Repairers of Breaches

August 21, 2022
Isaiah 58:9b-14; Luke 13:10-17

How lovely to be here with all of you.

Imagine my surprise when I took a look at the lectionary passages for today, knowing that this would be my first preaching Sunday post sabbatical, and found that 2 of the texts were centered around the concept of sabbath! I knew then I was being well set up to return to work up by both the Spirit and the worship committee (who had scheduled me to preach on this particular day).

And to carry connections even further, I can tell you that Simon goes to aftercare and summer camp at a Presbyterian Church near our home. Each day that I would pick him up or drop him off I would walk past a poster in the hallway that boldly proclaimed: “You shall be called repairers of the breach!” This scripture phrase called out to me week after week during my sabbatical, stirring my spirit, and here it is in Isaiah 58 – one of those sabbath texts the lectionary selected for us to consider today.

You will rebuild the ancient ruins,

and build upon age-old foundations.

You will be called Repairer of the Breach,

and Restorer of Streets in which to Dwell.

Surely these are good omens for crafting a post sabbatical sermon.

A sabbatical is its own kind of breach – a gap of space and time that untethers a person from structured expectations and formal work routines in hope of making room for rest and rejuvenation.

Rest is another kind of breach – an act of resistance against a machine mindset that values productivity over presence. To rest is to create a gap in productive activity – a gap that invites presence, as in being present, or to put it even more simply: being. And while strong work-ethic, productivity driven mindsets might not expect a valuable return on the investment of rest – it turns out that spaces of rest, or even doing nothing, are essential for fostering the fertile soil that sprouts creativity.

Creativity, for me, is soul-boosting, connection-making, and life-giving. And so, in your gift of a sabbatical space, you were repairers of the breach in my life. You offered me space to rest, play, and be so that I could experience creative rejuvenation for the work ahead. Thank you!

As I said, this phrase: repairer of the breach was repetitively present with me during my sabbatical. And I pondered it regularly. I began to notice the way breaches are present in our living in so many different ways.

We experience breaches within ourselves – gaps and breaks in our understanding of ourselves, in our memories, in our emotions, in our love and care for ourselves, in our capacity from season to season and sometimes moment to moment, and in our health and wellness as individuals.

We experience breaches in our personal relationships with others – gaps and breaks in understanding, in trust, in communication, in expressing our needs and desires, in failing to offer attentive listening and energy to others, through loss, grief, and sometimes gaps in our love and care for each other.

We experience breaches in community and culture where power struggles, nostalgia, economic diversity, patterns of patriarchy, white-supremacy, racism, homophobia, and all sorts of othering and fear mongering take priority over justice centric love in action.

We experience breaches in our relationship with creation – the impact of climate change is present with us in hotter temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, as well as food and water disparity across the globe due to increased drought.

I’m sure each of you could add to this list with your own experiences and understandings of breaches.

All of these are a stark contrast to what the Isaiah 58 passage describes as it winds its way towards a definition of being a repairer of the breach:

If you remove from your midst

all oppression, finger pointing, and malicious talk.

If you give yourself to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your shadows will become like noon.

God will always guide you,

giving relief in desert places.

God will give strength to your bones

and you will be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water

whose waters never run dry.

You will rebuild the ancient ruins,

and build upon age-old foundations.

You will be called Repairer of the Breach,

and Restorer of Streets in which to Dwell.

To repair a breach is to honor, value, attend to, and care for that which has been broken, to believe that something new is possible, and to take action with justice-centric love.

As I pondered repairing breaches, I couldn’t help but think of the Japanese art of Kintsugi; a centuries old practice of repairing broken ceramics with lacquer that is dusted with silver, platinum, or most notably: gold. When we think of repairing something that has been broken, our inclination might be to seek a way to mend broken pieces together in a way that renders the break invisible. Kintsugi does the opposite of that – instead of rendering the broken lines invisible, this mending method ensures that each and every crack and splinter of brokenness is highlighted to honor the journey and history of the piece while transforming it into a new whole.

The results of kintsugi are striking in unexpected and unique beauty.

