Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.
It weighs about 310 grams. Normally it’s about 13cms long and at its widest point about 9 cms across. It is somewhat pear shaped, about the size of your fist. The colour is reddy-brown. It is a hard working four-chambered pump.
By this time you have probably recognised that I have been describing the human heart. The heart is a muscle in your chest, one of the masterpieces of the Creator. This marvellous little organ in our body beats 100,000 times each day without us even being aware of it most of the time. Each day the heart pumps blood through 96,000 klms of blood vessels.
The Bible has a good deal to say about the heart but it rarely speaks of the heart beating in our chest. The heart is the core and centre of everything we think, feel and act. According the biblical writers the heart is the source of our emotions, our intellect, the will and our moral life. The heart, as the Bible writers often say, questions, understands, meditates, plans, believes and trusts. It is the evil heart that plans and thinks and acts bad things. God says, “In your hearts do not think evil of each other” (Zech 7.10). In the New Testament Paul says Christ rules in the heart through faith (Eph 3:17).
Look into a concordance and you will be fascinated at not only the number of times the word heart appears in the Bible, but also the different ways the word is used. There are texts that speak about
a sad heart,
a proud heart,
a glad heart,
an upright heart,
a trembling heart,
a clean heart,
a faithful heart or fearful heart.
The heart for the Bible writers is a person’s whole character and personality and it is to the heart that God speaks and reveals his will. God says in Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord” (Jer 24.7).
The Bible tells us that every human being has a fatal spiritual heart disease. As descendants of Adam and Eve we have received from birth a heart full of sin and carry it with us all the days of our life here on this earth. Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, we have a heart disease that could be fatal.
This disease shows itself in our day to day life.
It shows itself in the way we speak to one another when we say unkind and hurtful things.
This heart disease shows itself in the intolerance we show toward others, the prejudice we display toward those who are different from us, our refusal to see another person’s point of view.
This heart disease is evident in the way we find it difficult to go to a person with whom we have a difference and to make amends. You and I know all too well how our proud hearts will not let us understand, sympathise, seek out the person who has offended us and to show love. Our hearts so easily become hard hearts – cold hearts – as we harbour grudges, self-righteousness and an unwillingness to admit our own faults.
Jesus summed it up like this, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).
Heart disease is a fact. The other name for this heart disease is “sin”. It’s part of our lives. Even though we are regular members of this congregation, we are not immune to this heart disease. It can attack us at any moment. In fact, it seems to strike members of the church with a particular vengeance. Satan loves to set one Christian against another. He loves it when Christians foster a hard heart against their fellow Christians and take every opportunity to sting the other with hard words and unkind actions. Believe me when I say that over the past 30 plus years in the ministry I have witnessed how hard and cruel one Christian can be against another. I have witnessed it in myself.
This disease is not cured by surgery, or artificial valves or bypasses. Spiritual rebirth is not produced with instruments. After the prophet Nathan had pointed out David’s sin of covetousness, murder and adultery, David prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
God said to Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:25).
This is not a repair job. It’s not a matter of fixing a few vices, improving a few virtues and everything will be all right. It is heart removal and replacement. We’re talking a heart transplant here. Because of his love for us, and by his power he takes out the old and puts in the new.
God says, “Any kind of do-it-yourself fix will not get to the very bottom of the cause of what ails our heart. What people need is a new heart, a new character and personality: new thoughts, feelings, ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things”.
For a person to receive a donor heart someone has to die. Jesus died to give us a new heart. On the cross of Calvary we see God acting as only he can, taking out the old heart of stone and replacing it entirely, totally, completely with a warm, living heart that loves others. It is the heart of Christ himself that now lives in our heart. It renews us, gives us new life and energy to do the things that please God.
This is what Paul is getting at in his second letter to the Corinthians when he said, “We recognize that one man died for everyone, which means that they all share in his death. … Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.
The old sin-filled heart has been replaced with a new heart that gives us a new life, a new perspective on how life should be lived and a new way of treating other people, a new viewpoint of who God is and what kind of worship we should offer to him. We are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection and we are made new. The old ways and values are gone. Through Jesus’ love and forgiveness, God has given us a new heart and a new spirit.
