Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sermon 5th June: Hope

Sermon: Hope: We are in this together!
2 Corinthians 4:1-15

The traditional Chinese Folktale of the Cracked Pot was read earlier in the service.
There was once an elderly Chinese woman who had two large pots, each hanging on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream: “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them

“God in his mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged”. V.1“As God's grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving”. V.15

Today's reading is bracketed by a couple of typically Paul declarations:
God gives us the work – so we are not discouraged. And,
God’s grace reaches out and everyone offers prayers of thanks…

This reading, and those declarations cause so much unnecessary pain and guilt in so many believers…. Because what happens when we do get discouraged?
What happens when we do not see God being given the glory?
What happens when our lives seem to implode and nothing goes right and we simply lose hope?
How on earth can we take any comfort from these words, and all the others that seem to condemn our very human frailties?

The truth is we all have times in our lives when we lose heart; when we are discouraged; when we cannot find it in ourselves to give thanks – because life feels terrible.
And, I’m going to say it right now: me too. Often!
My faith remained, but it kind of felt like it was on the back burner.
And – this is ok.
This really is OK!
Paul’s writing is often controversial – and this is a real doozie. Becoming a Christian, declaring that we believe in Jesus, and claim him as our Lord and Saviour is not some magical formula that will suddenly protect us, empower us and enable us to be immune from the vagaries of life.
And Jesus never said it would.
Paul’s theology was speaking to a particular time and sometimes his teaching can do more harm than good.

In the middle passage Paul describes “this… not that…” to a whole lot of situations. (v.8-9)
Troubles but not crushed
Doubt but never despair
Enemies but never without a friend
Hurt badly but not destroyed

Once again he leaves mere mortals feeling inadequate.

Here is where I found the hope in all of this.
First, I think he’s wrong – you’ve probably realised that.
Second, even within that wrongness I found a nugget which did give me hope.
“There are many enemies, but we are never without a friend”

In my experience this is really true within our church community; within my circle of friends. When I am despairing, grieving, sad, anxious or feeling hopeless; there are friends who will comfort me, pray for me, support me, encourage me and simply sit by me until I feel better, showing the living love of God.
This is my HOPE – as Christians we are never alone. We are in this together. It’s what being the Church Family really means.
This is what I understand by that last verse of today’s reading:
“God’s grace reaches more and more people, they offer prayers and thanksgiving” together we are strong; together we are better; together we can make a wondrous thing.
Christian Hope is bigger, brighter, better, because of the love of Jesus; because of the treasure not always visible or known, but there nevertheless; just like the cracked pot – grace comes in unexpected ways.
We all may indeed as Paul asserts be common clay pots – but hidden in each pot is treasure: grace, love, hope, faith
Hope: because we are all in this together

Footnote: writing this as I did on the first anniversary of my Father's death, I found I was remembering all the friends and loved ones who supported and held me, both physically and spiritually; restoring my hope, my peace and my faith. Thanks be to God!

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