Tenth Anniversary Thanksgiving Service. 5/6/2011
|The service was held on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Calvin Protestant Church in Athlone, Cape town.|
Welcome and Call to Worship – Rev Stephen Snyman
Scripture Reading (in Xhosa)
Psalm 146 – Dr Xolile Simon
Candle Ceremony - Rev Elise Theunissen
Prayer - Dr Xolile Simon
Scripture reading (in Afrikaans)
2 Corinthians 4:1-3, 5-7, 13-15 – Rev Kathleen Smith
Message – Rev Nelis du Toit
2 Corinthians 4: 5-7 Though we are clay pots we bear the wonderful treasure of the message of God’s love.
We all know passages in Paul’s letters where we read about the wonders of being saved by Christ. In 5:17-18 he writes – “Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come! It is all from God. He brought us back to himself through Christ's death on the cross. And he has given us the task of bringing others back to him through Christ.” NIRV. In Eph 2:10 we read – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT)
However, in our text Paul comes from another angle. Here Paul calls himself and his fellow believers earthen vessels. Clay pots!
Verse 7 – “Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us.” (Good News Translation)
I cannot explain to you what Paul exactly had in mind when he wrote this. As far as I know, this is the only time he used this expression. So instead of putting my ideas into Paul’s mouth I will rather just tell you what this means to me.
* Clay pots are made from clay – from the earth. That reminds me of Gen 2:7 – “Then the Lord God took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it; he breathed life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live.”
Therefore the picture of a human being, or a Christian, as a clay pot is for me a picture of how we are created from this earth. We are part of God’s creation.
* Like many things in this earth, we are also perishable and fragile. Look at a rose – beautifully created by God, but it soon wastes away. Therefore, for me a “common clay pot” is a symbol of something that can break.
* This reminds me of the one lesson we as church have to learn well in this time of HIV and AIDS: We are all breakable. We are vulnerable. And we must add to this the truth that to be human means to be fallible. To put it in Biblical words – we are all sinners. Therefore not one of us can point a finger to the other to condemn.
I think one of the many temptations for the church is to become overconfident, superior, patronising and even condescending. This attitude easily grows when we only focus on the positive statements about us in the Bible and we forget the many other places where the balancing truths are explained.
Maybe some will agree with me that there were indeed elements of this in the church or amongst many Christians in the previous century. We were so sure about ourselves. When I was at university there was this attitude that our generation will be the one who will finally evangelise the whole world!
And then the century ended with the most devastating pandemic of known history. And for most of the time a big segment of the church was incompetent to respond to this challenge. Why? For many reasons, but one reason is that many church leaders were looking down at the pandemic. There message was: “if you are a broken clay pot it means you are still a sinner dying in your sins”.
We forgot – “we are all just clay pots!” Paul is a clay pot. Christians are clay pots. Christian leaders are clay pots.
* CABSA is a clay pot.
* However, to say that all of us are only clay pots, reminds me of God’s grace.
Example of Dead Sea clay pots: Although these pots were from clay and therefore breakable, it kept those scrolls from completely falling apart for about 1,900 years! Breakable but not useless. Even in Paul’s time, breakable clay pots were important utensils for daily life.
This brings me to the second part of Paul’s statement: there is a treasure in the clay pot.
And this treasure is not an eternal soul as the Greeks of those days believed. This treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In verse 6 Paul describes it with a vivid expression that recalls his experience on the road to Damascus. “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (NLT)
It is as if Paul says, I have looked into the face of Jesus Christ and I have seen the glory of God.
What is the “glory of God”?
Again I can only share with you what this means to me. It reminds me of John 1:14 – “The Word became a human being. He made his home with us. We have seen his glory. It is the glory of the one and only Son. He came from the Father. And he was full of grace and truth.” (NIRV) The disciples saw the glory of Jesus in his grace, his compassion. How He embraced everyone with the love of God.
This brings me back to the first verses of this letter: 1:3 – “Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him.” (NIRV)
Listen again to verse 6 in the NKJV – “For it is the God who commanded light to 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.”
