June 3, 2018 Graduation Sunday
It is graduation Sunday. We have one graduate to celebrate. And we do celebrate Savannah and the gifts she has presented to our church through the years. They are many and varied, but the one we most recognize is her gift of music. It was perhaps unusual and a little unfair to ask her to bring us special music in the midst of her busy-ness. But I felt that it is hard for us to send her forth without celebrating at least once more her wonderful gift.
Perhaps you can remember your own graduation from High School...and the hopes and dreams that were held; along with some fear and trepidation. The song wasn't intended to, but I think it speaks to those feelings:
“I close my eyes and I can see; The world that's waiting up for me; That I call my own; Through the dark, through the door; Through where no one's been before; But it feels like home...The brightest colors fill my head; A million dreams are keeping me awake.”
The world is waiting, but the future is not known... “no one's been before”. But the dream is there with bright colors and a million dreams and we pray for Savannah's future at Southwest Kansas State and beyond. And we look back and consider all that we have seen and done and experienced. Most of us have more years behind us than we have ahead of us. But that is a far cry from being done. We are to continue to dream, continue to open new doors. For we are created by a loving God. And God's not done with us yet.
From our scripture, I'm focusing on the line about clay jars; “we have this treasure in clay jars.” We have to ask two questions...what treasure is Paul referring to and what does Paul mean by clay jars?
It's actually pretty easy to figure out the treasure, just back up to the line before it. It is a little confusing because the clay pots sentence is the start of a new paragraph. But as we study scripture, it helps to remember that when Paul wrote this, he wrote it without punctuation or paragraphs. It was left up to the translators to decide the grammatically correct way to sort out the sentences and paragraphs. I'm suggesting there should not be a new paragraph here. In any case, we go back a line and discover that the treasure is the “Knowledge of the glory of God”. Savannah has increased in knowledge as she has gone through her school years. We also continue to increase in knowledge as we grow and age. There is secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge. This knowledge of the glory of God is special, it is revealed by God and increases as we spend time with God. Not that we can ever fully know the glory of God this side of heaven, but we can grow ever closer to God as our faith matures, as we go through the peaks and valleys in life, as we share our experiences with one another, as we live life.
Then the clay jars. If you go down in our dining area, you see lots of clay jars in different colors, shapes and value. Generally speaking, houses had clay jars for the common, everyday needs in the household. The jars held the water for drinking and cooking and cleaning and washing up. Mostly, they were not fancy utensils.
Clay jars are made by potters. They work with raw clay; shaping it and molding it in the shape desired. Then they bake the jars in a kiln. And you'd have a household utensil. Usually not of great value. But created for a specific use. And they are fragile. Clay jars have a limited life expectancy. They look sturdy, but a simple bump, off the table they go, and all you have is clay pieces.
The bible in several places compares us to clay jars. Like the jars, we come in varied sizes, shapes, colors. We have different uses; different talents. And as we prayed in the prayer of confession, “Our lives are fragile like ordinary clay pots”. Life is fragile. And empty... until we get to Paul's message today. We, like those clay jars, were created for a purpose and that purpose is fulfilled when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. Then, we have a treasure within these clay jars we call our bodies; the treasure of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and his saving message. And that's wonderful news; it completes what Judy read in last week's gospel, being born again, born from above.
But the clay jars were not created to be filled and then left sitting on a shelf. They were created to serve. We are created to serve. Too often we get to the filling part of the gospel and are satisfied that we've got ours. But God calls us to more than that. One of the most quoted passages used to show that faith is a gift from God comes from Ephesians chapter 2. 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Many Christians proudly proclaim that they are saved by grace and use this passage as proof. But it seems they never get around to reading the very next verse, 10 “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
As a clay jar, created for service, seek to serve the purposes for which you have been created. So often we look for purpose outside our life, but we are reminded that Christ has filled our being with the Holy Spirit, our purpose comes from that presence within—within the clay jars that are our bodies. Then we fulfill our calling in Christ Jesus.
And as we consider this in light of the watershed moment that graduation can be, it is good to reflect on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do with our life. Today's graduates have undoubtedly done a lot of reflection and planning on their roles in life. We perhaps have more reflection than planning at our stage in life. But none of us is through serving. You were created for a purpose and that purpose may change and evolve, but you always have a purpose.
Greg can tell you that often with clay jars, as they get older they grow even more valuable. We sometimes question that about the clay jars that we are. The wisdom of the elders is not respected in our culture as it once was. Our functioning may change, but with change comes wisdom, patience, often increased compassion and sensitivity. And sometimes we need to learn new ways to cooperate. Like when we did landscaping a couple weeks ago; we had no church member with full use of their physical abilities but between us, we got a lot done. There are some perks to being older...
Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.
Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.
Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.
There is nothing left to learn the hard way.
Things you buy now won't wear out.
You can quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.
I've noticed I'm getting more of the aging symptoms. I read there are three sure signs of old age. The first is your loss of memory. I forget the other two.
Here I am going on about old age as we are sending this young lady off to college. My point is that our relationship to Jesus and our service in this world need not be related to our age. Savannah has served this church in many ways in her relatively short time with us. We hope and pray that the foundation she has built will lead to years of faithful service in the name of Jesus. Most of the rest of us have multiple decades serving the Lord, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. The apostle Paul liked to note dichotomies. In today's passage, he wrote, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” You can add your own affliction, including aging. But in Christ we are not crushed, not forsaken, never destroyed.
Our next hymn is a family favorite. It tells the story of the life of Jesus. But its message is that we can triumph through life's trials and troubles. “Dance then wherever you may be, Jesus is the Lord...of the dance.” For my sermon though, I'm using Savannah's great gift to say “sing then wherever you may be”. Jesus is indeed the Lord of the song, of the dance, the Lord of all of life. For Savannah, continue singing, and dancing, and playing the oboe, and learning all to the glory of God in Christ. For the rest of us, we may not have the talent to sing like Savannah, but we still can sing to the glory of God. Sing of God's great mercy and grace and love. Jesus is leading us in the dance, in your song, in your life. So sing....and dance...and praise God! Amen
I Danced in the Morning PH 302