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Treasure in Broken Pots

Updated: Jun 10



“TREASURE IN BROKEN POTS”

a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

June 9, 2024


2 Corinthians 4:5-12 NRSV

5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.


There was a man who lived about 2000 years ago.  It isn’t exaggeration to say that this man changed the course of history, the world as it was, an influence perhaps far beyond any President, any Pope, or maybe even Jesus himself.  The man wasn’t perfect.  He was no superhero.  In fact, he had a serious physical health issue.

         

This morning we are focusing on health as we continue to celebrate being Open and Affirming. As I said earlier, our covenant as an Open and Affirming Church is to show an extravagant welcome to all.  The fact is that just in the United States it is estimated that 1 in 4 of us have some issues with what some call "disability." That doesn’t even include other definitions that would not include disability as an official label.  These might include mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions, or self-care.  Almost 30% of us are obese, which can truly limit ones life in some ways.  Another report states that in the year 2021 22.8% of adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness.  That represents 1 out of every 5 adults.

         

The reason we choose to identify ourselves as an “Open and Affirming,” congregation is that we believe that Jesus was open and affirming of the people who came to him, even if they were broken, or ill, or otherwise different.  We believe that God blesses us not because we are perfect, but because God loves us unconditionally.  We believe that our challenges we face are opportunities to show others compassion and spiritual support in their challenges.  We believe that a church is not a church if it chooses to love some, and hate others.

         

Now back to that man I mentioned at the beginning.  Of course, I mean the man we call the Apostle Paul.  Paul himself says that he suffered from a “thorn in the side.”  Evidently, he had a physical illness or issue that hounded him his whole life.  He says he prayed and prayed for it to be taken from him, but it never was.  Some scholars speculate that perhaps he had epilepsy and was subject to seizures.  Some even speculate that the vision he had, when he went from being a murderous enemy of the followers of Jesus, to a deeply committed believer and follower of Jesus, happened in a grand mal seizure.  The Book of Acts describes the event. It says he fell from his horse and had a vision and heard voices.  Today, we would suspect that was the result of some sort of a physical or mental illness.  He experienced it as a spiritual transformation.

         

Whatever it was, it is not hyperbole to suggest he may have changed the world more powerfully than any single President, Pope, or other figure in history.  He started churches that transformed the Western world.  His thinking, writing, and actions created a new reality based on his experience of Jesus.  Some historians say Christianity would never have become a world-wide religion if it weren’t for Paul.  It would have remained a small sect within Judaism, they say.  True or not, we’ll never know.  But what it teaches me is that God has a way of helping us live meaningful, significant lives even when we struggle with issues that might otherwise steal our lives away from us.

         

I say all this not to either glorify or demean anyone’s physical, mental, or spiritual challenges.  No!  If anything, I intend to make it clear that Paul’s example alerts us to God’s presence with us when we struggle with these challenges.  And our churches should be places that welcome, lift up, and engage us all “no matter who we are, or where we are on life’s journey.”

         

In the letters we have that Paul wrote he articulated his understanding of God’s presence with him in spite of his struggles.  Again and again to different churches he says, in spite of his struggles, God found ways to inspire and strengthen him to do his task.  The image that he uses to define this life is a clay pot with treasure in it.  “We have this treasure in clay pots,” Paul says, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

         

That’s good news because if it depends on us, I suspect whatever “it” is, “ain’t happening.”  I can think of a dozen excuses not to do what I don’t want to do when I am tired, when I am hurting, when I am overwhelmed by life, when I am struggling with decision-making, or any other challenge that makes me want to lay down and do nothing.  And what’s worse is when I face that feeling that because I have this physical issue or that mental or spiritual challenge, my value is worthless!  This is the greatest challenge any of us may face.  And all of us, as followers of Jesus’ way should be ready to lift up our siblings when they are facing these things.  It is called compassion.

         

But Paul energizes me with his assurance that, despite all he faced, the life of the Risen Christ, that spirit, lived in him so that he never gave up.  He says,


“8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

         

Life is at work in you.  Life is at work in us.  Even though we may feel like nothing more than broken clay pots, the life of Christ is at work in us.  Seek that life out.  Look for the ways God can use you to bless the world, bless others, bless the earth.  We have the treasure of a God who gives resurrection power and life to us.  We have the possibility of changing our own lives, changing another person’s life, changing the world if we let this power that comes from the Living Creator, the Spirit of Life, the one who came to us in the flesh called Jesus loose in us.

         

I know we can become discouraged, thinking our lives are nothing but empty clay pots, but let me share one more thought with you.  Sometimes the stuff God pours into us, the treasure, is like water in a broken clay pot.  It spills out faster than we can get it to where we want to pour it out.  But let me share an old parable, perhaps a bit cheesy, but then so am I.  As I was struggling to know what to say about this today, a colleague sent out this old chestnut and it seems to fit perfectly. 

         

A water bearer in India had two large pots hung on opposite ends of a pole he carried across his neck. One of the pots was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water, while the other was cracked and, at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, arrived only half full.


This went on daily for two years.  The bearer delivered only one-and-a-half pots of water to his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, but the cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.


One day, after two years of what it believed to be bitter failure, the flawed pot spoke to the water bearer. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”


“Why,” the bearer asked, “what are you ashamed of?”


The pot replied, “For these past two years, I have been able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts.”


The water bearer felt sorry for the old, cracked pot, and, in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”


As they went up the hill, the pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wildflowers along the path, and it was cheered, at least a little. At the end of the trail, however, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, so, again, it apologized to the bearer for its failure.


The man said, “Did you notice there are flowers on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path.  Every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house” [ Michael Piazza, “Liberating Word,” May 31, 2024 ].


Treasure in broken pots.  That’s what Paul was.  Think about this: if God could use a Jesus-hating, murderous, possibly epileptic to change the world, what might God be able to accomplish if we build our lives on God’s love?  Maybe then we can sing:

I will build my life upon Your love, It is a firm foundation

I will put my trust in You alone, And I will not be shaken.

 

Come on up band, and let’s help these cracked pots sing it.  AMEN.

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