July 7, 2024

“We have these treasures in jars of clay…” (Full Service)

Passage: Psalm 139: 1-15, 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12 and 16-18
Service Type:

Sermon begins at 39:20


Scripture:  Psalm 139: 1-15 and 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12 and 16-18


Message:   “We have these treasures in jars of clay…”


In our Old Testament reading, in Psalm 139, King David has penned a wonderful reminder that by God’s hand we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.  God has made us in secret…God has knit us together in our mothers’ wombs … all our days have been entered in God’s book before there was even one of them… oh what a wonderful picture of God’s providential love and care for us!


In our New Testament reading, we are reminded that we have these treasures in jars of clay.  There is a contrast between the message of the gospel and the messengers of the gospel.  The amazing, good news of Jesus is carried by ordinary, frail messengers of the gospel like you and like me.  In the New Testament, we are reminded “we have these treasures in jars of clay”…  “we have these treasures in jars of clay…”


Clay jars…you may be thinking…I’ve been compared to many things before, but never a clay jar!   If you look at the communion table, you will see clay jars in all shapes and sizes …all beautiful in their own way… Some of these jars are hardened and can withstand a lot of pressure … others are very fragile and can easily crack.  Is there a jar there that reminds you of you?  Is there a jar that you would rather be?  As Christians we have been likened to common clay jars… all fearfully and wonderfully made… How can we hold these seemingly opposite ideas in tension?  Let’s see how this sounds… we are fearfullyandwonderfullymadecommonclayjars?   It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?


In Paul’s day, clay jars were ubiquitous… ordinary vessels that were used to hold something …no matter the shape, the design or the condition, clay jars all had the same purpose… they were used to contain something…  some held food or water…others held oil… still others held candles…some jars even held valuable items that people wanted to store, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, or valuable jewelry,  whereas other jars held the household garbage. These were common vessels…they could be easily broken or chipped or cracked.  The potter designed each jar for a specific purpose. A vase for flowers …a pitcher for water…a bowl for fruit… a pot for tea.


Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message sheds a spotlight on the metaphor of Christians being like clay jars.  And I quote “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.  That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.  As it is, there’s not much chance of that.  You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. “


And those of us of a certain age who have many more miles on our tires might say AMEN to that thought…as we mature, we are increasingly reminded of the fragility of human life.  Our bodies begin to ache and often fail us ...our carefully made plans can be irretrievably stolen in an instant…our own human vulnerability can be painful and heartbreaking.


The message of the gospel is precious and valuable, but God has deliberately placed this message in human clay jars…jars that get hungry and tired and discouraged and suffer illnesses, and setbacks and injuries.  God didn’t design us to be Superheroes…in fact Paul says that we are battered and bruised vessels…Paul’s victory in his own life could only be attributed to the power of God working in him.  He says he was hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down!  In which ways has this been your experience in life?  Yet, Paul then adds but  “I’ve not been crushed…not in despair….not abandoned….not destroyed…”for it is in our own weakness, that God reveals his power through us.  Have you also experienced God’s power being revealed through your weakness?


So, this passage teaches that the only treasure that we are meant to contain in our physical bodies is “the glorious, good news about Christ…Christ in us…the hope of glory”.


We have been designed so that others will be attracted, not to our physical appearance, but to the treasure that is Christ INus. We are designed to be full of God’s spirit - designed so that God’s spirit will spill out of us in  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, loyalty, gentleness and self-control. Yes, in you, in me…weak, sinful, wandering, fragile human beings…God in His wisdom has designed us this way.  We are all fragile vessels of God’s own design.


And we all face the same temptation….as sinful human beings,  our tendency is to look at the outward person,  and the other “clay jars” around us, and compare ourselves with them.   This tendency is reinforced on every side in our culture with the message that our worth is measured by our outward appearance, or in what we own, or in our success.   Think about the proliferation of social media platforms…Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter and how many people post hundreds of pictures of themselves there. Think about the thousands of young people who consider themselves to be “influencers” on-line… where it’s all about likes and clicks.   Oftentimes we are unduly attracted by whatever we aspire to be like but could never attain.  Sometimes we are impressed with people’s credentials, or their life experience, or their personality, or their success on the job, or their athletic prowess, or their particular skills… Remember the truth in the Desiderata which  states…”there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

And our power as Christians does not come from any of these things…it comes from the presence of God, the Holy Spirit ,in our hearts… our power as Christians comes from the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our hearts.


