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God’s Best China

I’ve been taking a personal retreat at the end of the year to look over my Jubilee messages and skits, tweak them or scrap them altogether to start something new. In 2011, I decided on a Wesleyan theme, preaching sermons with a distinctive Methodist bent. The following message, God’s Best China, is one of those sermons, a message of holiness and sanctification based on Zechariah 14:20-21. I hope this sermon inspires you. If it does, let’s book a Jubilee! My contact information is below.

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As I prepared for this message, I ran an experiment with my wife, Laura. I asked her to name the china pattern we have, how many pieces, and where did we get it. She immediately replied, “Noritake Etienne. It’s an 8-place setting plus several miscellaneous pieces. We got it from Sanger Harris, which is now Macy’s.”

Wow. I couldn’t have done any of that. As a typical clueless guy, I have a vague sense that we have some wedding china somewhere in the house and on special occasions Laura brings out real plates and cups that don’t look like they came from the thrift store…and they all match.

In the last chapter of the Book of Zechariah, God brings out his best china for all to see. Zechariah was a prophet who lived about 500 years before Christ. He envisioned a future era when the Messiah would reign over the whole world. In that day, clay pots will be as holy as the sacred golden bowls in the temple. Everything from the ornamental bells on horses to cooking pots in the kitchen will be inscribed with HOLY TO THE LORD—words that had previously been engraved on a gold plate on the High Priest’s turban and nowhere else.

We’re comfortable with talking about holy things like priestly garments and sacred ground, but when it comes to people, holiness either intimidates us or irritates us. We think of a holy person as someone who is head and shoulders above us mortal churchgoing types, a Mother Theresa who gives up all to serve the poor or a St. Stephen who gets martyred for the faith. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s easy to think of holy people as somber, self-righteous types whose faces would crack if they smiled. Did you hear about the little girl who saw a mule for the first time in her life? She said, “I don’t know what you are, but you must be a Christian — you look just like Grandpa.”

The Bible knows nothing of these concepts. Holiness is something God possesses; in fact, the Word tells us that God is holy. ”Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is 6:3) So if holiness is who God is, then holiness has to be good! It is we humans who have given holiness a bad name.

So what does it mean to be “holy?” The Bible word means different, distinct, separate or set-apart. Something or someone who is holy is set apart from evil and set apart to God. I think we often get the quest for holiness backwards. We try really hard to be good, and we bring God in as a part-time consultant when we mess up. We cannot be truly holy by ourselves. Years ago, a retired pastor in a West Texas church shared a story with me. One Sunday, he preached a sermon about grace, how we enter the kingdom of heaven not by working hard but simply by accepting God’s gift of grace. A sour church member who nevertheless was known for her service verbally accosted the preacher after the service.

“Can’t say I liked your sermon this morning, Preacher.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“Did I understand you to say that we don’t get into heaven by our works?”

“Yes ma’am. That’s what the Bible teaches. Grace is a gift of God and we can’t earn it.”

The woman stomped her foot in disgust. “You mean all those pies I’ve baked for the church socials all these years MEAN NOTHING TO GOD?”

Salvation by pie-baking is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. Holiness is not earned, it is is endowed. God possesses holiness and God loves to give holiness away for those who will humbly receive. As such, holiness is entirely relational. The closer we get to God, the holier we become.

This may sound shocking, but I don’t think God cares one bit if we “say our prayers.” I do think he loves it when we go to him authentically and open our hearts in his presence. I don’t think God cares if we memorize the Bible. I think he loves it when we believe that the scriptures are his Word and Truth and have the power to transform us. I don’t think God cares if we fast. I think he loves it when we set apart worldly pleasures that we might set ourselves apart for Him, our Greatest Pleasure. I don’t think God cares if we drop a little something in the offering plate. The preacher and finance committee might care, but I don’t think God cares. I know he loves a cheerful giver and he cares when we give generously and even sacrificially, knowing that our resources ultimately come from him. The Pharisees prayed and fasted and gave—and they missed God.

Zechariah mentions that no Canaanite will enter God’s temple. He wasn’t referring to real Canaanites—those evil ancient enemies of the Jews—but to Israelites with Canaanite hearts who pretend to be righteous while secretly despising the true things of God. As C.S. Lewis said, “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that holiness was the reason God raised up the people called Methodist. He believed that the process of becoming holy—called sanctification—was the rally-cry of Methodism and he required his circuit riders to constantly preach on the topic. Wesley spoke of inward and outward holiness. Inward holiness is when we meet Christ in the inner sanctum of our hearts for cleansing and transformation, while outward holiness is the visible fruit of our personal relationship with the Savior, resulting in a life pleasing to God. If one was uncoupled from the other, they become false expressions. Inward holiness without outward holiness amounts to feeble navel-gazing; outward holiness without inward holiness morphs into self-righteous posturing. But when a person spent time with God so that person could spend God on others, true holiness would blaze forth.

“On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty.”

Ultimately, God’s best china is not a sacred pot or bowl, but people. People who yearn to experience God and long for others to experience God through them. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Pet 2:9)

You may not be able to name the china pattern in your house, but if you name God as your Father and Christ as your Lord, you can be sure that you are His best china. You are indeed holy.

The Jubilee is a three-day event that combines preaching, dramatic skits and devotional programs, all designed to renew and refresh the local church. Contact One Man Show Ministries at 817-281-2730 or send an email to info@onemanshow.org

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