Life is so very fragile, isn’t it? We realize that so powerfully when we hold a newborn in our arms. This tiny life is so fragile, so dependent, so precious and so alive with wonder. We want to protect that child from all harm forever. We also realize how fragile life is at the end of life, when loved ones are no longer with us. They quietly, suddenly slip away, and the loss reminds us how delicate life is. We have been acutely aware of it throughout the past two years of Covid; how such a small, invisible foe can fracture our world. We are aware of it when the terrors of war appear on our screens and the work of generations is destroyed so quickly. And yet we go on!
Terracotta pots are a ubiquitous feature of most gardens. They have been part of human history for 30,000 years. From cooking utensils to toilets, jars of clay were part of everyday life during biblical times. The average person probably had multiple jars of clay because of their versatile use in the homes. They were common items that were made of the most basic material—earth.
But they are fragile.
The apostle Paul writing to the early church talked of both our fragility and resilience. He contrasts the high aspirations of Christians to love our enemies, to forgive, to love others, to be good people with the reality that most of us are very much a work in progress. Paul writes, “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.” (2 Cor 4: 7) We are like earthenware pottery, jars of clay if you will. Ordinary and fragile, but just as a humble pot can hold beautiful flowers, so too we bear witness to the love and power of God.
People from every class of society would have been familiar with and owned the vessels described he described. The gospel treasure is housed in clay jars. But our ordinariness, our flaws and fragility do not contradict the gospel, but in fact demonstrate God’s love for the broken.
We are the messengers, not the message. “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.” (2 Cor 3: 5)
We are not called to be wonder-woman or superman. Because if we were, would our lives merely point to ourselves and not Jesus!
We are a fellowship of the broken, the fallen and the flawed. We are a fellowship of the forgiven. And we are loved by God as we are. We must continue to look outward to a broken, hurting world with a message of hope and second chances.
But on the other hand, Paul talks of our resilience in the face of trouble. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4: 8-10)
Being loved by God does not spare us from the struggle. We live in the world and we do the hard work of being the church so that Jesus can be known in our communities. This is no “prosperity gospel”, but God working in us, suffering with us, and carrying us forward in hope.
Yes, we are fragile. Yes, we aren’t as strong or as good as we might want to be as individuals or as a church. But we endure and over time we change.
Over time we heal.
Over time we become more tolerant.
Over time we learn to forgive.
Because it takes time.
Nothing much happens immediately.
One church service won’t turn your life around.
But over time…
Paul put it this way, “And all of us, … are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor 2:18)
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister