The fragile resilience of clay

Sermon
Rev. Trip Porch
June 7, 2015

Corinthians 4: 5-18
The Greek that Paul uses in this part of his letter gets really complex and confusing. And to make matters worse he is talking about some really complex Philosophy and theology. Each bible translation has treated these verses in many different ways so in order to make this scripture easier to understand I am using a combination of the Common English Bible, The Message, and my own translation.

Listen now for God’s word to us:
5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you, servants for Jesus’ cause.
It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. 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 people making that mistake. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at.

We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not crushed and demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.

What the world did to Jesus, it also does to us
—trial and torture, mockery and murder;
What Jesus did in response, he does also in us—he lives!
Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. Even while we endure the worst, you’ll also find the best, life at work in you!

13-15 We have the same faithful spirit as the folks in scripture. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.

16-18 So we’re not giving up! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. There’s far more here than meets the eye. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

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Photo by Sean Mullen 
http://bit.ly/1GiNphz

I was a fresh-faced seventeen year old when I decided to apply for my first job. I knew hands down where I wanted to work, and what I wanted to do…
I wanted to be a barista at a coffee shop.
It wasn't because I liked coffee,
but because I really <em>wanted</em> to like coffee and I wanted be around people who were in the coffee "culture."

 

So I marched into Starbucks and submitted my application.

It wasn’t long before I was preparing for the first job interview of my life. I was nervous so I asked the folks around me for tips for my interview. Each person made sure I knew the one question that was asked at every job interview, “What would you say are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses?” They said hands down this question would come up so try to think of an answer in advance.

Then they gave me the secret to answering this question and getting the job…

Spin your weakness into potential strengths.”
Say something like,
“Oh well, I’m a bit of a perfectionist
Few people can get the job done as well as I can,
so I sometimes have a hard time delegating tasks.

Or for this Starbucks job they suggested this answer,

My weakness is that I am not a strong morning person…at least not until I drink a cup of coffee!

I’m not sure how I ended up answering the question when it came time for my interview, but whatever I said, however I spun my weaknesses, I thankfully got the job which was the spark that began a lifelong love affair between me and coffee.

I don’t know when this practice of downplaying our weaknesses began in our society, but however it started one thing is clear, it is a practice that is kind of out of control in our world today.
Its not just in job interviews, we hide our weaknesses in conversations with neighbors at the grocery store, in the hallways at school, and we even do it with our closest family members.
It is a practice that is modeled for us at the national level when magazines and advertising agents decide to photoshop their models and when political campaigns try to present the “perfect” image with model families and yellow labs for their candidates to use to win your vote.

And beyond all of this, it isn’t something that we’re naive about. We know it is a trend in our society. New blog posts and news stories come out every day reminding of this piece of our culture.
But despite our awareness of this being an issue …naming the messiness of our lives is still one of the hardest things we can do. It is so hard to figure out who you can be vulnerable with, and when and where are the safest times and places to share our insecurities and weaknesses.

In the scripture from Second Corinthians, Paul takes a stab at doing this. He explores life’s messiness and acknowledges the reality that we all have weaknesses not only as individuals but also as a society. But he also explores a really important question. If we all share in common that we have weaknesses, and we are all living in a world that can feel brutal… How are we supposed to share hope? How are we supposed to share joy? How are we supposed to carry the good news of what God did in Christ?

And he comes up with a beautiful image to understand who we are in relationship to this world, and who God is in relationship to us.

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He describes our lives as simple clay jars. Common unadorned vessels that are actually quite plain and fragile. We are all ordinary vessels that are easily chipped and broken, left on our own our clay lives can easily dry up and crumble. And we shouldn’t try to run away from this fact, we shouldn’t pretend like somehow we got the deluxe model life with unbreakable sides.

No matter how thick you try to build up your walls to protect yourself… We have all been beaten up by this world, we have loved, we have lost, we have failed tests and classes, We have gotten sick, We have let go of faith, and we have even at times lost hope.
It doesn’t take much for our simple clay vessels to get chipped, broken, or crushed and everyone of our lives bear some kind of mark or fracture from the difficulties we’ve faced.
And yet Paul reminds us that these are vessels that God chooses to pour his treasure into. We are where God stores grace.

We are full of holes and cracks, if you fill us up we will spill and leak all over the place. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe God wants our cracks to be filled up with grace, so that we leak grace onto others around us.

In preaching class in seminary, a friend of mine stood up in the pulpit and read the scripture he was going to preach on, and then began to preach. The first thing he said was ..

