A World of Cracked Pots … and Glory

Jun 09, 2024

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 16-18
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     I greet you today, one cracked pot to other cracked pots, a reality which proves God’s love for, and trust in, us.
     We find this description in today’s Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 4, in which the Apostle Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth, who were upset about the first letter he wrote them and made that clear to Paul. In this letter he defended himself, but also struggled with what he had written earlier, which caused him to reflect on the meaning of ministry. Thus, he explained some vital truths in this letter, some of which we read today.
     For example, we are reminded that the light of Christ dwells in us, a gift of God in a dark world. That’s good news, but then Paul wrote, “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.” (vs. 7) In other words, we carry the Good News of Jesus in fragile containers – us.
     Paul compares people to earthenware containers that are easily cracked, broken and even smashed. We’re imperfect and inadequate when it comes to being who God has called us to be, doing what God wants us to do and sharing what we have been charged with proclaiming. As it says elsewhere in scripture, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are a bunch of cracked pots.
     And yet, we are the ones – forgiven by grace, who can do nothing to make God love us more or less – through whom God works. Let me stress that again, it is our cracked pot nature through which God works. But it’s not only we who are imperfect, so are the events of our lives and our world. We are never short of examples of that: a mass shooting at a birthday party that occurred in our own back yard; the death of a 3-year-old, a victim of a random act of violence in the middle of the afternoon in a near-by grocery store parking lot; children suffering hunger and injury in far away places due to war. It’s a cracked pot world filled with cracked pot people.
      Commentator Stan Mast wrote that early in his ministry these verses were an epiphany for him during a time of personal and family suffering. He came to believe that: “My suffering was going to be used by God to spread his grace more and more to people. I was, to paraphrase verse 7, a ‘cracked pot’ through whose cracks the grace of God could flow. My brokenness would be used by God to show people God’s grace, so that more and more people would give thanks to God for that grace. And in the end, my suffering would bring glory to God.” (1)
      While that’s often the case in hindsight, his realizing it is also commendable since most of us do not, and cannot, put such a positive spin on suffering and, in fact, are quick to lose heart. We want to be like the Apostle Paul and his companions who are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (vss. 8-9)
     But, instead, we may lose heart as illness challenges and pain debilitates, as relationships are strained and finances fail, as our efforts fall short and dreams fade, and as the world around us is in chaos. In the face of that, Paul reminds us of two truths. First, that God’s light is in us to comfort, guide and strengthen us and, amazingly, shine through us. And second, we carry the death of Jesus with us, a reminder that he too suffered, and we do not do so alone. But the life of Jesus – the power of the resurrection – is in us too and is made visible through us.
     If all of that is not enough to keep us from losing heart, Paul reminds us that we are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. He’s basically saying, “You have no idea what awaits us!”
     Another translation for that verse is, “beyond compare.” It’s interesting that the Greek word that is used is “hyperbole”, which means a comparison that goes over overboard; there is simply no way to exaggerate or overstate the glory of eternity. When you compare the suffering of this life with the coming glory, there is simply no comparison. Paul even says that our sufferings are momentary; he’s not denying that our suffering seems unending and draining, but that in comparison to eternity, that suffering is only for a moment.
      As an example of this, Pastor Mast shares a story from Dostoyevsky. (By the way, do not take this literally.) “An atheist died and was dismayed to find that there is indeed life after death. Indignant, he shouted, ‘This is against my principles,’ for which he was sentenced to walk a quadrillion miles in the dark, after which the gates of heaven would be open to him, and he would be forgiven. ‘I won’t go!’ he said, ‘I refuse on principle’. He laid down, for a thousand years. Then he got up and went on. It took him more than a billion years to walk those quadrillion miles, but he made it. As he walked through the gates of pearl, after he had been there only two second, he cried that those two seconds were worth walking not a quadrillion miles but a quadrillion quadrillion.” (3) 
     Now, that may seem simplistic to you, but it does make the point that eternity is beyond compare and that the suffering of this world is momentary. When we focus on the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, it helps us not to lose heart.
     I want to close with a story that I’ve shared before so that we leave here today with a beautiful image of the life that extends beyond this one.
     You may have read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In the end, the children whose story has been told throughout the book die in a car/train crash. Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure in those stories, tells them they have died in this way: “The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning.”
     Then Lewis concludes, “For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has ever read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (4) AMEN
  1. Sermon Commentary for 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 by Stan Mast, June 7, 2015, www.cepreaching.org
  2. Same as #1
  3. Same as #1
  4. Same as #1