2 Corinthians 4:7
What do I have if I smash this clay pot? That’s right, I have a mess. I can take some spray paint and cover up the brown clay, but underneath it’s still a plain clay pot. However, if I plant flowers in the pot, it becomes a container that holds a treasure of beauty and life. It can even be chipped or slightly cracked and still it can hold a treasure.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
St. Paul reaches back to the creation reminding us that we are the work of God, who formed our bodies out of the red clay earth. In fact, Adam means man of red clay. After finishing His perfect pottery piece, God breathed into the man of red clay, the treasure of His life. Every time a baby is born there is that critical moment when it draws its first breath. Without that first breath the treasure of life will not remain in that tiny work of clay made flesh. At the opposite end of life, when a person exhales their last breathe, life leaves them. No matter how the funeral director tries to make that person look life-like, the makeup does nothing to restore life. The shell of a vessel of clay lies there, broken and empty. The treasure of life has departed. From clay we are made and to clay we return
We are flawed. We are fragile. Therefore, we will suffer fatality. Immediately, after speaking of the treasure Paul contains in his pot-of-clay body he lists a number of afflictions and sufferings he has undergone. A pastor acquaintance, now deceased, often commented that whenever you get a group of senior adults together you have an organ recital. Each of us can recite the organs in our body that are functioning more and more as if they were clay. When we are younger we might not see that life is fragile. I think of Perry Bowers, who grew up in our farming neighborhood. We teenagers regarded Perry as invincible. So we could not believe it when we heard he had been killed in an auto accident at age 19. As Blaise Paschal wrote in the 17th century, “A drop of water or a breath of air can kill us.” Four hundred years before Christ, the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes wrote, “Mankind (is), fleet of life, like tree leaves, weak creatures of clay, unsubstantial as shadows, wingless, ephemeral, wretched, mortal and dreamlike.” Because of sin we are all people with feet of clay.
There is a credit card advertisement that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” Though we are all too easily like cracked and broken pottery, the question for us is, “What’s inside us?” We can become so caught up in what is broken that we no longer recognize the treasure within. God has placed in us another treasure, a priceless treasure, “Jesus, priceless treasure.” It’s the priceless jewel of the gospel of Christ crucified. In Jesus, God took on our clayness, save for the feet of clay. He was born in the image and likeness of God, an image we had marred because we are no longer perfect pots, but marred, cracked and chipped. He took upon himself our weaknesses, our chips and the cracks in our lives. He allowed himself to be smashed and the shards of his body to be thrown on the potsherd dump of broken human pottery, buried and useless. However, God, like an archaeologist, retrieved the fragments of his second Adam. He restored Jesus to mint condition once again. Thus when we see Jesus, we see the very image of God in which we were created and the hope of the glory to which God promises to restore us. We who are the descendants of the first Adam, the first man of red clay, will one day be retrieved by God and restored to a wholeness which we have never known. As Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…To show the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
The grace of God in Christ Jesus is not only contained in our bodies, but it seeps into the cracks in our lives. God uses our bodies, cracked and broken as we may be, “to spread the knowledge of him everywhere.”
There is a story out of India which tells of a servant whose daily task was carry water from the well to his master’s house. Every day he carried the water in two earthen jars attached to a yoke which rested on his shoulders. However, the jar on his left was cracked so that by the time he got to the masters house half of the water had leaked out. Whereas, the other jar was perfect and arrived full.
Finally, after years of arriving half-empty and feeling guilty, the cracked pot apologized to the water-bearer. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t accomplish what the perfect pot did.”
The water-bearer said, “What do you have to apologize for?” The pot responded, “All this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw.”
The man smiled and told the pot, “Look at the side of the path where I carried you. Notice all the flowers growing there, the flowers grew so beautiful because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot’s side.”
God uses us, cracked pots though we may be to leak the water of life upon the people we encounter. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has been doing this for some time. We at Immanuel are now in a mission initiative to discover how we might spread the water of life in our community. We have within us the priceless treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our task is not to keep this good news safely stored in ourselves, but to let it leak through our grace filled cracks. Because unlike the cracked pot in the story, no matter how much of the water of life we allow to leak out of us, we will always remain filled with the treasure of Jesus Christ, our Lord. As we spread the gospel of Christ, the Holy Spirit goes with it. And it’s the Holy Spirit that gives life-giving-power to our message.
Thus, as God’s treasure in Christ extends to more and more people there is an increase in thanksgiving to the glory of God who is able to fill all the cracks in the lives of the people of the community surrounding Immanuel Chapel. People will be able to see the light of the gospel treasure shining even through the cracks in our lives.
In the words of Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen,
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s where the light gets in,
That’s where the light get in.”