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II CORINTHIANS 4:1-12 | JARS OF CLAY

June 4, 2018
Posted by Office Staff

JARS OF CLAY

II CORINTHIANS 4:1-12

JUNE 3, 2018

 

ACROSS THIS GREAT LAND OF OURS, AND I SUPPOSE, AROUND THE WORLD AS WELL, IT IS THE SEASON OF HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE GRADUATIONS.

 

SPEAKERS, BOTH THOSE WHO ARE THE PEERS OF THE GRADUATING SENIORS, THE VALEDICTORIANS AND SALUTATORIANS, AS WELL AS THE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT IN TO SPEAK TO THE GRADUATING CLASSES OF 2018…

 

WILL, FAIRLY UNIFORMLY, TELL THOSE WHO ARE EMBARKING ON THE NEXT CHAPTER OF THEIR LIVES, THAT THEY CAN GO ANYWHERE THEY WISH; DO ANYTHING THEY SET THEIR MINDS TO; AND ACCOMPLISH ALL OF THEIR DREAMS;

 

IF ONLY THEY WILL… AND THIS IS WHERE IT GETS KIND OF TRICKY – AS THE SPEAKERS TRY TO PUT THEIR FINGER ON JUST EXACTLY WHAT MUST BE DONE, AND HOW, IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THE GREATEST SUCCESS IN LIFE.

 

THESE SPEECHES ARE ALL WELL AND GOOD; AND SHOULD BE HARBINGERS OF GREAT HOPE AND EXPECTATION; PROMISING BRIGHT FUTURES; UPLIFTING THE HEARERS TO NEW HEIGHTS OF SUCCESS AND ACCOMPLISHMENT; SENDING THEM – HAPPILY, EXPECTANTLY, TRIUMPHANTLY ON THEIR WAY…

 

HOWEVER, THOSE SPEAKERS WHO ARE THE LEAST BIT HONEST, WILL ALSO FIND A WAY (WITHOUT DAMPENING THE MOOD) TO REMIND THESE GRADUATING SENIORS THAT LIFE CAN BE TOUGH, AND THAT ALONG WITH ALL OF THEIR SUCCESSES, ETC.

 

THERE WILL ALSO COME GREAT CHALLENGES, DISAPPOINTMENTS, CHANGES IN PLANS, ROADS NOT TAKEN, AND DETOURS ALONG THE WAY.

 

THEY WILL BE HONEST ABOUT THE FACT, THAT, MANY OF THOSE GRADUATING, WILL END UP IN PLACES ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN THEY EXPECT, AND THAT’S NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING.

 

IT IS A DELICATE BALANCE THESE SPEAKERS MUST STRIKE, TO SAY THE LEAST.

 

I DON’T KNOW WHETHER THE APOSTLE PAUL WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT GRADUATION SPEAKER OR NOT; AT LEAST BASED UPON WHAT HE WRITES IN OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING.

 

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW IS THAT PAUL IS HAVING TROUBLE WITH THE CORINTHIAN COMMUNITY, MUCH OF WHICH SURFACES IN THESE TWO LETTERS HE WRITES TO THEM.

WHILE THESE LETTERS ARE INTENDED TO IMPRESS THE CORINTHIANS AND CHALLENGE THOSE WHO ARE RESISTING PAUL’S MESSAGE, THE LINES WE READ HERE GIVE US SOME PROFOUND MEDITATIONS ON OUR EXPERIENCES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE.

 

(THIS IS WHY I THINK PAUL WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT GRADUATION SPEAKER – SPEAKING HONESTLY ABOUT SUCCESS AND FAILURE.)

 

PAUL GIVES IT TO THEM STRAIGHT, UNLIKE THOSE TALKING BEHIND HIS BACK, AND HE STATES VERY CLEARLY WHAT HIS INTENTIONS, AND THOSE WHO ARE WORKING WITH HIM, ARE.

 

“BY THE MERCY OF GOD, WE ARE ENGAGED IN MINISTRY, AND WE DO SO, AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO, WITHOUT LOSING HEART.”

 

AND WHILE HE TELLS HIS READERS THAT, IN MANY WAYS, HIS LIFE AND THE LIVES OF THOSE WITH WHOM HE IS MINISTERING, HAVE CHANGED – AND FOR THE BETTER – HE IS QUICK TO POINT OUT, THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIM, OR THEM, IT IS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE, ABOUT JESUS CHRIST.

