This past week was a tough one.
With the discovery of the bodies of the children in an unmarked mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops, to the Muslim family targeted by a driver in London, Ontario, we have felt a lot of pain in Canada. And there are plenty of stories in between. With this in mind, I preached a sermon for June 6th, based on 2 Corinthians 4, especially the focus on being weak vessels carrying an amazing treasure. It is hopeful, without ignoring the hurt. Here is a piece of it, along with the exercise I shared with the church that you may want to try on your own as well:
We are weak vessels. We are jars of clay. Literally, clay pots that hold the magnificent treasure.
This image is striking. It reminds me of a retreat I once led for a group of young leaders based on 2 Corinthians 4. ‘Earthen vessels’; being made from the earth, fragile and frail, yet able to hold eternal light and strength. The clay pots described in this passage were not expensive as they were necessary for everyday life in the day of this letter to the Corinthians. This is why archaeological digs are filled with these vessels all over the world. Anyone could make them, good or bad, and everyone needed them for storage and cooking. In 1 Corinthians Paul references both noble and ignoble vessels, and he would have been referring to both the use and the structure of each one. Here, we are looking at clay pots that would easily be destroyed and could be easily replaced. But the point is not the replacement, the point is what they do, and what they hold.
As part of the retreat, I had everyone go outside and break their terra cotta planter. We then collected the pieces for us throughout the weekend. The lesson was simple:
My clay pot, filled with treasures, sits on my desk
- Pressure from the sides and around the vessel will break it.
- We are symbolically like these pots. Life can break us.
- That breaking can come from both the inside and out.
- What does your pottery hold?
With each piece of pottery, with each reminder of our own hurt, participants would write down their own feelings of inadequacy and false identity on the inside. Then as we reviewed God’s promises and what he has to say about us and our future, they would write these items down on the outside of those same pieces. It was like a mirror image, where the world around us and our own insecurities were causing pain and decay, there was the flipside where God was bringing renewal and restoration through Christ and his Spirit.
For the last half of the retreat, we glued those broken pieces back together. Some decided to make the pot as close to what it was as possible, like mine. But others decided to make completely new creations out of their pottery. The renewal was not just to make it look the same, but to make a whole new thing with a new purpose! They were all beautiful. They were all unique. They were all personal. Each one carried the message of sin, decay, and death; and then each carried the hope of Christ, renewal in the Spirit, and truth about what we were intended to hold within us.
This is where the earthly contrast hits us the hardest. We were intended to be bearers of God’s light and his Spirit from the beginning, but it took his hand to make us able to do so. Decay is a messy thing. We see it everyday, in every aspect of human existence, in history and in current times. But it was not meant to be so. This is why the promise in 2 Corinthians is such a blessing and an encouragement. We are light bearers, hope bearers, love bearers…living in a temporal and broken situation. The Spirit is constantly at work renewing us. Even though we break, he does not. So as the inflictions occur, he is right there bringing about renewal.
The Broken Pot exercise:
If you would like to do what I described above as a devotional exercise on your own, here is a simple outline of what you can do. This is a creative, personal, hands-on project, so be as expressive as you like:
- Use any plain terra cotta or stoneware planting pot that is small enough to craft with, but big enough that you can still write on and piece together.
- A hammer, a safe place to break the pot, any type of craft glue, and pens or markers. For the retreat I had people go out to the sidewalk and break the pot on a few sheets of newspaper. At the above-mentioned retreat some tried just smashing the pots into the ground, and that made things considerably more difficult for the rest of the exercise!
- Turn the pot upside down on the paper and give it a couple of hits with the hammer. Remember: The smaller the pieces, the harder they are to write on and piece together!
- Read the passages for the week, focusing your prayer on areas of brokenness or hurt, in your own life, and then challenges you feel or have been impressed upon your walk of faith. These items you can write/draw/express on the inside of your clay pot.
- Now re-read the passages and pray about ways God is showing you hope, stories of renewal in your life, how he has been faithful, and ways you envision him working in and through you in your life journey. Each time something comes to mind, or is laid upon your heart, write/draw/express it in on the outside of a piece of the pot.
- When you feel you have covered as much of the pot as you need, it is time to glue it together. It takes patience and a little creativity to help the pieces to hold together. But it is intended to be part of the imagery in the exercise, so do your best.
- Why are the troubles on the inside and the hopeful things on the outside? Because the tough stuff is personal, and renewal comes from the inside through the Spirit. We are afflicted from the outside, but the Light shines from the inside out!
- Feel comfortable sharing? Share a picture with others, maybe send me a pic, and maybe we can put some on display in the future. Or keep it for yourself and those close to you.