“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.” (2Corinthians 4:6-7)
In the space of these two sentences, Paul encompasses the essentials of creation, incarnation and redemption and invites us to celebrate our humanity as the focal point of God’s purpose for us and all creation. So let’s take them piece by piece...
Just imagine that for a moment - the light and glory of God has shone in my heart, in your heart, in the heart of every human there has ever been or ever will be – even in the hearts of the temple police in today’s Gospel reading who place keeping the rules above bringing life and healing – even in their hearts God has shone. Our hearts are absolutely aflame with the glory of God, for God’s glory shines like a burning light. It’s just that we tend not to notice.
Not only has God shone in our hearts, God has done this for a particular purpose – ‘to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In other words, when we want to see the glory of God fully, revealed for all to see, we need look no further than another human face – the face of Jesus Christ. This is the fullness of what we mean by incarnation – that the undimmed glory of God is exhibited in a human being just like you and me – and we are able to perceive that truth precisely because the same light that shines forth from the face of Jesus, is the light that already shines in our own hearts.
If we want an image for what that action of God, shining in our hearts is like, it has been compared very beautifully by the spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser to a kiss. He writes, and I have put the quote on your handout:
“Ancient philosophers and mystics used to say that, before being born, each soul is kissed by God and then goes through life always, in some dark way, remembering that kiss and measuring everything in relation to its original sweetness. Inside each of us, there is the dark memory of having once been touched and caressed by hands far gentler than our own. That caress has left a permanent imprint inside us, one so tender and good that its memory becomes a prism through which we see everything else. Thus we recognise truth and love outside us, precisely because they resonate with something that is already inside us. Things ‘touch our hearts’ because they awaken a memory of that original kiss. Moreover, because we have a memory of having once been perfectly touched, caressed and loved, every experience we meet in life falls a little short. We have already had something deeper. When we feel frustrated, angry, betrayed, violated or enraged it is because our outside experience does not honour what we already know and cling to inside.”
So within each of us there is the ‘dark memory’, ‘the imprint’ of that ‘kiss’ – of God shining in our hearts – providing us with an inner light that recognises the same light in the outer world whenever it encounters it. This imprint of God, this light, is our deepest treasure and nothing can take it from us. But says Paul, ‘we have this treasure in clay jars’. Have you ever thought of yourself as a clay jar – an earthen vessel in the old translation? In many ways it is not a very complimentary image. In the ancient world clay jars were used for just about anything – for carrying food and water and even for disposing of human waste. They were a utilitarian object – cheap and cheerful – not like the beautiful pottery that Kerry makes!
Some clay vessels were used for carrying light – a wick could be placed inside them and a simple lamp created, the great beauty of the light transforming the rough baked clay. No doubt Paul had this picture in mind as he wrote – and indeed perhaps his scribe was writing by the light of just such a lamp. And of course if there are holes in the clay, then the light shines through particularly well, as in this simple candle holder. The hard baked clay is not particularly durable – such jars would be easily broken. But for cheap everyday objects this was not important. Paul is saying that we are like those clay jars – pretty ordinary and easily broken. He is also reminding us that we too are clay, creatures of earth, of dust and will return one day to the earth from which we came. And our light, our power, does not come from ourselves but only from God. We do not always recognise that truth. We human beings tend to struggle with our frailty. We like to deny our weakness and vulnerability. Yet it is precisely this frailty that God wants – that God can use. Our self-evident, ordinary human weakness is not, as we too readily suppose, a liability but actually our greatest asset.
For it is through our cracks, - through the broken things in our lives that the light shines. It is in the redemption of our frailty that the glory of God is revealed once more. So let us rejoice today that through our weakness God’s light continues to shine in our hearts, giving the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and let us remember that from the beginning and forever we are held in the kiss and embrace of the God who makes us and loves us. Amen.
Penny Jones, for Pentecost 2, Sunday 2 June 2018