“Treasures in Jars of Clay” sermon from 5/9/10
II Corinthians 4:7-18
Well, this a pretty big day for us all here at Wellsburg Reformed Church! You have been without a regular Pastor for almost a year now and most of your Sunday mornings have been filled via pulpit supply. Me, I am glad to have been led to a community such as yourself (at least so far, hehe) by God as I have finally finished my schooling and have set out to begin working pastorally. This makes this morning an exciting morning for both you and me as we look forward to what God has for us in our relationship together. It has been quite the road getting here for myself. What began just over 10 years ago now as just an initial drawing of God to become His disciple has flourished into something I never would have guessed, but it has definitely been a fascinating adventure. I suspect you will get to know me and my journey more as time goes on. There is much I’d love to share with you, and as much as I want to get to know each of you, I am sure you all are also curious to get to know me as well.
To begin our relationship this morning then, I thought it would be fitting to begin with a message(s) that would make you more familiar with myself and my heart for ministry and the gospel. It is my hope that my first 3 Sundays here in the month of May may help us get acquainted along such lines and also touch on some specific elements of the Sundays ahead (Graduation & Memorial Day Sundays). What I would like to share with you this morning is a message that I hope will speak to the type of church that stimulates my passion for ministry. My intention is to give you an idea of where I come from and what I will most likely be looking to foster here as your new Pastor. Today’s message also fits decently with the fact that it is Mother’s Day given that much of what I will be speaking of is the Family of God.
During my months of candidating for pastoral positions I was often asked the question, “Describe the sort of congregation that stimulates your passion for ministry?” And my answer has been… “A congregation that stimulates my passion for ministry is a homey place where those of membership and attendance would feel part of a big extended family in the Lord. A community aware of their fragile nature/humanity, their need for togetherness, and the presence of the all-surpassing power of God among them (II Corinthians 4:7-10).” This answer for me comes straight out of the Bible and is something I see as part of what Paul describes in II Corinthians 4:7-18. That is going to be our main Scripture passage for this morning. Please bow your heads in prayer with me before we go any further.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
There is much that could be spoken of and/or brought out in this passage. There is a lot of great imagery and things that for me seem to stir my heart quite a bit. I want to keep things simple this morning however and speak to three points that I believe makes it connect with the kind of church I describe as one that stimulates my passion for ministry. Those three points are…
1. Awareness of our fragile nature/humanity;
2. Need for togetherness (we…);
3. The all-surpassing power of God among us.
Illustration – email from mom “Why go to Church?”
Before jumping into these points, being that it’s Mother’s Day and all, I want to share an email with you that I happened to receive from my mother earlier this past week entitled, “Why go to Church?” Take a listen to this… A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday… “I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 16,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.” This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this… They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
Does that illustration resonate with any of you this morning? I think I have asked the same question, why go to church, before for similar reasons. I think the answer given was great and speaks to the three points I’ve already mentioned. Let’s get into those now…
Awareness of Our Fragile Nature/Humanity:
Again, the first point is, awareness of our fragile nature/humanity. As you probably noticed our passage this morning opened with a symbolic reference by saying, “We have this treasure in jars of clay…” Why does Paul use this language to describe himself and those he wrote to? Well, one could also translate “jars of clay” as “earthen vessels”; partly because that’s where the words come from in the Greek, but also because clay jars can be referred to as “earthenware” because they are made from elements of the earth and vessels because they hold and pour forth their contents. This can also refer to people because the Bible tells us we were originally made from elements of the earth (dust, Gen 2:7) and we have great and many things inside that our bodies hold and therefore pour forth in our lives. Those of us who are Christians are vessels for the Holy Spirit of the living God which comes and lives in us and is shown and poured out of us in our lives. Another thing of significance is that in Paul’s day, and maybe in ours too, clay jars were quite fragile and because of the accessibility of clay, considered disposable and expendable. This can speak to humankind as well, as there are so many of us and we are so easily injured, hurt, wounded, etc whether physically or emotionally. But to God, you see, we are a treasure! God loves and deeply cares for each of his creation. Isn’t that which someone creates a treasure to its creator? Something may be expendable in the eyes of another, but not in the eyes of its creator. Think of things you have created, built, etc. Don’t they hold a special place in your heart? Again, considering that it’s Mother’s Day, I see aspects of this in being a parent to my daughter. Now, I believe Carrie Ann was created by God and in His image, but I also see in her my own image and I know that in some ways she came from me and my wife, Melanie also. Because of this, she is such a great treasure to me! In the same way, God sees Himself in each one of us. WE ARE GREAT TREASURES TO GOD!