 

“FOR WE DO NOT PROCLAIM OURSELVES; WE PROCLAIM JESUS CHRIST AS LORD, AND OURSELVES AS SLAVES FOR JESUS’ SAKE.”

 

THESE WORDS, OF COURSE, ECHO JESUS’ OWN WORDS ABOUT WHO IT IS WHO  WILL BE GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD:

 

“…WHOEVER WANTS TO BECOME GREAT AMONG YOU MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, AND WHOEVER WANTS TO BE FIRST MUST BE SLAVE OF ALL.   FOR EVEN THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

 

(THIS IS WHY PAUL WOULD HAVE MADE A LOUSY GRADUATION SPEAKER – CAN YOU IMAGINE HIM TELLING A HUGE GROUP OF BRIGHT AND SHINY FACED GRADUATES THAT THE KEY TO SUCCESS IS TO BE A SERVANT, AND A SLAVE OF ALL?!”)

 

IT’S WHAT PAUL SAYS NEXT THAT IS, PERHAPS, MOST NOTEWORTHY, AND SOMETHING THAT MIGHT GET HIM BACK ON TRACK TO BEING AN HONEST, AND MOTIVATIONAL GRADUATION SPEAKER.

 

“LET LIGHT SHINE OUT OF DARKNESS…”

 

AND, OF COURSE, FOR PAUL, AND HE WOULD ARGUE, FOR ALL CHRISTIANS, IT IS THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST,” THAT IS OUR LIGHT.

 

HERE’S ANOTHER PART OF WHAT PAUL SAYS WORTH NOTING – “BUT WE HAVE THIS TREASURE IN CLAY JARS, SO THAT IT MAY BE CLEAR THAT THIS EXTRAORDINARY POWER BELONGS TO GOD AND DOES NOT COME FROM US.”

 

CLAY JARS WERE THE BASIC OBJECT FOR SHIPPING, STORING, AND DRINKING LIQUIDS, AND FOR PREPARING AND EATING FOOD.

 

ARCHAEOLOGISTS KNOW HOW FRAGILE THESE OBJECTS ARE BY THE LARGE NUMBER OF POTTERY SHARDS FOUND AT ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN EXCAVATIONS DATING FROM THIS PERIOD.

 

WHEN I WAS IN SEVENTH GRADE, MY FLORIDA HISTORY TEACHER, MISS LAMB (YES, THAT REALLY WAS HER NAME!) ARRANGED TO TAKE THOSE OF US WHO WANTED TO GO, ON A SATURDAY FIELD TRIP TO THE TURTLE MOUNDS IN EAST FLORIDA.

 

THE TURTLE MOUNDS WERE SO NAMED, I BELIEVE, FOR BOTH THE SHAPE OF THE MOUNDS – LIKE A TURTLE SHELL; AND THE FACT THAT THERE WAS BURIED THERE, LOTS OF TURTLE SHELLS, AND BONES, IT BEING A FOOD STAPLE OF THE NATIVE AMERICANS LIVING IN THE AREA.

 

THESE WERE OLD INDIAN MOUNDS – NOT BURIAL MOUNDS, MIND YOU, BUT AREAS WHERE LIVING AND COOKING WENT ON; AND UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A STATE ARCHAEOLOGIST – WE GOT TO DO A DIG.

 

SOMEWHERE, I THINK, I STILL HAVE A BOX OF POTTERY SHARDS, AND TURTLE BONES, AND OTHER SMALL ARTIFACTS I FOUND THAT DAY, OVER 50 YEARS AGO!

 

I TELL YOU THAT STORY AS A TESTIMONY TO THE POWER OF TEACHING; AND ALSO, AS A REMINDER OF THE AT-ONCE FRAGILITY AND DURABILITY OF POTTERY.

 

WHAT PAUL IS SAYING IS:

 

WE ARE THE CLAY JARS – EARTHEN VESSELS – FRAGILE – BREAKABLE, THE SUCCESSES AND FAILURES OF OUR LIVES EMBODIED IN US;

 

YET, HOUSING THE LIGHT OF CHRIST WITHIN US – SHINING FORTH IN US – FROM US; THE POWER, AS PAUL SAYS, THAT BELONGS TO GOD, BUT IS IN US!

 

AND JUST TO CLOSE OUT WHAT PAUL SAYS HERE: IT IS THIS LIGHT, THIS POWER FROM GOD, THAT TURNS THE TIDE IN OUR LIVES, COME WHAT MAY.