But let’s get real here. If Jesus has given us new hearts why is there still so much pain in our lives? Why haven’t our old sinful habits and egos disappeared? Why do we keep on letting down God and other people? Why do we feel so guilty?
Sadly, the old ways die slowly. Even after years of being a Christian, particular temptations take advantage of the flaws in our character. Satan, the world and our own sinful human nature cause us to sin badly. Any Christians, who believe that because they are joined to Christ they are beyond temptation and sin, are sadly disillusioned when doubt, depression, guilt, discouragement come as a result of constantly falling into sin.
There are those who experience the sinfulness of their fellow Christians and leave the church because they didn’t expect to see such things in the church. People in the church sin and not for one minute does Jesus say that is reason enough to turn our backs on our fellow Christians, walk away and refuse to be friends again. By doing that we are just adding our own hard heartedness to the situation. Paul very bluntly says, “Do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad” (Eph 4:30) but that’s exactly what happens when we allow our own hearts to be ruled by sin.
When God gives us a new heart we mess it up with sin and so every day we need to undergo a heart transplant. Daily we sin, every day we repent, turn to Jesus and are made new and clean again. We join with David, God’s chosen servant, acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting and praying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.
We receive forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ own words, through baptism and Holy Communion. We are forgiven. The guilt of our sin has been wiped away. We have been made clean. We have been adopted into God’s family and so now as God’s children our lives reflect that we belong to God, that we have new hearts that are keen to do the will of God.
Today God is reminding you and me that he has given us new hearts. The Spirit-filled life that he gives makes changes to the way we live everyday. This new life is ours!
In fact, when we are ruled by our new God-given hearts, I believe we will be surprised at what God can accomplish through us.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with a longing to see the children of our church and community come closer to Jesus.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with a desire to see more and more people come to worship.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with compassion for those who are sick, in hospital, grieving, facing tough times.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with understanding and love for our spouses, our children and people who cross our path everyday, fellow church members.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that don’t make excuses but gladly honour and worship God and love others as Jesus has loved us.
God says to us through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart … I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees … You will be my people and I will be your God.”
Let me conclude with this prayer.
give us a heart that understands your love in Christ, your Son,
a heart that accepts your forgiveness,
a heart that responds to your kindness and grace
with new love,
new kindness toward others,
and new life filled with the joy of your salvation,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 God’s provision of rest in the third commandment
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.
15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. 
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” And Paul encourages us with the words: “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’ (Col 2:16–18 NIV)
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving God our Father, we join with our fellow Christians around the world on this Lord’s Day to celebrate your son, Jesus Christ, to witness his life and ministry, and to worship You. Guide our time together that we may receive the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son. Gracious heavenly Father, in you we have life. Hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.
There was a story I once watched on a reality TV program about a sweet-natured and friendly older couple with a strange habit. They never seemed to discard anything. They had completely filled their front yard and driveway full of trash, bags of plastic bags, broken refrigerators, stoves, worn out sofas, lawn mowers and a car they never drove.
And then one morning a sign was posted on the entrance to their front yard that read, ‘Moved Next Door.’ And they had–they had moved literally next door! It seems the inside of their house was just as full of clutter and trash as the yard and so they had no choice but to move.
It’s sad that sometimes people’s lives can be that way–so cluttered with unnecessary and useless stuff that a full normal life seems impossible. They may even talk about needing a fresh start or a clean break. Just like that couple who picked up and moved ‘next’ door. They moved, but you know they took some of their old stuff with them, and it wasn’t long until their new house was as trashy as the old one!! Moving ‘next’ door–wanting a fresh start or a clean break with the past–is sometimes just what we need. But unless some deep change takes place at the level of our very being, we end up cluttering up our lives with the same sort of stuff as before.
When God freed the Israelite people to begin a new life in freedom from slavery in Egypt, God gave them a new way of living. Trusting God completely, and caring for each other.
