Tag Archives: strength

Treasure in Clay Jars

 

Jars of clay

What is it that makes us special? Thoughts from this morning’s sermon focussing on the reading 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I am nobody special. I will never become a worldwide known church leader. I will probably never become a diocesan-wide known church leader, but that’s okay. I will never be troubled by celebrity and stardom. I may appear from time to time in some charming local newspaper article about fetes or fundraising, but the paparazzi will not be camped outside of my door; that’s not a problem. My name will never be immortalized with a monument set up by the local community, although perhaps for a generation there will be some who will speak fondly of me, it won’t matter.

A remnant of my thoughts may continue to exist somewhere in the ether of the world-wide web, but it will probably be something that people accidentally come across whilst searching for something else, an amusing diversion, but quickly clicked away from – and that will be absolutely fine.

This isn’t an attempt at false modesty or to deny that any gifts or talents that I may have aren’t being put to good use. It isn’t to say that my existence is worthless or that I haven’t loved and been loved. It’s just that I am not special in my own right. But then very few people are. In the bible, those whom God chose to make known his message, were very often the most ordinary of people, they did not seek to proclaim themselves, in fact they were often reluctant to do so. But they trusted that God would give them the words to say, the actions to do and the courage to keep on trusting even when things looked like it would come to nothing.

Take for example Mary, the mother of Jesus, a young girl chosen not for her status, for we hear in the Magnificat, her song of praise to God when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, that ‘God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant’. Nor for her connections, betrothed as she was to a humble carpenter; but someone who was a woman of great humility and whose strength came from her knowing that she had achieved nothing except what God had enabled her to do, ‘for the Mighty One has done great things for me’.

Or perhaps we can think of Peter, a simple fisherman, whose enthusiasm often overtook his reasoning, whose bluntness many times led him to say exactly what he thought rather than reflect on what he was being taught. Tender hearted and inconsolable when he realised that he had thought only of himself when challenged about his relationship with Jesus, but who, when filled with the Holy Spirit was bold and fearless in proclaiming the gospel, ‘But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them’.

And of course there are many more from inarticulate Moses; through ‘I know best’ Jonah; to womanizing David, all unlikely choices to participate in God’s mission, all fragile human beings in their own right, but they were given the power to be something special… Like humble clay pots they contained a treasure.

Now if you’re going to place a valuable thing in some sort of vessel would you choose a clay jar? Yet, it really is the most appropriate material.

I wonder how many of you saw the series, The Great British Pottery Throw Down, a bit like the Great British Bake Off, but baking of another sort, in which contestants were given various types of clay and challenged to make things from simple drinking pots to whole toilet systems. Workhorse utilities to elaborate designs and functions yet fashioned from that most basic commodity, a lump of earth.

Middleport-Pottery-in-the-Summer-The-Great-Exhibition-Pottery-Throwdown-25

Pottery Toilet from the Great British Pottery Throw Down

When Paul is referring to jars of clay, he is referring to humankind itself – that we are the clay jars, a metaphor that takes us back to the description in Genesis, of God forming humans from the dust of the earth. However, we are called to hold within us the shining treasure, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. But the fact remains that vessels made of clay are not very sturdy. If you tip over or drop a piece of pottery it is easily broken, but Paul says there is a reason for God trusting us to hold within us this treasure. We are reminded that on our own we have no power, no special strengths or talents, we are as fragile as a jar of clay, but God’s all-surpassing power ensures that this clay can sustain all sorts of pressures so that his divine treasure is taken care of.

Paul reminds us that even as fragile, human beings, easily broken it is not only Christ’s life, but also his death that has made a change in us. He goes on to describe it in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”(Galatians 2:20); Reminding us again that as jars of clay, we can’t depend on our own power and strength.

And the overriding purpose for this is ‘so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies’. As Christians we are called to act as guiding lights and at other times flash warning signs; we need to seek out those in darkness and draw people into the light. We are called to live our lives as beacons of hope to those around us. Each of us will do this in different ways, some of us will become blazing flares that light up the whole sky around us, whilst others will be the constant inextinguishable glow of embers providing warmth and comfort.

Like an ordinary lump of clay, God forms each and every one of us into something that is useful and beautiful; like a potter he fires us in the kiln of life to give us extra strength, and he places within us the light of Christ so that we can shine out of the darkness.

As I said at the beginning, I nor anybody else is special if we live in our own right, but when we become the bearers of Christ’s light then that makes us special beyond measure.

Amen

The Potter's Hands

Fear Of Failure

Compline - A quiet end to the day

Compline – A quiet end to the day

This week I had to do something really frightening. The sort of thing that makes your heart race and your knees tremble. It wasn’t quite the fear I feel when I am at a great height and not in control of my balance; nor was it the fear generated by an unseen but threatening presence – the sort that made me hide behind the sofa whilst watching Dr Who as a child. No, this was the fear of failure.

The cause of this fear? Well, you could say it was self-inflicted; but for various reasons I had offered to be one of the ordinands that ‘sang’ Compline in the college chapel!

Compline is the final service or ‘office’ at the end of the day. This quiet and peaceful worship, stills the mind and allows you to hand over to God all of those things that have happened during the day before retiring for the night. At Cuddesdon, the practice is then to maintain silence until the next morning

The service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and can be said, but is more often than not sung. However, this ‘singing’ is done in Plainsong – a sort of medieval chanting style. The notes are written on a stave [a set of five parallel lines on any one or between any adjacent two of which a note is written to indicate its pitch] in the form of dots (see picture below)

Compline is sung in plainsong

Compline is sung in plainsong

And there’s the rub – the fact that I had to google what the name of those lines were called tells you that my musical knowledge is limited. I understand that each note has a different sound depending on where it sits on those lines, I even know the names of some of the notes in those positions; but my problem is that I can not link in my head the name of the note with the sound that is supposed to come out of my mouth! Still, I wanted to give it a go.

I’ve written previously about having the courage to do something in Getting Out Of The Boat but inherent in all of these types of challenges is the fear of failure; that you’ll make a mess of it; that people will laugh; that you’ll feel a fool. So probably best not to do it…

As the time got nearer, the natural introvert in me kept questioning why I had ever thought it was a good idea and what had possessed me to volunteer. However, I knew that I’d been pushing myself lately to do things that stretched me; that exhausted me, but which were beginning to give me more confidence

I have to admit that even after a brief lunch-time rehearsal, right up to the moment that I sat in the chapel itself, that I wanted so much to say ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do this’, hoping that like Zechariah I’d be struck dumb and have a legitimate excuse to save face; but a quick arrow prayer to say ‘Here goes God’ and the barely audible note hummed by my wonderful fellow ordinand, Jane*, sitting right next to me, found me launching into the first versicle

Did I sing like Katherine Jenkins? – No!

Did I hit a few ‘bum’ notes? – Yes!

Did I worship the Lord in word and song – Yes!

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
2 Timothy 1:7

Having done it I can’t say that I won’t feel that nervousness again, but if we attempt to do things in good faith the Holy Spirit  will invariably pitch in there with us [musical pun intended]

So don’t fear failure, and don’t let fear stop you from giving things a go. As it says in one of my favourite prayers:

Lord help me to remember
that nothing is going

to happen today that
you and I together
can’t Handle
Amen

*Huge thanks must go to Jane Winter, whose infinite patience and kind encouragement played a large part in enabling me to not give in to my fears and for the support of all my fellow Ordinands who sang the responses impeccably and who didn’t laugh but gave me silent hugs afterwards!