Sunday, June 10, 2012

Crackpot Jesus and the Bottle-Diggin' Pig

Sermon for the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 10, 2012
(copyright Mainecelt 2012, based on Mark 3:20-34 & 2 Cor. 4:7-5:1)

Bridie, like most pigs, is a great digger. Ever since we expanded her fencing, our one-year-old Devon sow has been exploring her new digs—literally. Where once there was green lawn, there's now a lovely patch of dark, upturned earth punctuated by the portly form of a very happy pig.

The first day or two she was mostly concerned with digging up the sod. But midway through the week, one of our farmhands found her chewing on something that was definitely not a proper pig chew-toy, something that went “screek!” and “clink” against her sharp piggy teeth. We managed to distract her with some two-day-old baked goods and took the object inside and rinsed it off. It turned out to be a sixty-odd-year-old broken glass bottle, the words “Casco bottling company” still clear on the scratched and dirt-filled glass.

We were surprised—and we weren't surprised. Like most old farms, our land is littered with the detritus of generations. Each time we turn up new soil, we find all manner of broken bits and artifacts. Mostly, we find old leather soles from children's shoes—the legacy of the eleven Edwards orphans who ran the farm in the fifties,hardscrabble to the extreme. The next two most common discoveries are broken crockery—mostly bean-pots—and the glass shards of old bleach bottles.

The Edwards children became orphans during a hurricane, when their parents drove out through the storm and the floods to get some food. With the water over the road, they couldn't see that the bridge wasn't just covered with water. The bridge wasn't even there. Eleven children, motherless and fatherless, the secure structures of their family suddenly broken apart, and in the midst of their grief, forced to work the land all on their own, to feed eleven hungry mouths... sometimes we just stop and look around our land, our thoughts heavy with the memory of all that suffering.

Jesus understood what it's like when the strong walls, earthen vessel of family, begin to crack. In fact, his family had strong views about this idea as well, as we see in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is out there with the crowd, doing his thing, and his mother and brothers show up to bring him home and pound some sense into his fool head. They're pretty sure, based on reports through the local grapevine,that he's gone right off the deep end. One translation says, “they heard he was beside himself.” And the scribes who'd come down from Jerusalem—a group with a tendency to leap to conclusions—claimed Jesus was possessed by the Prince of Demons.

Basically, the word on the street was that Jesus was an absolute crackpot, and his family was determined to haul him home, even if they had to resort to hog-tying and carrying:
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside,asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and
my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said,"Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

They must have been some upset. There they were, trying to get their crackpot relative out of the public eye before he brought shame on the whole household, and what did he do when they called him out? Well, he turned right around and returned the favour, saying he wasn't much pleased to have them as kinfolk either.

See,the household was what they called the “primary social and economic unit” of the first-century Middle East. There was no escaping it. The household you were born into determined everything that happened to you for the rest of your life: your social position, your choices for work, the approved vocabulary of your speech, the cut of your clothes, the way you wore your hair, and—especially--the other sorts of people you could spend time with, who all had to be from the same sort of household as yours.

Now,on the surface, it's easy to take this story as the standard sharp-tongued retort of any rebellious young man. Nobody likes their mother—or their siblings—to embarrass them in public. We get that—and, if we don't, our young people are quick to remind us. But Jesus says something new, something different—something that proves to his birth family that he's a crackpot for sure. He redefines, completely, what a family can be.

For Jesus, a true family is not the household into which you're born, but a community of people united by the love of God, a community of shared purpose, dedicated to seeking and doing the will of God in the world. It is a gathering of cracked pots, people united by an awareness that the world is broken—and WE are broken—and God wants something different and more wonderful than anything the world's rules and powers have ever offered up.

It's a bit like the old story of the water-bearer:

Once upon a time, in a village in India, there was a man whose job was to bring water from the river to his Master's house. It had been his father's job, too, and his father before him—for he came from a servant class that was expected to spend their lives doing just this sort of heavy, repetitive labour. Now, this man, like his father and his father before him, was very poor. He had very little in the world besides the clothes on his back and the work-gear his father had left him: two clay water jars and a wooden yoke from which they hung, so he could carry them from the river to his master's house,over and over.

One of the clay pots was perfect in every way for its purpose. The other pot had once been just like the first one, but on the day the water-bearer's father died—when his old heart had stopped in the middle of his journey—the pot had fallen against a stone and developed a crack. Now, though the water-bearer had tried to patch it, the fact was: that pot leaked.
It leaked so badly, in fact, that no matter how the water-bearer hurried from the river to his master's house each day, he never successfully arrived with that pot more than half-full of the precious water on which the whole household relied. He couldn't run too much faster,or he might spill the water from both jars. So every day he worked as hard as he could, making trip after trip, always with the fear that his master might decide he was unfit and hire another water-bearer for the job. Every night he lay down, bone-tired, and worried. He was miserable.

Finally,one day, he mustered up his courage and went to his master. "Master,” he said, “I am so very sorry. I work hard, hard as I can. Yet, because one of my pots is cracked, I've only been able to deliver a portion of the water to your household, and you don't get all you deserve from my poor efforts."

The Master smiled at the water bearer, and invited him to go for a walk down to the river. “I know you work hard.” said the Master. “And because you try to make every step count, I know you watch the ground beneath your feet as you carry water to my house each day. Now, as we walk back from the river, I want you to lift your head. See what a beautiful place this is? People say my estate is like an oasis. Look around. Notice the lush greenery, the fragrant flowers."

Indeed, as they climbed the path from the river to the Master's house the water-bearer took notice of the sunlight touching the beautiful flowers along the side of the path, and he noticed how the winds were softened by the leaves of young fruit trees. But when they reached their destination, his sadness returned. "Master, thank you for the honour of your presence and for sharing the beauty of your estate,” he said, "But I still must apologize for my failure."

The Master said, "Dear water-bearer, you haven't understood what I was trying to show you. Did you notice that the flowers and trees only grew on one side of the path? That's because of your cracked pot. I planted flower seeds and saplings on that side of the path,and everyday as you walked from the river the water that leaks from your pot has watered them. I could have hired a new water-bearer, but I preferred to grow flowers and trees. With those flowers, I have perfumed and decorated many rooms, and these last few seasons the fruit of those trees has graced many tables."

We are all gathered into this community of faith as earthen vessels,each with our own rough edges, our chips and our cracks. As Paul says, in his letter to the Christians at Corinth,
... We have this treasure in clay jars ...We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

“Yes,”he says, “we're all cracked pots.” We carry, in our fragile human bodies, both the death and the life of Jesus, and it shines through every crack and broken edge. For our lives, in faith, are formed from clay and fire, into something beautiful and broken that God can use for Glory.

So,this is how we show ourselves as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We root around. We find the shards and jagged edges, the chipped and broken vessels, and we wonder whether they have any use in this world. And then we open ourselves in prayer, inviting God to use all this brokenness, inviting God's healing spirit to bless it and use it to make something beautiful.
We are all cracked pots, and we follow a crackpot Savior who challenged the structures of his day, busted the bonds of death and cracked open the gates of heaven. We are his family, each one of us broken, each one of us holy. Praise be to God!

(Thanks to Rev. Peter Heinrichs, from whom I learned the story of the water-bearer--and thanks to our WWOOF volunteers, who keep our livestock safe from sharp objects!)