This may be the worst sermon I will ever preach… My wife got the stomach flu earlier this week and just yesterday all of our kids got it. I have been up all night for several days taking care of everyone and it is taking everything I’ve got to be awake, to be here with you, and to preach the word.

He then went on to preach what was a decent sermon and fitting too …it was about how we hold each other up in our weakness and how this is what the resurrection means to the Body of Christ.
But because of his honesty and vulnerability the real sermon that was preached wasn’t what he said but what happened. He shared his struggle in that community of our classroom and as soon as he finished. We surrounded him and said a prayer for him and his family and it is still one of the sermons from seminary that we talk about most.

Job interviews and workplaces may not be structured for us to share our weaknesses, but in this community… this is what we do.
When life is chipping you away, and it is everything you can do to just show up and maybe you can’t even do that, We are here to hold you and surround your cracks with love and Christ’s redeeming life.
This is what the church does! It’s what we practice every sunday in worship and fellowship and It is exactly what happens when we gather together at this communion table! Because here Christ welcomes all, strangers, friends and enemies to join him in community surrounded on grace.

Here, Jesus reminds us that we are united, that each of life’s cracks are answered with unfolding grace, so that we can be sustained in this community here to sustain the community out there.

I find it compelling that throughout Paul’s letter to the corinthian church he uses the subject “we”… its not just about Paul and God.. its not just about me and Jesus and you and Jesus, its about all of us in this community, walking through the harsh messiness of our world together.
Together we draw on the newness of God’s grace, which we know about through Christ, and which we experience through the love shown between us.
We are all fragile vessels even those that seem like they have it all together have cracks that feel irreparable. But when we all rely on God’s action in this community of clay jars we help each other find the places that God is filling us in.

Paul goes on to reminds us that Jesus also endured the same pains of this world. The clay jar of his life experienced some pretty brutal cracks. He regularly dealt with ridicule, mockery, he even endured physical pain and a violent death.
In Jesus, God experienced weakness intimately. But Paul also reminds us that Jesus’ response to this throughout his life was always the same.
Even in the thick of the messiness of the world Jesus was aware of the overflowing grace God put in his life. Even with life’s deepest cracks Jesus draws from the wealth of grace God poured into his community and he answers with life, he answers with sharing life with all he encountered.

Paul suggests that Jesus continues to respond the same way in us. He lives. Whenever our community gathers and to share our weakness together and share the grace god offers, Jesus lives in us.
We need each other, we need this community as a safe place to be broken, and to be held.
And We need this community to let God surround us in prayer, grace, and love.

One Sunday you may sit in a pew… broken, questioning, and wondering if you have anything left to believe in.
While your neighbor two pews in front of you has just felt
the power and witness of Jesus Christ’s love move in their life in a new way….
the community is here to hold one another together. It is a place where our strengths, gifts and weaknesses compliment each other and God fills in our cracked places.

Paul ends this passage describing our broken places by rejoicing. He says “So we’re not giving up! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace… There’s far more here than meets the eye. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen.”

It is easy to focus on the things that break you down in life, but no matter how focused you on all these things that you see, you have a place here. We rejoice in our imperfections and the messiness because there is so much going on that can’t be seen… God is not done with you, God is not done with us, God is making new life. And we are the agents God has chosen to share it.

 As agents of Christ’s new life, we have the ability to bring God’s overflowing grace, everyday in all of our relationships. We can help people who can’t see past their chipped lives to see where God is filling them up.

We get to take meals to those who need a break or who just need the healing powers of a chicken casserole.
We get to show up to be with a family who just lost their child and just hold them and surround them in God love.
As agents of Christ’s new life, we get to collect donations from the farmers market to ensure all in our community are fed, and volunteer to walk alongside people who have lost hope.
As agent of Christ’s new life, we travel to Washington DC, Haiti, Massanetta, Montreat, and wherever else God leads us to be in relationship with people living in different situations to listen, learn, and experience and share God’s love in that place.
And As agents of Christ’s new life we get to bring all those experiences back so that our the hope and grace we’ve experienced in those communities spill out into our own.

We don’t end our story in the messiness, we know it is there, we know life continues to be messy, yet we get to look for the brightness Paul talks about and we get to help people see the brightness in their own lives.

So where are your cracks?

How has this world chipped away at your life and caused you to feel fragile and weak?

May you find your seat at this table and in this community.
May you know that you have a place here. And that among these people God is filling you up with overflowing grace.
Amen.