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2024-06-30 Pentecost 6

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Jars of clay.” What comes to mind when you hear this? For me it was the golden era of the 1990s! Jars of Clay were an alternative Christian rock band. They had a typical 90s alternative sound, albeit with a Christianized flavour. But they had a super cool band name no matter how you slice it. ‘Jars of Clay.’ Kinda right up there with ‘Stone Temple Pilots,’ ‘Nickelback’ and ‘Smashing Pumpkins!’ Maybe also ‘Def Leopard’ if you ask my brother in law. But certainly, ‘Jars of Clay’ is a pretty nifty name for a band. It comes straight out of our New Testament reading from Corinthians this morning: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2Cor 4:7). In fact, on the Jars of Clay self-titled album they had a hidden track called “Four Seven” that paraphrased this exact verse.

Paul says we have ‘this treasure’ in these jars of clay. But what is this treasure that he is talking about? In short, it’s the message of the Gospel. He writes: “5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor4:5-6). This is the message of forgiveness, life and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the pearl of great price! This is the most costly and valuable gift in the history of mankind! The Saviour of the world bled and died for us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is nothing else that even comes close to comparing to the value and worth of the Gospel.

Think about it this way. If you had a bunch bars of gold or a pile of precious gemstones or a crypto-wallet full of bitcoin, where would you store these things?! On the corner of the coffee table? In the kitchen cupboard beside the glasses and plates? In the middle of the couch cushions with the loose pocket change, dog hair and forgotten dental floss?! Hardly! Things with this kind of value are in the safety deposit box in the bank vault! Or in a fire safe in the closet, bolted to the floor! Or buried in a vintage cream-can in the backyard under the 3rd rock from the dogwood tree in the east corner of the yard! That’s the kind of places we reserve for the items of the greatest value, to keep them safe and protected from theft and fire and disaster.

Ok so we have the pearl of greatest price being stored in a safe in the center of Fort Knox, right? Well, not exactly. St. Paul must not have got the message. To the complete opposite, he says this incredible treasure is in jars of clay. A clay pot. Think terracotta. Secure? Not really. Unbreakable? Hardly! They were ultra-common in the ancient world. They were considered throw-away, like the box that holds your Tim-Bits or some such thing. Even now in modern archaeology, there’s literally zillions of broken clay jars and pottery found all the time. Tourists can bring them home by the wheelbarrow load because they’re not worth anything. St. Paul tells us that these worthless vessels are what contain the most costly, valuable and precious gift of all time. What does this even mean?!

It makes no sense at all - from a purely human perspective anyway. But if we look at this idea with a heavenly perspective perhaps that will begin to make more sense. God puts the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into such common and worthless vessels in order to emphasize the gift inside and not the container. Our society has hard time with this kind of thing. We like celebrity. We like the star-power of being a VIP. We like big, shiny vessels. But Paul makes it clear. This treasure is in jars of clay “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Pastors should wake up and read this verse every morning. It’s not about us as preachers. It’s not about our personalities or gifts or abilities. People better not come to church for the pastor or likewise stay away. Rather, it’s all about the gift. It’s all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the precious treasure and pearl of great price.

This goes for anyone with a ‘Messiah complex’ - people who think that without me nothing would get done! Nothing would happen. The universe would cease to exist unless I was there to carry it on my mighty shoulders! We’ve met people like this. We know people like this. We might even be people like this! But Paul’s letter is a very good reminder about the truth of the matter. ‘Jars of clay.’ Weak, fragile and broken - commonplace pieces stacked high and deep. A people who are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2Cor 4:7-15).

This doesn’t sound very glorious, does it? It sounds like a group of people barely hanging on to the end of a rope. It’s like a ship being tossed to and frow on the ocean and taking on water. Any minute now it is going to break up into a zillion pieces and sink to the bottom of the ocean! …But it doesn’t. It endures the very toughest and turbulent of times with an incredibly resilient faith because God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, is in control. He is our provider, protector and preserver. He is our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. And even though in this world we will have tribulation, Christ Jesus has overcome the world. And He has done this through His life, death on the cross and resurrection. This is why we focus on the tremendous gift of the cross, so that we may always reveal and manifest His grace and mercy for the life of the world.

And that’s what this Sunday is all about. Our Lord Jesus demonstrates the power that we simply cannot, as jars of clay. Jesus puts sin, death and the devil in their place. And by faith, He places this message of life inside of us. Through His Word, through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper this is how He fills the jars with an incredible hope and strength that will sustain us as we make our way through this broken world. And this message is meant to be shared. Give it away. Show the world this pearl of great price that is inside of you. For as our Lamentations reading says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (3:22-23). Amen!

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