Through Moses, in the first books of the Bible, God shared with the Israelites what that new way of living was all about. The Ten Commandments have at the heart, a way of meaningful, joyous, loving and faith-filled living. In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses was preaching his last sermon. Advice to those who would be entering the promised land. Advice about staying in touch with the God of their salvation from slavery.
But like that sweet-natured older couple, the people of Jesus day seem to have overlooked the new way of living, in favour of returning to slavery. They instituting the Ten Commandments as a matter of rules. And turned the festivals established by God to remind the them of their relationship with Him, into a burden of observances.
In the reading from the Gospel today, Jesus our Saviour, in his simple, compassionate way, tried to point out something important. That observing the Sabbath, as an ordinance rather than a connection with a wonderous and majestic God, was returning to slavery, rather than expressing freedom to worship.
“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Then Jesus replied again to the Pharisees, in the Synagogue, but with a bit more sternness “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” I am convinced that Jesus wasn’t just speaking about the miracle he was about to perform. I believe he was talking about the difference of trusting God for good and for spiritual life. Rather than denying the one God sent, and turning to harm and spiritual death.
We sometimes go through life looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God. But then, by the Holy Spirit working in our spirits through Word and Sacrament and Intuition, God shines in our hearts. He shows us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus which reminds us that his promises and work for us is real. As Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, ‘For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone his light in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’
1st Corinthians 2 says, “as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”
As we gather each Lord’s Day for worship, praying together, singing together, sharing the Word of God together, and receiving the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminded that this is not a matter of slavery to observance, but freedom to worship. As Paul writes to us in Colossians, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’
There are days when our lives seem so cluttered and cracked and broken, that we just can’t add one more thing to it. Yet, we still have this treasure of Christ Jesus in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest. And we join together, honouring the Lord’s Day, remembering the Sabbath, to be strengthened for the day to day challenges of living in a broken world.
As Scripture reminds us from Hebrews, ‘ let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.’ (Heb 10:19–25 NIV)
By the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.
Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to each of us. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loves us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people. By our attitudes, actions and words we use in our everyday living.
We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle, people watch. By the fruit and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest treasure in the world!
We are alive in Christ. And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us. Especially as we honour the Lord’s Day and gather faithfully in worship and fellowship.
May the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev. David Thompson
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“Treasures in Jars of Clay”
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It happened in the Gold Country of Northern California in February of 2013. A man and his wife were walking their dog on their property when they saw the cover of a small, rusty tin canister beneath an oak tree. They dug it up and then opened it at home. It was filled with gold coins minted in the 1800’s. They went back and found more canisters under the tree, 1400 gold coins in all, worth over ten million dollars. Why would someone hide valuable gold coins in tin canisters under an oak tree?
Do you want to hear something even more strange to our human way of thinking? God in his love and mercy entrusts the greatest treasure in the world, his love for us in Jesus his Son, to people like you and me. The Apostle Paul calls us jars of clay. My dear Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are broken people, people broken by sin, broken by troubles in life, broken by our anguish over not living the lives the Lord has called us to life. Yet, even though we are broken and cracked jars of clay that should be cast aside, we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have Jesus. Yes, we are jars of clay, but special jars of clay because the treasure of Christ has come to us and the treasure of Christ is passed on through us.
Usually people find treasure, but the treasure you have in Christ Jesus your Saviour is different. This treasure finds you! Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul did not preach and brag and boast about himself. He did not try to thrill the crowds with how he had found the greatest treasure in the world by accepting Jesus into his heart. It was all about Jesus Christ being his Lord and God who came to him and found him. In a previous letter to the Corinthians he said, “For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In one of our hymns, we sing,
“Oh the height of Jesus’ love,
Higher than the heavens above,
Deeper than the depths of sea,
Lasting as eternity,
Love that found me-wondrous thought!
Found me when I sought him not.”
Paul was certainly not boasting about himself when he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Jars of clay! That’s how Paul saw himself and that is how we see ourselves. We cannot boast about being some beautiful Ming Dynasty vase that deserves to put up on the shelf and admired by other people and even by our God. Our lives are broken by sin just as a hammer can easily break any clay plot.
