness, or imperfection in our stories. Paul reveals that God has so much more purpose for those things that we are often too quick to ignore. Paul describes a “thorn in his flesh,” but biblical scholars are divided on what that thorn literally was. Some believe it was quite literally a physical ailment - an illness, physical pain, or even on-setting blindness. Some say that the thorn was more social in nature, that it represented the persecution and difficult circumstances that Paul faced day after day. There are some who postulate that Paul is referencing his own sinful temptations and desires, those urgings that he knows are not in line with one who loves and follows Jesus Christ. And there are scholars who believe that this “thorn” was supernatural in nature, that it was the result of a demonic attack from the Enemy.
All of these are plausible. But the precise nature of Paul’s brokenness is not the important part. It’s the transformative revelation that Paul declares regarding that brokenness that matters the most. Pointedly, that our weakness and pain do not disqualify us; instead, it is through our hardships, struggles, and imperfections that the grace and power of God can shine through more brilliantly. It is through our cracks by which our Lord fosters beauty.
This sense of humble and honest vulnerability is almost entirely lost in our society today. Instead, we are trained to hide our scars and cover our pain with a smile. We are expected to have it all together, that every element of our lives is as good as it can possibly be. We’re supposed to have all the answers, be the top of the class, the best in the biz, and the one who never struggles. We might genuinely feel sorrow for the circumstances of others, but God forbid we ever reveal our own circumstances of sorrow or feeling lost or hurting. But, friends, I believe that is exactly what we learn here from Paul. That something almost miraculous happens when we take that intimidating step toward vulnerability with each other, and we open up our stories so that others might see just how marvelous and mighty our God is.
Again, to be very clear, this is definitely countercultural. We have been conditioned to hide any and every aspect of brokenness, dysfunction, suffering, or pain in our lives. We use our social media pages to try and validate for others to see that our lives are pristine. We ask “how are you doing?” with no intention of actually listening or responding honestly ourselves. Frankly, we try to pretend that everything is fine even when it’s not. But what if it is the intention of God to use our weakness to share His strength with those around us?
As Christ-followers, we are meant to stand out in this world. We are meant to be different. So different that other people notice that difference. But I don’t believe that difference is meant to be quantified in us having a Jesus fish on our car or because of what we post on social media. It’s meant to be seen in our lives. Brian Dodd, the author of the book where I first encountered the parable of the cracked pot, says, “Our weakness is an intentional contrast to a world self-absorbed with power, strength, and image.” The contrast of true vulnerability set against the cultural expectation of a pristine life has power to foster something moving and transformative. Larry Crabb, a psychologist, and biblical counselor, said: “It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.”
Paul reveals to us that God is able to take all of our struggles and pain and through God’s redeeming power, foster hope, grace, and goodness. But even if we can begin to believe that we are Better Broken than we are pretending that we’re not, the question then becomes, How? How do we do this? Well, it’s not easy. First off, I do not recommend opening up the most vulnerable corners of your heart to everyone you encounter in line at Meijer or all the neighbors on your street. But maybe you could begin to crack the door to some of the members of your church family, perhaps your small group or close friends that you know share your faith in Christ. Make no mistake, what we are talking about is as against-the-grain and countercultural as we can imagine. And that’s the point. More importantly, it reflects the love and work of our Savior.
In the end, it was Christ’s wounds and brokenness that fostered hope and salvation. Jesus spoke inspiring wisdom, performed supernatural acts, and practiced an inclusive love that was as shocking as it was remarkable. But the ministry and mission of Jesus culminated not in Him standing strong and proud over all others but instead it was at His weakest and most vulnerable that God’s divine grace broke across humanity like a brilliant sunrise.
The world does not need another self-assured know-it-all. Your neighbors don’t need to see another fabricated example of someone having it all together. Our church doesn’t need people who come to the cross pretending to be whole. No, what is needed is a group of people who believe as Paul did. People who look more like our Savior than the Pharisees who opposed him. What we need to be, if we want to be the Church and show others the glory and the wonder of God’s grace, we need to be people who know and believe that we are Better Broken.
More in Some Assembly Required
March 28, 2021Some Assembly Required: The Song Beneath Our Words
March 21, 2021Some Assembly Required: Call Waiting
March 14, 2021Some Assembly Required: No Words Required