Discovering the Treasure Within

Discovering the Treasure Within

Loving God, in this time of worship, may we open our hearts to your Spirit’s call to each of us.  May we ground ourselves in gratitude for our many blessings.  And may we be renewed and transformed in the good news of your grace.  Amen.

We are earthenware vessels, clay jars, made to carry the light of God, said the Apostle Paul.  Each of us is lovingly shaped by the hands of the divine potter.  Formed from the earth and molded in unique beauty, made in the image of our Creator.

And into these fragile, mortal, earthy containers God has poured out God’s very self – God has filled us with that deep love and grace that was alive in Christ Jesus, that light that shone through his life and ministry, and shines on still – that greatest and most precious treasure.

To our human minds a clay jar seems an unexpected and perhaps unwise place to put one’s treasure.  Why put something so precious in something so ephemeral, so breakable?  Wouldn’t a locked safe, a wooden chest, even a hole in the ground all be better options?

But God didn’t want to hide this treasure, hoard this treasure, or bury this treasure.  God wants this treasure to be seen, used, and released into the world.  And for that, God needs human vessels who are open to receive and willing to be poured out.

Now, it’s true, life may have caused us at times to become cracked and broken vessels.  Perhaps we’ve had to be glued back together a few times.  We might be missing a few pieces here and there.  But the remarkable thing is that often the light and love of God shines through our lives even brighter when we don’t try to hide our struggles, mask our brokenness, and cover up our imperfections.  Instead, God shines into and through our broken facades and transform them in the process.

Remember those words from the great songwriter Leonard Cohen:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

It’s a beautiful and interesting image Paul offers: jars of clay.  And yes, this is where the nineties Christian rock band got their name (in case you were wondering).  Jars of clay full of treasure – mortal bodies, made of the elements of the earth, crafted to carry God’s light and love.  And though one day our bodies, these earthen containers, will crumble and return earth to earth, dust to dust, the spirit does not crumble and the light shines on.

God’s light and love is revealed in this earthly life through all of creation, including imperfect human beings.  We may not always experience God directly, but we see God’s love and light reflected in those around us; we experience God in our relationships and communities.

Paul wanted to remind the church in Corinth of the truth of this treasure they carried within them.  He wanted to remind them that they need not only rely on their own knowledge and power (this is something they needed to be reminded of a lot, actually).  But, instead, that God gave them what they needed, filled them with the Light of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the Mind of Christ (a favorite phrase of Paul’s) so that both their individual lives and their collective life together could and would reflect the life of Jesus.

As the Body of Christ (another favorite image of Paul’s), the calling and ministry of Jesus now belonged to them, his followers, those early churches, those groups of people who opted into a new and different way of life in community that was shaped by the Way of Jesus.

This was a struggle for the Corinthian church sometimes.  As a community, they stumbled.  They mis-stepped.  They had conflicts and factions.  They hurt each other’s feelings.  They got in the way of each other’s spiritual development.  They got a little puffed up and self-righteous sometimes.  They let the hierarchical tendencies of their Roman imperial culture influence their behavior at times instead of the way of Jesus.

But despite all of their issues, Paul didn’t give up on them.  He kept encouraging and guiding them, instructing and correcting them.  And in this particular passage, he also offered them words of hope that even when they are afflicted, even when they felt perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, they would not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.  Even in the face of death, they carried within them the very life and light of Jesus.

Paul is speaking from experience here, I think.  He faced setbacks and arrests, shipwrecks and death threats, and appeared to be dealing with some kind of chronic disease and pain for much of his life.  And eventually he, like Jesus, would end up sacrificing his own life for the cause.  But despite all of the challenges he faced, his hope and faith endured.

In the fullness of human life, its joys and its struggles, Paul saw and experienced both death and resurrection.  Paul knew that he too was an imperfect and impermanent clay vessel.  He also knew that he was filled with the light of Christ; that same Divine Light that first blinded him on the road to Damascus and then opened his eyes, calling him into new life, new faith, and new ministry.