Oh, to be sure, there was a time when Paul thought he was a beautiful vase highly admired by his God because he followed rules and regulations of Jewish law meticulously. But then Jesus came to him and showed him how shattered and broken he was and how far short he fell of God’s glory. We read in Romans chapter 7 where Paul confessed that he did not know what sin was or how broken he was until he realized that coveting or even the desire to do something wrong made him unacceptable to God.
What do you do with a piece of pottery that is broken and cracked? You throw it away. What does the Lord our God do with jars of clay that are broken and cracked by sin? He gives them the greatest treasure in the world. He gives us his Son, Jesus, so we can be beautiful – not because of who we are, but because of the treasure that has been given to us.
How did this treasure come to you? Listen to what Paul says, “For God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Remember the first day of creation. First God created the heavens and the earth, but it was formless and empty and dark. Then miraculously he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Something similar has happened in your life and mine. Into this world of darkness into which we were born, totally clueless to the greatest treasure in the world, God brings light and shows us his glory in the face of Christ.
We were born into this world looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God. There was no hope in that darkness as Ephesians says, “We were without God and without hope.” Isaiah tells us, “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes.”
But then God shined in our hearts. He showed us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus and that his promises and work for us is real. Some Sunday school children in their Pentecost Sunday lesson recently, made eyes with tongues of fire inside them to show how the Holy Spirit gives us eyes of faith. 1 Corinthians 2 says, “However, as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”
The greatest treasure in the world is to have this light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Your eyes see Jesus! You look into a manger in Bethlehem and believe with all your heart that a tiny baby is Lord and God from all eternity. Your eyes see Jesus loving and respecting his parents, showing kindness to people, and loving them in a way you have never been able to love people. Your eyes look at his face as he hangs on the cross and cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You see him suffering and dying for the curse of your sin. You see Jesus with joyful face on the night of resurrection appearing to the disciples and to you and saying, “Peace be to you.” You know that someday when Jesus returns you will see him face to face in all his glory. Even though your physical eyes do not see him, you see him in faith as your Shepherd who holds you in his loving arms. You know that nothing will ever separate you from his life.
There are days when our lives seem so cracked and broken. Yet, we still have this treasure in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest. That was sure the case with Job. In the darkest days of life when he lashed out in anger against God, he bursts forth with the triumphant words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He wanted to have the words carved in stone so all could see. He wanted people to see him not as “poor Job”, but as the man who possessed the greatest treasure in the world, a Redeemer who lives. During his many low moments of life Martin Luther encouraged himself with the one Latin word “Vivit” which means ‘he lives’.
My friends, there is a huge difference between being a ‘crackpot’ and been a cracked pot. A crackpot is someone who is crazy, loony and eccentric. A cracked pot is a broken piece of pottery. We are cracked pots. We are broken people. But by the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.
Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to you and me. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” If I were God I think I would have chosen more beautiful creatures to bring the treasures in Christ to the world. Why limit the angels to just announcing Jesus’ birth or his resurrection from the dead? Why not have an angel stand before you for the sermon this morning and bring you the treasures you have in Christ? Why not have an angel visit your family members or friends who have given up believing these treasures? Let God’s holy angel shake up their world and warn them about the judgment to come and then show them again the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the Jesus they may have once valued so highly?
Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loved us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people.
Listen further to what Paul says as he speaks about his privilege and the privilege also given to us. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” You have seen the treasures you have in Jesus and your life has never been the same since. You are alive. Yet at the same time, you are constantly giving yourself over to death. That seems like a contradiction, but it is not. Because you are alive in Christ you want to see sin die in your life. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows itself in how you handle sin when it surfaces in your life. You want to see it die, just as you would want some dangerous bacteria to die instead of infecting your body.
And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us.
I am reminded of a young man with cerebral palsy, with a twisted body, sitting in a nursing home, wearing a T-shirt that said, “I love Jesus” and singing songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The words that came from his mouth sounded strange but they were not. His twisted body, like an old clay pot, cracked and broken, witnessed boldly to the treasures he had in Jesus.
Jars of clay. Cracked pots. We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle people watch. If they will look into this jar of clay they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Jars of clay. That is what we are. Jars of clay with greatest treasure in the world!