Treasure in Clay Jars - a sermon

2 Cor 4:7 But 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.

Treasure in clay jars ....

I found this cup on a bric-a-brac stall whilst serving in the Lincolnshire fens. I didn't realise, until I got there, that bric-a-brac is the Lincolnshire word for 'rubbish'! Every year, during the Flower Festival, the church where I was serving would accumulate and then sell the rubbish of the congregation. It usually raised close to a £1000!

Sometimes, we have a clear out and decide that something has ceased to have use. I don’t know, maybe this cup was part of a set and the rest had been broken. But what is rubbish to one may become something of great value to another. When I picked up with cup, it was valued at 50p. I have used it as a chalice to hold the blood of Christ, at the feast of the Lord. This clay jar has indeed held treasure.

This is a bowl that has undergone KINTSUGI – the Japanese art of gold joinery.

The art of kintsugi is amazing to me. Instead of superglue and an attempt to conceal the damage, the cracks are emphasized. The bowl undergoes a transformation from useless fragments to a work of art. It takes on a new life. The cracks and breaks that have caused the original bowl to lose all its value are now made the most valuable aspect. Ugliness turned to beauty. Treasure in clay jars.

Paul’s treasure in clay jars is about fragility and foolishness.

The fragility is of the Christian community and individual Christian lives. While the early Christians were afflicted by persecution and violence, the modern Church faces anxiety and indifference. We are made aware of our fragility each time we come to worship when we remember how full our chapel used to be. And the number of pills we take each morning reminds us we are not as nimble as we once were!

It is easy to become preoccupied with our own weakness, to allow it to define us. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche Community, argues that being limited is the human condition - it means we are not God. Those with obvious disabilities are wiser, therefore, because they are deeply aware of their own limitations. To be limited is a blessing and not a curse.

The foolishness is not ours, but God’s. For who in their right mind would put costly treasure in clay jars? At best it gets dirty; at worst, it is open to theft or damage. For two thousand years, the Church has struggled with this act of divine folly, seen supremely in the incarnation. God becomes contaminated with humanity, sacrifices purity for solidarity, and becomes flesh. Not a one-off act for a season, but an ongoing reality – treasure in clay jars.

This is the pattern of God’s activity and presence among us. Yet the Church has resisted this and instead sought to place God among riches and power. The chalices from which we receive the blood of Christ are more likely to be the work of a jeweller than a carpenter or a potter. We have confused our notions of power with the revolutionary powerlessness of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we seek God among the rich and the powerful, we will be disappointed. God chooses the weak things of this world to shame the powerful. If we are looking for the Spirit of Christ at work, we must set ourselves among the weak and powerless. Indeed, as we acknowledge and embrace our own weakness and vulnerability, it is there we find the treasure of the foolish God.

What does that mean for us? It means that weakness and fragility are not a curse but a blessing, if they enable us to connect with those who are weak and vulnerable in our community. That the Church has lost power in our communities is a reality that might not be something to be mourned. If only we can see our lack of power, not as a source of anxiety, but as a gift,

so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power

belongs to God and does not come from us.

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