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A fragile clay pot

James and his brother John were fishermen, the sons of Zebedee and Salome. Matthew and Mark record how Jesus called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to “fish for people”. Immediately afterwards Jesus saw James and John and their father, preparing their fishing nets. Jesus called James and John and at once they followed Jesus, leaving their father Zebedee sitting in

the boat. The bible does not say what Jesus said or how he called James and John. It just says, “Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat.”

Mark says later that James and John were called Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, but he doesn’t tell us why. We know that Peter and James and John were leaders among the disciples and that they were present at the Transfiguration but not at the Crucifixion.

The last we hear of James is that he was killed with a sword at the orders of King Herod Agrippa.

It is all seems very mysterious. What did Jesus say to James and John? Why did he call them Sons of Thunder? Why were they witnesses to the Transfiguration? And why did their mother ask Jesus to put James and John beside him in glory?

Some scholars think, using the gospel of John, that Salome was the sister of Jesus’ mother, so that James and John were his cousins. That explains why they were so ready to follow Jesus and why Salome was bold enough to ask her nephew Jesus for a favour for her sons, James and John.

I think that there is a more important reason why James and John were so keen to follow Jesus. In the gospel of John, some followers left Jesus and Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to go as well, but Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Where can we go. You have the words of everlasting life.”

And I believe that it was “the words of everlasting life” that took James and John from their nets. It was the words of everlasting life which put the Thunder into the Sons of Thunder. Even in the gospel, which is rather negative about James and John, when Jesus said, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink” – it was the words of everlasting life which gave James and John the courage to say, “We are able.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians, (which we’ve just heard) Paul says, “We have this treasure in clay jars.” If you go back a couple of verses, Paul describes the treasure in this way, “God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made this light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus.” God’s first words in the bible are, “Let there be light!” and for Paul, the words that God spoke at the beginning of time, words which became flesh in the face of Christ, these are the words of eternal life.

What we are hoping for, as Christians, is to have eternal life in Christ Jesus. We want to live in him and we want him to live in us. We hope that we will know the glory of God and that the glory of God will shine in our hearts and in our faces so that others will share this amazing treasure.

Of course we are not perfect, yet. We are like clay jars, very fragile, and some of us are more cracked than others. Like clay jars we can be chipped, cracked or broken in many ways. Illness and death are never very far away, says Paul, but the eternal life we have in Christ can never be destroyed. Even if we die we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us and will bring us into the true presence of God.

Let me tell you a true story. There was a young man who had committed a terrible crime and was sent to prison for a long time. In prison he was disobedient, rebellious and difficult. He fought against the prison officers every step of the way and was known as one of the worst prisoners in the system.

One day, however, he saw that he was spending his whole life fighting. He realized that if he wanted to make anything of his life, then he would have to work with the custodial officers and not against them. He began to study, taking every course that the prison offered. And he discovered that he was intelligent, resourceful and could be a great help and inspiration to others. He now has a master’s degree and is working towards a PhD. He is working hard for the benefit of others as an example and mentor, showing others how it is done.

And what has inspired him and given him the courage and perseverance to continue is the knowledge that there are people who believe in him, who trust him and support him, who know and who have always known that he is a wonderful human being.

St Paul might say to him, “Yes, God has given you everything for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Of course you don’t have to be a criminal to be saved, the words of eternal life are for everyone. You don’t have to be afflicted, crushed, perplexed, persecuted or struck down to carry the death and life of Jesus in your life. God will take what is good and make it better by his grace. To be a Christian is to realize that God has created us to be special, to be a unique gift to the world. Chipped and cracked like a clay jar, but precious and loved in the sight of God. The gift God give us is that God believes that we are precious enough to die for.

Our response is to treat ourselves and each other in the same way, using every resource available, the church and its community, the worship and study of the bible, schools, universities and TAFE courses, the wisdom of professional carers like doctors and psychiatrists, pharmacists and counselors. God has given us everything for our sakes so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flash. This gift has been given to us, and to all people to transform our lives, now in this earthly time of our existence and into the future beyond death wherever life in God may lead us.

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