The call to Paul, the call to the church in Corinth, the call to us… it’s all the same.  Shine!  Live into your divine calling in this life to shine God’s light and pour out God’s love.  All that you need, you already have within you.  You’ve been given this treasure to share.  You’ve been given this one precious life in which to share it.  You have been given your unique and beautiful ways in which to share it.  And in the experience of sharing, you will be given so much in return.

And when this earthly life comes to a close, trust that the light shines on and that the legacy of love you have left through your living has made a difference (because it has).

As we observe All Saints Day each year, we have an opportunity to remember, honor, and give thanks for those people who have gone before us; those saints of our own lives, our ancestors in life and faith.  What did they teach us?  How did they bless us?  How did God’s light shine through their lives?

And no, to call them saints doesn’t mean they were perfect.  They were human with flaws, just like us.  But their lives made a difference.  Who they were helped shape us.  How they lived impacted our lives.  And we carry them with us still.

At just about every memorial service we officiate, Pastor Dave and I include in either the sermon or pastoral prayer an invitation to allow that which was best in the life of the person who has died to continue to shape the living of those who love them.

All Saints Sunday is sort of an annual memorial service in which we honor those in our church, families, and communities who have died in the last year, as well as all those who have gone on into God’s eternal embrace, no matter how long ago; those we still miss; those we still love.

And the invitation is the same.
How shall their lives continue to shape our own?

As we honor our church members who have gone before us each year, we give thanks for their very presence and participation in this community of faith.  We remember and celebrate who they were; their gifts, abilities, passions and ideas, as well as all the ways they contributed to our collective life together.

All of the church members for whom we lit candles today found a spiritual home here in this church.  All of them were regular and faithful participants in worship and took part in the life of this community in various ways.  They were our friends and fellow spiritual travelers.

Allen sang in the choir and was our treasurer.

Steve sang in the choir too and loved Bible studies.

I baptized Linda in the chapel on a weekday because she found a spiritual home here in and decided she was ready to commit to this life of faith.  She was also a devoted dog lover and asked me to bless her dog on the same day.  So, I did, of course!

I didn’t know Arch and Duane as well.  But I do know this.  They were both deeply devoted to their families.

May these beloved ones of our church rest in peace eternal.  And may God’s perpetual light shine upon them.

As a church, as a people, as the Body of Christ, we stand upon the shoulders of those who labored before us and laid the foundation of our faith.  It began generations ago, thousands of years ago.  And we continue to build upon what they started.  Each generation has carried this treasure of God’s love in earthen vessels and passed it along to the next in due time.

Certainly, the church in the world has made plenty of mistakes over these many years.  But, at its best, this practice of faith in community has provided a way for people to encourage one another, serve together, and share God’s love in meaningful ways.  Together we find meaning, purpose, and hope for this life and the next.  We seek to live a good life together that gives glory to God and serves all of God’s beloved children and this very world of God’s creation.

I’ve been thinking this week a lot about the idea of legacy.  What shall we leave behind for the next generation as individuals and as a church?  What treasure have we found within that we shall pass along?

We need not be particularly saintly saints, leaders, rulers, or make it to the pages of a history book for our legacy to matter.

And though we may leave behind some material things, gifts, and bequests (which all do help the next generation) the legacies we leave that matter most are those ways our lives have impacted others.

What might be said about you?

He was a devoted father.  She was a dedicated teacher.  Their creativity was inspirational.  His passion for a good celebration was second to none.  Her generosity moved others to become more generous.  Their sense of humor brightened up any gathering.  His smile and laugh were contagious.  She was a fierce friend and never met a stranger.  They put themselves on the line for justice.  He was a peacemaker.  Her compassionate presence brought comfort to those who were suffering.  They were a good listener.

What treasure do you carry within that you are pouring out into the world to bless others?

How are you using your brief span upon this earth to shine some light and share some love?

It all matters.  Every little bit of it.

One day we’ll all join the saints who have gone before us.  We’ll enter into God’s eternal embrace.  And someone will light a candle in our memory.

And the light of God’s love that shone in and through our lives will shine on in various ways through the lives of those who follow after us.

Though we are mortal, the light is eternal.

All we are asked to do is let it shine.

So, let us be inspired by those who have gone before us.  Let us give thanks for their lives.  And let’s not take a day for granted and keep shining!