“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those are familiar words to us. And rightly so. That’s actually the way St. Paul begins his second letter to the congregation at Corinth – the focus of our worship series for the first six weeks of the summer. As we start to think about spending our Summer with St. Paul, we ought to know that he says that thing to us. Our summer begins in the grace, the undeserved love, of God that brings peace between us and him. And this peace and grace comes from God himself – who is our loving, caring Father – with his Son, the Lord and master of all things, Jesus God’s Christ, our chosen, perfect Savior. You could say, otherwise, that our summer begins with the gospel – for that is what grace and peace from God is. It’s the good news of salvation in Christ – the beginning, middle, and end of our relationship with God and the beating heart of our fellowship with one another.
If you read the book of 2 Corinthians, you’ll find that Paul’s defending his ministry of this gospel. In fact, in v.2 of our chapter, he says that he just preaches the Word and he can’t be responsible if people don’t believe it. In fact, if people don’t believe it, in a way it proves the truth of the message even more. Satan doesn’t fight hard to make sure you don’t believe in the almighty dollar or in human satisfaction or in sex. “[Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Why is that significant to say? Because, in this ministry of the gospel, “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” There’s a lot in that one verse, but you could summarize it like this: Paul’s saying that God wants to get his glorious gospel out to the world and that he’s at work through people like Paul – people just like you and me – to do it.
But here’s the unique thought thought for today – V.7 – “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” This morning we begin our Summer with St. Paul and we emphasize that God works with jars like us to get his gospel out. And you catch the contrast, don’t you? The emphasis? It’s like that story of the treasure found off the coast of Colombia recently. In 1708, the San Jose, a Spanish galleon loaded up with gold, silver, and emerald left South America intent on delivering its valuables to Spain. But the vessel was no match for a quartet of English warships. The ship was lost, along with its treasure and much of the 600-person crew, all casualties of the War of Spanish Succession. Now it’s been found. You know what’s true? That ship is cool, but only history professors in musty tweed jackets are thinking about the ship itself. The cool is in the golden hoard still trapped inside – estimated to be worth $17 billion. The container isn’t the story…
As we think this summer, about how the ministry of the gospel is ours to take up along with Paul… Ours to take up in the midst of people who are blinded by Satan often to hate every good thing…we remember that we’re not the story. It isn’t about our indignation over persecution or our fears. No, we’re servants. “We’re your servants,” Paul says in v.6, “[because] God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” God’s purpose as he works with us is to make his light shine in us. Because we aren’t any better kind of stuff than the world out there. We have what the world cannot see. But we have it only because God makes it and gives it. With his amazing creative power he isn’t only able to create light and suns but also to enlighten sinful hearts with faith in his Savior. This he did for us when we too were blind, dead, and his enemies.
But that means that we are just like St. Paul. You remember him, right? Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of Christians? Forcibly Christianized by God on the road to Damascus. Paul recounts that event like this: He tells us in Acts 26 what Jesus told him: “I am sending you to open [people’s] eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” According to 2 Corinthians 4, people are spiritually blind until God gives them eyes to see, that is, until God gives them the light of faith just as he’s given it to you. And Jesus said to Paul, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” The point is not hard to see. God opens the eyes of the blind to see the truth and beauty and worth of Christ. But he does it by sending normal, human people to tell the good news. God works with jars like us to make his light shine in others too.
He sends you and me to show that “this all surpassing power” – this amazing love of God that conquers sins and guilt and fear and connects people to everlasting life and real love – this “is from God and not from us.” And perhaps you and I would agree at times. We would say, “Yeah, it’s obviously not from me…look at this mess of life.” Paul acknowledges the same thing – this life is death – “We are hard pressed…perplexed…persecuted…struck down…we are always being given over to death…death is at work in us.” Sorry, that’s selective quoting. But maybe you suffer from selective vision. There’s death all over the place isn’t there? And there’s the temptation to say, “Perhaps God’s light isn’t getting out there all that well – look at how bad things are!” “Does it even matter if I witness? I don’t see any progress with my friend.” “Will my family member ever understand the truth of God’s love and the dangers of sin?” I just mean to say that things seem weak as we witness, don’t they? And then we’re tempted to be dead about it.
I struggle with death a lot lately. It depresses me. Some days I don’t feel like working. It just stinks. Death is so weak-making in its power. It takes people we love and ruins them and takes them away. At the same time, think with me of the funerals we have – for your loved ones, our friends – where we acknowledge that death is at work, death seems triumphant. But then we shine the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Jesus beams at us with a smile that says, “Death is just a sleep. I have made sure of that by my death and resurrection. And you will wake to me.” And we know it. We believe it. And we tell it. In fact, funerals are some of the easiest moments to talk about Christ and faith and God and what is truly real and important. In the midst of the death, true life is shared.
Isn’t this the real view of life – not the selective one – the full-scope view – in the midst of all the death, true life is shared? God works with jars like us – weak things that break and die – but through us he works to make his life spread. Because in Jesus Christ, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why this confidence? Because “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,” the payment for our sins and the proof of God’s undeserved love, “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” That is, in lives of faith and trust in him – in the midst of all kinds of things – God intends you to be witness to all kinds of people who experience all those things too. “[S]o that [Jesus’] life may be revealed in our mortal body.” So we can say like Paul, “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
As you take up God’s Word this summer and take it out with you to places, I pray that is true for you. Remember that God is working through all the things that seem dead, broken, and dying so that you can show Jesus’ life and share it. Remember that God has kindled the light of faith in your hearts – you who are just like all those other people – so that through you he can shine his light into the darkest corners of life and enlighten them with faith and true life. That? That message of love in Christ, so glorious? It is truly a treasure you carry. You, the fragile clay jar with your dying life. But that’s just perfect because God works with jars like us.