The kids and youth who came during the hour before church did some creative work based on this idea. I will invite them to come forward now and share with you what we made.

There are 3 major methods of this work:

Crack Method: in which all the pieces of the broken vessel are pieced back together in full with golden seams

Piece Method: in which part of the broken vessel is filled in with fragments made entirely of epoxy – resulting in large spaces of gold or other shimmering filled shapes

Joint-Call: in which similar shaped pieces from different vessels are placed side by side, even if originally aesthetically different, blended together to create a new whole

I’m grateful for these diverse methods of mending because not all breaches can be or even should be repaired with the original pieces connected again:

There are some breaches we are actively working to create: like breaking injustice.

There are some breaks that may be healthy and life-giving – such as breaks in unhealthy relationships.

There are some breaks that cannot be mended with the original pieces because an element may be gone or lost, leaving a gap and offering no option for reconnection in the ways of before.

The diversity of methods in Kintsugi repair work, reminds us that being repairers of breaches is actively tied to attending to the context of those breaches and approaching the repair work with informed creativity and grace that does not erase the impact or importance of what has been, instead, it makes space for life-giving connections in new ways.

I like to think about this call to be repairers of the breach in our living as an invitation to craft beautiful new life-giving connections in and through relationships that dynamically honor context and capacity. To be a repairer of a breach begins with acknowledging the presence of breaches and then making the choice to do the work of attending to those breaches. The results of Kintsugi repair work can be stunningly beautiful new creations – only through the efforts of the repairer.

To be a repairer is to take on an active role – being on the lookout for and assessing breaches, considering the context and options, making choices, gathering resources, using tools and materials, taking time, and putting in effort for the sake of mending that makes space for something new out of the remnants of what has been.

What does this look like in action?

We see it on display in the Luke passage that details Jesus’ healing of a woman on the sabbath. Jesus, while teaching in the synagogue, identifies a breach: a sickness that is causing physical complexities for a woman. The woman is perpetually stooped, bent double – and we are told she has been experiencing this condition for 18 years – a long time – long enough to grow accustomed to living with the altered capacities that she experienced. And in a flash, Jesus mends the breach by setting her free from the restrictions her illness has created. She stands up tall and cries out in gratitude to God.

And though Jesus has been about the work of repairing a breach, the fact that he does this mending on a sabbath means that others gathered nearby seem to think that he has created another breach by breaking sabbath laws of rest. Curiously the response to this perceived breach isn’t attributed directly to Jesus. Instead, the people in need of healing are told to go home and come back at a more fitting time for their restoration. How often when we seek to mend breaches of injustice are those who are suffering blamed for being inconvenient, and asked to wait, wait, wait for justice and restoration until a time that better serves those in positions of power and privilege? This is an old pattern. A pattern Jesus helps us identify as yet another kind of breach – delayed justice – a breach that attempts to honor societal standards and the retention of power over life-giving, justice-centric love.

Jesus’ example says: delay no more! Be about the work of wellness, healing, and justice at every opportunity, in any moment – even if it breaches traditional religious practices or societal expectations. Being a repairer of breaches means valuing liberation and making space in the world for life-giving connections, restoration, and transformation.

Okay – so that’s one of Jesus’ examples of being a breach repairer. What might it look like in our times? How do we participate in being repairers of breaches?

I’ll offer you a couple of vignettes of what this looked like, for me, on sabbatical:

