I have some cracked pottery and jars for sale after Mass. They are all broken, and cannot hold liquid or sand or dirt, but I’d love for you to buy one from me. Since they are classic pots, meaning, kind of old, I will be selling them for more than their original price—since they are “classic” and you can’t buy a new one like it. They are unique, too, with cracks on the top, down the middle, and on the bottoms, with holes there, too. (Some quite big ones in some of them.) I figure that, with at least twenty of such pots and large jars, I should make several hundred dollars easy for them. In fact, I already plan to use that money to go out and buy a Gucci G-Timeless watch, the kind with the steel casing and silver watch hands or smooth, colorful facing. Yeah, I can’t wait. Hey, do we have an early bids for the cracked pots?
I went on a retreat, and it had a theme of “earthen vessels.” I figured it had a connection to the Bible verse of 2 Cor. 4:7. You may recall it, as it goes: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us.” There was a 1980’s Catholic folk song called “Earthen Vessels” played at the retreat’s start. I knew that particular St. Louis Jesuits’ hymn; as I even used to play and sing it for some Catholic liturgies back in that era. It was one hymn I liked and never tired of. Its version sings: “We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels, wealth untold, One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels.”
One of the surprises for the retreat was that there were several cracked pot vessels in the middle of the window-less retreat conference room. These vessels were seemingly unfit for use for anything, with their open cracks and big gaping holes. As the cd song kept playing, the electric lights in the lodge there were turned off, leaving only an evening glow in a corner fireplace to stop the darkness from overcoming us. But then, someone took a taper to the fire and carried it over to the cracked pots, and started to light candles which were inside of the cracked pots. It was interesting to see the pots gain a rustic beauty and glow now, in a transformation coming about, and with cracked slivers and holes now serving for beams of candle light to seep out into the room, it made a profound change of it, to serenity, peace and a great meditative mood.
The song continued: “One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels…… Light has shone in our darkness, light has shone in our heart. With the light of the glory of Jesus the Lord…. He has chosen the lowly, who are small in this world, in the weakness, His glory, in Jesus the Lord… We hold a treasure…in earthen vessels.
In that Bible verse of earthen vessels, I had once before favored an image of I for me of a smooth and beautiful glass vessel, as to hold wine, or a nice refreshment, or if a lesser consideration, some flowers. That was my earthen vessel picture: Something classy, though earthen, like Waterford Irish crystal glass. I had been one time to the Waterford factory to see the wondrous glassworks and production, you know.
Yet in this retreat the earthen vessel was a cracked pot. I was invited to be one. We all were invited to see ourselves as cracked pots.
The retreat leader began, ‘In my life, I have felt like a cracked pot. I have had tears and I have had times when I felt a lot broken and fairly worthless to all. But God said I was not worthless, even in a cracked pot condition before Him. … I knew from my time growing up as a young person that, as I was taught, I was supposedly created in the image and likeness of God, even for a purpose to God. Yet I came to a point of feeling real broken and damaged, and thinking the holy image was marred by all the bad breaks I had been through. I felt fairly unusable to God or for any inspiration to another. But somehow along the way, I learned from God about the blessing of brokenness, of realizing that we all are broken, and perhaps, are all cracked pots…” “Well, God uses cracked pots.”
A laughter went all over the room, for we knew what we were hearing was true. “It’s the cracked pot convention,” someone blurted, to more relief coming into the circle of retreatants. Now some good conversion work could begin…
The candles glowed in their pots and we began to see them as “us.” We can see what God can do. It’s not so bad to have brokenness, not so bad after all, that even an artistic project of taking something seemingly useless, can become great by their re-creation. Those glowing pots with lights a-twinkling were artistic and even spiritually calming. How about that?!
God does such things. With people.
So, back to the retreat setting, in the middle of the room were these fine glowing pots. Before, they had seemed to be broken clutter of objects in the center of the circle, but now, the lights in them brought an artistic air, a wonder, a readiness for us to interpret the Second Corinthians verse of earthen vessels in a new way. Plus, we had the surprise of a speaker willing to tell us how they embraced their brokenness as a leap to their spirituality.
How about that? There it is–God uses cracked pots.”
Borrowing retreat-like words now, I share some words on this subject.
