Sermons from St Faith's     


Treasure in Clay Jars
Canon Richard Capper, Canon Pastor, Norwich Cathedral, October 5th, 2012 ; Vicar of St Faith's 1983-1997

St Faith’s Patronal Festival: High Mass on the Eve of St Faith's Day.   1983-1997 

St Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, says, ‘We have this treasure in clay jars’. We hold the treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ within ourselves, within these earthen vessels that are frail and weak and mortal. The danger for me tonight is that I will be too nostalgic – but I hope not. It is less than two weeks ago that we celebrated at Norwich the dedication festival of the Cathedral and we sang that hymn which I always associate with St Faith’s: 'In our day of thanksgiving'. I am so glad we are singing it tonight as our communion hymn. Two weeks ago as I sang, ‘These stones that have echoed their praises are holy And dear is the ground where their feet have once trod’ I thought of St Faith’s: not just this building but the people here who by their lives and often by their deaths communicated the treasure they carried in earthen vessels.

I recognise the influence they had on my life and on my understanding of faith in Christ. You will all have your own memories of those saints, faithful people who, though not perfect and often with many all too obvious faults and blemishes, revealed the richness of God’s love. They are people who have inspired and encouraged us on our pilgrimage of faith. We give thanks to God for these earthen vessels and the treasure they contained.

This week I have taken part in the Requiem Mass of a well-known and much loved priest in the diocese of Norwich. He was not an easy man to get along with. He could be sharp and critical but he accompanied many people on  their spiritual  journey. Even though he had been dying of stomach cancer for two years, he continued to be alongside many people. His last sermon in the Cathedral was to retired priests and his text to them was the same as mine tonight: 'We have this treasure in clay jars'. In the middle of his sermon he took hold of a clay pot and threw it down from the pulpit to the stone floor smashing it to smithereens. It was very dramatic. I thought of repeating it tonight but flying fragments of pottery can cause damage to wood and to  people! He was forcefully making the point that we are broken people: that we are cracked pots and we are people who fail. He was speaking to 200 retired priests who had given years and years of service to the Church. And they knew he was right. Their experience of ministry had taught them how frail and weak and inadequate they were and they knew those they had sought to serve shared their brokenness. This recognition of failure is perhaps the beginning of wisdom. For despite this brokenness they knew they were privileged to contain a treasure. They had been given a treasure that they were obliged to share with others. It is a treasure that is precious beyond measure. It is a treasure without price. It is the treasure of the love of God in Jesus Christ. God’s love for us and our love for Him and for each other lies at the heart of our faith. It is the treasure we offer to others despite our failing and inadequacies.

In our first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks of the God who created us and redeems us. Isaiah’s people had gone into exile, but they were not forgotten God remembers them and loves them individually. ‘I have called you by name, you are mine’ he says. In the modern confirmation service before the Bishop lays hands on the head of the candidates they are anointed with oil and are told 'God has called you by name and made you his own'. We may be broken and fragile people. We may be damaged and lost in a fast-changing world but God has not forgotten us or turned his back on us. He has given us the treasure of his love. We belong to him. We are valued by him. We are loved by him. We may be broken clay pots but we contain the treasure of his love, a treasure not to be kept to ourselves but to be shared with those around us. 

Whatever happened 1,700 years ago in Agen during a time of persecutions, St Faith recognized both her frailty and her weakness but she was unwilling to let go of her greatest treasure, her greatest strength - the love God had for her in Christ and the love she wanted to share with others. She was certain she should not compromise that love. It was a love that would hold on to her in this life and embrace her in eternity.

So, on this feast of St Faith we celebrate the love that has been lavished upon us. We do not deserve it. We certainly have not earned it. It is God’s free gift to us; it is the treasure that we hold that we share. We are loved and accepted and forgiven unconditionally by God and maybe we have caught glimpses of that truth in the faces and the lives of those with whom we have shared our journey of faith.

In my present role as Canon Pastor I have to oversee how visitors are welcomed to the Cathedral. I try to encourage our welcomers to follow the rule of St Benedict and to greet our visitors as though they were welcoming Christ. Of course because we are clay pots, how they interpret this request varies enormously. Someone in his enthusiasm welcomed the bishop to his own Cathedral church. Another was seen chasing a visitor because they had not taken the right   leaflet. We don’t always get it right. We are broken and splintered clay pots. We are mere feeble, inadequate, misshapen human beings but we contain a treasure, God’s love and acceptance. That is what we have to accept about ourselves of each one of us. That is what we have to share with one another. And that love is what we celebrate tonight.

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