Message Treasure In Plastic Bottles
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
What do you listen to?
Music, podcasts, kids screaming, cars, neighbors cutting grass, news…
Can you still hear the negative voices from your childhood or adolescence? Do you hear criticisms…you’re dumb, you’re fat, you’re lazy, you’re useless.
Do you hear directions and commands…accomplish this, make that happen, get these things done.
Do you hear the demands of the outside of your being or the inside? Are all of these voices others or are they your voice, harassing yourself.
Now for the really important question…are the things you listen to about external things or are they about your soul? We all get asked how are we doing, how do you feel. We get told how we are doing and how we look. But what about, “How is it with your soul?” That still, quiet, place deep within. Have you been there lately?
Let’s take a look at the scripture.
2 Corinthians 4:5-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
We don’t proclaim ourselves or our knowledge, desires, directions etc. As Christians we aren’t about making sure others notice us or the things we think or do.
We only proclaim, “Christ as LORD”. That really means, much to our chagrin, we aren’t in charge, we aren’t responsible, we aren’t…Christ is. All we are is servants, slaves of Christ. We don’t really like this thought and we do everything we can to avoid the reality, we manipulate words and motives so it looks like Christ is in charge but deep inside we know it’s not true. We ask Christ’s blessing on what we’re already intent on doing.
As a church we forget this and we proclaim what we are doing, what’s happening here, events and programs. After all, it’s a lot easier to see Sunday School, Steak Dinners, Vacation Bible School…meetings, events and programs. They are easy for us, as humans, to plan and make happen. In fact, we can do them without God. And we do. We avoid the question and the proclamation of soul work. What do we do as a church…proclaim Christ. We proclaim the presence and work of Christ in our souls.
In a lot of ways programs and events are the church’s outsides. Just like us. There is a visible outside skin bag and then there are some guts and then, deep within, there is a soul. The church, too has wrappings and trappings. Stuff that can be seen from the roadside and sent out on a post card. But the proclamation of Jesus as Lord…well that comes from deep within.
6 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.
God’s light shines from the darkness of our lives. Christ’s light shines in your darkest corner, into the darkness of your life and the world. No matter what you hide or how dark you think your soul has been. No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve gone or how impossible the situation has seemed…from within that darkness the light of Christ shines.
In 1999 the lab where Andrew worked closed. We were a family of 6 with our children ranging from 4-11 years old, I was a stay-at-home-mom and our only source of income ended. Our health insurance, livelihood, everything just went away. Andrew found out at the beginning of October and we lived for a month knowing the jobs of the people we’d spent 17 years with were going away, but they couldn’t be told. It was a long, horrible month. It was filled with darkness and fear and doubt.
We lived in Gray, Georgia, just outside of Macon. It’s not an area with a booming job market. There aren’t really all that many industrial hygiene labs in operation anyway so finding a good job wasn’t going to be easy if it was even possible. And so we sat in the darkness.
At the end of that month I went on the Walk to Emmaus (Heart of Georgia). I was sponsored by Denise Childs and she took me to the sending off. We got out of the car and began walking toward the church. We were walking in the deep darkness, but there before us shone the lights through the stained glass windows of the church. The stories and presence of Christ told on the rays of light beaming through the night.
Christ’s light shone into and through my darkest fears and doubts.
If I had stopped in the street, I wouldn’t have known the light on the inside. We have this problem with ourselves. We too often, stop thinking about ourselves after we’ve covered physical things, both external and internal. Then we stop. We never take it to the innermost level, to the treasure within. The treasure, the LIGHT of Christ, is within our souls, in our inmost being. And we get lost in the container.
7 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.
Clay jars. Known in Greek as Amphorae. They were the mass-market beverage containers of the ancient world — distinctive, two-handled clay jars used by Greek and Roman merchants to transport wine. Some amphorae were glazed and intricately decorated, intended for use by the upper classes. Most were not, having been fashioned from plebeian red clay.
The typical amphora when full weighed about 100 pounds. Sailors would stack them by the dozens in the holds of their ships, lacing ropes through the twin handles to stabilize them in rough seas.
Once the amphorae had been delivered to their destination and their contents consumed, no one bothered shipping the empties back to their point of origin. It wasn’t economical to do so: amphorae were cheap and plentiful. It was easier just to smash them. There’s a hill in Rome, near the River Tiber, called Monte Testaccio. It’s more than 100 feet high and nearly a kilometer in circumference. It’s not a natural hill at all. It’s an ancient trash heap, composed of the fragments of nearly 53 million amphorae!
Those clay jars are a lot like our modern day water bottles. You can get water from your kitchen sink, filtered in your fridge and put it into a reusable container. But more often than not, water is purchased in bottles. Some are purchase for $2.58 for a flat of 36 bottles of water. You can also go to the Wawa and buy “Hawaiian Volcano Water” for $2.59 for a single bottle of water. Now the bottle is fancier. It’s all tinted green-blue and has a pretty logo on it. But the contents…well, water. Now there may be a few minerals here or there. But basically, when you drink it, you get hydrated. Same as the kitchen sink water or the cheap little bottles.
But the plastic bottles don’t just evaporate. They pile up and get dumped and the never…NEVER…go away. Though they didn’t matter, at all, the containers keep sticking around. The container is of little consequence; it’s the contents that hold the most interest.
We need to remember this for ourselves. It’s not our container that matters most, but what is within. Not your body, but your soul. Our insides…the part inside the clay pot or plastic bottle, is made by God…in Psalm 139 we read about the creation, the making of our inmost parts. This isn’t speaking of your intestines or even your brain. This is your hand crafted soul.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
Your insides, the being part of you that isn’t visible even in the surgery, that is made by the hands of God. You were made with a purpose. And that purpose is not that you would be comfortable and “blessed” but rather that in all things you would praise Christ and know God is with you. That in all times and places the light of Christ would be seen, shining from your insides. It’s not dependent on circumstance as you can read in this passage.
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
9 persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
We have this divine message in ordinary human bodies. Yours and mind. Just like we are. And like those water bottles, the container doesn’t define the contents. No matter how fancy, it’s still water. No matter how plain and common, it’s still water. God asks us to look beyond the container, to allow the common, ordinary container to make the contents more visible.
11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Think about your soul.
The very center of your being.
What makes you, you? It’s the place where the image of God resides.
That place needs tending and attention. You need to hear from within.
How is it with your soul?
What you are and how you look don’t matter.
What you have and how much you earn don’t matter.
Your clothes and hair and car, wrinkled or not, limping or crooked or straight, weak or strong.
What matters is the condition of your soul,
Have you nurtured the presence of Christ?
Stop. Be really quiet and listen. Listen for your soul.
Your vessel, your body, they hold the light and love of Jesus the Christ and the world is dying to know!
So nurture your soul, tend the LIGHT and then proclaim Christ as Lord!