It’s an ugly mess

1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Pots and moulds 

It’s an ugly mess. It has no form; it’s a great big pile of brown goo. It’s sticky and damp; good for nothing it seems. It’s dirty; perhaps to some it’s even a bit smelly; and if you get it on yourself it can stain. But someone is looking for exactly this; a useless formless piece to be formed into something that is good and pleasing to the eye.

This someone takes the goo and plonks it on the table. The table begins to spin and his hands descend on the formlessness to mould it into something pleasing to the eye; a thing pleasing to the one who turns the tables on something so seemingly useless.

Clay can be troublesome stuff. It can cause heartache for anyone who comes across it. When it’s dry it’s like rock and jars the arms of those who try to break it. But when it’s wet, it’s so sticky, it seems to latch onto anything that touches it and it won’t let go. Anyone who wants to use it has their work cut out for them; such is clay in its natural environment.

However, to the potter clay has a use; a very good use. He knows just what to do to work the goo into something exquisite. The stickiness is worked with wet hands so the clay moves and grows into something good. Its stickiness actually is a quality that keeps the pot adhering to itself. And when it’s put in the kiln and baked the clay is returned to a state that is rock hard to keep its form so it can be used to hold things; perhaps even water.

But clay being what it is can still be trouble. As the potter caringly tries to mould it the clay can collapse and become misshaped. It has to be returned to the lump in which it was originally found and the potter starts again. When the clay becomes a pot, its hardness also makes it brittle and if the pot is not treated right it can shatter into a myriad of pieces. Even if it gets a fine crack, the owner takes to it with a rod reducing it to pieces of potsherd.

When we consider that God is in fact the potter and we are the clay and the pots that he moulds to hold his holy presence we are encouraged to examine ourselves and see the imperfections that cause us and our Heavenly Potter trouble. Isaiah did exactly that when he lamented over his peopleIsrael.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:5-9)

Perhaps you have noticed the imperfections and cracks in the shell of your being. You worry that you’re in danger of being dashed to pieces and thrown on the scrapheap of life. Maybe like Isaiah you see the reality of your hidden human nature — the content of your fragile fatal life — and tremble because you know God sees the sin within.

So hiding the sin is fruitless; it still oozes out the cracks. And even your most honourable and worthy acts can’t exist without containing just a hint of self centeredness. So you know in the depth and core of your being you can do nothing righteous in God’s all-seeing sight. We look in the pot knowing we were moulded and formed to hold something so much better than the pot of filthy rags we have become.

Like the Psalmist we are reduced to see the reality of who we are before God Almighty as we plead…

Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)

The fact of the matter is this: we need to be saved. Without intervention and restoration the potter will return and take to the pots with an iron rod and dash us into pieces of potsherd.

Knowing this the Potter sets to work at the wheel yet again and moulds another pot to contain the core of his being. Just as in the days of old when Solomon used clay moulds to cast precious metals for the temple, Almighty God cast Christ Jesus, his holy and precious Son, into the same fragile clay shell as you and me. And in this mould was veiled the depth and breadth of God’s complete holiness and generosity.

This is very good news for us full of cracks and imperfections who know we need restoration so God will look on us favourably. Our prayer should be the same as that of the Psalmist who also sees he cannot save himself…

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. (Psalm 80:17-18)

So God sent his Son; he cast Christ as one of us. The Son of Man at his right hand, the one on whom God’s hand of blessing rested, was sent and born a baby, a fragile clay pot, capable of the same failures as you and me. Yet he did not crack under the pressure that show us for who we are. He stood the test of time, a fragile pot holding the holiness of God, more precious than any silver or gold.

But then the Potter took his rod of wrath. The rod we know we deserve and having his Son raised up, let him be smashed to pieces. The pot was broken, the mortal mould and holy contents was made to die. Christ was cast; then Christ was crucified! God’s hand fell on Christ so the prayer of the Psalmist, together with your prayer, is answered. You are restored! We are revived! God’s face shines on us and we can call on the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. We can confess our sins; our brokenness to God. And even more, God wants us to see ourselves and seek him in confession, so he can forgive the guilt of our sins.

Jesus was poured out like water, he was dried out like potsherd, he was cast as Christ but then he was cast out, the outcast. On the night before he was betrayed and crucified on the cross he said…

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

And so God’s pot was broken like bread and the cup was lifted up for the forgiveness of your sins. God has wet his hands in baptism to mould your mortal clay so you carry what was poured out of the cup of his Son for your salvation. You now contain the life blood of Christ himself in you, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So as we hear from Paul from the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, grace and peace has come to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God can be thanked for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. You can trust that in him you have been enriched in every way.

Therefore, know, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. Also know as you struggle with your fragility, only Christ who continually sends the Holy Spirit through his written word will keep you strong to the end, so you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. He won’t let you down, but he will allow you to be poured out and broken so Christ might flow onto others. But after it is done those who trust his faithfulness will be raised like Christ, to be with Christ, restored and revived, in all the holiness and peace of eternal life, forevermore Amen.

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