I take them from a woman, who was commenting on this theme and opening up about it. I paraphrase it a bit: She says: “The truth is, we’re all cracked pots. It’s true that we’ve been created – crafted by God – with care and for a purpose. We were formed by His hands as to be filled with friendship and goodness with Him. But the sins committed by us and against us have cracked what God created. Fellowship in the Spirit has leaked out, and it doesn’t feel good or right. In fact, it has us feel useless in some ways. I tried various ways to deflect from the brokenness, as trying to hide the cracks, disguise them, distract away from them, or act flippantly as if I didn’t care of my poor condition. But I felt so weak or un-special inside. It was hard to pretend when I was alone that I truly felt —broken. As a cracked pot. I watched others in the dilemma of trying to deal with their own broken situations and personal breaks of life, as some tried to fill up with corrosive contents that which they (their vessel) were never designed to hold—contents that promised to make them useful or to feel ok or distracted if really not ok, but for saving face sake. I watched others have a willful rebellion rise up in them, resulting in stoppage of faith or hope, with anger, self-abuse, abuse of others, unpleasantness, weirdness, immorality, serious offenses. I watched some others, those who had grown up with some religion around them try to fill up the broken vessel with lots of good efforts – you know, doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, in front of the right people – and yet the self-effort seemed to leak out, maybe because it was led more by pride still, in some way, and not on dependency on God. That kind of religion they didn’t want to succumb to—of brokenness–to admit weakness or need—and I knew the perspective—and the shortcoming of it, as it had them still miss out on many of the blessings of God that could have come their way. Like once it had done to me.
But who will humble themselves, so as to be lifted up? Who will discover that “secret” that God tries not to hide?! That He loves to heal broken people and broken things.
Some just thought worldliness and a whimsical believe-in-me attitude would solve the things of their broken vessel of self. But the lessons came of how the world will eventually leave you behind and forgotten, if you’re not valuable to them. Worldly solutions cannot fix spiritual needs. Jesus said it simply: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. For the patch will pull away from the garment, and a worse tear will result. “What happens when you try a worldly self-solution to a dire spiritual need, like one’s brokenness? You fail, and then some darkness comes to overtake you. That’s the “worse tear” Jesus was getting at.
Tears and breaks can be in pottery too, and if we saw ourselves as torn and broken people, we’d have to turn, red-faced, towards the Potter (Our God) and apologize for our crazy repairs or avoidance of things or of the corrosion we’ve invited in our jars (our earthen vessel). We bear all the evidence of use and abuse, and we present to Him our fractured lives and darkness. It’s deep repentance time. It’s all we’ve got to offer Him. We apologize for not humbly calling out to Him sooner, but here we go. “ That’s the ticket. The secret. I am broken, and you are the Healer, O God. Help. I cry out to you.
Don’t go hide. Others do this. They hide, like on a shelf— so to try to not get any more broken. Or maybe they’ve been put on that shelf by another, as cast off due to brokenness or unwanted company. God shines the light of His holiness on that dusty shelf there and sees our flaws and fractures. He says, “Yes, you have broken what I designed. You may be afraid to get worse, but fear not, I will help you, if you’ll let Me do so. Welcome me to heal up your life. Let me help you work with your brokenness and your life in the fallen world, and getting into the redemption plan of My Church, My Body. ###
The retreat was all about people becoming willing to get to that point, to become open to God, without pretense, without fear—and just be frank of one’s brokenness—and be willing to be a Church that will see and care for other’s brokenness.
The retreat leader had gone to the pottery store the fortnight before and said: “I would like to buy broken pottery. Do you have any around?” The owner said, “I do, but why would you want it?” The retreat leader said: “It is a retreat about broken pots and their usefulness to God.” “Usefulness? How can they be useful?” replied the owner. “I don’t know, I will think of something, but I will buy ten broken pots from you, said the person, and the owner said. $10 for the whole group. Sold.”
The glowing pots with their candles inside were really something else in this retreat lodge. They were signs of renewal, signs of a new dawn. The retreat leader had found quite the creative use for the cracked clay pots, in this master room, and they would be there throughout the retreat. If we could learn from them!
The lesson comes to mind from the Isaiah 58 prophetic Word (that was our first reading in this Mass). “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and He will say: Here I am!
One more time with that Scripture quote: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and He will say: Here I am!
As a Catholic person compared it all—with the pottery imagery: “He, Jesus, reached toward us and chose the broken pottery. He bought the chipped and leaky earthen ware. Yet He paid dearly for damaged jars of clay. The cost of His human existence, His Flesh and Blood….
When we’re drained of all the corrosive self-effort, when all the corrupting rebellion has leaked through our cracks, we’re finally empty and dry. And we’re finally ready to hold what we were designed for: The Light of Christ.The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” That is a verse of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:6. Meaning—once the Lord said, in His Creator mode, “Let there be light, and there was light in the world…” Now, He says to humankind, Let My Light be in you. To shine. Your souls are meant to shine of My existence. To hold a treasure. You are designed for this! That verse 6 is followed by verse 7, where we started: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us.”