We only have to watch the news or read the paper to see accounts of people whose jars of clay are empty inside.   Many people feel as if they have little meaning or purpose in life; if pressed, they might admit that they feel as if they have nothing to live for; their hearts are full of emptiness and despair…as we know too well, even having celebrity status cannot satisfy the heart’s desire to find meaning and purpose in life.  Superficially,  people may be working very hard at developing or sprucing up the best-looking clay pot on the block, while inside they feel empty and alone.  And experiencing this type of despair can drive people to look to the world’s way of filling up their clay jars- through accumulation of stuff, through climbing the corporate ladder, through addictions to any number of substances, through engaging in extreme sports… These are just some examples to which we can add many more. With a wider-angle lens, we see, in nations around the world, an increasing number of people adopting  conspiracy theories, or ideologies that glorify and promote ethnic hatred, racial discrimination, brutal violence towards innocent people and domination of others.   Remember, pots that are empty will fill up with something….


We know that when a clay pot is well used in everyday living, it is often bumped, jostled, chipped, cracked, dropped or even broken.  And the older the pot gets, the more likely it is to be cracked or broken.  There is a common misperception that Christians should expect to be exempt from being touched by the problems of the world.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.   The apostle Paul says that we will all experience those things that are common to humankind such as afflictions, perplexities, persecutions and catastrophes.


It is through experiencing these pressures that God forms our godly character…God is looking for our willingness to carry God’s presence as a light to the world…he desires pots that are appropriate for the master’s use. When the pressure in our lives causes our pots to crack, God’s light can shine even through the cracks to others.  As Leonard Cohen admonishes us in his song…”Anthem”


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.


It is in this everyday living experience that the contents of our clay vessels spill out to others. When we are jostled and bumped and cracked,  God’s design is that the extraordinary power of God should spill out.  This word “Power” here in the Greek comes from the word “dynamite!”


So, this all sounds very good in theory, but what does it really mean in practice, for us, on a day- to- day basis…As Francis Schaeffer asked, how shall we then live?


I believe that God is calling us to be willing to have our jars of clay cracked or even broken, so that His light can spill out. The secret is to want to be a working vessel for God to use and to fill rather than wanting to be  an ornamental jar.   In the words of the hymn, “Have Thine Own Way,” we need to ask God’s spirit to mould us and make us after his will, while we are yielded, waiting and still.


Our human tendency, to put “self” in the centre of everything, has to be broken… the breaking of the self  not a one-time only proposition, but a lifelong journey…. as  daily we put our sinful natures to death, and allow Christ to shine through us, then “rivers of living water” will begin to flow out of each of us.


I believe that God’s message to us today is very specific… did you catch it?  ... rivers of water will flow out of each of us… every pot has an important purpose… thankfully there is no best-before date with God…no one is too young or too old… This truth is shown week after week in our church as God shines God’s light out through all of our lives in community- through our people in their uninhibited worship of God, through our  children and adolescents in their curiosity, development and service to God, through our adults in their management of life -  family, work, community and church life… and through our seniors in their wisdom, their patience and their tenacity in the face of the challenges associated with aging amongst many other things.


God wants to use your common clay jar, regardless of your age. for God’s purpose.

You’ve heard me say before, when I mused out loud if I was too old to pursue God’s call to ministry, my mother reminded me that I would still be the same age, whether or not I obeyed God’s call.  Mothers have an uncanny way of hitting the nail on the head!


The Japanese have developed the art of Kintsugi,  which literally means “golden patchwork”.  It refers to the restoration of broken pottery using gold lacquer or another precious metal  to repair and  highlight the restored seams.   Each Kintsugi bowl has an authentic story behind it, and in its restored state it becomes functional, stronger and more dignified because the repair of the broken pieces  reinforces the scars in gold.   The bowl’s brokenness becomes its beauty.


Likewise, It is God the potter who is the restorer of the brokenness of our lives.  It is God who lovingly puts the broken pieces of our lives back together.  Just like an authentic Kintsugi bowl is very valuable, so are our lives very valuable to God…we were bought with the price of Jesus’ own body, slain for us.  When we look at the Kintsugi pottery, it invites us to hold competing feelings in tension…while we might mourn the broken places in our lives, we see that Jesus has repaired those broken pieces and restored us to a beautiful wholeness, so that we can be containers of his blessings to be poured out for others.


God’s ways are not our ways. We naturally think he needs us to be strong. But his ways are more like fashioning  Kintsugi. In his perfect plan, God has always picked broken people to do extraordinary things. He has planned to use pain for our good and his glory in ways we could never imagine.


Dave Furman  has said this…


“Similar to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, our rough edges and cracks are filled in with gold to point to the greatness of God… We can embrace God in our trials with faith that God is doing a work in us beyond our comprehension. Our scars are not things to run from or to hide from others. Through them we exalt the one who is conforming us more and more into the image of Christ.”


Let’s always remember Paul’s admonition which says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-10)


You see, God in his wisdom has chosen to reside in us, jars of clay, broken, cracked and chipped though we are… Remember God’s standard is not perfection… God’s standard is not perfection “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.” Through our human weaknesses, the transcendence of His power will be shown before everyone, and his glory will be revealed so that all may see the Light of our Lord Jesus Christ shining through us, and come to know Jesus, whom to know is life eternal.  To God be the glory.  AMEN