Henri Nouwen at Crystal Cathedral, Part Two | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: This week, we’re going to listen to the second sermon in the series Henri Nouwen gave at the Crystal Cathedral. Again, Henri affirms that we’re the beloved daughters and sons of God, but in this beautiful message he explores what it means to be chosen, to be blessed, to be broken and to be given. He tells us that we are unique and each one has a role to play in God’s story. I think you’ll really enjoy listening to what Henri Nouwen has to share in part two of this series.
Henri Nouwen: I’m really grateful that I was invited by you all to be here. And I would like to very simply say that you and I are the beloved daughters and sons of God. And that’s very hard to claim, because very quickly we think that we are what we do. That we are what other people say about us. That we are what we have. But the real truth that Jesus announces is that we are like Jesus himself, the beloved child of God. And it’s very, very important that in the midst of this world that keeps telling us, “No, no, no, you are what you do, you are what people say about you, you are what you have,” that we listen to that voice that keeps telling us, “You are my beloved. On you, my favor rests.” This morning, I would like to talk a little bit about how we can become more fully the beloved, if that’s true. And the story that you just heard was a story about bread.
Jesus took bread and he blessed it and he broke it and he gave it. And you know, Jesus did exactly the same at the last supper. He took bread. He blessed it. He broke it and he gave it. And when Jesus entered the house of those two disciples in Emmaus, he took bread. He blessed it. He broke it and he gave it and they recognized him. And that is what we continue to do through history. We take bread, we bless it. We break it and we give it. And what I would like you to hear today is that these four words summarize the life of Jesus. Jesus is the one who is taken by God, who is blessed by God, who is broken on the cross and given to the world. And these same four words are the words that summarize your life as the beloved, like they summarize Jesus’ life as the beloved, because your spiritual life, your life as the beloved daughters and sons of God, is a life that is taken. That is blessed. That is broken and given.
And I would like very much for you from today to remember just these four words. If you could just go home and say, “I am taken, I am blessed, I am broken, and I’m given.” These four words are the words I want to give you this morning, so that you can claim what it means that you are the beloved son and daughter of God. Because if you can live your life as the taken, the blessed, the broken and the given, the world will recognize Jesus in you – in the breaking of the bread, in the breaking of your life. You are taken. You know, do you believe that God has taken you? Maybe we have a little better word for that. God has chosen you. Think about that for a moment. That you are chosen by God. That means God has seen you from all eternity, as precious in his eyes, as unique. There is no other than you that is like you. There’s no other person that is exactly like you. You are unique and you have a unique role to play in God’s story.
Most people don’t believe that at all. Most people don’t even think they are welcome in the world. But God is saying to you and to me, “I’ve seen you from all eternity in your uniqueness. You are my chosen one. You’re special in my eyes.” And what I hope that you will realize is that this is a surprise. And if you believe that you’re chosen, it doesn’t mean that others are not chosen. See, in our world, when they say you’re chosen, you’re the best in your class, too bad for the rest. If you say you’re chosen for an award, then others didn’t get the award.
If you’re chosen to be the president of a company or a class, then the others didn’t make it. But in God’s way, that’s not at all true. In fact, if you believe that you are chosen, God gives you eyes to see the chosen-ness of others. You suddenly discover that your chosen-ness, your uniqueness opens up in your heart a place where you can suddenly realize, “Hey brother, hey sister! You, too, are unique in God’s eyes. And that doesn’t take anything away from my uniqueness.” That’s the great news. Very hard to claim in a world of statistics and a world in which you often think that you’re just a number. Hold onto it, because it’s the first sign of your belovedness.
And the second is you’re blessed. You know, the word benediction, blessing, benediction. That word comes from bene, which means good. And diction mean saying things. So, benediction means saying good things. “You are blessed.” That means God is saying good things to you. In my community with mentally handicapped people, there was a wonderful woman called Janet. And I came to one of our homes and I saw Janet coming up and she says, “Henri, can you give me a blessing?” You know, as a good priest. I put my hands on her and said to her, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And she says, “Henri, it doesn’t work.” I said, “It doesn’t work? I gave you a blessing.” And she said, “It doesn’t work.”
And I was confused. I said, “What do you want?” She said, “I want a blessing.” Well, after the service, and there were a lot of people sitting on the floor and I said, “Janet wants a blessing.” And she says, “Yes, I want a blessing.” And she walked right up and put her head right against my chest. And it had this alb on, and I put it around her and she huddled herself right in me. And I brought up her chin a little bit. And I said, “Janet, you’re a beautiful woman. You’re so beautiful. We love you so much. And I know you’re a little low today. You need to hear it again, that you are the beloved of God and that we love you.”