And do you know what God does with cracked pots? He makes them useful.
Though His light reveals the cracks, it also replaces the darkness. It streams through the gaping holes. Then He sets us on a lampstand called influence and He shines through our broken places to give His light to everyone around.
We hold a treasure not made of gold, in earthen vessels, in this broken self called you, with a wealth untold, to shine the treasure of the Lord, the Christ, and the power of goodness in Him, and salvation: the Gospel.
You know, I, John Barry, have much to thank of the broken or challenging road, or the humility road that has been allowed by Christ to come to me. I have God to thank for my becoming humbled enough to seeing that the Gospel of Salvation and Life of Jesus Christ is fully meant to shine in me, and to transform who I am. Like the pots on the retreat and Bible verse and song, I am an earthen vessel, and not so much as Irish Crystal, but as a clay pot. So, mine does have its cracks, too. But in it, somehow,” to hold a treasure, one treasure only, the Lord, the Christ Jesus, and His Gospel, in this earthen vessel.
The value of shining the Light of Christ, with the Gospel Radiance.
These are other thoughts I jotted down, if you want some more…
Peter the apostle, once a denier of Jesus, and also a under-estimator of Jesus several times, declared out of his brokenness, that “I have come to see how we are God’s special possession.” Paul, the persecutor, the other great apostle, said famously, “I can boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses. For in Christ, I am strong, as He is strong in me.” That compares to the light image of the pots…
And that is why we, cracked as we are, can let the Light of Christ shine before others, so they can praise the God Who designed and redeemed cracked pots.
Jesus is a treasure in His vessel of you and me, and Jesus reminds us that His Gospel, or His Good News of salvation, is too this treasure of Him invested or put into you.
The Good News we have today to live comes from the same Word Person Who spoke to King David the psalm writer, to have him to desire and “taste and see how good is the Lord.” And David would taste and become excited, and he put it to a song. It is Psalm 34. He also echoed the sentiment of desire for the Word of God, when he wrote Psalm 19: (that) “The Ways of the Lord are perfect, His Ways do convert the soul. The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous for us altogether. More to be desired are they are gold, yes, than much fine gold… sweeter than the honey from the comb.”
Oh that we would treasure the gospel in our lives like that!
David never it had so good as we could have ourselves right now. How so? We have Jesus’ Christ Gospel. It’s a major upgrade of inspiration that from his time, three millennia ago.
Paul describes the greatness of the Gospel, as in 2 Timothy 1:10 it communicates of how “The Lord Jesus Christ has brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel, there are treasures reserved in Heaven to come down for God’s People to receive, to secure them.”
Indeed! The believer has everlasting blessings come in to them, so precious are these Word treasures to us!
I find it fascinating that I just happened to find and read this week of a February 1716 sermon on the subject, in words once given at a Harvard funeral, about a salute to their just departed pastor and his gospel witness. Paraphrasing it, the sermon bit said: ‘Pastor ___knew the value of the Gospel within him! He preached it as he lived it, that The Gospel gives a suitable and sufficient supply for the soul to feast into strength of immortal life, as the Word of Christ dwells richly in us, to save. This Gospel of Jesus consists of those things which are in their own nature of inestimable value, and which are exactly suited to our wants and necessities. If we would only look so deeply for that, then we could be ready to bear fruit in the application phase of the Gospel. There is enough opportunity to receive it, so as to make satisfaction in you, that you could take your brokenness and make it your blessedness, to take your weakness and make it opportunity for your meekness, and it’s the meek who shall inherit the earth, you know?! This Gospel of Jesus is always full and flowing out and offering promise to us. Through the Gospel, God makes all Grace abound towards His people, in Christ, by His Spirit, that they always having a sufficiency in all things, and that they might even abound. “ I love it—all written in Boston, Feb. 1716. The same all holds true today, doesn’t it?!
When you thought you had nothing. You are ready then to have everything.
Be the earthen vessel full of the Good News of Jesus.
The Gospel in us, with the life of Jesus Christ, is a Treasure, for it heals and makes us new and to a new birth of becoming the Child of God forever. It is what we really desire, so go after it!
Say, dare pray: “I want to live by the Gospel and be filled by it, in Jesus, all the way up to the kingdom. Give me the gospel, Lord, that this broken one might shine the light, and surprise!