Who Are You? The Great Paradox [June 3, 2018]

clayjarsThis sermon was preached on Sunday, June 3, 2018 by Rev. Melissa Krabbe at UPC. Listen to the audio here:

Read 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Isaiah 43:1-4 here.

Who are you?  Most of us would probably answer that question by saying, “I am . . . Melissa Krabbe.”  Which would be totally confusing because we can’t all be Melissa Krabbe.

In our reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul says that we are crackpots.  I mean cracked pots.  Well, actually, jars of clay.  If we’re clay pottery, then, which one would you say you are?

Are you one of these plain jars?


Or are you more like this fancy vase?


This vase is actually the most expensive vase in the world.  It’s an 18th century Chinese porcelain vase that was found in the apartment of an elderly man in London who had inherited it from his uncle.  He had no idea that it was valuable, but it sold at auction for 53 million pounds (more than 70 million dollars), making it “the most expensive piece of Chinese porcelain ever to come to market.”[1]

The markings on the vase indicate that it was made by royal craftsman for the imperial emperor.  Part of the intrigue around this vase is the mystery of how it got from the imperial palace in China to an average man’s flat in North London.

When the Apostle Paul was writing his letter to the Corinthians, he was probably thinking of jars of clay like the ones in the first picture, because his point is that it doesn’t matter what kind of clay jar it is.  What matters is what’s inside that jar.

Who we are and what we’re able to do is a result of God’s power living in us, the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

Paul explains in our passage from 2 Corinthians:

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

That is the paradox. We find our own identity and beauty best in the beautiful light of Jesus that shines through us.  That light shines brighter the more we let Jesus guide us and lead us.  The light shines through our cracks.

Paul compares us to jars of clay, and Isaiah explains in chapter 43 even further how we are like clay.  He says,

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. –Isaiah 43:1

God created us, formed us, redeemed us, and called us.

God created us. – We were made from dirt, just like clay is made from dirt.

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. -Genesis 2:7

That’s why on Ash Wednesday and at funerals, we say, “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19)

God created us, and . . .

God formed us, just like a potter forms the clay.

In Jeremiah 18:6 God says You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.”

God created us, God formed us, and . . .

God redeemed us by sending Jesus.

In the laws in the book of Leviticus, there are instructions for what to do with a clay pot that comes into contact with a dead animal, or with something that is considered unclean – you break the pot and throw it into the trash pile.  Once the pot is soiled, it can no longer be used, and they break it so that no one will accidently sin by taking that pot out of the trash pile. (Lev. 11:33-35)

Isaiah spends the first 40 chapters of his book showing Israel all the ways they have broken God’s laws and become like soiled clay pots.

But then, here in Isaiah 43:1, God says, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you.”

In that time, the redemption meant that they were released from exile.  They had been carried off to Babylon, far away from Jerusalem, and far away from the temple where God was said to dwell.  But God wanted them to know that even though they were no longer able to go to the temple, God had not forgotten them.  God still loved them and was still with them.

Now we know that the ultimate redemption came through God sending his son Jesus Christ to die for us, to take away our sin, so that no matter how messed up we might be, God still loves us.

God created us, formed us, redeemed us,

God called us to be His.

He has called us by name and we are his. –Isaiah 43:1

We are each unique handmade pottery.  Part of what makes that Chinese vase so valuable it that it’s the only one.  It wasn’t made in a factory.  The artist probably made others that were similar, but no two are exactly the same.

We too are unique in a whole bunch of different ways.  We use some of these differences now to establish our identities.  Our fingerprints.  Our eyes – the retinas are unique, but so are our irises.  Our ears.  Our teeth.  Our voices.  Our DNA.  All of these are ways we can be uniquely identified.   Did you know we could also be identified by our lip prints?


But since criminals don’t go around kissing things and leaving lip prints, those aren’t as useful.[2]

We are also unique in our talents and abilities, and in the special abilities we have received from the Holy Spirit.  Romans 12:6-8 (NLT) tells us what some of those are and how to use them:

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

How we do the things we do matters, because that’s how we let the love of Christ shine through us.

There was a young teenage girl who was struggling with depression.  She had been born as a result of an affair, and her father was ashamed of her because to him she was a constant reminder of his mistake.  Her stepmother didn’t want her around for the same reason.  Her mother couldn’t support her on her own, so she married a rich man who insisted that everyone and everything be perfectly clean and quiet and out of his way.  So the girl learned to dress perfectly, wear makeup perfectly, and behave perfectly.  Her life was a huge charade.  The girl had trouble making friends because she was afraid to let anyone see her real self, but one day a friend introduced her to a pastor who showed her a piece of old pottery.

chipped tea cup

It was a teacup that was faded, cracked and chipped that the pastor had found at an antique shop.  There were no longer any matching cups or any of the rest of the dishes, just this old, worn out teacup.  It wasn’t valuable china, not like that vase that turned out to be worth 70 million dollars, so the pastor wondered why it hadn’t been thrown out.  And he thought,

“Maybe, they couldn’t bear to throw it away. Maybe they loved it so much, they thought, ‘Someone else might still see the value we see in it.’”

He said to the girl, “…God is like those owners. …He refuses to throw us away, no matter how many chips, and how many cracks, . . .He’s determined to hold onto us because we are valuable to Him. …So I keep that [teacup] to remind me. People are cracked. They are messy, and often to the world, they really aren’t worth much of anything. But to God…” … “God doesn’t give up on us. He loves us with a love that is patient enough to walk with us through the things that have chipped us; He … lovingly keeps us and holds us even when the world says we’re not worth it.”[3]

We are like clay – created from dust, formed by God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and called to walk with him through the fire.  Just like clay has to go through fire to be strengthened, we too find our faith strengthened when we keep trusting God as we go through the challenges we face in life.

Who are you?

It is in Christ that we find out who we truly are,

because it is in Christ that we find God’s perfect, unconditional love.

We are all imperfect, cracked, flawed jars of clay…

Like this cup.

Nanteos Cup inside 642x361

This broken fragment of an ancient wooden cup is a treasured relic that has been preserved down through the ages because it is believed to be the cup that Jesus used at that last supper with his disciples in the upper room.[4]  The cup itself is not what’s valuable. It’s been preserved because it was believed to have been held by those hands that endured nails for us. It would have also held the wine that Jesus said represents the new covenant sealed by his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.

This cup is priceless because it is filled with the greatest love and forgiveness ever shown, the same love that’s given to each one of us.

Who are you?   —You are God’s beloved jars of clay filled with God’s amazing love.

As we come to the communion table this morning, let’s remember that we are

Created, formed, redeemed, and called to love him with all we are and to share his love with everyone.


[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1329308/53m-Chinese-vase-kept-wobbly-bookcase-insured-just-800.html

[2] https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/unique-body-parts/

[3] Stallings, Staci. Mirror Mirror: A Contemporary Christian Epic-Novel (The Grace Series Book 1) (Kindle Location 8897). Spirit Light Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[4] http://www.visitwales.com/latest-news/2016/june/nanteos-cup

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