Sunday, June 2nd, 2024

Simple Jars of Clay Contain the Real Treasure

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord sent forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives. in Jesus’ name, Amen. My family and I have lived in an apartment since we moved to Albuquerque last summer. And one of the hardest parts about being where we are is that there’s no backyard, which ultimately means there’s nowhere to grill. I love to cook on the grill. We used to always grill the obvious things, burgers and brats and steaks. We also liked to grill vegetables. Asparagus and zucchini were the favorites. We even grilled frozen pizza. Sometimes watermelon or pineapple. One time we even tried to grill cookies. When I was a kid, my dad would grill out almost every night when the weather was nice. Standing by the grill at the end of a long day with a cold beverage was how he liked to unwind and he passed that down to me. And when it comes to grilling, there’s different approaches you can take to prepare the food. Now we tend to use dry seasoning because it’s convenient. You grab a couple of spices out of the cabinet and mix them together while the grill is heating up. But sometimes on a special day and a special occasion we’ll marinate the meat for a couple hours, maybe even overnight. I can still mentally taste two specific marinades that my parents used when I was growing up, one for chicken, one for steak. And I can remember the 24 or so hours leading up to the meal. Every time you open the refrigerator, there was the baking dish, telling you what was to come, containing all that raw goodness. Now in our house we tend to use zip lock bags. It still locks in the flavor, it’s easier to shove in the fridge, takes up less space on the shelves. And when it comes time to cook, to grab the zip lock bag out of the fridge,  the anticipation grows, because that bag is about to deliver something precious, something delicious. And I’m thankful for the zip lock bag, but I’m even more thankful because of what’s inside. The contents are the real treasure. The same thing is true for the leftovers the next day. The leftover is the day after Thanksgiving, that Tupperware in your fridge is a beautiful thing. Not because I have a particular love of plastic, but because of what’s inside. And that’s what Paul’s talking about today in 2 Corinthians. He speaks about the great gift of the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness. For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shown in our hearts.” And He has given us the gift of faith, reconciliation with God, faith that clings to our Lord’s promises. To use the analogy of food, it’s like the Tupperware container that holds the treasure. You see the steak has to be kept in something. Leftovers have to be kept in something, and the gospel, the message of the gospel has to be kept somewhere. It has to live somewhere. It has to be delivered somehow. And what does God choose? Where does God house the proclamation of the Gospel? He puts it in jars of clay. He puts it in weakness. He doesn’t enshrine it in the gold-plated vault with top notch security, eye scanners and biometric locks. He places it in common, perishable everyday vessels, clay jars. The kinds of stuff you’d find lying around your house if you lived in 1st century Corinth. It’s like the food analogy. The gospel isn’t even wrapped in foil shaped like a swan that you get from a fancy restaurant. It’s in zip lock bags and Tupperware. The kind of stuff you have lying around your kitchen. Because the message is what’s important. And Paul says that our Lord did not place the proclamation of his gospel into the mouths of dynamic beings or angels who could shoot lightning from their fingertips, who could darken the sun with a snap of their fingers, or who could conjure the winds like some sort of X-Men? He didn’t leave the proclamation of forgiveness to the things that the world would find impressive. He gave it to people, simple people, normal people. He gave it to his apostles. He gave it to his church. And he gives it to us. He placed his treasure into jars of clay. And why did he do that? In order that the world might know that the surpassing power belongs to God, not to us. The focus needs to be on the message, not on the messenger. And if the messenger happens to draw our attention at all, it should not be because of how wonderful he looks, because of how expensive his suit is, or because of his winning smile. It shouldn’t be because of how eloquently he speaks, or because the church is so huge, or he has such a great smile and tells such  wonderful stories. No, according to Paul, if the messenger draws our attention at all, it should be because, through his weakness, the power of God is seen all that more clearly. The messenger is afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Imagine what would happen to a clay jar in a trash compactor. How many shards of clay would splinter all over the place? It would truly be an incredible sight if the trash compactor broke and bent itself around the clay, because clay isn’t that strong, not by itself, and so also us. We are jars of clay, unable to withstand the pressures of the devil on our own. The proclamation of the Gospel, living the life of faith that puts a bullseye on our back, the arrows of doubt assail us, the pressure of living as light in a world of darkness, threatens to crush us, but our Lord defends us. Our Lord protects us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And so, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down on the couch to relax and I turn on the TV and I scroll through Hulu, then I wonder what’s on Netflix. So, then I scroll through Netflix, then Amazon, maybe even Disney Plus. There are thousands of options at my fingertips, but I can’t choose one. So instead, I turn off the TV and throw the remote in disgust. Some call it decision paralysis. Paul says that being entrusted with the proclamation of the gospel can create a similar situation. There are so many possibilities. Who should I share the gospel with? How should I share it? What do I say? How do I say it? What if they don’t listen?  What if they do listen? What if they challenge me? What if they ask questions I can’t answer? What if? What if, What if? We may be perplexed, but we will not be driven to despair. When being a jar of clay that houses the proclamation of the gospel feels overwhelming and confusing, we find our comfort that the success or the failure of the proclamation doesn’t lie in our hands anyway. The sower sowed his seed. Some of it grew, some of it didn’t. But the sower sowed. That was his job. The growth belongs to someone else. The growth is the work of the Spirit. Proclaiming the truth to a dying world may be confusing and frustrating, but through the power of the Spirit we are not driven to despair. Even if we’re persecuted for our confession, even if it feels like we’ve been abandoned, we remember that we are not forsaken, our Lord is with us. Even if we are struck down or injured for the proclamation of the gospel, we will not be destroyed. We may be jars of clay, but we will not be shattered. Even if the world holds us above its head and throws us to the ground with all its might, we will not be broken. I pray that we’re spared from that kind of experience, but even if we aren’t, Paul’s words become that much more comforting. If in the end, we end up bearing in our bodies the scars of persecution, they are simply a reminder of the scars of Jesus, and an encouragement to look forward to resurrection. It’s one of our Lord’s wonderful ways of working. He takes that which the devil would use to drive us to despair and flips it around. He catches the devil in his own schemes. The devil sets out to make us suffer, to cause us to lose hope, but the suffering just reminds us of the suffering of Jesus himself, that Jesus suffered. Which reminds us that there was resurrection at the end of his suffering, which reminds us that there’s resurrection waiting for us too. And so, what the devil would use to drive us to despair, our Lord uses to give us hope. And it’s not just the physical hardships. When I tell myself I’m just a jar of clay, no one will listen to me, I’m reminded of all the people who didn’t listen to Jesus either. If you feel like the proclamation of the gospel is falling on deaf ears, if you don’t see changes in the lives of the people around you, in your home or in your work, be comforted and reminded that the message didn’t get through to everyone, even when it came from the mouth of Jesus himself. And if you feel like the devil, and the world and your sinful flesh are actively trying to silence you, to prevent you from speaking words of hope, well, they tried to silence Jesus too. But they could not. Jesus accomplished the purpose for which he was sent. Your forgiveness has been won, and it is delivered to you every week, through word and sacrament to strengthen life for the life that you live. It might not be that impressive in the eyes of the world. We might be simple jars of clay, but through the working of the Spirit in our simple lives, we are reminded that the surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us. Us, we get to live in the freedom of the gospel. We get to live as the forgiven ones. We get to live as the redeemed. We get to speak the words we’re given to speak. We live the lives we’re given to live, and we leave the rest to God. We take each day as it comes, faced with the tribulation of the world, but not overcome by it. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Death may be at work in this world, may be at work in our lives, but life is too. And life and hope get the last word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.