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There is a distinguished British gentleman by the name of Sir Oliver Franks. He had been a professor of philosophy at Oxford, and president of a couple of different colleges during the turbulent years of the 1960s and following. He had also been the chairmen of a major bank. As if this resume was not enough, Sir Oliver Franks also served for a time as the British Ambassador to the U.S., perhaps his most demanding post of all. He held this post in the all-important years immediately following the Second World War, at the time when the Cold War was beginning and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was set up.

As Ambassaor, Sir Franks was in touch, often on a daily basis, with the President on one side of the Atlantic and the Prime Minister on the other. He was the confidant of some of the most powerful people in the world. He frequently needed to get urgent, important, and top secret messages back and forth between Washington and London. It was far too risky to make telephone calls; the line was almost certainly bugged, even in that day and age. There was a diplomatic bag which went to and fro each day, bringing confidential documents by air across the Atlantic. That was the method he used for most of his important and confidential messages. But when something was really confidential, utterly and completely top secret, and desperately urgent, he wouldn’t trust it to a bag which everybody knew was important. He would put it into an ordinary envelope and send it through the regular mail.

In our scripture reading this morning, what Paul is saying in effect, is that there is no chance of anyone confusing the content of the envelope with the very ordinary and unremarkable envelope itself. The messenger, or the vessel that carries the message, is not important; what matters, vitally and urgently, is the message itself. “We have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.”

From a sermon by Clair Sauer, Fragility and Fortitude, 5/30/2012

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