 

AND JUST LISTEN TO HOW PAUL DESCRIBES – WHAT COMES – AND BY THE POWER OF GOD – WHAT DOESN’T HAPPEN TO US:

“WE ARE AFFLICTED IN EVERY WAY, BUT NOT CRUSHED;

PERPLEXED, BUT NOT GIVEN TO DESPAIR;

PERSECUTED, BUT NOT FORSAKEN;

STRUCK DOWN, BUT NOT DESTROYED;”

 

PAUL’S KEY TO SUCCESS IN LIFE, IN FAITH, WERE HE GIVING THE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS AT SOME SCHOOL OR COLLEGE THIS SPRING…

 

WOULD BE: THE LIFE OF CHRIST – THE LIGHT OF CHRIST – THAT DWELLS WITHIN THESE EARTHEN VESSELS OF OURS.

 

IT IS BY THE POWER OF GOD – IN CHRIST – IN US – THAT WE ARE ABLE TO SURVIVE AND OVERCOME ANY TROUBLE, HARDSHIP, FAILURE, CHALLENGE, DISAPPOINTMENT, OR DETOUR THAT MAY COME OUR WAY.

 

I’M NOT SURE THAT’S A MESSAGE THAT’S BEING SAID MUCH DURING THIS SEASON OF GRADUATIONS, BUT IT IS ONE THAT CAN SERVE US WELL AS BELIEVERS, WHEREVER WE HAPPEN TO BE IN OUR LIFE’S JOURNEY.

 

THE GOOD NEWS, PAUL IS SAYING, IS THAT IN SUCH TIMES OF DIFFICULTY WE NEED ONLY REMEMBER THAT WE POSSESS A TREASURE – JESUS CHRIST.

 

OTHERS HAVE SAID SIMILAR THINGS;

 

IN A QUOTE ATTRIBUTED TO (CAN I SAY THIS, GIVEN HIS HISTORY WITH KEY WEST?) OUR OWN ERNEST HEMINGWAY SAID THIS:

 

“THE WORLD BREAKS EVERYONE, AND AFTERWARD, SOME ARE STRONG AT THE BROKEN PLACES.”

 

OTHERS OF US HAVE PROBABLY RECEIVED A CARD OR A LETTER FROM SOMEONE SEEKING TO SHOW THEIR CARE, AND ENCOURAGING US IN A DIFFICULT TIME;

 

IT TELLS THE STORY OF THE BROKEN POTTERY – ANALOGOUS TO OUR OWN TIMES OF TROUBLES, DIFFICULTIES, AND BROKENNESS, ONLY TO BE PUT BACK TOGETHER AGAIN…

 

YES, STRONGER IN THE BROKEN PLACES, BUT BROKEN NONETHELESS, ALLOWING THE LIGHT OF GOD TO SHOW THROUGH THE CRACKS OF OUR BROKENNESS.

 

AND STILL OTHERS OF US MAY HAVE SEEN A SIMILAR VERSION OF THIS STORY, THIS ONE SPEAKING TO THE ANCIENT JAPANESE TRADITION OF KINTSUGI, WHERE A BROKEN POT IS RESTORED THROUGH A TYPE OF GOLD JOINERY.

 

REPAIRS ARE MADE, NOT WITH GLUE, WHICH WON’T HOLD FOR VERY LONG, BUT WITH A SEAM OF GOLD SOLDER, WHICH ADDS BEAUTY TO THE CUP, WHILE MAKING THE BREAKS QUITE VISIBLE.

POTTERS CHERISH SEEING THE IMPERFECTIONS AS A CREATIVE ADDITION, MAKING A POT MORE GORGEOUS AND MORE PRECIOUS THAN BEFORE IT WAS FRACTURED.

WHEN SOMETHING HAS SUFFERED DAMAGE AND HAS A HISTORY, THEY ASSERT, IT BECOMES MORE BEAUTIFUL, EVEN GIVING REBIRTH TO THE BOWL’S LIFE STORY.

WHICH OF THESE, OR OTHER ANALOGIES SPEAK TO US MOST, BEST, I SUPPOSE DEPENDS UPON OUR OWN STORIES, AND OUR OWN PATHS IN LIFE.

BUT IN ALL OF THESE, WE SEE THE INEVITABILITY OF LIFE’S CHALLENGES;

AND THE OPPORTUNITY WE HAVE TO DECIDE HOW IT IS WE WILL RESPOND:

ALLOWING OURSELVES TO BE BROKEN, DEFEATED, CRUSHED, PERPLEXED, AND DRIVEN TO DESPAIR…?

