Do you ever wonder if eight-year-olds are listening to your sermon? Not too long ago, our home congregation recently said farewell to a pastor who had served a tenure of nearly 11 years. Given this long stretch of time, I thought that I should ask my twelve-year-old son a nearly impossible question, “Of all the sermons you’ve heard over your lifetime, is there one that stands out to you?” After scratching his head and looking at me quizzically (as if to say, 'Why do you always ask these kinds of questions?'), he finally replied: "The one about the broken mirror."
Having to dig a bit, I learned that he was talking about a story told by our pastor in a sermon at least four years prior, a story brought to light by Kenda Creasy Dean in her book Almost Christian. In this book about the spiritual lives of American teenagers, she shares an insightful story about Alexander Papaderos, a peace advocate. (This story reminds me, during this season of Easter, of the profound gift of the cross and resurrection in the midst of the brokenness of our lives.) The setting of the story picks up right at the end of a conference, when Robert Fulghum raised his hand and asked Papaderos an important question:
“Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?” People chuckled as they were gathering up their things. But, Papaderos took the question seriously. He fished out a small round mirror from his wallet as the room shushed. He began to tell about a day when, as a small child in a poor, remote village during World War II, he found the pieces of a broken mirror from a German motorcycle. “I tried to find all the pieces and put them together” he said. “But it was not possible. So I kept only the largest one. This one.” He held up the mirror.
"I began to play with it as a boy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it."
Papaderos then concluded, “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world. [...] This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.” (Dean, pg. 83-84)
So, there you have it! Lest we wonder if eight-year-olds are listening during your sermon, in telling me of this recollection my son has assured me that even four years later, he continues to mull it over in his mind. He recognizes the fragmented aspects of our life and being. He yearns for a connection to God and understanding God’s purpose and promises for his life. He’s figuring out that life’s not perfect. And some days, in fact, life feels fragmented and shattered.
As the priesthood of all believers, young and old, varied in vocation and call, we seek to keep step with the distinct rhythms of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. Easter is a season in which we recognize our unique calling to receive the redemptive blessings of Christ, even in the midst of our brokenness, and to reflect God’s light into the world. The one who dares to enter into unknown places of fear and darkness – even a darkened tomb – empowers us to join in the resurrection power of bringing light and life to the world. So, what might that look like for you? My 12 year old is thinking about it. I am thinking about it. Let’s take these fragments of our lives, and reflect the light of Christ.