The passage goes on to say then, “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…” This to me describes life. Think about it… in this life can’t you say along with me that we are hard-pressed on every side, we are easily perplexed because of the so many things that happen in this world, we are persecuted for our faith and in many ways just for being who we are, and we are struck down often by a variety of different things. This is life! The great thing about being in Christ however is, as the passage says, we don’t have to give in to these things; In Christ by the power of God we are not crushed, left to despair, abandoned, or destroyed. Because we are a great treasure to God, God sent His only Son and has provided, and still provides, all means necessary throughout the ages for us. So what I want to say here in this point 1 is that, this is our condition. We should be aware of it and not act as if it isn’t the case. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Actually, it’s the very beauty and heart of the gospel message! That we are imperfect vessels marred and affected by the things of this world and God loves us so much that he sent His only Son that all who believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16)
Need For Togetherness (We…):
Secondly then, the second point, our need for togetherness, I am not so sure is as easily seen in this passage. Many of us could take what I’ve already said for point 1 and run with it individually trusting in the love and grace of God as we live out our daily lives and take part in our various daily tasks. However, if you look back at the passage you’ll notice that Paul uses the word “we.” He indicates that we are all in this together. What I have already described is our common condition. This is where I believe some of the beauty of the Church comes in; we (motion with arms as if to include everyone present) are all in this together. The things we face; in that which hard-presses us, perplexes us, persecutes us, and strikes us down, we are all in this together. Here’s where I’ll share with you a little bit about myself and what the church has meant to me over the past so many years…
In my younger years I grew up in a broken and pretty messy home environment. For the first 10-11 years of my life we did go to church as a family; to a Catholic church close to our house. However we never really made the church and spirituality a part of our everyday lives. After so many years we just stopped going, much because we weren’t sure what it was doing for us anymore or why we ever really started going in the first place (kind of like the email illustration I shared earlier). Other things that were part of my home environment are that for quite a number of years my parents didn’t get along hardly at all. In fact, at some point my dad became very depressed, began drinking too much, and became outwardly abusive toward my mom. This carried on for quite a number of years and ultimately led to my parents separating and heading towards divorce as I turned 13. So this was the sort of tension that was going on in my home. Also, as I am sure many of you dealt with growing up as well, these were the years of middle school and high school and I’ll just say, there was quite a bit of ridiculing that went on between us kids on a regular basis. On top of this, my brother became pretty depressed and began getting involved in drugs and alcohol himself. Now somehow I avoided heading down that exact same path and getting too wrapped up in such things. Although I did have my curiosities and I did end up dabbling in it a bit towards the end of high school and into my first year of college. As my first year of college went along there came a point when it became apparent that the weight of that stuff from years past wasn’t being helped nearly at all by the things I was using to really deal with them. In fact, in many ways they were making things worse. That was when I began to rethink some of the things about my life and lifestyle, and it just so happened to be that I had certain people in my life then that were sources to introduce me to Jesus Christ.
You see what I was doing for quite a number of years with all this stuff in my life was attempting to deal with it by myself. I didn’t really know there was any other option and I was kind of copying what the world around me was doing. Things happen in your life, you deal with them, right? You find ways to cope and get on with life. But when I met Jesus and began going to church and Christian functions with these friends of mine I found something different that was definitely a lot more fulfilling. For one, I found Jesus and the sort of security and saving grace that comes with salvation in Him. That’s the most important part and necessary initial step on a personal level. Secondly though, I found a people I could be a part of. A people I related to and them me, who had been through similar things, had the same felt needs and desires of the heart, and had found fulfillment of those things in Jesus and His Church. This is what the church is; it’s a family. We Christians are all children of God in Christ. That which happens and we experience in everyday life we can share it together, both the good and the bad, in ways that keep us strong both individually and communally. God meant for it to be that way. The hard part is that we live in such an individualized culture these days that this gets so easily lost.
Each of us have our own lives, and jobs, and families… The world has grown so much and so many of us as family and friends end up spread out among the many great lands to live in and conduct our lives. Many good and useful things are in our lives today like computers, internet, email, facebook, cell phones & texting, TVs, iPods, etc. However, these things keep our interactions with each other pretty minimal and can get in the way of us having close relationships with others. I think I noticed this in these two days with the garage sales in town; probably me more than some of you since we are new here, but so many of us live so close together but yet hardly know each other whatsoever. One more thing I will say about the church in this light is that I believe it has become pretty individualized itself in many ways. Many people come to church for themselves mostly and not really for each other. We talk much about our personal relationships with Christ, but not so much of our communal relationship in Him. Even the songs we sing; so many of them use the words I, me, or you in a singular sense and not the words we, us, our, etc. Actually, Bible translations don’t help this either. One of the things that surprised me maybe the most in learning the languages of Greek and Hebrew while in seminary was discovering that very often when the word “you” is used it is meant in the plural sense not just the singular. Stuff like that is easily lost in translation. I’ll move on from this to my last point now, but I just wanted to get across that we are all in this together. We have a common condition in this life. We are not meant to deal with this all by ourselves. We need each other’s love, care, and support in jars of clay.
The All-Surpassing Power of God Among Us:
Lastly then, the third thing I see in this passage in light of the church is the all-surpassing power of God among us. Along with being a treasure to God, we also have a treasure ourselves as jars of clay, as the passage says, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. What is this power and what is so great about it? Though outwardly we are wasting away (in dealing with this life, that which hard-presses, perplexes, persecutes, and strikes us down), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. This is what takes place in each of us in Christ. Though in this life we are all moving closer and closer to death (and each one of us are, but we don’t really like to think about that mostly), inwardly we are being prepared/renewed for our life to come. The hard part is that it doesn’t necessarily feel or look like that is the case for the most part. This, however, is essential to the Gospel and is a great treasure! In it we have hope for a better tomorrow (we do not lose heart); we have security and peace in a loving and caring God that is not only above us, but also with us and among us. It is this process that the world sees and also draws their hearts to God. And it is a treasure and a privilege to live it out among them because others are then drawn to also become part of it themselves and join the family; all to the glory of God!
So this is my hope for this church and the Church abroad… that we as fragile jars of clay might come together in our shared hope and salvation in Jesus Christ, and the all-surpassing power of God among us might be shown to the greater world for the salvation of many!