When I read this verse I think of Rom 5:5 – “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (NKJV)
And we all know John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (NLT)
The treasure is this light shining into our hearts. It’s not something solid, something you learn and then you have it and you can hand it out as you like. It’s the wonder of discovering God’s tender love.
A simple comparison: you’ve been lying in bed with the flu in the Cape winter. You are sick and it is cold outside and raining all the time. No sun, no blue sky. And then you wake up the next morning, open the curtains and whala! The sun shines on your face! And the sky is blue and the birds are singing! That’s a treasure. It changes you and lifts you out of your depressed mood.
As much as the HIV pandemic has reminded us of the fact that we are only clay pots, the same pandemic helps us to understand the wonder of this treasure. The light of God is our treasure. The love of God is our treasure. The grace of God is our treasure. Seeing Jesus’ disciples embracing everyone is our treasure.
However, this is something we have to discover over and over. We have to remind one another. We have to drink from this well again and again.
But most important of all – we have to share it. We need to be clay pots that poor out the treasure.
According to John 7:37-38, Jesus said: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Does anyone believe in me? Then, just as Scripture says, streams of living water will flow from inside him." NIRV. Cf GNT: “Streams of life-giving water will pour out from his side.”
To come back to the image of the clay pot. Water from a clay pot will only be refreshing if that clay pot is emptied often and filled again and emptied and filled again. It’s like a clay pot becoming a channel…!
Yes, CABSA is a clay pot, but fortunately CABSA is more than that, it’s a channel! A channel “passing on” this treasure of God we discover again and again. A channel pouring out this treasure of God again and again in a world with HIV and AIDS.
Therefore my prayer for CABSA is: may CABSA, who is a clay pot, always continue pouring out the treasure of God’s tender love, God’s light and may CABSA then be filled again and again with a renewed understanding of God’s grace.
Prayer – Rev Kathleen Smith
Offering – Stephen Snyman
Prayer for UNGASS – Lyn van Rooyen
Today’s date is significant, not only because it is CABSA’s anniversary. On the 5th of June 1981, the Centre’s for Disease Control in the USA published the first report of a strange new disease which would later become known as AIDS. So today could be viewed as the 30th anniversary of the epidemic. And in the week ahead, world leaders will meet in New York at a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS). This meeting will determine the direction and nature of the worlds response to HIV for the future. This prayer is made with these thoughts in mind:
Our celebrations come at a time of great importance in the AIDS epidemic:
Thirty years ago, the first report was published of what became known as HIV and AIDS. In these thirty years there have been many tales of heartbreak, but also many tales of scientific breakthroughs and organisational and national responses. In these years there has been many times when we called to you in despair and times where we praised you for your trustworthiness.
Today we come to you with a particular prayer for the wisdom of your Spirit. In the next few days world leaders will be meeting to determine the international response to HIV over the next few years. We would like to pray for this meeting and all the participants:
- We pray for their deliberations, that they do not lose sight of the great challenges ahead,
- We pray for bold decisions and implementable plans, when they consider targets for access to prevention, treatment and care.
- We pray for the commitment from all participants to make their plans a reality.
But more than this:
- We pray that each participant remembers that their deliberations are not about statistics and plans.
- We ask that you remind them that each decision touches the lives of people;
- We ask that you remind them of the more than 33 million people infected with HIV, the millions more who are directly affected and the millions that will be infected in future if we do not act decisively now.
- We pray that this meeting is a time of renewed commitment, for governments and international organisations, but also for each of us responding to the challenges of HIV
- We ask you to help us as individuals and as organisation to keep our government accountable to their decisions in the months and years after the meeting,
We pray this because we know that you are the trustworthy God, but you are also the God of new beginnings.
Give us a new beginning in our response to HIV.
Song – Amazing grace
Blessing – Stephen Snyman
Leader: Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith–– to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! (Rom 16:25-27).
(Photo's: Jan van Rooyen)