Breaking Point


A sermon given on Maundy Thursday, April 21st, 2011.

What is your breaking point?

Have you been broken?

Are you broke?

In the story we will read together in a little while, people are breaking.

Judas, for instance.   I suspect that if you had told Judas months earlier  that the day would come when he would betray Jesus into the hands of the authorities, causing his death on a cross, he would have said, “That’s impossible! I love Jesus.”

Human love is a funny thing, though – the way, for instance, that we can love and hate the same person.  Somehow, Judas reached a breaking point.

He couldn’t take it anymore.   Maybe it seemed to him as though Jesus just  expected too much from him.  Maybe he concluded the path Jesus was leading them on was headed for disaster.

He couldn’t take it any more.  He broke. He took things into his own hands.

What was Judas thinking? Who knows.   Maybe he thought he knew better than Jesus. Maybe he thought that if Jesus were arrested, it would trigger the revolt of the people that Jesus was unwilling to provoke.

This was only the beginning of Judas’ breaking, however.  Judas ended up taking his life in despair.

Judas was breaking, but he wasn’t the only one.   At that last supper, Jesus quietly informed all of the disciples that they would all reach their breaking point that very night.  They would all fall away.

Peter, in particular, refused to believe this.   “I will not break! My love
for you is too strong!  These others may break, but not me!”

“Yes, Peter, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

They went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, and there the breaking began.  “Keep me company as I pray,” Jesus asked.   But they couldn’t do it.  In their exhaustion of body and spirit, they were breaking down.   Three separate times they abandoned Jesus into their sleep.

Judas brought the guards to arrest him.   The disciples fled. Peter was
breaking, but he didn’t want to admit it.   He followed at a distance,
hiding in the shadows.   It’s a cold night, and Peter drew near to a
campfire to warm himself.

By the light of the fire a slave girl recognizes Peter as a friend of Jesus. He denies it.  Once. Twice. Three times.   Then the cock crows.

The breaking was complete.   Peter wept like a motherless child.  There
was no hope left inside himself.

We wonder, sometimes, what we would have done if we had been there.  Would we have denied Jesus?   Would we have stood our ground? We ask the question hoping that we wouldn’t, but fearing that we would.

Perhaps it was necessary for Peter to break in order for him to receive
the resurrection.

We all have a breaking point.  Where exactly that breaking point is in
each person will vary depending on a whole host of variables, but one
thing is for sure: we all have a breaking point.  It’s part of what it
means to be a human being.   We are frail.

The desire to believe that we don’t have breaking reveals our desire to
be something other than human.

People who pass judgment of others who break down are people who
haven’t acknowledged their own breaking point, nor the mercy of God
in not yet leading them to that point. But in truth, there but for the grace of God go all of us.

The story we remember tonight speaks even more directly of “breaking.”  Jesus refers to it himself.   Sitting at the last supper, he lifts the bread before him, breaks it, and says, “This is my body broken for you.”  And then he lifts the cup and says, “This is my blood shed for you.”

His life is broken for us.


So he can be with us in all our breakings.  Jesus gives the bread to the
disciples to eat, referring to it as his own body, broken for them. He gives them the wine to drink, referring to it as his own blood, poured out for them.

They are signs of his unending love.  In every experience of brokenness, Jesus will be with them.

Until this year, I overlooked a little detail of the story: Jesus does not
with hold the bread and the cup from Judas. Judas is welcome at the holy communion table.

There is no brokenness that takes us out of Jesus’ love.  In fact, being
broken is the pathway through which we enter into the deepest communion with Jesus, the broken one.

There is a lovely little story in John’s Gospel about how after Jesus’
death, Peter decides to go fishing.  It’s as though Peter feels like
he’s flunked being a disciple—now its time to go back to fishing.

Others go with him. That night, the fishing doesn’t go well.   They
catch no fish.

In the early morning, a stranger appears on the shoreline.  “Children, do you have any fish?”  No, they admit. Broken as disciples – now they seem broken as fishermen as well.

“Cast your nets on the other side.”  They do, and their nets are filled
with fish – as John mentions – to the point of “breaking.”

Peter jumps in the water and swims to shore. There he finds Jesus has made him breakfast. Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?”  Yes, he answers.

“Feed my sheep.”  He ask Peter the same question, two more times – a total of three, balancing Peter’s three denials.  The last time Jesus concludes by saying, “Feed my lambs.”

There’s a place in the church for Peter who denied Jesus three times.  A leadership position in fact, because as someone who has known brokenness up close and personal, Peter can be counted on to be tender with the lambs.

He will be gentle with those who are in the midst of breaking.

In the New Testament, the church is called the “body of Christ.”  You and me together, we are Christ’s body here on earth.  And that means we have a different attitude towards being broken from that of the world.

Jesus’ body was broken.   Being broken isn’t foreign to us; it is who we are.  We can’t deny it. We are breaking.   Some of us have already known some pretty major breakings.  We know that in the end, we all will be broken.   And this gives us a deep gentleness.   We are tender, because we recognize how fragile we are.

Church is a place for people where its just fine to cry if that’s what you
need to be doing at a given moment to do.  There’s no shame in crying. Jesus wept.  Peter wept.   Weeping is what humans do.

Church is a place where it is entirely appropriate to admit your failure and your sin, to acknowledge your breaking, because we know a God who loves us through it all.

And in the end, the breaking reveals a mysterious goodness to it.   The cross of Jesus, the place of his body’s breaking, becomes the sign of an unending love and light. The light shines through best in the broken places.

I want to end with a prayer by Richard Rohr that David showed me:

I thank you for becoming weak, Lord Jesus, so I don’t have to be strong.

I thank you for being willing to be considered imperfect and strange,
so I do not have to be perfect and normal.

I thank you, Jesus, for being willing to be disapproved of, so I do not
have to try so hard to be approved and liked.

I thank you for being considered a failure, so I do not have to give my life trying to pretend I’m a success.

I thank you for being wrong by the standards of religion and state, so I do not have to be right anywhere, even in my own mind.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.