Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
May 27, 2018
2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 5: 1 (CEB)
We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Physical bodies and eternal glory
7But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.
10We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.
16So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.
We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.
For the first five years that Ken and I were married, we lived in the East Ridge parsonage. We had only been living there together for about a year when we were robbed. It happened over Labor Day weekend while we were visiting Ken’s family in Covington, Kentucky. The Tuesday before that weekend, while we were at work, a guy broke the window on the side door of the house and was reaching in to unlock the door when the next door neighbor yelled out at him and he drove off. We can only assume it was the same person, but in any case, with us being out of town for a long weekend, it turned into a perfect opportunity for the person or persons to clean us out. When we returned, the entire entertainment center was bare, all the closets had been emptied out, all the drawers in mine and Ken’s room were pulled out of the dresser and dumped, and the mattresses were overturned. They got a lot of stuff, but what was disappointing to our family were baby videos of Mary Ellen and beautiful, valuable jewelry that had been given to me by my grandmother. Our best guess is that those videos of Mary Ellen ended up in a dumpster somewhere.
In any case, I learned a couple of things through that ordeal. There were only two rooms in the house that were not touched. Though we live in a different house now, those two rooms are where I hide our irreplaceable valuables. I also no longer keep my jewelry in a jewelry box. It’s in just a plain, normal, ordinary container—one among many. It’s funny to think of that beautiful, and in some cases expensive, jewelry in a cheap container, but having been robbed, I’m pretty confident now that it’s safer that way. I know what it is. Hopefully no one else will ever figure it out.
This week, a story broke about a shipwreck that has been found off the coast of Columbia. Actually, it was found back in November of 2015, but the researchers who discovered it are just breaking the news, and they are calling it the “holy grail of shipwrecks.” The ship, called the San Jose, was a Spanish ship sunk by British warships in 1701. The cargo of the sunken San Jose could include gold, silver, and emeralds worth as much as $17billion today. But right now, it’s all just wreckage on the bottom of the ocean—covered in sand and corral and more than 300 years of sea debris. There’s no telling what sort of sea life have made their home in the halls and galleys of the ship. Right now, it doesn’t look like much, but inside that messy shipwreck is billions of dollars’ worth of treasure.
You know, as humans, we are all imperfect vessels. Though each of us is beautifully created, made in the very image of God, our lives are tainted by temptation and sin, by a stubborn resistance to following the way of God and instead forging our own path for our own benefit. So the wholeness that God intends for each of us is tainted, broken, covered up. When Paul writes this second letter to the church in Corinth, he does so because they are angry with him. Apparently, at some point he had shown up for a visit earlier than announced and that unsettled the people. (So we might conclude that as long as the church has existed, the church has worried over trivial things.) Nevertheless, in the midst of this conflict, and with false prophets fillings the ears of the Corinthians, Paul feels it important to defend his work and his ministry among them.
What’s interesting, though, is how Paul goes about defending his work to the Corinthians. He talks about being as slaves, experiencing all kinds of trouble, confusion, and harassment. Paul says, “We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies…We…are…always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake.” Paul describes himself in all these lowly ways. It’s completely contrary to the way we usually try to defend ourselves, isn’t it? If we feel threatened, if we think that someone doesn’t like something about us, we try to build ourselves up for them, don’t we? We tell others how great we are. We brag about our strengths and our accomplishments. We talk about ourselves in the highest terms possible. It’s so strange to see and hear Paul seemingly lowering his stature before the people. Then he pulls in this metaphor about clay pots—these earthen vessels that are cheap and often imperfect, that break easily, that are essentially disposable. And he says, in essence, “We’re like that.” How’s that for low? Who wants to be compared to cheap, broken pots?
But as Paul goes on, we begin to understand what he is getting at. You see, at the same time Paul is talking about how lowly he is, he is also reminding us of how great, and powerful, and wonderful our God is. So essentially, Paul wants us to understand that we are (all of us), indeed imperfect vessels, but still we carry this perfect message. And Paul has to link these two things together lest we forget that always (ALWAYS) the power comes from God, not us. You know, a cracked pot might seem useless. It wouldn’t hold much of anything very well, especially things like water. But cracked pots do let the light shine through. And that’s what Paul wants us to understand. No matter how messed up we are; no matter how many times we’ve sinned against one another and God; no matter how cracked or broken or imperfect we may be, God’s light still shines within us and because of the power and grace of God, that light can shine out of us, too—illuminating the world. We’re like that simple container holding beautiful jewelry, or that sunken shipwreck filled with priceless treasure. We may not appear to be much, but still God works in and through us for his glory and the glory of God’s Kingdom.
There is a story of a water bearer in India who had two large pots, each hung on either end of a pole which he carried across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said. The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.
But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. We’re all simply human, weak and fragile, bending and breaking far too easily. But Paul’s word to us today is that God’s message is far stronger that our weakness and God’s glory will be revealed no matter what. If we allow it, Christ will use our flaws to grace his Father’s table. The good news of Christ Jesus is much greater than all the hardships and missteps of this life. So great is this message, in fact, that it makes something wonderful out of something so messed up. Our faith in Jesus Christ does not mean we will never experience adversity, but rather that such adversity will grant us the opportunity to discover and come to trust that by God’s grace, light is always brighter than the darkness, life stronger than death, and what resides in our broken bodies is the glory of a resurrection waiting to burst forth.