  1. Due to the breaches in climate care that have caused warmer than usual summers lately, we were moved to finally purchase some air conditioning for our home. After  realizing that installing central air options in our home would be a breach of my finances at this moment, we ordered a few window units – attending as we could to creation by purchasing units that are as energy efficient as possible. The day they arrived, the UPS delivery person came to the door and asked where I would like them dropped off. I told him to just plop them in the yard by our screen porch and that I would take them in. He said – if you have a cup of cold water available for me – I would be glad to put them on the porch for you. I heartily agreed to this, went inside to fetch the water and he kindly carried the awkward packages up the steps and into the shelter of our porch where they could be secure until I scooted them inside for installation. As he finished, I came out with a glass of water which he accepted with deep gratitude. We chatted as he drank the water, reflecting together on the changing climate of our world, remembering growing up without air conditioning, and simply connecting over other childhood memories. There were several breaches repaired in this small moment. I was offered and received some needed help. The driver received cold water to nourish and hydrate his body so he could continue to do his job. And we both found joy in conversation and a small moment of connection with a stranger that, for a moment, expanded the world for each of us.
  2. I got to sit in on a virtual thesis presentation by a student from the Peace and Justice master’s program at Eastern Mennonite University. This student had done research through interviews and compiled artifacts to create a timeline of queer experience at EMU from the 1970’s through 2015 and beyond. One of the outcomes of that work was the creation of a document entitled: A Resolution for Institutional Accountability. It is a document that identifies and names the harms that queer folks experiened over the years at EMU and confesses that EMU as an institution played a part in that suffering. While EMU as an insituational entity has not officially affirmed this resolution, as a queer alum, it was suprisingly moving and meaningful to hear the confession and even imagine EMU taking ownership for some of the complexities that the document outlines. It felt surprisingly healing and life-giving and felt like the beginning of growth towards breach repair. And then to have that experience followed by MCUSA delegates voting to affirm the Inclusive Pastor’s Resolution for Repentance and Transformation – a document that also outlines explicit connections between institutional practices and queer oppression – naming the harm and taking ownership for years of delayed justice as a denomination was almost more than I could comprehend. There is still much work to be done in repairing the layers of breaches that exist around queerness and the denomination – and yet, once again, I sense the beginning of creative growth – a mending, like kintsugi, that doesn’t ignore or erase the journey of brokenenss that has been – yet makes space for connections in new ways, for repentance and transformation to take root and begin to repair those layers and layers of breaches.
  3. I practiced kindness towards myself – an effort of breach repair that lays a foundation for being in better relationship with myself, which in turn strengthens my ability to be in better relationship with others.
  4. We are all actively living in a season of repairing breaches as we participate in whatever stage of the covid pandemic it is that we are living in. We have had breaks personally, societally, as families,  as communities, as congregations – at every level of our world we have experienced breaks that we are working actively to understand and live into in new ways.

Just as I kept seeing that reminder “you shall be called repairers of the breach” over and over, I began to see it in action around me…for at its heart, breach repair work is the act of sharing and receiving love. I also realized how sabbatical was its own breach – a gap that had me separated from the group I get to perpetually explore with what it means to be repairers of the breach – all of you here at HMC. I realized how grateful I am to be in a community and especially employed by this community to keep being about the work of teasing out questions and callings and making meaning and connections together. Imagine my delight on my first day back to work when I came into this space, walked to the front, turned around and saw that banner hanging in the back that names some of the ways we can explore being repairers of breaches.

This banner was brought to the congregation by the Worship Arts Committee who asked Pastorate, our spiritual/pastoral/congregational care committee to explore what phrases would be authentic to HMC. This banner exists in other places with other words – but these are the words unique to this community for us to explore together:

Be the Church

Love God

Serve Others

Welcome All

Share Resources

Dismantle Injustice

Repair Inequities

Foster Peace

Care for Creation

Practice Forgiveness

Live with Joy

These are all ways we can explore and live into being repairers of breaches.

And while we can and are called to be about the work of repairing breaches as individuals, we also come to this place to do the work together – we are like a joint-call method piece of kintsugi each of us a unique piece patched together as a whole with a golden through line of love. In and through our connections with each other we can explore and expand our capacity – as individuals and as a community – to be about this breach repair work of sharing love in the world. An act which makes space for and brings about the kindom of God – a kindom which Jesus goes on in the next verses of Luke chapter 13 to describe as a mustard seed – a tiny seed that, when planted, transforms and grows exponentially creating new spaces of life-giving shelter and shade. It is a simple reminder that even if our breach repair work seems small and insignificant in moments – it is the fertile soil that fosters creative acts of justice-centric love; making space for liberation, new connections, and transforming  brokenness into life-giving possibilities.