Treasure in Clay Pots

Treasure in Clay Pots

Pastor Mitch Coggin June 2, 2024 Pentecost 2B

I heard a profound question this week that has captivated me. The question is “What are the losses and longings of the people in relation to the church?” During the last few weeks, a few have shared stories with me of their lives, rich with their history in Victoria and their meaningful connections with St. Andrew’s. They describe visits and calls by elders, newsletters to keep informed, and encouraging cards they receive. Their lives have taken a turn with consequences of declining health. They have faced losses; turning their car keys over to a family member and unlikely to enter these doors to worship again.

Not only is there the reality of the losses that our congregation continues to incur but there are also the longings as well. Another person shared with me how he had found meaningful acceptance and relationship within our congregation because some of us listened to his story, asked questions to better understand, and then shared our own stories of longing for meaningful connection.

A recent lunch conversation was an occasion to ponder, “Why do we exist as a congregation?” If what we do and say does not draw out a deep desire to create and maintain meaningful relationships that serve to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, then perhaps we need to reassess the nature of our longings. Only as we seek to develop deeper relationships with God and each other do we come to hear and to understand the depth of our longings and our losses as a people.

In the story we read from Mark’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples were walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath. The books of the Law clearly explained what was not to be done on the Sabbath. As Jesus and the disciples walked through a grainfield on the Sabbath they grew hungry. What path was there but to pluck grain and eat it? The keepers of the Law, the Pharisees, noted their misdeeds. Jesus countered, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath, so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

But Jesus and the disciples’ action was merely setting the stage for a more basic forbidden act. They made their way to the synagogue where they encountered a man whose hand was withered. The Pharisees were on-guard. Would Jesus again defy the laws of Sabbath and heal on this sacred day? Knowing what the Pharisees were thinking, Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?” There was silence in response to that question. Jesus was angry and grieved because they had no compassion for this man. So, Jesus healed the man.

When Jesus looked into the faces of persons ostracized due to their gender or their sexuality or their nationality or their physical or emotional challenges, Jesus might have said to himself, “Not another day longer must they suffer.” Jesus acted in spite of the Sabbath, to restore wholeness to a man who did not need to wait another day longer to be healed. His ministry was centered upon seeing with eyes and heart what were the longings and losses of the people he encountered and moving toward those persons with compassion.

Why do we exist as the church, not just on our proclaimed sabbath of Sunday, but when we recognize the longings and losses of others and move toward them with that same compassion?

What if we focused on “not another day longer.” Whom would we say that to and what would we say that about? How does God work through us in spite of our own longings and losses?

In our second scripture, Paul makes this crucial distinction: “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” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul knows the difference between the clay pot and the treasure. He knows that it is crucial not to confuse the two.

This treasure is the good news of God’s transformative power of love that Jesus offered to the man with the withered hand. The stories the early church told about Jesus were of lepers healed, children welcomed, poor people taken seriously, and excluded people forgiven and invited back in.

Indeed, there is more going on among us than we can understand. God’s treasure is beyond our ability to explain or control or administer. There is more happening than we control. And it is that “more” that belongs to God’s extraordinary power. Paul understood this. Do we?

Walter Brueggeman offers his own ‘yes, but’, “… Paul is a practical churchman. He knows about the daily bodily existence of the church. He dares to say that the extraordinary transformative power has been entrusted to the church, the church with all of its fragility and weakness and quarrelsomeness and readiness for temptation and seduction. He uses the image of a clay pot to bespeak the fragility of the church because clay pots crack and break and leak when they are broken.”

So, do we dare imagine the clay pot of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in all of its conflictedness and its anxiety about the future. God has entrusted us with the treasure of his extraordinary power even though we are a fragile pot of clay. Paul never confused the treasure with the container.

Paul celebrates the treasure and acknowledges the reality of the clay pot. We may be afflicted in every way…but not crushed; perplexed …but not driven to despair; persecuted …but not forsaken; struck down…but not destroyed. Our hope is that the transcendent power belongs not to us but to God.

Then Paul comes full circle: so that the life of Jesus may be visible in our clay pots, our weakness is not God’s final word. And then Paul draws the conclusion: “Therefore we do not lose heart. even though our outer nature is wasting away our inner nature is being renewed day by day”(v.16 NIV)

To “lose heart” is to give up to circumstance. To lose heart is to forget the treasure of the gospel. To lose heart is to give up on the good news, to be preoccupied with loss. To whom and what would we say “not another day longer?” How do we resolve to be the church, holding the treasure of the gospel, and not lose heart?

Do we dare let the Spirit’s extraordinary power lead us to develop deeper relationships with God and each other?