We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 2, 2024 – “Treasure in Clay Jars”

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 

Paul makes our work and our joy as Christians crystal clear! 

Get out there and be the light!  God shines in our hearts, for we have seen Jesus, and we are children of God’s light. 

“Let there be light,” God said at the beginning of creation. 

This is our prayer, new every morning. 

“God, let there be light, your light,  in my life today! And let your glorious light shine through me.”

But then Paul, ever the realist, continues by saying… BUT……

We have this treasure in clay jars.

So let’s do a little experiment.  I need a helper. 

Turn on this flashlight and put it inside this jar.  Now we’ll put the lid on. 

Can you see the light?  Yes, it shines right through the glass. 

So now here’s another flashlight.  Turn this one on.  Put it inside this clay pot. 

Now we’re going to put the lid on the pot. 

Can you all see any light coming out of this pot? 

No, because this pot, made of clay, keeps the light in. 

When Paul said that we have the treasure of God’s light in clay jars, he probably had in mind those heavy clay pots used at the time for food storage, or to hold water, pots strong enough to be packed into the sailing vessels of the time to ship goods across the sea—we’ve all seen photographs of ancient clay pots found on the sea floor, unbroken, even though they were in a shipwreck.

We are like those clay jars.  So how on earth is the light going to shine through us?

What Paul discovered in his own life, and what we end up discovering as well, is that the light gets out of a clay pot when it is opened. This congregation knows that God’s light shining in us is of little use to God if we don’t let God’s light out into the world.   

So instead of hoarding what we have, we share what we have, for in doing so, we glorify God. 

We know, but I’m going to share these things for the  Rev Graham’s benefit, some of the ways we share and let God’s light out into the world.  People of our little church come together every month to collect and to distribute enough food to feed approximately ninety people in the area.  We work with other organizations in the area—including Caroline’s Promise, The Caroline County Department of Social Services, Caroline County Public Schools, and  CERVE, the group made up of churches of all denominations in Caroline County to meet emergency financial needs.

Then there’s the work of our Sacred Ground group, the group in this church focused on working for racial reconciliation, which includes our scholarship fund, which we set up specifically to address the historic racial inequities in education in the United States.  This year, our scholarship fund provided $2700 to three people, who thanks to our scholarships, were able to do the training to get certified as Class A truck drivers and to receive their Commercial Drivers Licenses.  One of them wrote, “I would like to thank them (that’s us) for supporting people like me who are working full time and trying to get a better education and build a future for myself and my family.” 

And we don’t limit God’s light to our community. Our ongoing work in Jamaica provides support to The Victoria School in the Banbury District of St Catherine’s Parish.  We’ve made two in person mission trips, collected school supplies every other year for every one of the over three hundred students who attend, we’ve provided educational funds for the top students each year, updated computer equipment, and we provide money to the school so that the school can serve breakfast for students during the school year.  We have definitely spread God’s light in Jamaica.  The work this small parish has been able to do in Jamaica has been truly an example of God’s power working through us to bring light and hope to the faculty and students of The Victoria School and to their families.    

Only God could give this small church the power to accomplish these things.  God’s power works in us so that God’s glory can shine out through us. 

But there’s something else about clay jars.  No matter how strong they seem, they can be broken. 

Clay jars are made of the stuff of earth, clay.  This material will inevitably return to dust.  And we too are made of the dust of the earth.  We say at the grave, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  Even Jesus, the light of the glory of God, died, because he, like us, was made of the dust of the earth. 

And so, Paul says, we carry the death of Jesus. In other words, in the process of living, we are also dying.  No matter how strong our clay jars are, we are going to get cracked, we are going to get broken, we are going to suffer the things that tear open our hearts, our spirits, and our bodies.  We suffer a series of big and little deaths before we get to the final death that ends our physical lives on this earth. 

Brokenness and death happen in our churches too.  Any change is the death of what has been.  Change  cracks us open so that new light and life can flow in and then back out into the world.   Churches in transition are in the process of dying to what has been so that they can be open to the new life that will be, new life and light that they can then pour out into the world.    

Here’s the beauty of being cracked open and broken.  All those cracks and the brokenness that we experience let the light of God’s glory that we are carrying within us shine out through our brokenness. 

Every Sunday, we hear these words in our Eucharistic prayer. 

“Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you.’   At that last supper, Jesus wasn’t giving his disciples a shiny beautiful, unbreakable superhero who could work wonders, a powerful person who could never be broken.  Instead he gave the disciples himself, broken into bits, because his broken self and their willingness to be broken too, is what would make them whole in the end and would let God’s light shine out through their brokenness.   

And the wine—this is my blood, spilled out for you.  This is not the wine tenderly brought wrapped in a linen cloth to a table of well-dressed privileged people, carefully poured into the proper crystal glass, swirled, sniffed, tasted and approved, and then sipped and savored.  No, the wine we share each Sunday is the lifeblood of Jesus, spilled from his body at his death, so that his lifeblood can become the new life that flows through all of us.    

Jesus is the one who loves us,  the one who died because of us and for us, the one who has risen, the one who will come again bringing light and love once more.   And even now, he comes to us in the broken bread and the spilled wine every time we gather around his table. 

Paul was right.  We do have this treasure of God’s light in clay jars.  So may we welcome the breaking, the spilling, the hardships, and the changes that life brings to each one of us and to our church.  For through us, Jesus is already coming again in glory every time we get broken apart and his light shines and pours out through our brokenness into the world.