She looked up and said, “Yes, Henri, that’s true.” And she walked back. And right after that, everybody else said, “Hey, I want a blessing, too.” People came all up, and I was blessing people and holding them and telling them how good they were. And finally, one of those big assistants, you know, a Notre Dame football player, who was staying with us to help out – big, strong guy with his neck going right here. And he said, “What about me?”
I said, “Come up.” And I put my hand on his shoulder and I said, “John, God loves you.” And big tears came out of his eyes.
We are called to claim the blessing and to bless people wherever we go. That’s our Christian call to say good things about people. Not to give them little compliments, but to say good things about their being human, about their belovedness. But we are also broken. And I have a deep feeling that our brokenness in this world has a lot to do with relationships. Maybe you and I are not poor, physically, economically, but we might be poor because there is a brokenness in our hearts. And I guess each one of you will know what that means. Husband and wife won’t be able to speak well to each other. Children and parents feel brokenness in their relationship. Friends that you thought were there for you suddenly cannot respond to your needs. And you can feel an enormous inner anguish. And an enormous inner pain. If I asked myself, “What, what is my biggest suffering,” it’s always somewhere to do with brokenness in a relationship.
We all have broken hearts. Somewhere, people did not love us the way we want to be loved. Somewhere, we feel rejected, abandoned, misunderstood, marginalized. And what do you do with that? I want to give you two words. First of all, you have to have the courage to embrace your brokenness and not deny it. To befriend your brokenness. To say, “Yes, I am in pain and I’m not doing as if I’m not. I’m hurting. I’m crying out. I’m in pain.”
But it is my brokenness. And just as I am unique, I claim my unique pain. We have to have the courage to embrace our brokenness and to claim it as our pain. That’s what Jesus means by “taking up your cross.” He doesn’t say make a cross for anybody else. He doesn’t say create a cross for yourself. He says, simply embrace your cross and say, “It’s mine.”
You will never be a happy, joyful person when you’re always denying your brokenness: “Oh, it’s not so bad. I got over it. You just have to look at it from the other side.” No, no, no, no, no. First of all, look it in the face and don’t be afraid. And secondly, I would like to say to you, dare to put the brokenness under the blessing. Put your brokenness under the blessing that says that you’re good. And many of us live under the curse. Many of us say, “Wow, I wasn’t good anyhow. Now look what happened. I lost my friend. Look what happened. He betrayed me. Look what happened. It all proves I’m no good.”
But Jesus calls us to take our brokenness and put it under the blessing. Under the hands who say, “You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son. On you, my favor rests.” And when you put it under the blessing, you will be able to say one day, the same words that Jesus said: “Didn’t you know that we have to suffer, and so enter into our glory.” When you put your brokenness under the blessing, then your brokenness can be a pruning in which you are purified and made more and more golden, holy for God. That’s not easy, but it’s the call.
And finally, you and I are given. You and I are taken, blessed, broken to be given to the world. You’re not there for yourself. I’m not there for myself. I’m there for you. You’re there for me. We are there for each other, but we are there for the generations to come.
Your little life does not end on the day you die. Your little life is a gift for your family, for your friends, but far beyond that, for the people who you never even will see. I know about it. Jesus doesn’t ask you to be successful. He says, “Be fruitful.” And how can you be fruitful without dying? If the grain doesn’t die, it will not bring any fruits. Listen to Jesus. He says, “it’s good for you that I go, because when I go, I will send you my spirit, my breath, my love, my intimacy. And that will lead you to the full truth.” That is to the full betrothal, to the full espousal, to the full communion.
And if you believe that your life is a life in which you are called to give more and more and more of yourself, not just a little bit, but all of you, that you can become food and drink for others. When you are willing to pour yourself out for others, you can trust that you will bear immense fruit far beyond your little life, your little chronology, your little clock time. And dear brothers and sisters, you know, I’m so glad that I could say that to you, because I want you to know that just as Jesus’ death became fruitful for generations and generations to come, anyone who lives like Jesus did, as the beloved son or daughter of God, can be sure that his or her life will bear fruit for ages to come. That indeed, all generations will call you blessed.
So be sure to realize that every little bit of giving you do is already part of your becoming fruitful as the beloved. So your and my lives are taken, chosen, blessed, broken, and given. And please, if you go to bed this evening, look over your day and say, “Where was I chosen again? Where was I blessed again? Where was I broken again? And where was I given?” Every time recognize that, you recognize the presence of God in your heart, the presence of his spirit in the center of your being. And you will know that you are the beloved daughter and son of God, and that you can live a free life, free to love.
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