Sunday, June 18, 2006

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 - “Is That Still Broken?”

Pentecost 2 (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, June 15, and Sunday, June 18, 2006

It’s been six years since I preached my first sermon here at Redeemer. It was in 2000 on this liturgical date—the Second Sunday after Pentecost. And I remember being puzzled by this light switch in the pulpit. I turned it on and off a couple of times, nothing happened. Over time, I realized that it was a broken switch, or a dead switch. Six years later, is that light switch still broken? Yep. It still doesn’t do anything, although I found out that it used to turn on the pulpit spotlight. We’ve got that fancy control panel back there now, so we don’t need this switch. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to get rid of the switch. (use drill to unscrew switch, pull out the switch to show everyone)

It’s still a broken switch, a dead switch, but it’s a good reminder of what I said to this congregation in my first sermon six years ago. I was preaching on this same text, the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 4, where Paul is talking about keeping this treasure in jars of clay, in other words, God puts the Gospel in us. In that sermon, I said:

I turn to look at you—jars of clay, one and all. You before me are a dying crowd. There is brokenness here, sinfulness, disease, decay. You are under the persecution of Satan for your faith; you are wearing the cross of Christ.

Apparently I wasn’t looking to make many friends with that first sermon—calling you a dying crowd. Although, I did go on and also say:

I see life in this broken vessel. I see the hope that you have in Christ, a hope that we can share with others. When people come to us saying that they feel as if life has got them down and out, we can say that they might be down but they are not out. We can show them our fragile, broken, dying bodies and say, “In Christ, I have life.”

I was speaking God’s truth—we are broken, dying, sinful, but God chooses to put His life, salvation, and Gospel in us anyway.

This idea that we are fragile jars of clay, just broken sinners, and God’s puts His treasure in us, His Gospel, that idea comes from what Paul says about himself in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Six years ago I explained it this way:
When Paul talks about his faith, he talks about how God gave him the faith, it is not his own. Then he says that [God puts] this treasure, the treasure of faith, in a jar [made] of clay. While God had given him a wonderful treasure of faith, Paul is still just a [clay jar], fragile, easily broken, sinful, dying. Paul is not going to brag in himself or his faith. Paul does not want to cover up his brokenness, sinfulness. Paul doesn’t want to fool anyone into thinking he is something that he is not. Paul doesn’t want to lie.

And [Paul] doesn’t want us to miss the best part. Paul is broken, persecuted, put into prison, cast down, tempted, in many difficulties, tormented, dying. He is down but not out. Paul doesn’t want anyone to miss the fact that he has hope when there is no hope. He is down but not out, because Christ was down but not out. Christ was nailed down to the cross, put down into the tomb, but don’t count Him out, because Christ had victory over death. That same victory is Paul’s victory.

Six years later that’s still what God is showing us through Paul’s words today: we are broken, sinful, fragile, facing defeat, but that Christ gives us victory. We are down but not out.

And that’s why I pulled out this switch today, because it’s a reminder that yes, we’re still broken.

Oh, I mean, I wouldn’t want you to think that I haven’t noticed all of the ways that we’ve made improvements around here together. In the six years I’ve been here, we’ve created and remodeled a youth room downstairs, taken down the doors on the inner lobby opening up the space, improved the office equipment and computers. You’ve fixed leaky faucets, broken light fixtures, a broken organ motor, and purchased a new lawn tractor. There’s been plenty of broken things around here that have been fixed, improved, or replaced.

But this switch is a reminder that we’re still broken. No matter how many things we do to our building, we’re still going to be broken spiritually.

This switch is nothing without power running through it. If this switch isn’t connected, it can’t do anything.

Spiritually, we’re all dead switches—disconnected, powerless, unable to do a thing. Our sin disconnected us from God. Our sin makes us powerless over our own sin, powerless against the devil or death. Our sin makes us unable to do a thing to save ourselves.

Jesus, though, comes along and runs His electrical wire through us, connects us to His power. Jesus brings the power of His Word, His Gospel, the power of salvation that comes through His death and resurrection. We’re connected to the power of Christ.

