Meditation for Ordinary 9 - Year B
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"But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." (II Corinthians 4:7 NRSV)
"WE have this treasure in clay jars...."
"We HAVE this treasure in clay jars...."
"We have THIS TREASURE in clay jars...."
"We have this treasure IN CLAY JARS...."
It's funny how emphasis can change the meaning of the words. Most often I have heard sermons preached and read articles that tended to emphasize the "in clay jars" aspect. I would like to hold up the aspect of "this treasure." What is it that we have that is so special, so priceless as to set us apart? What is this treasure that the words above hint at?
We all have treasures. Go in to any home and you will find the family's treasures. They will be hanging on the wall or stashed in china cabinets or placed attractively for all to see somewhere on coffee tables, mantlepieces and so on. Another treasure might be the family Bible. Or maybe the treasure is sitting in the driveway or parked in the garage or down at the marina. It could be that the treasure is the house itself. Watch people at any bank; treasures are stored there too. To some people their offspring are their treasures. And rightly so. For children are an heritage from the Lord.
But these treasures above - these things - are not "this treasure." When you are in church look around. What treasures do you see? Gorgeous stained glass windows? The pulpit Bible? The ancient organ? The wall hangings? The stereo equipment? The furniture? All around are things that people regard as treasures. But, these too, are not "this treasure."
What is the treasure you think of when you think of your faith? A story is told of the well-known writer Will Willimon. One day he received a call from an irate father. "It's all your fault," the man shouted over the phone. Puzzled, Willimon gently pried the story behind these words from the man. It seems that his daughter, well-placed to continue on toward her medical degree, had withdrawn and decided to take training to serve as a missionary. And the father was blaming Willimon and the Christian school she was attending. Willimon told the dad, "I think it must be your fault." "Mine?" the father blustered. "Yes" said Willimon. "Didn't you take her to church and Sunday School all these years?" "Yes, but..." the dad stammered. "What did you think would happen? asked Willimon. "But we're Presbyterian!"* Funny, but sad.
All too often we respond to God with, "But we're ----!" You fill in the blanks. It was Jesus who said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34 NRSV) Where are our hearts? Another story is told about a family in the Far East who found a pearl, a beautiful priceless pearl of fantastic size and unparalleled beauty, a treasure. They made a small box to hold it and hid it away. As each new generation came along they were taken to the hiding spot, the box was brought out to be looked at and the story told about the treasure within. After a long time, as people died and the treasure was passed on in its little box, many details of the story were forgotten and the story gradually changed. The box itself came to symbolize the treasure within. The box was decorated and became more and more elaborate. The treasure was completely forgotten. Then along came a generation who did not care about family traditions and who questioned everything. Even the tabu about the little box. They decided to open it. What did they find? The pearl or a pile of dust? You decide.*
Is the treasure that the box was created to contain still there, or has it turned to dust? This is a question which confronts us as individual Christians and as members of the church, the Body of Christ. Century after century the church has handed down this treasure to us. In a box. The box itself has become more and more ornate and unwieldy. Does it still contain the treasure that was entrusted to her? Do you contain this treasure?
Before you answer that, you have to decide what the treasure is. On the night Jesus was betrayed he talked with his disciples and shared some of his last thoughts with them. He gave them what he called a new commandment. "Love one another, as I have loved you." Is this not the treasure we carry as the church, as individual members of it? A love so profound that it radically changes us and changes the world we live in? This treasure that we carry around in clay jars, in our fragile and imperfect humanity; this treasure is nothing less than the love of God for us and for his creation. Imagine what would happen if we didn't keep it locked up and hidden away, stashed in ornate buildings or in hearts held tight in an embrace with the treasures of this world. Imagine. A love let loose on the world and in our lives. A love without strings attached. A love stretched wide open to hold the whole creation in a new embrace! Imagine! And then go open up that box and let the treasure loose!
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, king of love. Your love is so much more than we can imagine, so perfect, so beautiful that we have hugged it to our bosom and hidden it away to admire in secret. When what you have wanted was for us to let it loose upon this earth. For us to be extravagant and magnanimous with it, following the example of she who poured out the precious ointment on Jesus. Help us O Lord. Pry the box loose from our hands and open it wide that we may be bathed in your love and thus anointed, go out into all the world to share this treasure. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen.
copyright - Charlene Elizabeth Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1996 - 2006 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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