Summary: For Memorial Day/Christian Legacy Sunday: We must not protect the vessel in which the Gospel is carried more than the Gospel itself. The Gospel is power; the vessel must be impervious to popularity, a good transporter. Legacy giving encouraged.
I am not much of a gardener. The Scripture says that there is a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, but I must tell you that I don’t know the difference. I pluck up only what I am told to pluck up, because I don’t know a weed from a willow. However, the mistress of our little estate knows, and she hovers over me while I dig and plant and pluck.
So I was instructed to replant some things that had been stored for the winter in clay pots, and, to my amazement, 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, because all of our married life we have been 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 try to fix them, and if we cannot fix them, we 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. Go ahead, break the clay pot.
That helps me understand why Paul could be so dismissive of earthen jars. Paul says we have a treasure, but it is in earthen jars, 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, he is much more interested in what they contain. And he wants to make sure that we do not confuse clay pots with what they hold. Our concern is not with the pot, but with the power. Our attention is not on the vessel, but on the volume inside, not on the container but the contents.
But, brothers and sisters, the issue is that we get it all 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 we miss the treasure and its power.
What are these things, pot and treasure, containers and contents? What is in this metaphor for us? 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 the little clay pot that is my life? “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God ...” We have this treasure; what treasure? The treasure is the Gospel. It is the good news of salvation. 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! “Afflicted in every way but not crushed.” After worship today I am going to visit a friend in a nursing home; Eugene has, over the last several years, gone bankrupt, been divorced twice, experienced the murder of his estranged wife, sent his rebellious daughter to corrective boot camp, been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting, lost thousands of dollars in unpaid contracts, suffered the theft of a copyright, and watched his house burn down. Small wonder that the latest of his afflictions is a stroke from which he has spent many months recovering. And yet, afflicted as he is, he ministers to me when I visit him, for he will speak of the goodness of God and will tell of God’s mercy. What a powerful Gospel we have!
Not only are we afflicted but not crushed, but there is more to this treasure. We are “perplexed, but not driven to despair.” “Perplexed but not driven to despair.” The Gospel helps us make sense of things. Even when we cannot answer the great “why” questions, the good news brings us a perspective that nothing else can bring. Not long ago I walked through a death experience with a family connected to my family, and someone asked me, “Why? Why did this happen?” But before I could struggle with any sort of answer, someone broke in and said, “She fulfilled her purpose and the Lord took her home.” I don’t know that that kind of answer makes any sense to the world out there; it isn’t a scientific answer. It may not even be an emotionally satisfying answer. But it is faith’s answer. Even when we are perplexed and puzzled, because of the good news of salvation, we are “not driven to despair.”