Sunday’s sermon: Broken Jars

cracked pot

Texts used – 2 Corinthians 4:6-18 and Luke 7:36-50

  • THE TALE OF THE CRACKED POT[1]: Once upon a time, there lived a man in India. His job was to be the water carrier for the master of a large estate. He spent his days walking miles from the master’s estate to the stream for water and back again. This water carrier had two large jars, each hung on opposite ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of those jars had a crack in it while the other was perfect and smooth and whole. The perfect jar always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk. The jar with the crack in it leaked water with ever step the water carrier took, and by the time the man returned to the master’s estate, the jar with the crack was only half full. For two whole years, this went on daily, with the water carrier delivering only one and a half jars full of water to the master’s estate. Of course, the perfect jar was proud of its accomplishments, flawlessly fulfilling to the purpose for which it was made. But the poor cracked jar was ashamed of its own imperfect and miserable that it was only able to accomplish half of what it had been created to do. After two full years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water carrier one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” → Flawed. Imperfect. Ineffective. Inadequate. Useless. Worthless. Hopeless. All labels and descriptions that, when heaped upon our shoulders, pull us down and down and down – make our backs and our heads and our hearts stoop lower than the shoulders of that water carrier as he carried two heavy, clay jars full of water.
    • Not labels that we love
    • Not labels that we embrace
    • Not labels that we want to take on for ourselves
    • Let’s be honest. No one walks around declaring with joy and pride, “Hey, I’m inadequate! I’m worthless … isn’t that great?! I’ve been told I’m flawed, and I couldn’t be happier!” // And yet // how often do we give those labels to ourselves? How often do we sit there and look in the mirror or look at our houses, our cars, our checkbooks, our lives in comparison to other people’s and say, “I am ashamed of myself.”? Or we can turn it around. How often do we cast judgmental, disparaging glances at the people around us – in the grocery store, at work, on the highway, wherever – and think these things about them?
      • Like the Pharisee in one of Jesus’ parables[2] who boasts loudly and proudly, “Thank God I’m not like that other guy … that tax collector guy … that sinner! Ugh! I may not be perfect but at least I am better than him. Phew!”
  • Or like the Pharisees in our gospel story for today → I think that today’s gospel story may be one of the most touching and most heartbreaking stories in scripture.
    • Begins simply enough – Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to his home for dinner → would have been a pretty big deal
      • A “who’s who” sort of dinner party
      • A chance for Simon to show off his home/affluence
      • Even more important: a chance for Simon to show off his connectedness, a sort of “Aren’t you impressed by who I know?” kind of gathering → rubbing elbows, making powerful associations, etc.
      • Definitely a “by invitation only” sort of gathering
    • But then in comes the Uninvited Guest, “a woman in the city, a sinner,” as Luke calls her in his gospel account. → what do/can we know about this woman who doesn’t even get an actual name?
      • Long been speculated that, by being called “a woman in the city,” it is implied that this woman has been a prostitute → assumption that has been seriously called into question in recent years
        • Scholar: Like Jesus, she finds that her reputation has preceded her. Simon’s knowledge of her sin implies that, whatever her wrongdoing, it carries with it a public shame. Her low, inward body gesture suggests that she has long been cast out from community gatherings. The shame that she carries has pushed her to the fringes of society and leaves her looking up at the world from a lowly place.[3]
      • And if her presence and her reputation alone weren’t enough, her actions certainly would have scandalized the entire gathering.[4]
        • First, as we said, woman was a sinner = she was unclean → So when this unclean woman touched Jesus, according to Jewish law, she made him unclean, requiring that he go through the specific cleansing ritual before he was considered clean again. An unclean person having physical contact with a clean person – especially an unclean woman having contact with a clean man – was a grievous social indiscretion.
        • Second scene-creating action = where she touched Jesus → In that culture at that time, touching or caressing the feet could have sexual overtones.
          • Gesture that all the guests in that room would have recognized immediately
          • Could be where interpretation that this woman was a prostitute came from
        • Third strike = the woman let down her hair → another sexual impropriety in the culture, women never let down their hair in public
          • Intimate … sensual … familiar
          • And not only does she let her hair down, she touches Jesus’ feet with her long, loose hair!
        • She would have known this – all of this. She would have known how her actions would be perceived. And yet none of that mattered to her. While we do not know her name … while we do not know her story … while we in fact know nothing about this woman except that she was a sinner … what we know for sure is that her love for Jesus was stronger than anything else inside of her. → love so strong, it poured out of her
          • Poured out of her in weeping – in so many tears, she was able to wash Jesus’ feet with them
          • Poured out of her in compassion/desire to serve – drying Jesus’ feet with not with her hands or the hem of her dress but with her own hair
          • Poured out of her in devotion/reverence – anointed Jesus’ feet with precious, expensive oil → And not only did she pour oil out of that alabaster jar, but because of the way those jars were constructed, the top actually had to be broken off in order to pour oil out in the way that this woman was doing to anoint Jesus’ feet.
    • Simon’s response to this appalling act = full of judgment and disdain – text: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”[5] → Now, Scripture tells us that Simon said this to himself. He probably muttered it under his breath. But Jesus’ hearing was apparently better than Simon had anticipated because Jesus not only hears this comment but turns Simon’s judgment and disdain back on himself by first pointing out the power of great forgiveness and then pointing out Simon’s serious lack of hospitality.
