Jars of Clay

One of the most powerful images in the entire bible is Paul’s in our Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 4:7 – “we have this treasure in Jars of Clay.”  It so perfectly captures the now and not yet existence of this world. We now have this treasure, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection, life eternal.  We have it. It is all ours in Christ. Yet we have it in jars of clay. Something that can be broken tomorrow, even accidentally. Something that was made for a common purpose.  Something that was not made to last.  The eternal in the temporal. The majestic in the common. The divine in the human.

And Paul continues to bring out the reality of this treasure being in jars of clay.  “We are afflicted in every way.” The treasure that we have does not spare us from suffering.  It does not spare us from having enemies or facing persecution. Neither does it spare us from everyday indignities. Everything that is fallen humanity’s is ours.  Everything except the final blow.  “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” We have this treasure. Whatever the world might do to the clay jar, the treasure remains.  And if they break the jar, the fragrance spreads out revealing the eternity of Christ in us. Even ground to dust, we shall be called back on that last day.  For we are not crushed.

“Perplexed.” If you run across anyone who says they’ve got it all figured out, run, fast. The faith is always encountering things that just don’t seem right.  The ways of God are not our ways.  The desires of God are not always obvious. The sufferings of His people, if they didn’t perplex you, would be more troublesome. Even the Apostle Paul can be perplexed.  “What about my brothers according to the flesh (Romans 9)?” And if you understand his conclusion to that with complete clarity, please tell me.  The one thing I can tell you is that Paul does not despair.  “Perplexed, but not driven to despair.” Somehow, all Israel will be saved.  “Oh the depths and riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).”  Perplexed, not driven to despair.

“Persecuted, but not forsaken. Stuck down, but not destroyed.” It is so easy to give up. Clay is fragile. What it is carrying is more than it was meant to carry. But Christ is with us.  He walked the road first and has not left us.  And not even Satan has a weapon that can destroy us.  We can only destroy ourselves by dumping the treasure of filling ourselves with his lies.

“Carrying around the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.”  God works by death and resurrection.  He is the God of creation and recreation. What he once made good, which has fallen, will be restored in perfection. Now we carry our cross. Not yet, but soon, the groaning of this world shall cease and the Sons of God shall be revealed, made manifest.  Made plain.  The treasure no longer carried in jars of clay, but the life of Jesus manifested in our bodies.  That resurrection body that nothing common to this world may trouble.

We are jars of clay, but we also have the treasure. You don’t get to forget either. So that all the glory belongs to God.  A God who finds the broken and common and bid us move up to a heavenly seat.

Let It Be So For Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:13-17, (Romans 6:1-11)

The occasion on the church calendar is the baptism of Jesus. If we stop and think about it, the baptism of Jesus doesn’t make sense. It is one of those moments that just feels wrong. Even John the Baptist gets this in his reply to Jesus. Jesus replies in two ways: a) let it be so for now and b) to fulfill all righteousness. This sermon explores how and why Jesus undergoes a baptism of repentance through his answers to John.

Are You The One?

Biblical Text: Matthew 11:2-15

The second and third Sundays in Advent are always John the Baptist Sundays. The third one in year A – Matthew’s year – is one of my favorite texts to preach from. Why you ask? Because I think it is a text that gets emotionally to the core of what many Christians feel, but we are usually scared to read it that way. We are too protective of the saintliness of biblical characters. And beyond getting to the core of what we feel, Jesus’ answers are profound in two ways. Jesus does give us the promise, but that promise comes in the very specific form of the crucified one. We get no other messiah. The text is a challenge to the hearers, both to the faithful like John who might not understand, and the crowds who might be pondering the message.

Now…and Not Yet

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist expresses some clear expectations of the messiah. As a prophet he is concerned with the now. The Kingdom is near and God is acting now. This wants to think about like between the two advents, which is life in the now…and the not yet. Because everything that John the Baptist expected Now didn’t reach immediate fulfillment. This sermon attempts to proclaim the now that started with the first advent while acknowledging (and saving a bit for next week) the not yet.