Paul used jars of clay as the metaphor for what Christ does, because jars of clay were a common item, and people really did keep treasures in clay jars. Even though clay jars were fragile, easily broken, and cheap, they kept items dry, safe, hidden, and protected. Clay jars were an unlikely spot to put a treasure, but turns out that was a great place for them. Same thing with God’s Gospel. Sinful people are an unlikely place for God to put the treasure of His Word, His ministry, but turns out God can use those unlikely people.

Well, that was a common image for Paul’s day, and now with this light switch, you’ve got a common image for today. You probably use many light switches every day. They are common, small, usually not very noticeable, the basic switches costing around 29 cents, but those switches are entrusted with a lot of power. Those switches control the electricity coming into your house. Those switches turn on lights, but they might also be found controlling your furnace, air conditioning, computers, all kinds of big, important machines. A little plastic switch on the wall is an unlikely place to find power, but turns out that’s where the power is. Same thing with God’s Gospel. Sinful people are an unlikely place for God to put the power of His Word, His ministry, but turns out God can use those unlikely people.

We’ve got to remember that the switch doesn’t have any power on its own; it’s just a plastic switch with some metal attached to its back. The power comes from the wire that’s connected all the way back to the power plant.

Same thing with us, right. We’ve got to remember that on our own, we don’t have the power; we’re just sinful, dying, fragile people. The power comes from the Word that’s connected to God. We’re broken switches until we get connected. (put switch on the Bible) We’re spiritually dead until God’s Word makes us alive.

Seeing that we’re broken switches, I again go back to that first sermon from six years ago where I confessed my brokenness. Let me repeat to you what I said then because it’s just as important to say it today, because I’m still a broken switch.

I do not want to hide my brokenness. I do not want to hide my sinfulness. I am a jar of clay. I come to you making many mistakes in life. I have hurt people along the way. I do not always handle arguments well. I do not always make Christ first in my life. I come to you broken, sinful, tempted, dying, down but not out. I do not want to hide the fact that I am a jar of clay, because I do not want to hide the best part from you: I am down but I am not out.

I come also having received the gift of faith. God has enlightened my heart with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In Christ, we see God’s glory, that He would come and suffer and die for us in order that we might have salvation. God has given me faith; this is not from myself. I have hope when there is no hope. I am down but I am not out. I want you to see in me the dying of Christ so that you might see the hope in His death, so that death would work life in you.

After confessing my brokenness and sinfulness to you, that’s when I called you a dying crowd—because God’s Word says we’re all the same. We’re all sinful, we’re all broken, we’re all in need of God’s salvation. So six years ago I said to this congregation:

Do not hide your brokenness from me. You are sinners. Don’t try to hide that from me. I see already that there are broken things around here, broken on the outside, a community where everyone does not know Christ, and broken on the inside, a congregation like all other congregations where we forget that we know Christ. [And] in seeing your brokenness, how you are cast down by life but not destroyed, by seeing the death of Jesus in you, I see life. The death of Jesus in you works life in me. I see that you are a jar of clay with a treasure from God, the treasure of faith inside of you. I see that you are down but not out. I see that you have a wondrous hope, a hope for eternal life, a hope to be in the light of Christ [in] this dark world. I see life here at Redeemer. If you can have hope and faith in the midst of your struggles, then I too can have that same hope for eternal life even when my own life gets me down.

And what I was working toward was helping us to all see that when the world sees our brokenness, the world will also be able to see the power of Christ. When we see this broken switch, we see the power that an electrical wire could bring. When people see us as broken switches, they can see the power that Christ brings into our lives. By seeing the ways that Christ works in each other despite our brokenness, that gives us hope. And that’s what our ministry is all about—showing the world our broken switches and how Christ’s power comes to give us life.

So may we in our ministry together not hide our dying, so that we might show the life of Christ to others. May our ministry together be down but not out. May others always see in us the hope of eternal life, a hope in the face of death. May [our message always be: that Jesus Christ has saved us from being broken switches and has given us the power of His salvation.] Amen.