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A Treasure in Clay Jars




Second Reading

A READING FROM THE SECOND LETTER OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light 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. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 CORINTHIANS 4:5-12


Sermon (by The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor)

Clay jars


This is the metaphor Paul uses to speak about human beings. He draws on the Hebrew imagery of God as a potter, forming us with God’s hands, creating us out of mud or clay. And as clay beings, like the clay jars common in Paul’s world, so we are incredibly fragile. When dropped or hit by a stone, clay jars break…most of our ancient ruins are actually filled with shards of clay jars. So, Paul wants us to think about clay jars today, to see ourselves as formed by the hand of a divine potter, moulded and shaped, but so fragile that we could break at any moment.


And it is deep within the clay jar of our mortal bodies that Paul describes that there is a treasure…the light and knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In other words, the gospel, the good news is the treasure that God has placed within each of us. It is the light and knowledge of the gospel that empowers the clay jars, helps us, to overcome our vulnerability, giving us incredible strength…when we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down…knowing Jesus crucified and raised ensures that we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.


This imagery in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians captured my attention this week. This reading only appears in year B of our reading cycle so we only hear it once every three years…I know for certain that I have heard it before and have read it before, but when I sat down to write this sermon it felt like I was encountering it for the very first time.


What really struck me is how well Paul captures the vulnerability of human life. As clay jars, cracks are constantly appearing in our lives and they grow bigger each day, taking us closer to our breaking point. When I look at my life right now, I see the cracks…the crack of missing my family, the crack of trying to trust life decisions, the crack of stress, the crack of watching many of my loved ones facing death. So much of what we and those we love go through tends to emphasise how we are all fragile clay jars, always on the verge of breaking into pieces.


And it is in response to this reality that Paul reminds us that, as Christians, the treasure, the Gospel message that God has placed within us, is the most important thing we have. In a meeting with my mentor this week we discussed the challenges of parish leadership and the decline of the church. He said that the one thing that we absolutely must have for the church to survive is the belief that God is in the dead raising business. If we do not believe that God works through death, then the church will die…we will be unable to see any possibilities, but will only see failure. We won’t try new things, experiment, take risks, because in the back of our minds we don’t believe anything will work, we don’t believe God will work.


As it is for the church, so it is for all our lives. If we do not personally believe that God is in the dead raising business, that nothing, not even a clay jar shattered to a billion pieces, can stop God, then we will die. Instead of living according to the light of our Gospel treasure, living according to the knowledge that God can overcome anything…we will live as fragile clay jars, afraid to go out into the world, afraid of life, just waiting for the next awful thing to happen.


It is the Gospel treasure that differentiates us from the secular world around us. In the life and death of Jesus we have seen an example of what God can do. We would not be here right now if we did not believe that death is not the end of our story. Thus, this treasure becomes our gift to the world. When our loved ones, our friends, those we meet every day face their clay-ness, face their cracks, face death and hopelessness…our call is to be people who live aware of the treasure God has gifted us with. If people around us don’t know the story of God being in the dead-raising business, they will be truly stuck in death because there is nothing to bring them out of it. We must, in our own way, do our best always to model our trust in what God has and continues to do. As Paul says, Let light shine out of darkness…let the light of God that resides in each of us shine into the darkness of the world.


And I think this isn’t a calling that takes a lot from us. My siblings were raised in the church, but don’t bother with it at all…they might say they are Christian, but it doesn’t have any meaning in their lives. I hope that by simply living as someone who does her best to never give up, who does what she can to keep going through even the worse things, who tries to be there for others and share what I have, I am showing them the treasure, letting its light shine and maybe helping to seal any cracks in their lives. This is really all we are called to do… live the treasure…live what we know is true and let this guide us and shine into the world.


Clay jars


This is the metaphor Paul uses to speak about human beings. We are, each one of us, a clay jar, cracked in places, possibly on the verge of breaking apart. But God has placed within each of us a treasure, the Gospel, the good news that God is in the dead raising business. Our call is to live according to this treasure. To let it guide and shape our lives, allowing our light to shine into the darkness, shine into the cracks of the many clay jars in our lives…our family, our friends, those we don’t even know. This is how Paul is calling us to live today…to be aware of clay-ness and the light, the power of the treasure we have within.


Amen.

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