2 Corinthians 4.1-6, 4.7-17
Lord Hope, the celebrated judge, was the Lord High Commissioner at both this year’s and last year’s Church of Scotland General Assemblies in Edinburgh. In an address to the assembled commissioners he said that his father was a very organised person. So when they went on their annual holiday by train each year, every piece of luggage had their surname and destination attached on a label. On one occasion, they retrieved a case to see that some wag had alter the paper tag to read ‘hope – to return.
Sometimes we look at the world and think that hope is in short supply. Some years ago we could ask young people, groups even congregations – where do you expect to be in 5 years’ time? The reply was usually an optimistic vision of the future that was worth encouraging and affirming. Today – I suspect that self-same question would frequently get a far less positive or certain reply. Put starkly – the reply could well be hope-less.
We ourselves can experience something of this when we survey so many matters we need to deal with daily. We can feel besieged with pleas for assistance, to do lists of good intentions, begging pamphlets, not to mention bureaucratic forms and dodgy emails. So much so we feel we can never get everything done or make the right decisions.
This seems also true on the national level with big issues facing our society at the moment.
And it is into these perplexing situations, that strong men come. People who have a simple, unequivocal and forthright message. People who think they have great wisdom, infallible insight and, in the religious sphere, a hot line to God which the rest of us are denied. Some call this leadership; other see it as but opportunism and charlatanism.
Yet in our extract from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s he does not take this approach. He takes not the strong arm way to getting his view across. Instead he chooses to be a pastor – one who does lead but by the way of love, understanding and compassion.
Indeed, it is these three qualities in Paul that causes him to mention clay pots. These, of course, would have been everyday items in the Corinthian world. These easily disposable containers would have been the plastic milk bottle or tin of beans 2000 years ago. In essence these were so commonplace as to be mundane. Moreover, they were easily breakable. Yet they were also immensely useful even indispensable because of their purpose in life. And so clay pots sum up rather well most of us here – nothing grand but still uniquely valuable to our purpose – which is worship God and enjoy him forever.
This was Pauls point then to those Corinthians who were being either being judgemental or judged and it is his to us still today. For he predicts we will be pressurised with the toil of ordinary living, we will feel ourselves sometimes ill-used, we will be tempted to judgement and we will feel awash with a swirl of demands around us. Yet we will not shatter because the God we see in Christ Jesus will not allow it.
But on what can we base our trust in this divine support in moments of hopelessness?
In one museum showing of an exhibition of Egyptian tomb artefacts, there was a row of clay jars that had been found in a tomb. They had stood there among goblets made of gold and other precious articles. The Egyptologists wondered why this had happened, but when they were put on display in the museum they were shown away from the golden artefacts. One day, however, a curator paused at the earthenware for he noticed the sun shining behind them and he could see something glistening in a crack at the bottom of one of the clay jars. After examining it he discovered that the base of the jar was extremely thick, and when he looked further he saw hidden there some of the crown jewels of the pharaoh: treasures then in earthen vessels.
Here is why we are guaranteed to be not so much fragile glass but Tupper wear. Since although we might consider ourselves weary and humdrum, we contain marvellous treasure – the jewel of knowing the truth of Jesus Christ, the crown of Christ’s salvation – the orb and sceptre of real living beyond just life. And each of those is too valuable to be spilled.
How then do we recapture our bejewelled hope in this day and age?
Paul here also gives a pastor’s answer. For if you are like me it is very easy to beset with the what seems insurmountable obstacles which block any essential path. However, Paul counsels us to get a new, better and higher mind set. For he saying – focus on what is really important and celebrate that which you have truly that solved. Specifically, we have found that in Christ Jesus we have eternal life and eternal life in all its fullness.
Then with this vista go back to the smaller things – go back with the right perspective – go back with encouragement and go back with bucket load of hope.
Or as the venerable hymn has it:
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
to serve the King of kings.
Here then is the silver lining of our faith, belief and following of a pastoral God. Here is the high hope of being the golden container of Christ’s treasured message for a world needing its sparkle.
Here indeed is the start, journey and hopeful destination of Daryl Madden’s poem:
Evening rain is falling
Gently touching down
Peepers still are calling
Sound of night surrounds
Awakening of senses
Of wonder and of fear
Attune to sense of hearing
As sight now disappears
If the mind is willing
Releasing of control
A move beyond is calling
A stirring of the soul
Hovering of Spirit
Let gift of peace begin
A prayer of deep is rising
Gently settles in