A TREASURE IN A CLAY POT
Maybe I'm dating myself by talking about crockery. There are people today who rarely eat meals served in anything but paper, so perhaps I should say that earthenware is very fragile. When you were a child, did you ever get distracted while you were holding a porcelain pitcher, then suddenly your mother heard you say oops… after which came a crashing sound? Did you ever think of yourself as being fragile like that? Now St. Paul was not the sort of man we would usually call a strong man, but he had the strength that endures. He endured all sorts of misfortunes for the sake of the mission. Many times he must have been ready to give up, to think this was all he could take. He knew he was the clay pot, and that the pot was often broken. Each time there was the chance it would be broken beyond repair, but he lived to have the pot broken again and again. Should we expect better experiences than Paul?
Should we want our lives arranged for the sake of the clay pot? That's wrong. God could not let us be indestructible, because we have a treasure inside, a treasure which is not just for us but for everybody. The treasure we have is the Gospel, the truth of God's salvation which is His gift to us in Christ. That Gospel is the true treasure of the Church. Our treasure is not humanity - splendid as man once was, he has become a fallen enemy of goodness and light. Our treasure is not freedom, wonderful as that may be, we will always abuse it. Our treasure is life that never ends, that cannot be taken away or destroyed, a life that is fully-redeemed, victorious over death, certain that God loves us and has made us valuable beyond all telling. God in His Word calls us holy. That's a good word. Don't let the fanatics ruin it for you. It's good to be holy. We are God's people, chosen before creation to be His own, chosen still today, as indeed God never stops choosing us. In the fullness of time He made the perfect sacrifice, which He declared to all by raising Jesus from the dead.
How do we know we really have this treasure? God reached down to tell us. He has given us the Word. He has added to it those visible forms which we call the Sacraments. He has been good to us. He has loved us. He has forgiven our sins. And in His mercy He has not left us in any doubt about His intentions. In the Bible, the ministry of preaching, in Baptism, in the Holy Supper of Christ, and in the spoken Absolution, He pours out His grace. In the Church, the seminaries and colleges, in that part of Christian broadcasting which actually cares about divine truth, God informs us of the treasure He has placed within us. God has not placed this treasure into everyone. Only those who believe in Jesus have this treasure. No one can ever find it no matter how long he seeks. No one can create it. No one can contribute in any way to possessing it. It is always God's gift.
From what we have said it follows that to have the general public access this treasure it must somehow come out of us. That is why God made the pots so fragile. Consider how Jesus was made fragile. We have to be fragile as well. We can't let our own ends get in the way. That hurts. Yes, that really hurts. Why does it have to be like that? Why couldn't God put the treasure into transparent glass? People could see it then without breaking the vessel. The holy angels are vessels like that. If God had placed His treasure into them instead of us, people could see it without having to break the angels. Angels have no sin, and therefore no pain, but we are opaque earthenware. No one can see through us, so we must conclude, God placed the treasure where it could only shine through by having the containers get hurt.
In the Old Testament we read of the prophet Jeremiah. He was always complaining, asking God Why me? Why must I preach this gloomy message that nobody wants to hear? Jeremiah wasn't kidding. God had ordained him to preach bad news. He was to warn Judah that their time was up, exile was just over the horizon. It was their fault, since they had broken God's Covenant. I can assure you that hearing God's sentence was not very comforting. God called Jeremiah to tell people that they had blown it and were about to be zapped. So do we have to preach that kind of thing? Yes. No one will want our treasure unless he thinks he needs it. To show man that he needs it, we have to preach the Law. If people hear it and repent, then we have good news to proclaim, God's forgiveness and mercy, but people might instead turn on the messenger. Irrational as it might seem, people think they can make the message go away by killing the messenger. If they do that, they never get to hear the good news.
Would God have done better to put this message into the hands of His angels? Consider this: if you have been in the dark for a long time, sudden light is hard to take. You back away. You shade your eyes. The darkness is so much more comfortable. If God revealed this treasure through angels, people would run from it in terror. God wants people to stop and listen. Those who need to listen most would be running away fastest, so God gave us the treasure, us men, clay pots to provide some shade, a chance for the sinner's eyes to get used to the light without having it shine full force in their eyes. How merciful of God! He put the treasure into breakable pots, to do people some good. It isn't easy being the pot. In the first instance it was Jesus, who had the fullness of the treasure in Himself. He was badly broken. The brightest of all lights shone in the darkness of his own people. Still, it was mercy that He did not come down in the exalted state. Yes, He would have been transparent, but He would have been the Lion rather than the Lamb. Nobody could have heard Him or come to Him, so He came as one of his own creatures, as a clay pot to save the world.
Paul has recorded for us all the bad things that happened to him as a missionary. Do you think he listed that stuff to depress us? No, he was being realistic. It was bad, but it didn't get him down. Paul knew what the last word was going to be, and that he was going to like it. He could be broken, knowing that he was imparting a great treasure to the people with whom he dealt. We can call those troubles crosses, not only because they hurt, but because they are the first step in the resurrection. Troubles are a sign that God is accomplishing something. He wants us to pray, to behave, to attend church, to trust Him for material things, but beyond all that He wants to give us hope. The treasure inside of us is not just for other people, but for ourselves as well. Jesus is our treasure. We cannot lose this treasure. Jesus hallows every earthen vessel that contains the treasure, especially those that are clay, as He was.
The devil wants us to think that we're throwing our lives away, being destroyed because the pots are broken. Don't let him distract you by the pain. Consider the treasure. God calls us to bring it to people. He forgives us. He breaks us so we can enjoy the treasure ourselves, for only the dead can be resurrected. May the Holy Spirit move us to endure this process of becoming holier through the cross, at every step cleansed by the blood of Jesus. To Him be the glory. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross