06-03-18 “Clay Jars”
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6
In the days that Paul wrote this letter there were people who were called artisans. They had special gifts for creating things like pottery. Your clay pots were known all around. They had a uniqueness to them that you don’t find too much today.
In the days of Paul, each pot was hand crafted, it was special it was unique. If someone saw a pot in your home they would say, “That is one of Mel’s pots isn’t it.” Your handiwork was known because of the time you took to create it. Skilled potters took raw clay, shaped and molded it as they desired, and then baked the clay until it was hard. They then painted, glazed, or decorated the jars for whatever purpose they had in mind. However, clay jars were not designed to hold their contents forever, they were temporary holding places.
Since those old clay pots were so fragile, they could not be tossed around like a plastic pot and survive. They had a limited lifespan. Rarely were they handed down from one generation to the next. There is a reason archeologists rejoice at finding an intact piece of clay pottery.
In ancient times, sacred scrolls or valuable documents were rolled up and placed inside a jar of clay and then hidden for safe keeping. The Dead Sea Scrolls were kept in such jars of clay. Pottery jars could be beautiful or purely functional, but they had one thing in common: they were breakable.
The clay pots referred to in the scriptures represent us. We are the clay pots – special, handcrafted, one of a kind and we tend to be very fragile.
Paul writes, we are like “jars of clay” with a “treasure” inside. This means that our physical bodies are like those jars. Our bodies come in all shapes and sizes, each designed by the Heavenly Potter for whatever purpose God desired.
Our bodies are beautiful, functional, and also breakable. Our bodies are temporary housing places for the treasure God has given us, namely, “the light of the gospel that reveals the glory of Christ.” The knowledge of the gospel is a rich truth, indeed.
God entrusts to us treasure that will last forever yet puts it into an earthly body that is not forever. How do we keep the truth from disappearing as easily as those clay pots? Will some future archeologist find traces, pieces of scripture? A limited number of artifacts that will tell what we once believed?
How has the Word been carried from those original pots to today? How will it be carried from today into the next century? The treasure we are privileged to hold is the knowledge of our Creator through His Son, Jesus Christ. How has and how will this treasure continue through time?
We make it a priority to transfer the information, we take the time necessary to share the Gospel with those who are younger. We heed Jesus’ words in the Holy Communion liturgy to remember.
In this respect, clay jars are a good metaphor for our lives. We have a few brief time to proclaim the Gospel. The message of Jesus has been entrusted to you. Our physical “jars of clay” will be resurrected one day to become glorified, eternal bodies. Until then, God as extended an invitation to those, who, while still in these earthly bodies, are willing to share the truth. This knowledge and resulting relationship with God are the greatest treasures any earthly vessel can hold. They are the greatest gifts we will ever be able to share.
We always need to be training new believers to proclaim the Gospel. If we look at it this way, the church is always a few generations away from extinction. John Wesley encouraged us to remain faithful and passionate about our evangelism or we the church will become nothing more than a perfunctory waste of space and time.
I love the metaphor of clay jars, because I am aware of my calling to proclaim God’s treasure. I am also keenly aware of my limited abilities to do so alone. If the Apostle Paul thought of himself as a clay jar carrying a precious treasure, that encourages me. It should also encourage you to hear Paul speak so candidly about his shortcomings in being a clay jar for God.
We do not need to be the most beautiful, the most expensive, the largest, the most colorful pot on the shelf. None of that matters, we are all going to be inadequate, like Paul, to carry of this task. We carry it all the same, in the pot God has created for us to carry it in. I must remember that I did not create the pot, nor the message; I am but a vessel. A fragile, unique clay pot that has a mission to accomplish despite what the world thinks of it.
We are all clay jars, we too have been entrusted with a precious treasure. “that the exceeding great power is from God, and not from ourselves.” It isn’t the clay jars that have power, but the treasure that they contain, a treasure put there by God. Those of us who proclaim God’s Word have reason for humility.
We have been tricked into thinking that the clay pot is supremely important. We have been tricked into thinking that our inadequacies to proclaim the Gospel is a reason not to do so. Even the Apostle Paul felt this way when he wrote, “We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed.”
The inadequacies may just be the most important tool in keeping the faith alive. Keeping the Word of God uplifted takes more than what I can do myself, it takes the Holy Spirit of God to stay within me as well. The world is right then, we are not adequate, we don’t have all the answers, we are in despair. Thankfully you and I are not the ultimate answer, God is; and God is with us.
I want to go back to Paul’s first letter to Corinth and hear what her wrote then. He was writing about this very problem.
He said: “For, I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last of all, like people sentenced to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have honor, but we have dishonor. Even to this present hour we hunger, thirst, are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place.
We toil, working with our own hands. When people curse us, we are blessed. Being persecuted, we endure. Being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the dirt wiped off by all, even until now.”
What do we do? One of the points that Paul’s opponents make is that the troubles that Paul is suffering indicate that he doesn’t enjoy God’s approval.
But Paul won’t be dismayed by such criticisms. He concludes verse 9 by saying, “yet not destroyed.” It is only when you and I retreat from our calling, when we act defeated, when we refuse to share the Gospel, that we prove the other side correct.
My friends you are not destroyed. Despite how defeated you feel, you are not destroyed. Your clay pot may be cracked, in more than one place, or in your mind is beyond repair. It may very well not be the most colorful or largest or most jewel encrusted pot on the shelf. It is, however, on the shelf. Hallelujah! Not destroyed.
Even if some future archeologist finds your earthly pieces scattered all around, your pot is whole and perfect in Heaven. The Good News is that the legacy you have left behind will still be here, for it can never be erased. For you came upon the Word not on your own power, but by God’s grace. By God’s grace take the time to share the truth of Jesus during your brief visit here on earth.
Jesus’ sufferings are revealed in Paul’s body, in the scars on his back from the times he was beaten, and from his stoning, and from the other evidence that he has suffered sacrificially, like Christ. “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.”
Our broken pottery may be exactly what the world needs to see. We are not selling a magic potion, we are sharing the the Good News, which is no trick. God will destroy all the tricks and tricksters. You were created by the greatest artisan, so that all who see you know who created you. By God’s grace you shall never be destroyed.
Leader: Go forth in peace. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all
People: And also with you.