Dr. David D. Young
July 23, 2006
Jeremiah 18: 1-6
II Corinthians 4: 1-7
“Cracked Pots”

Let us pray, O God, come like water and cleanse us, come like the wind and stir us, and come like the flame and set our hearts on fire! Amen.

Some years ago one of the leaders of the American oil industry and his wife (both of whom were 73) were found dead in their garage of their West Los Angeles home in a double suicide. They killed themselves by holding each other in the back seat of their car with the engine running. Inside investigators found a suicide note with this cryptic sentience: “We had no more dreams.” They had everything they could possibly want in the way of this worlds goods – but they had no sense of purpose – they lost heart.

We live in a world where it is easy to lose heart. One need look no further than today’s headlines. Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran - all the troubled places, world politics, conflict and warring are wearing us down. And we are each of us – body caught up in the funnel cloud of time. Our outer bodies are winding down – slowly but surely these old bodies of ours are wearing out. It’s true for each of us.

As our Second Corinthians text which Carolyn Paulus read for us says, “we are earthen vessels.” Let me suggest we are cracked pots. Notice, I did not say crack pots – though at times I’m sure we are. Today, I want to show you that we are cracked pots, cracked vessels – living in a broken world. And our “crackedness” is true in our inner nature as well as our outer nature.

If we examine ourselves well – we know that there are many cracks and crevasses. We are not smooth all over. We are not perfect on the outside – in terms of our physical bodies nor in terms of our outward expression toward others. Neither are we perfect on the inside. We are cracked pots through and through.

Paul knew all to well his own physical disabilities. They had been flung in his face by his Judaizing opponents, with the probable suggestion that they were clear marks of God’s contempt. His bodily presence was “weak,” and his speech of no account. (10:10) He was subject to a recurrent malady – a “thorn in the flesh” (12:7) – which harassed him, and which remained despite his urgent prayers to have it removed.

No one – no matter how strong his or her physique – could have come away unbroken in health through all that he had suffered – shipwreck, stoning, beating with rods, and more. An impressive list – and added to it was the mental anxiety due to his concern for the welfare of the churches he had founded. Paul must have been made of tough fiber to have endured all that and still have been able to carry on.

Weakness is not only a physical matter. Inwardly we are cracked pots as well. Spiritual weakness is akin to all of us. At times, temptation gets the best of us.

- Our spirits get knocked down.
- We know mental perplexities.
- We have imperfect insight and perceptions.
- We do things we don’t mean to and say things we don’t mean and often hurt those we love the most.

Like it or not, we are all cracked pots – it’s part of the givenness of our human nature. Paul points to the importance of recognizing our weaknesses and yet not losing heart. Not being able to accept the cracks in ourselves and others, our very humanness is harmful. The danger of trying to avoid all the cracks and having it all together – is pride – thinking that we are perfect and therefore better than others. Fortunately, life is designed with cracks and weaknesses to keep us from pride.

Philosopher, Blaise Pascal, once remarked that:

“The greatest and most important thing in the world has weakness for its foundation, and this foundation is wonderfully sure; for there is nothing more sure than this, that people will be weak.”

Recognizing that we are cracked pots means living with weaknesses, fallibilities, and vulnerabilities – accepting the unacceptable. It means knowing we are imperfect and unable to do everything. Being cracked pots is recognizing that we never fully measure up – that we live by grace and faith and the gifts God gives us.

And so Paul tells us in verses 1 and 7 that even though we are cracked pots we are not to lose heart, for we have a treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. Even though we’re cracked pots there’s something special and unique in each of us – a treasure in earthen vessels – a mystery of life planted in our mortal bodies.

This treasure you ask? It’s like a light. For in verse 6 we read,

“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts.”

Our treasure is the transforming power within – it’s God’s grace, it’s God’s presence, it’s God’s power. It is something that words cannot fully describe. And yet we know there is real strength in the unseen realities of life.

Yousuf Karsh, famous portrait photographer, once photographed Helen Keller. He writes, in Faces Of Our Time,

“On first looking into the blind but seeing eyes of perhaps the greatest woman in the world, I said to myself, ‘The light comes from within.’ And what a light of courage shone through the face of that dauntless soul! Our sitting finished, I told her that one of my earliest attempts to read English as a young American immigrant was an article by her entitled, How to Appreciate the Beauties of Sunset. ‘Now, having met you,’ I said, ‘I shall think of you in terms of sunrise!’ ‘I wish that all people would take sunrise for their slogan,’ she quickly replied, ‘and leave the shadows of sunset behind them.’”

That’s real treasure in an earthen vessel. Karsh looks at Helen Keller and sees God’s sunrise glowing through!

I’ll never forget an experience of that reality I had in Seminary. One of my fellow students was a fifty-five year old woman, born in Brazil, whose body was riddled with cancer. Maria’s body eventually dwindled to nothing but skin and bones – yet she was very much alive on the inside. Every time I would go and sit with her in her apartment, she spoke of her gratitude to God. She used to say that she never once in her entire life felt like God had left her alone. And as I sat their listening, looking and admiring her, I realized she was the one ministering to me. And I no longer simply saw Maria, but there was something shining through:

“The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
(verse 6)

Since then I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to visit someone and that same light has shone through to me and ministered to me. God comes to us in earthen vessels.

And so this brings us to the final point of our sermon. That part of the mystery of life is this paradox we’ve been discussing. These two seemingly incompatible things – the fact that we are cracked pots and yet that there is a treasure within – these can go together for good – for a fruitful and faithful life. And as the story of Maria showed me - the transcendent power belongs to God. In the transcending experiences of life – when pain and struggle are overcome – growth can be attributed to God.

In a poem, Edmund Waller penned these lines:

“The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d, lets in new light thro’ chinks that time has made; stronger by weakness, wiser folk become as they draw near to their eternal home.”

God’s light will shine in our hearts – if only we will let it. It’s a matter of letting God’s light and love show and flow through us. And how does that happen? It happens by having a life centered in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul puts it quite plainly in verses 5 and 6:

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

We are vehicles. We are like that image of Jeremiah – clay in the master potters hands. And so living as cracked pots and with eyes of faith – is accepting ourselves – knowing we’re not perfect and living with that, and still offering ourselves as chalices into which God’s love is poured and out of which God’s love is shared with others and poured out for others – even as Jesus poured out his life for others.

For the divine life and power are released precisely in the life of unselfish service and of suffering for others. Sometimes it’s when we don’t realize we’re being helpful – that we are. We can be useful for God’s purposes – even when we feel like cracked pots – useless. God can use us even in spite of ourselves.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water, at the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.” The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?”

“That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.” Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.

God does not expect perfection – but hopes for lives of faith. God doesn’t want us to live perfect lives – but to live whole lives by recognizing the deeper realities of life and living out the truths of those realities. Living as cracked pots, we can let go of the notion of being perfect and earning our salvation, because we’re freed up from that to be and do the best we can as we faithfully seek to follow the master.

Have you ever seen a crack in a piece of crystal? If you have, you may have noticed that when you hold it up to light, just right, you can see a beautiful rainbow of colors. Well, that’s sort of a parable for our lives. That when we center our lives in Jesus Christ we allow the love and light of God to flow through our lives to others – in beautiful ways – even as cracked pots.

“This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar – to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours.”

Cracked Pots!

     Praise be to God!

         And let the light shine – through you! Amen!