According to the Scriptures

Biblical Text: Luke 24:36-49
Full Sermon Draft

The Lukan resurrection texts are one long story – one long Easter. When I read it I wonder if that is authorial privilege, or Luke’s research. The eating of fish sounds so much like John’s beachside story. The road to Emmaus is uniquely Luke’s. The rest are reflections of the other gospel stories. Luke pulls them all together and tells a very tight story that focuses reflection on seeing the body of Christ in three things. The Emmaus disciples are the first in Luke to see the risen Christ, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread which is a Lord’s Supper scene. We recognize the body in the Supper. We recognize the body is the Peace of the gathering is the next one. It is in this one that we also recognize that the body is not just a spiritual reality, but is flesh and blood. Lastly we recognize the body because the scriptures have testified to it.

This sermon starts out playing with the Nicene creed’s phrase “according to the scriptures” which was one that young Parson Brown didn’t really get. But Luke gets it, and Jesus goes to great lengths to make sure the disciples get it. This sermon meditates on those scriptures not as the proof, but as the family album. In and through those scriptures we can recognize the body of Christ. And because we can recognize it, we can also move forward in faith on the promises that are not yet.

Don’t Turn Away. This is the Reign of God…Now.

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:24-43
Full Sermon Draft

Parables and the purpose of the parables have in the last couple of generations of interpreters have had two dramatically different purposes. In the hippy era, the parables were these nice earthy stories that allowed the interpreter to say whatever odd but nice things popped into their heads. Think Godspell, parable edition. Almost as a reaction to that, some interpreters latched on the evangelists’ quotes of Isaiah on the purpose of the parables. Parables were not meant to be understood except by disciples. Parables became an exercise not in creation homey communication, but in esoteric teaching. Both of these, at least in my reading, are horrible over-shoots. (I think the hippy version itself was a reaction to an overly stiff German “there is no allegory, there is only one meaning” parable dogma.) Part of what this sermon does is attempt to avoid both inviting the listener to imagine how the parables could have been a natural development from the actual ministry of Jesus.

I lean quite heavily on Jeff Gibbs for this, but I think he nails it. The parables themselves are preached to the crowds, and they are invitations to not turn away. Yes, this Reign of God doesn’t look like what is expected – a messy field, small, scandalous – but this is God working. In this they are a statement of the now. The sermon comes in two part though. Jesus moves into the house, and his explanations are to the disciples. To those who are following however haltingly, the emphasis isn’t so much on the now. They know the now. Jesus’s emphasis is on the not yet, the eschatological promise.

Worship note: with two “seed” type parables in a row, you really burn through those hymns. One of them, which we sang today is a little tricky. Not a surprise because LSB 654 (Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure) is a hymn from 2003. Modern hymns so often have tunes or metrical phrasing that is just harder for congregations. So, I didn’t include that one, but instead left in our closing hymn, which is a classic. LSB 921, On What Has Now Been Sown.

Saints Now Saints Not Yet


Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

That is one of the most profound and hope filled sentences in all of scripture. And it perfectly captures what it means to live as saints. We are saints now, but not yet saints. This was All Saints Day, so that is why I’m using that world. What this sermon attempts to do is describe the feeling and the facts that make it so. There is a reflection from family life that I think captures it better than everything that follows. But what follows that family picture attempts to follow John’s compact reading through three facts of the Christian life in the now and not yet. The resurrection opens the door which we enter through baptism. We are now God’s children by water and the word. But right now we live by faith. When he appears we will see him as he is, but that is not yet. Now by faith, not yet by sight. The final fact is what baptism and faith set us out on and that is sanctification. “Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The pattern of that is the life of Christ, but as the biblical text continues it is captured in the moral law. Christians do not practice lawlessness, but they practice righteousness.

I didn’t include them on the recording. (If you would like to hear just leave a comment.) But, the hymns today were both some of my favorites and All Saints staples. I didn’t include them because “For All The Saints” (LSB 677) has 8 stanzas. It is great to sing, but our recording isn’t exactly professional. We opened with Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672. And we closed with Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (LSB 660). You’ve got a picture of the Church at Rest, a hymn sketch of the Church militant through the church at rest and into the Church Triumphant, and a Church Militant remembrance.