Summary: Inauguration message for new role as Executive Director of the D. C. Baptist Foundation: the treasure we have is the gospel, which supports, guides, empowers, and gives life. Like disposable clay pots, we are to be impervious, transporting, and shaped fo
Despite what you may feel in the air this morning, spring is coming. It really is. Spring IS coming. How do I know that? Have I consulted the wooly-worms? No, I wouldn’t know a wooly-worm if it bit me. Have I studied the groundhog and its shadow? No, since my birthday is the day after Groundhog Day, I am too preoccupied with getting older to pay much attention to Puxatawney Phil and his prodigious prognostications. No, the reason I know that spring is coming is that my gardener – I mean, my wife – well, my gardener-wife has started talking about what needs to be done in our yard. She has begun to lay out plans for where I need to dig and what I need to prune and what is to be planted where. Spring IS coming, brothers and sisters, I can assure you, because the garden talk is buzzing around our house.
Now the truth is that I not much of a gardener. I pluck up only what I am told to pluck up, because I don’t know a weed from a willow, nor do I have much patience with moving things. For the life of me I don’t see why something that is already flourishing here should be dug up and then dug in over there. But the mistress of the estate knows better, and hovers over me while I dig and bury. I really know nothing about it; I just do what I am told. Not without grumbling, I admit, but I just do what I am told.
And so it was quite a shock a few months ago when I was instructed to replant some things that had been stored for the winter in clay pots, and was told that in order not to disturb the root system, I should just break the clay pot and get the dirt and the plant out whole. That was a shock, I say, because all of our married life Margaret and I have tried to be frugal. We don’t just throw things away when they get old – I mean, look at me. She’s kept me! When things break down; we keep them and try to fix them, or at least save the parts that might be useful somewhere else. We don’t just pile things on the trash heap and run out to buy the next and the newest, and we certainly do not intentionally destroy anything.
But, she said, it won’t matter. It’s just a clay pot. It’s cheap, and if you have to break it to get the plant out undisturbed, no great loss. Besides, even the shards of broken clay are useful for drainage somewhere else. So feel free – break the clay pot so that you can keep intact the good stuff inside.
That helps me understand why Paul could be so dismissive of clay pots. Paul says we have a treasure, but it is in earthen vessels, it is in clay pots, so that it might be made clear that power belongs to God and not to us. Paul is not very impressed with clay pots, it would seem. He is much more interested in what they contain. And he wants to make sure that we do not confuse the clay pot with what the clay pot holds. Get it right; our concern is not with the pot, but with the power. Our attention is not on the vessel, but on the volume inside it. Our focus is not on the container but the contents.
But, brothers and sisters, the issue for us is that we get it wrong. We get it backwards. We focus on the clay and forget about the contents. We value the vessel and forget about what’s in it. We get it backwards and miss the power.
Let me turn your attention first to the contents and then to the clay.
What is this treasure that Paul speaks about? What is it that is put into these little clay pots? “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God ...” What is this treasure?
The treasure which has been entrusted to us is the Gospel. It is the good news of salvation. It is the story of redemption. And it is a powerful thing. Listen again to just how powerful, as Paul sums it up:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” The Gospel is able to hold us together even when everything seems to go against us. I’ve known people who lost their health, who were drained financially, who struggled against all sorts of disappointments, but who from their very death-beds radiated victory! The Gospel is powerful. “Afflicted but not crushed.”