Treasure in Jars of Clay

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost based on II Corinthians 4:5-12

Dear recipients of the great divine treasure: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We take division as a given when it comes to many things in this life. Even within families we are divided by politics and we root for opposing sports teams. We accept this. Aunt Molly won’t get invited to the summer family barbeque because no one wants to listen to her never-ending songs of praise to the Liberal Party. Uncle Jack won’t get invited to watch the football game with the rest because he cheers with a bit too much fervour for the Bombers. We don’t have any problem with this. This makes sense to us. Yet we struggle with the words of Jesus that He brings division; that families and even the visible church on earth will be divided, requiring us not to share in altar fellowship with those who do not believe, teach, and confess what we do.

Show all the zeal you want for your favourite political party. Show passion and enthusiasm for your favourite sports team. That’s all well and good. People have no problem with that. But you had better not show zeal for Jesus and His Word of truth. Doing so, you will immediately find yourself in real conflict. You had better not confidently confess what you know to be true because that will offend people and then you will have conflict of the kind with which people do have a problem.

Most especially, this is the life of the ministers of Christ. If a pastor is going to fulfil his ordination vows, he will deal with and face conflict. Not polite disagreement. Not respectful dialogue. It is conflict of eternal proportions, as we take our place in the conflict between heaven and hell; between God and the devil.

Saint Paul writes that death is at work in pastors. Ministry is deadly. That’s why we are tempted to take the easy way out. Avoid the conflict. Keep the peace. Do not acknowledge division. Just give people whatever they want. In other words, we are tempted to not fulfil our ministry.

Our own unworthiness doesn’t help either. We are not worthy to undertake this task of ministry. We’re poor, miserable sinners just like our parishioners. Saint Paul himself said that he is not sufficient in himself for the task of ministry (II Cor. 3:5). He called himself the foremost or chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15) and the least of the apostles (I Cor. 15:9).

However, he also writes that our sufficiency does not come from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God who has made us competent to be ministers (II Cor. 3:5-6). We are just jars of clay; earthen vessels. Such vessels are cheap, unappealing, and rather common. They are the least valued and bound to break sooner or later.

Yet, astonishingly, God gives His divine treasure, His own presence of grace which is absolutely priceless and beyond all value in wretched vessels awaiting destruction. Through pastors as jars of clay, God gives His great treasure to His people. God being our sufficiency, we share in Christ’s sufferings (Php 3:10), and as we heard Saint Paul write to the Church in Corinth, “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake… So death is at work in us, and life in you.”

Indeed, Saint Paul writes to the saints in Colossae that he rejoices in his sufferings for their sake, and in his flesh, he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church (Col. 1:24). Certainly, Paul is not suggesting that he is adding to or completing Christ’s work of atonement, but rather, that his weaknesses and sufferings as Christ’s messenger, and the death at work in him, helps the power of Christ and the glory of God truly shine. The jar of clay is seen to be what it is, and God’s divine treasure is seen for what it is.

So also, every pastor’s weaknesses and sufferings are for the sake of the Gospel. Every conflict we face is for our congregations, even when those conflicts come with members of our congregations. Death is at work in us for the sake of our congregations.

We may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken by God, or destroyed. Yes, even if are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, it is in order that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

In what way is the life of Jesus be manifested in pastors’ bodies? By us never dying? Certainly not. Rather, the life of Jesus is manifested in what He does through our mortal bodies.

The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when Jesus uses our mouth and hands to baptize and save an infant from the devil’s clutches. The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when Jesus absolves a penitent using our mouth. The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when we distribute His living body and blood to His people, giving them eternal life. Death is at work in our bodies which are made of earth and will return to earth, even while life is at work in you, to whom Jesus gives eternal life through us. This manifests the life of Jesus in our bodies.

Jesus gives His treasure of eternal life in jars of clay. The life of Jesus will also be manifested in your mortal flesh when He raises your bodies from the dead. That is the life of Jesus manifested in you. Sinful men deserving eternal punishment being raised to eternal life.

The light of God has shone in your hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the treasure given to you in jars of clay.

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” If a pastor is preaching about himself, he is proclaiming himself, not Christ. That’s an immediate warning flag and a sign of false teachers. A pastor is to preach Christ crucified and to serve Christ’s bride, the Church, even when it means facing affliction and conflict. He is to proclaim not himself, but Christ, and bring to Christ’s people the great treasure of the life of Jesus.

The life of Jesus is your eternal life, because He lived and died for you. To this treasure we cling even in affliction and conflict; even when we see that it causes division. Christ in His conflict with death, defeated death, so even as death pursues us all the way, we know that the life of Jesus will be manifested in us when He raises us on the Last Day.

Christ sends this message to you in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Christ and His life for you are the treasure. Cling to that truth with all zeal, passion, and enthusiasm, even if it causes division. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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