Friday, January 26, 2018

Cracked Pots (II Corinthians 4:1-12) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember giving my first children’s message in a worship service.  It was at the Presbyterian Church in San Leandro, where I served as the Associate Pastor.  It was my first church out of seminary.  I was nervous.  I wanted the message to be good.  I wanted to give a good impression to the congregation.  I wanted the children to listen and learn some new biblical insights.

A large group of children were seated together on the steps in front of the congregation. I was standing in front of them with my back to the congregation.  I was telling a bible story when suddenly something jerked my neck forward and I almost lost my balance. This was before cordless mics.  The microphone was on a long cord wrapped around my neck and the cord was plugged into the floor.  I was trying to re-group when suddenly there was another pull and I again almost lost my balance.

I looked at the kids and saw one of the boys on his knees, head down, pulling on the cord with all his might.  I didn’t know what to do, so I did what any minister would do in that situation, I closed in prayer.  So even today with cordless microphones, I sit down while giving children’s messages.  It’s safer.  Yes, human beings, adults and children, are unpredictable.  They can surprise us, sometimes in positive ways and other times, well, in less than positive ways.

Some people go through life with unrealistic expectations of others.  They desire the perfect friend, the perfect mother or father, the perfect spouse, the perfect children or grandchildren, the perfect church, the perfect pastor, and the perfect neighbors.  People are often disappointing them because these people are not living up to their expectations.  Does that ring a bell with anyone?

I believe that it’s only when we honestly look in the mirror and see ourselves as we truly are, see our own faults and foibles, it’s when we admit that we don’t always measure up to other’s expectations, that we can accept both our own humanness and the humanness of others.

In our morning lesson from II Corinthians we find the apostle Paul and his co-workers being severely criticized by a group in the church of Corinth.  Maybe it’s happened to you.  The apostle Paul was being accused of using the gospel for his own for personal gain, for profit, to make a name for himself.  His reputation was being maligned.

In the face of these charges, the apostle Paul retorts that contrary to these false charges, his ministry is all about Jesus, all about the gospel.   He makes this claim: “We do not proclaim ourselves.  We refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word, but in truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone.  The god of this world, Satan, is blinding the minds of the unbelievers.  We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  In the darkness of this world, we preach the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God.

The gospel of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ is a treasure.  The message of the gospel, God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is given to the world and to you.  Receiving it by repentance and faith changes lives, saves lives, illumines lives.  It has changed me.  It has changed or could change you.  The gospel of God’s grace and power, hope and mercy has transformed billions of people’s lives.

The apostle then makes a second astounding claim: – “God has given us the treasure of the gospel in clay pots.”   God has placed this divine treasure, this priceless prize, in flawed human containers.   The Greek word here is “ostra-kainois sekusin,” which translated into English means clay pots or clay jars or earthen vessels or cracked pots.  In excavating ancient ruins, Archeologists often find ostraca--fragments of clay jars or broken pots that once held costly wine or expensive ointment.

Yes, you heard it right.  Christian believers are clay pots or cracked pots or crack pots.  Turn to your neighbor and say: “Hello crack pot!”  Scripture says human beings are sinners: flawed, fractured, fragile, marred, chipped and broken.  This truth is inescapable.  Christian believers are forgiven sinners who are being changed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ.

What are some implications of this truth about treasures and clay pots?   It means we are not to think too highly of ourselves.  Arrogance has no place in the Christian life.  On the other hand, we are not to think too lowly of ourselves either.  Feelings of inferiority or worthlessness or uselessness are totally out of tune with the heart of Christ.  Jesus rejects such feelings and thoughts and so should we.  The gospel is that God loves us in spite of our flaws.  God has entrusted this treasure to cracked pots, like you and me, to share with others.

It further means that even as clay pots, with this treasure inside us, we can accomplish great things in Christ’s name.  Like Millard and Linda Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity International in 1976.  They heard God’s call upon their lives to build homes for the poor.   Habitat for Humanity has built, rehabilitated and repaired nearly a million homes in 14 countries.

These words about cracked pots certainly apply to preachers.  It’s impossible to hide it.  I remember an incident at my church in Colorado.  I had seriously injured my lower back.   Nancy drove me to the ER and they gave me some drugs. I let some elders know about my injury.   I woke up Sunday morning with my back killing me.  I took some pain killers just before the service.   When I started to preach, I thought something is weird.   I looked out at the congregation and all I saw was happy faces.  I kept getting lost in my sermon, I couldn’t focus.  But I thought Alan, you are doing fine, no one is aware that your having some issues.  I wasn’t panicked at all, I was totally relaxed.  I didn’t have a care in the world.  The next day, an elder told me that someone had asked: “What’s the matter with the pastor,” and he over-heard a person say: “Oh he’s fine, he’s just on drugs.

Another implication of being cracked pots is how important it is to be able to laugh at ourselves.  One author wrote: “Laughing at ourselves gives us a more accurate sense of who we are.  It breaks down barriers between others and us.  It makes us more approachable.  Our five sense are incomplete without the sixth – a sense of humor.  If you can laugh at yourself, you are guaranteed a lifetime of chuckling.  If you doubt that God has a sense of humor, take a look in the mirror.

Yes, the astonishing and surprising news is this, God chooses us to fulfill his purposes in life anyway.  It’s essential to keep this truth in mind.  Why?  The danger is that your life as a Christian can become guilt-ridden and joyless, obsessed with your own faults and failings.  You feel like you aren’t worthy of God’s grace.  You feel God could never forgive you for things you have done.  Or your life as a Christian believer can become judgmental, hypocritical, and self-righteous.

To whom is Christ calling you to share the treasure of the gospel?    What a privilege, how humbling, how extraordinary, to be chosen and loved by God.  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.  Amen!

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