The Second Sunday After Pentecost –
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:5-11, 16-18
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
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 also be revealed in our mortal body.
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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Sermon: “Clay Jars and the Life of Faith”
It’s good to be back from vacation—I guess. In the time we were gone, Cathy and I put about 4,000 miles on our car and visited six different national parks.
My favorite was Bryce Canyon. Here’s a picture of the amphitheater, filled with hundreds of hoodoos, rock towers formed by wind and water erosion.
It’s an inspiring site, one that draws tourists from all over the world. It was fascinating to hear the languages people spoke and interesting to see different customs and cultures in action.
One such custom must depend on a law of physics that I didn’t know about before this trip. That law states, “Nothing exists unless I am in a picture of it.”
In a recent interview Bill Murray said, “People now feel they should document their life rather than live it.”
If we live at the end of a selfie stick, we’ll lose track of what matters. That was Paul’s problem with the folks in Corinth. Some there saw Paul’s trials and tribulations as punishment for what he taught.
Paul said his trials were exactly what real faith looks like. “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God, and doesn’t come from us.”
When he mentioned “clay jars,” Paul used an image familiar to folks in the Roman Empire, and especially familiar to the Corinthians.
Amphorae were two-handled clay jars used to ship wine and olive oil. When full, each weighed more than 200 pounds. Sailors stacked them by the dozens in the holds of ships, running ropes through the handles to keep them steady.
A lot of amphorae ended up in Rome. The Romans couldn’t reuse them because wine and oil seeped into the clay and eventually turned rancid. Workers broke apart emptied amphorae and stacked the pieces, covering them with lime.
This is a picture of Mount Testaccio, an artificial hill in the center of Rome. It’s more than 100 feet high and just over half a mile around and made up of about 25 million broken amphorae.
As a major port, Corinth saw lots of amphorae, too. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them filled the docks at its harbor. When he compared himself to a clay jar, Paul said he was a worthless, throwaway container, but one who carried the treasure of the gospel. How things looked wasn’t important, Paul said. Focus on the treasure of his message instead.
We still have trouble digging beneath the surface to what really matters. Think of trying to coax someone to taste something new, especially something that, no offense, is downright ugly.
Casseroles will never win a beauty contest. Kiwifruit looks like a hairy alien egg. Oatmeal is a glob of muck in a bowl. Guacamole—well, what does guacamole look like, anyway? A pot of chili isn’t the most appetizing sight in the world, nor are cottage cheese and tapioca pudding. How about that special treat of late spring, morel mushrooms?
What a shame it would be if people never tasted a kiwifruit because they didn’t like the way it looked, or turned down a platter of fresh fried morels because they would never taste anything that looked like “that.”
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” we say. But we do—even when we are that book.
The adults focused on things they didn’t like about themselves. Mostly, that was anything they couldn’t change, at least without surgery. The children’s answers, though, were about potential.
✓ “I want cheetah legs because I want to be able to run superfast.”
✓ “I want a shark mouth, so I can eat a lot of things.”
✓ How about a mermaid tail to swim effortlessly through the sea, or a pair of wings to carry us as high and as far as our dreams will take us?
✓ When asked what one thing they would change about their bodies, many of the children said, “Nothing.” Compare that to the adult woman who asked, “Only one thing?”
Meet Galia Slayen’s friend, “Get Real, Barbie.” Growing up, Galia struggled with an eating disorder and, later, frustrated with pressures to look and act a certain way, decided to do something to open people’s eyes.
That’s when “Get Real Barbie” was born. She stands 5’10” tall with a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist, and 33-inch hips. Those are the measurements Barbie would have if she was a real person.
And guys, I’m not going to let us off the hook. If we want to look like Ken, we’ll have to be 6’10” with a 25-inch waist and a 36-inch chest.
None of us will ever be Barbie or Ken, nor should we want to be. It isn’t realistic, and it isn’t healthy, spiritually, physically, or psychologically.
For those who try, glued to the end of a selfie stick, life eventually comes crashing in, shattering the illusion they’d fooled themselves into thinking was real.
Paul had no illusions about his life, saying he suffered affliction, perplexity, and persecution. He told the Corinthians he carried Jesus’ death in his body so that people could also see Jesus’ life.
Paul then added, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
Who we are on the outside wastes away like an old car driven into the woods and left to rust. That didn’t bother Paul. He saw physical problems, as well as spiritual and emotional struggles, as everyday ways that we share in Christ’s suffering and death.
Likewise, moments of joy and delight, of forgiveness and reconciliation, open a window into resurrection life here and now.
Put away the selfie-stick, Paul urges. Take a good, long look at yourself. Discover the treasure God has placed in the clay jar that is you.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor put it like this:
No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.
Paul promises that our rusting outer nature isn’t the whole story. God renews us day by day, Paul said. Inside us, where it matters, the Spirit nurtures its gifts—love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We need to get out of the Spirit’s way and share its gifts with people around us, those pushed to life’s edges who need to hear that God, in Christ, will never let them go.