The service started with the Jars of Clay song
* We are fragile, maybe even showing some cracks, but God can fill us with His power and strength and use us for His purposes. Betty B.
* At first I was thinking the same as Betty, but then I thought about what happens to clay once it is put in a kiln and heated. It becomes extremely strong and hard to break. It changes from being soft and brittle to stone hard. The next verse says "we are hard pressed, but not crushed." I think Jars of Clay is an indication that the gift of Christ is Stronger than we can imagine. Its durable and lasting. – Laura T.
* possibilities................. Sally M.
* If we let God, he can mold us into something we may have never imagined possible. Becky M.
* I think of individual significance and distinction formed by a God who is creative and diverse. Formed by Him and For Him yet formed with earthen elements to contain an incredibly diverse God. David C.
Here’s one of my problems now that I’ve preached a few sermons on restoring broken relationships. Several of youhave told me your problems and think I’m preaching to you! (So I might have to preach to the ceiling so none of you think I'm looking at you.) Honestly, broken relationships are everywhere. Stress is a killer. The image of the Jar of Clay/the paper cup is one of the profound images to give a healthy perspective. When we face problems/stress/issues that are beyond us, to see ourselves as a jar of clay filled with that which is durable and lasting. No matter how we may feel, indeed, while we may exaggerate about our weaknesses, a lot of it may be true. Powerlessness. Weakness. Yet, because of Christ, there is always a measure of hope.
If you are facing a difficult relationship, and you want to follow the guidance of the bible,being weak is no excuse. "I cannot do it", you say, "it’s too hard". "The pressure is too great…." Yes, some are called to endure incredible pressures. And they are weak. Or they are stubborn: “I won’t do it!” As a Christian, weakness does not end the game, it begins the game. Weakness is only a problem if you see yourself as an empty vessel. Emptiness results in the stress of life causing you to crumble and things start to spin out of control so that you give up, or crash, or give in to your personal temptations. Emptiness – without hope. Depression. A paper cup, by itself, isn’t worth a whole lot. But fill the cup with water, and to a thirsty man, the cup is as good as a golden goblet. Fill the jar of clay with oil, and Elijah ate bread through-out the drought. The quality of the vessel is not as important as what the vessel contains.
In fact, a weak vessel may be the surprise that is a witness to the world – "How do you endure your hardship," people may ask. "What an incredible strength." The woman with cancer filled with joy. Who of you have not been awe-struck by Christian friends who live through the most trying circumstances because of their faith. An implicit trust. The quality of the vessel is not as important as what the vessel contains.
To face difficulties as a Christian begins with a new perspective: weakness, vulnerable. We are weak. The restoration of broken relationships, to seek a peace beyond understanding, begins with the knowledge that I am not smart enough, wise enough, strong enough, to do it alone. The first half of 2 Cor. 4:7 gives us a new perspective of who we are, and the second half of the same verse gives us a new purpose: To glorify God. (read 4:7 emphasizing 2nd half of verse).
There’s your purpose, to glorify God. May others see God in us. May the power of God be put on display. A paper cup does not say, “please notice my fancy design, my strong seams,” no, the paper cup has done its job when the thirsty person is refreshed by the water, the cup does not quench the thirst, but it is the vehicle to deliver it. As you face difficult circumstances may this be your prayer: “Lord, fill me with your spirit, so that you will be glorified through this weak and tired body. I don’t know which way to turn, I am not certain of the best way forward, but I pray for your spirit to be revealed and give life to those around me.”
God can use a burning Bush to get our attention, as he did with Moses. He can send down a lightning bolt in front of our path to keep us from going forward. The Lord can give us a dream to guide our path. But most often, the Lord uses ordinary everyday people to make a difference to others, weak and vulnerable people, jars of clay. It’s incredible. Jesus Christ was born in a manger, he wandered the countryside, he rode a donkey to his home coming in Jerusalem, he was nailed on a cross – the glory of the Lord thrives in that which is weak. Later in this same book, Paul goes into great detail about his own weakness: READ 2 Cor. 11:24-30.
Do you feel weak? Like a paper cup. Pressure. No control. Situations beyond your ability. Uncertain. Then you are the perfect vessel for the glory of the Lord to reside. Life giving water is the same whether in a paper cup or a goblet of gold. In fact, God seems to prefer the paper cup!
In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 I underlined four phrases: hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. As I read these four words, it seems to me that these are four emotions we commonly face when we are confronted with hard relationships that we just don’t understand. How many times have you done your best to mend a relationship and gotten no-where. You made a sincere effort. These four words are like a progression of a broken relationship spiraling out of control:
*Hard pressed: Facing tension in relationships is consuming. You think and think and think what can be done till your brain hurts, and you worry, and you try and crack the nut, “what can I do” you lament and you get tired of trying and thinking. Hard pressed.
* perplexed. Most of the time you don’t even know how the fighting started let alone how to end it. There is no answer. Paul must be talking out of his own experience. You can read the letter up and down and sideways and not figure out exactly what happened between Paul and the Corinthian people. It is perplexing. That’s one of the big problems with broken relationships is that most of the time there is no explanation. It should not be, we don’t understand why this person acted a certain way or said a certain thing. It’s perplexing. “I don’t get it.” How often I sit down to listen to people stories, struggles, and I have no answer for why this or that or the other thing happens. Perplexing.
* Persecuted. In broken relationships the two sides aren’t content to just go their separate ways, but when its really bad, they beat each other up. Maybe its to justify themselves, maybe its some sense of punishment. Sometimes it’s the form of talking. When somebody starts rumors it’s a form of persecution: to diminish the reputation of another.
* struck down. I love this phrase Paul uses, because it is like he is mixing his metaphors. If you were to literally strike down a jar of clay, it is literally useless. And that’s how we feel when the pain fully sets in, useless, never to be whole again, complete loss. A broken relationship, when you truly loved the other, truly valued the friendship, the overwhelming sense that there it is all over. Struckdown.
However, we are not left with these four defeating words. When this old empty vessel is filled with the spirit of God, there is always a measure of hope. You cannot be destroyed because the Lord will lift you up.
Hard pressed, yes, but not crushed! The pressure is real, but you can endure, you can live.
Perplexed but not in despair. You may not understand, you may not get it, you may have a measure of confusion, but you won’t be overcome by the negative thinking, you won’t despair, beyond help.
Persecuted but not abandoned. How often you feel so alone like nobody understands, but the promise of God is that you won’t be abandoned. Not only will the Lord be with you, but I am convinced that the Lord will always provide other people. Open your eyes, search for help.
Struck down, but not destroyed. This old vessel may be battered about, it may take a beating, it may be struck down and misshapen, I may hate and despise the problem people, the broken relationship, the pressures, yet the promise of God is that through his spirit, I am indestructible. A broken jar of clay can miraculously still be used of God to be the vessel to contain his glory. Do you remember the old television ad, “weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” That’s us. I don’t understand God why he would choose to use such a weak vessel as me, yet the promise is that through his spirit nothing can happen that will completely destroy me. No broken relationship, no pressure, no amount of confusion. There is always a measure of hope. It’s not the strength of the vessel that is important, it’s the value of the treasure. When the Lord is within you, the possibilities are endless.
Weakness is only a problem if you see yourself as an empty vessel. Your purpose is to be a vessel of the Lord. A paper cup is as good as a goblet of gold, for the water will quench thirst all the same. When stress begins to take its toll, there may be overwhelming feelings, confusion, and set-backs, but the miracle of the Lord is that his spirit will keep you whole.