Sunday, July 24, 2016

Carrying About

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

“But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

We hold a treasure
Not made of gold
In earthen vessels, wealth untold
One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ
In earthen vessels.

Light has shown in our darkness
God has shown in our hearts
With the light of the glory
Of Jesus the Lord.

He has chosen the lowly
Who are small in this world
In his weakness His Glory
In Jesus the Lord.

Somewhere in a box in my office is a shard from a clay pot that we used at the opening of a Just Faith/Engaging Spirituality retreat a few years back.  At the opening of the class, each of us decorated the pot with images and words. 

Around the outside of the clay pot, we inscribed it with the Bible verse:They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11: 9) Then, we added this quote from John 17: 11: May they be ONE as we are ONE.

During a quiet reflection, the instructor calmly wrapped the decorated pot in a newspaper just as you would sometimes use newsprint for wrapping paper.  She then picked up a hammer and smashed it to little pieces shocking those of us who meticulously decorated it.  We did not understand why she broke it.  We did not “get it” until we learned and experienced more.

The notes to the New American Bible for today’s Gospel reveal that James and John did not “get it.”  They did not understand why they could not sit at Jesus’ right or left hand. Their request – as well as the response that the other disciples have to the issue – shows that those closest to Jesus are still farthest from grasping the enormity of his commandments.

What marks a Christian for greatness is not political, economic or social power.  Rather, humble service is the ticket.  Foot washing.  Table service.  Cross carrying.  Dying.  Jesus’ ministry of service reaches its highest point when he gives his life for the deliverance of the human race from sin.[i]

The image that Paul uses in the first reading is that we are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”  The crucifix and our icons are the symbolic ways we carry around the shards of the broken and dead body of Christ.  The Eucharist is the metaphysical way we carry the actual Body of Christ from the sanctuary to the streets. 

These do not give us any some special position power like a King who wears a crown or a general who wears a uniform or a Tour de France winner who wears a yellow jersey.  The ways we carry Christ are the gentle reminders for us to bring a little bit of Christ into every broken and earthy place we go, to share a little piece of Christ with every person we meet, and serve Christ by serving face-to-face the most vulnerable person or persons we encounter each day.

What symbols of the body of the dying Jesus are you carrying about today? We carry those symbols, not as an end in and of themselves.  We carry them so we remember to “be Christ” to those we meet.   

We may not “get it” any better than James and John, denying Peter, doubting Thomas, or jealous Judas.  Our vessel is broken – maybe not in the exact same ways the apostles were broken.  We each bring our own unique broken-ness to the mission.  However, we can pray to St. James the Apostle for the lessons in humble service that he learned. With these lessons, our lowly and weak vessel can bring God’s glory to the world – one person at a time.  

God wants our pot and the pots belong to all others to be one.  But we are not.  We are as divided as were Christ’s clothes -- divided up among the Roman centurions who drew lots.  We are broken like Christ’s body was broken by the nails and the thorns and the whips and the sword. 

The Spirit of the Gospel propels us into the broken heart of this world.  When we accept to walk with Jesus, we are led into the lives of vulnerable and threatened people… hoping and holding out for good news.  (From Opening Retreat, Engaging Spirituality)

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