Monday, March 5, 2012

“You’ve got the first part.” That was a line that I heard quite a lot a couple of weekends ago at the women’s retreat. We were playing this game called Mad Gab. If you have never played this game, you should try it. The whole purpose is to try and guess a common phrase that is totally unrecognizable. The other teammate helps you guess by coaching you, saying things like “You’ve got the first part right.” Or “That’s it, you got it.”

That’s our holy aim tonight–to get the first part right. Sometimes the Lenten season can feel quite puzzling. There are multiple points of emphasis during this season. It’s hard to know which one to focus on. Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, I propose that we spend our time getting this first part. That is, before we give up or take on, which can be purposeful and heartfelt, we take a look at ourselves. The psalmist says of God, “For he knows how we are made; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). The question is: Do we?

Paul says in the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians, “But we have this treasure in clay jars…” Clay, made from the dust, dirt, minerals and mixed with water, becomes this malleable matter that can be formed, fired, and glazed to become something so beautiful, so useful, so fragile.

The “we” that Paul uses could mean several things. He’s talking about himself and his co-laborers. The church at Corinth has been disappointed by him. He said he was coming to see them and he didn’t. On the other hand, the “we” is referring to the church at Corinth. Paul is somewhat disappointed by the church. They have been visited by other people who have diluted what Paul originally taught them, when he first established them on his second missionary journey. Their relationship is strained. Yes, Paul is trying to reestablish himself with the believers at Corinth. But Paul is also talking about the believers themselves too. They too are jars of clay, containers and vessels of this all-surpassing, incomparable, extraordinary power. For that matter, Paul is also talking about us.

We like the believers at Corinth in the second century are just as clay-like as they were. We too are from the dust, made from the earth and breathed into with the breath of life. We too are malleable and able to change and grow and be formed in distinctive and unique ways, like a hunk of clay. We too are also exposed to elements both of physical temperature and emotional intensity. But we too, my friends are also fragile, breakable, vulnerable.

I visited a dear man in a rehabilitation center last week. He broke one of his bones after a fall. Science tells us that our bones become more brittle as we age, but our bones are susceptible to breaks even when we are young. It’s just how we are made. And we don’t have to fall to break something. Other things can break us. Sometimes, we may not even know that something is broken. Have you ever spoken to someone who told you they had a broken bone, like a toe, and they didn’t even know it? We are fragile human beings. That in and of itself is a powerful acknowledgement, because it can change the way we approach Almighty God and one another. One thing that man told me while I was visiting was that his therapy was intense but good for two reasons: first, because the ladies who helped him were so talented and beautiful that they made it enjoyable and second because he told me, “One thing about it, when they bring you here, their goal is that when you leave you will be better.”

Brokenness is a part of the human condition. It’s a reality of the life we live. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones…we are susceptible. But Jesus Christ is about more than rehabilitation. Keep reading in Paul’s letter where he says “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (5:17). Jesus Christ is about transformation. And our acknowledgement of our own brokenness invites God in. And that is what self-examination can be, an invitation for God to come in and transform us from the inside out. Not just super glue us, but recreate us all together.

It was not uncommon in the days when Paul was writing to the church at Corinth for people to keep special things in clay pots. No Container Store, IKEA, or Target sold locked safes or pretty storage boxes. Back then, treasures, precious belongings were kept in clay things. Paul is saying to the church at Corinth, and to us, that that is where God chooses to place God’s power–not in beautiful tree, not in any one group of people, but in all of God’s people, including us. Knowing full well, that clay pots can be broken, chipped, God still chooses, Paul says to show God’s power through us. And our acknowledgement of that is a good first start to this season of Lent.

Sermon by Rev. Tasha Gibson, Ash Wednesday, 2012.


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