Let us pray: Holy and wonderful God, we praise you and we worship you. We pray for you to speak to us through your Word, to each of us as we need to hear; we pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts would be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. And so we pray in your Son’s name, Amen.
When I was in college, I spent a semester abroad in Germany and Austria. One of the cities we stayed in was Berlin, where we lived with host families and went to German language classes.
I loved Germany, and all the places I went, as a group or by myself–seriously, if anyone ever goes and wants a translator, just let me know!–but not the group that I went with. I didn’t know any of them very well before we left, and let’s just say that we had different interests. The rest of us weren’t quite sure we liked each other, but then, we sure didn’t want to not have anyone to hang out with. My host family was nice, but little more.
I was lonely, in other words.
I had my birthday while we were in Berlin. It was my first birthday alone–every year before that my parents and brother had come to visit for my birthday, and we’d done something. This was my first year with no one to celebrate with. Even my host family had gone out of town for the weekend.
When I went back to my host family’s apartment that day, I was greeted by their house sitter. I had mentioned that it was my birthday, and so that night he made me some food from his home in northern Germany and we ate dinner together. He even bought me a little present, nothing big, but it was a present, you know?
That’s one of my strongest memories of staying in Berlin, that birthday night and how loved I felt by his kindness. It was nice to not feel alone, to feel seen.
This is the kind of act we so often imagine when we think of a project like our summer project. Last week our Little Lutherans handed out candles and a letter to everyone, and that letter reminded everyone to be a light in the world, to practice kindness no matter how small.
When we think of calls like that, to kindness and goodness, we think of of moments like that, moments where one act is remembered years later and made a huge difference. I do, anyway.
But if we’re honest, it goes more like this: the guy I held the door open for didn’t even glance at me. I let two people into traffic on my way home from work: one of them went on to drive like a maniac and almost hit someone, and the other drove so slowly that I wished I’d left him to rot back at the merging spot. I smiled at my waitress, and she smiled back, and that was the end of it. And when I finally get home, I turn on the news and hear about wars and diseases like Ebola and whatever else, and I wonder what difference it all makes anyway.
Even if we are called to be light in the world–even if we take Jesus’ command to be light seriously–how do we do that? How do we do that in a huge world full of darkness when we are just individuals, individuals with jobs and families and houses to clean, individuals with decidedly limited resources and time and talents? And how do we do that when any serious attempt at bringing God’s light to the world will reveal our own failings and fears and limitations?
I would like to turn to 2 Corinthians. Paul has been talking about ministry and about the gospel, about how we are all called to “proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5) and how that knowledge about Jesus that we’ve been given is precious. It’s life-giving and life-saving. It’s the best and most important thing we’ll ever learn, ever encounter.
And then in verse 7 he says that we keep this treasure in clay jars. It’s like saying I found some gold bars in my backyard and I’m going to carry them around in a paper bag. Or, I was given some beautiful jewelry and I’m going to keep it in some Tupperware under my sink. Clay jars were the used-for-everything container of the time, the kind that was everywhere. When it broke, you just got another one from the potter down the street. It’s nothing special; in fact, it’s downright ordinary, even fragile. It’s definitely not the velvet-lined chest or high-tech safe that we imagine putting treasure in.
That’s Paul’s point. This treasure that we’ve been given, this knowledge of Jesus Christ and relationship with God, is precious beyond measure, and then God gave to each of us: to messed-up, turned-around, easily-distractible, irritable, oblivious human beings. We’re really good at not seeing God, at putting God in boxes that God isn’t actually in, at excluding others and ourselves. We’re not so good at following God or listening or loving others or loving ourselves or any of the other ways that God calls us to live.
I’m not trying to guilt anyone here, or wallow in despair; I’m just trying to be honest. The more I follow God and the more I live into the call God has given me, the more I see all the ways I fall short. I see, more and more, the world’s brokenness and wonder what I can possibly do to be a light in all of that, especially in the face of my own brokenness.
That’s Paul’s point–Paul’s other point, I should say. We are just fragile, every-day clay jars. We’re nothing special; we’re not the all-star team. If anything, God loves to call the rejects and nobodies, people like Rahab the prostitute and the puny youngest son David. We’re nobody special–except God has come to us and spoken to us, has loved us and been faithful and given us this treasure. That makes us special, beloved children of God. We’re precious in God’s eyes.
We’re still clay jars to the average observer, of course. And God seems to revel in that, in overturning expectations and bringing good things out of the most unlikely places. And so–the fact that we’re messed-up, turned-around, easily-distractible, irritable, oblivious human beings isn’t a stumbling block. It isn’t the death of God’s plans or the end of the world. It’s part of God’s plan; it’s part of God’s redemption and remaking of the world and of each of us. God choosing us despite all that, even because of all that, shows how very much God loves us.
So, to answer my earlier question–how do we be light in the world?–remember that God loves those clay jars, those paper bags and Tupperware containers, and loves using us to be light just as we are. We may not get fame for what we do; we may not see what difference it makes. It may just be difficult and boring and slow. We may run into our own brokenness more than we touch anyone else’s. We will fail. But we still have this treasure. We still know that God loves this world that God created, that God wants to be known by each human being. We know that we are called to love one another.
And so let us love one another–let us be the light of God’s love in the world, in whatever small or large ways present themselves. Let us hold on to hope; let us look to God for guidance as we look for ways to love others. Let us be the light.