OR GROWING STRONGER, BRIGHTER, MORE BEAUTIFUL IN OUR BROKEN PLACES.

IN CHATTANOOGA, WHERE KAREN AND I LIVED FOR MANY YEARS, THERE WAS A STORE WHICH SPECIALIZED IN HAND THROWN POTTERY, AND OTHER WORKS OF ART.  IT WAS CALLED PLUM NELLY.

CHATTANOOGA SITS VERY CLOSE TO THE TENNESSEE/GEORGIA LINE – IN FACT, THERE ARE PLACES WHERE YOU CROSS THROUGH GEORGIA AND TENNESSEE, JUST GETTING TO THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN.

PLUM NELLY IS SUPPOSEDLY NAMED SO: BECAUSE IT IS PLUM IN TENNESSEE AND NELLY INTO GEORGIA.

THE STORE HAD BEAUTIFUL POTTERY WORKS, AND WE OWN SEVERAL PIECES, WHICH WE USE QUITE OFTEN;

JUST AS I KNOW, PASTOR LEN HAD PIECES OF POTTERY, MANY OF WHICH ARE STILL AROUND THE CHURCH;

LIKE THE COMMUNION SET WE USE.

ALMOST EVERYONE OWNS A FEW POTTERY PIECES OF SOME KIND; THAT SPECIAL COFFEE CUP; THAT PLATTER YOU ONLY USE FOR PARTICULAR FOODS; A SALSA BOWL, A PIECE THAT IS MORE ART THAN FUNCTIONAL.

MOST OF US DON’T USE POTTERY FOR OUR EVERYDAY DISHES, AND WHILE MASS PRODUCED DISHES, EVEN THE FINEST CHINA, CAN BE STURDY, FUNCTIONAL, EVEN QUITE BEAUTIFUL, THEY DON’T QUITE CAPTURE THE UNIQUENESS OF A PIECE OF POTTERY.

POTTERY IS UNIQUE BECAUSE YOU CAN SEE THE TOUCH OF THE POTTER IN EACH PIECE; A THUMB SWOOSH – HERE; A PINCHED-UP PLACE THERE; A PALM SHAPED CURVE; EVEN THE POTTER’S INITIALS ON THE BOTTOM OF THE PIECE AT TIMES.

IN POTTERY – YOU CAN SEE THE POTTER.  THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN CREATOR AND CREATED; THE EARTHY TONES OF THE CLAY, THE HANDS-ON SHAPING; THE UNIQUENESS OF EACH PIECE.

ALL OF THIS IS PROBABLY WHY THE BIBLICAL WRITERS SO OFTEN USED THE IMAGERY OF GOD AS THE POTTER, AND WE AS THE CLAY.

ISAIAH 64:8 – “YET, O LORD, YOU ARE OUR FATHER; WE ARE THE CLAY OF YOUR HANDS, AND YOU ARE OUR POTTER; WE ARE ALL THE WORK OF YOUR HAND.”

AND JEREMIAH 18, WHERE JEREMIAH’S GOD-INSPIRED VISION OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD AND THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IS THAT OF A POTTER FASHIONING A POT;

WITH A WARNING TO ISRAEL, THAT SHOULD THEY NOT SHAPE UP AS GOD WISHES, GOD CAN DESTROY THE PIECE, AND START ALL OVER AGAIN.

AND, OF COURSE, THERE IS PAUL’S USE OF THE IMAGE IN OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING:

“BUT WE HAVE THIS TREASURE (CHRIST JESUS) IN CLAY JARS, SO THAT IT MAY BE MADE CLEAR THAT THIS EXTRAORDINARY POWER BELONGS TO GOD AND DOES NOT COME FROM US.”

GOD IS THE POTTER – WE ARE THE CLAY.  IN US, WE SEE THE HAND OF OUR CREATOR.  IN US, WE SEE THE UNIQUENESS OF EACH ONE.

IN US, WE SEE THE EARTHY TONES; HOW WHAT HAPPENS TO US SHAPES OUR LIVES; THE PLACES LIFE HAS PINCHED US UP; SMOOTHED US OVER; FLATTENED US OUT; EVEN THE BROKEN PLACES, WHERE, HOPEFULLY, WE HAVE GROWN STRONGER.

WE ARE JARS OF CLAY – EARTHEN VESSELS – BUT WE CARRY WITHIN US THE POWER OF GOD; THE LIGHT OF CHRIST.

“LET LIGHT SHINE OUT OF DARKNESS.”

 

 

 

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