      • Cultural gap we need to bridge: Middle Eastern culture at the time required a number of hospitality actions including a place to wash your dirty feet, a kiss of greeting/peace, and an anointing of special guests → Simon did none of these things for Jesus, and yet this unnamed woman … this uninvited one … this creature of the city … this sinner … did them all to the ennth degree. Like the water carrier’s broken jar, she surely would have felt her shame – felt it like a burning pit deep within her – but instead of letting that shame define her, this woman is define by forgiveness and the exquisite love and devotion that that forgiveness inspired.
  • So let’s return to that story of the water carrier and his jars: After two full years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the broken jar spoke to the water carrier one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” The carrier asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The broken jar replied, “For these past two years, I have been able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to the master’s estate. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts.” The water carrier felt sorry for the cracked jar, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s estate today, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they went up a hill, the cracked jar took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because once again, half of its contents had leaked out along the way. Again, the cracked jar apologized to the water carrier for its failure. But the carrier said to the jar, “Did you notice that there were flowers on your side of the path but not on the perfect jar’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his home.”
    • 2 Cor passage: God said that light should shine out of darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.[6] → Clay jars. Plain. Simple. Ordinary. Clay jars. Chip-able. Crack-able. Break-able. Clay jars. The perfect vessel for the light of Christ in this world. The perfect vessel to display the incredible love and grace of God, not in spite of their commonness and their breakability but because of it.
      • Commonness draws attention not to ourselves, but to God → We are not our own creation but God’s creation. We are not our own saviors; God has saved us. We do not find perfect love or grace within ourselves, but God gives them freely to us. God can and does do anything and everything with simple clay jars, making us beautiful and special and unique and suited perfectly to the purpose to which God has called each and every one of us.
        • Makes me think of Pinterest = social networking site that allows people to share ideas, images, vidoes, and website in a very visual manner → find anything from fitness tips to recipes to book suggestions to craft ideas to organizational hints and everything in between
        • One of the most commonly used items on Pinterest (especially in the summer) = terra cotta pots
          • Used in indoor and outdoor gardening (of course)
          • Used in recipes = unique food delivery vessel (especially desserts)
          • Used in a staggering number of crafts → People have turned these basic pots into just about anything you can imagine with paint, chalk, twine, glitter, glue, candles, googly eyes … you name it, someone has used it to “fancy up” their terra cotta pots.
            • Our own experience with this = Amy → If you look at the peace lily in my office, it’s potted in a terra cotta pot that has 2 butterflies on the side … butterflies make out of the boys’ footprints! They made it for me for Mother’s Day a few years ago.
        • That is what God does to us, simple clay jars though we may be. – Paul in Eph: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.[7]
      • But did you notice that Paul said “good things,” not “easy things”? That’s where our cracks, our chips, our dings and our dents – that’s where our own imperfections come into play.
        • Paul names them again in our 2 Cor passage: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. … Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen.[8] → Basically, it’s not about our cracks, our flaws, our imperfections but about what God can make of them. It’s about how God can use us in all our cracked and broken glory to shine the light of Christ in this world.
          • Like the woman with the alabaster jar who had to break the jar in order to anoint Jesus’ feet
          • Like the water carrier’s cracked pot watering the flowers along the path
          • Or think about it this way. Imagine you have a solid jar with no cracks and no imperfections in it, and you put a flashlight in the bottom of that jar, what are you going to see? Not a whole lot. But what if your jar is cracked? What if it’s been entirely broken and pieced back together, but some of the smaller shards got lost? So there are not only cracks but holes … gaps … missing spaces? Now imagine putting a flashlight in the bottom of that How much light are you going to see shining out? Friends, the good news of the gospel is that God uses cracked pots! God doesn’t simply tolerate our broken and imperfect selves but God embraces us – flaws, cracks, sins, and all. God embraces us with a love and forgiveness that we cannot even imagine and says to us, “You see this purpose? You see this need in my creation? You see this other broken place in the world – this place that needs water, needs color, needs light, needs forgiveness, needs love, needs hope? Your broken edges fit perfectly with those broken edges. See, I have a place and a purpose for you. Not in spite of your brokenness, but because of it.” Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Indian folk tale, found at http://www.moralstories.org/the-cracked-pot/. Accessed July 5, 2017.

[2] Lk 18:9-14.

[3] M. Jan Holton. “Proper 6 (Sunday between June 12-June 18): Luke 7:36-8:3 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 142 (emphasis added).

[4] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 170.

[5] Lk 7:39.

[6] 2 Cor 4:6-7.

[7] Eph 2:8-10.

[8] 2 Cor 4:8-9, 17-18a.

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One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Broken Jars

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Hospitality Challenge | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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