2 Corinthians 4:1-18
(watch here: https://youtu.be/aEOwtnRF6zs)
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For 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.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a monk at a Benedictine monastery who had lived there for many years. He became well known for his immense learning and eventually rose to the position of Abbot where he gained access to the monastery’s full archives. He decided to open the archives and begin translating and cataloging it. So he holed up in the vast library, carefully going through its many rare books. This went on for weeks, and the brothers hardly saw him. Finally, one day the brothers heard the Abbot laughing maniacally and crying at the same time. This went on for some time, so they got worried and checked in on him. He was holding a treasured original copy of the Rule of St. Benedict, the guide for how the monks lived. They asked whatever was the matter. He wiped the tears from his eyes, pointed at the book, and exclaimed, “The word was CELEBRATE!”
I like sharing that one with my Benedictine friends from the last few years. I connected with a monastery down in Nebraska and became involved with their oblate program. A group of us non-brothers would gather with the brothers one Saturday a month to join in prayer, Bible study, worship, and fellowship over a meal. Invariably, we would tie it all back to St. Benedict’s “Rule” that carefully outlines how the brothers are to live in community with each other. Benedict reflects on a number of monastic values such as humility or community or discipline or balance. Of course, being the foundation for a monastic brotherhood, the Rule also teaches that celibacy is the key to living in a harmonious community. Satisfying sexual urges only leads to distraction and a breakdown of discipline, or so Benedict felt. Well, needless to say, that joke is a hit with the brothers!
For the Abbot in the joke, the original copy of St. Benedict’s rule wasn’t the only treasure. No, the real treasure was what was revealed in that copy, that Benedict didn’t expect a life of sexual abstinence after all. The real treasure was the gift of knowledge and awareness which is not unlike the treasure in today’s reading. I’ve had fun this week reflecting on Paul’s words to his congregation at Corinth. Nestled in the middle of the passage is an all-too-familiar expression, “treasure in clay jars.” The good people of Corinth had a “treasure in clay jars.” Likewise, we as faithful Christians also have “treasure in clay jars.” But what exactly does Paul mean by this expression? In keeping with passages elsewhere in Scripture, we realize that we are like clay jars. God kneads us and molds us and forms us into these vessels to hold his treasure. Clay jars are commonplace items, or at least they were to the Corinthians who initially heard these words. Most households had some clay jars lying about. Some were fancier than others but for the most part they were pretty basic types of jars. And unlike jars made from stronger materials, clay jars are easily broken. So between being common and easily breakable, clay jars are not unlike you and me. We, too, are not all that different from each other and can be easily broken. We like to think we’re special or better than each other but God doesn’t think so. No, God thinks we’re equally special and yet equally frail. None of us knows what He knows. None of us exists the way He exists. We are all limited by the number of our days and what we can learn in those days. And yet God loves us all equally. God treasures us each and every one of us just the same. We are his treasures and He loves us so very much! We know this because we know Christ and what he did for us. We know the light and life of Christ and that, my friends, is the treasure within us. We may be commonplace and frail but each of us has been entrusted with a treasure–the love of God through Christ. Perhaps that is why God loves us and treasures us so much, not because of who we are but rather because we carry the light and life of Christ within us. Perhaps that’s why He uses us-commonplace and frail us-to carry the light and life of Christ, because we won’t take away from the sheer glory and majesty of the treasure within us. The brightest, shiniest, most valuable treasures often hide behind very drab, unremarkable exteriors.
Whether we carry his treasure or not, I believe God treasures each of us just for being boldly and beautifully made. Our very existence reflects his mighty power and glory and that is enough for him to treasure us. But there is something to be said about the treasure that can be found within us. Just as our very existence defies the darkness and nothingness of this world, the light and life of Christ is equally defiant…arguably more defiant. Christ actually fights the powers of evil and darkness in this world! He goes to work tearing them down and replacing them with love and grace and mercy and justice. The powers of evil and darkness cannot withstand the powers of Christ. He fights for life and life will always win. Even in death there is new life as we see in Christ’s death and resurrection. Death and evil and darkness and nothingness do not prevail! No, the light and life of Christ is what prevails and wins the day!
We know this, friends. We know what Christ did for us and for that we CELEBRATE! What a treasure we have to carry to the world! Christ died and rose again, his light overcame the darkness of the world. As believers of this truth, we carry his light into the world. Yes, we are frail and limited vessels but through the grace of God we can carry his light far. Cling to Paul’s words from today’s reading: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” We are frail but strong in God. He will help us in our frailty and give us the strength we need to overcome whatever obstacles we may face. Paul’s words of encouragement to the Corinthians are just as inspiring to us. We give thanks for the treasure within us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.