Treasure in clay jars

“We have this treasure in clay jars….”

                                                             The Apostle Paul – I Corinthians


I’m writing from inside the “cattle car”…a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando.  It’s filled with some business people and a lot of families returning from a late winter vacation to a warm place.  And me.


I’ve been in Orlando meeting with leaders of the United Church of Christ – conference ministers and members of the Collegium (the 4 executives who lead the national setting of our church).  We’ve been dealing with hard questions and concerns, namely, in a day of dizzying change, what are the essential functions of the national setting of the church?


I’ll tip my hand…we didn’t come to sure and certain conclusions.  But that doesn’t mean the meeting was a waste of time – far from it!


Last summer I heard Walt Brueggemann preach a powerful sermon at the worship service marking the retirement of Wisconsin Conference Minister Dave Moyer.  Brueggemann was as provocative as ever as he skewered our collective attachments to most everything we hold dear in church.  In a rant/rap he sang out a litany of every imaginable aspect of things ecclesiastical – everything from digital projectors to organs, stained glass windows to worship bands, committees to seminaries, authorized ministry to baptismal fonts…and more.  And insisted – “they are ALL…ALL…clay jars.”  We have no choice but to be willing to let them go…because they are…none of them…the gospel.


Before I go any further, let me remind you of something:  Christ’s church is NOT going away.  50 years from now the Gospel (the message of grace and forgiveness and love and joy and peace and hope and justice) will still be around.  But only God knows the institutional forms in which it will be held (the new clay pots!), and She isn’t saying…at least not very clearly.  So we…God’s beloved baptized…are left to experiment and argue and negotiate and grieve and celebrate our way into an unknown future…and do so resolutely and faithfully and humbly.  It seems in this present day the church is called to be a wilderness people – folk who aren’t given clarity about our destination (read the book of Exodus!)…but are only told to step out and follow our God.


Will it be fun?  Sometimes it will be…and often it will be confusing and excruciating (a word related to the “cross”) and painful.  Leaving the cherished antibiotics without prescriptions behind is never easy or pleasant. 


But my friends…let us never, never, never lose heart!  We may not know where the journey takes us, but we know a few things about the entourage…which includes you, and me and the Spirit of God.  In a sense, it also includes everyone who’s ever struggled to know the way of Christ – from Peter and Paul to ancient church fathers (and mothers) to the reformers and right on down to people you and I have known and loved and lost.  And in another odd sense it includes our descendants who aren’t even yet born. 


I started this message with an intent you may find odd…I started it with an intent to say “thank you!!”  During 2013 your generous gifts to the wider church (OCWM – Our Church’s Wider Mission) exceeded that which we had budgeted by about $40,000.  That outcome nearly moves me to tears….for lots of reasons.  I know that for many churches (and individuals) this expression of generosity entails cost…even sacrifice.  My staff and I (and the conference Board of Directors) never presume that you have to support our common ministries this way.  We hope you value our common ministries and want to support them…but I do not take your gifts for granted. 


How does this all tie together?  Well, in a nutshell…church is changing, and to be honest, the pace of change is only going to accelerate.  But I promise that your gifts to OCWM will be used as faithfully as humanly possible – and creatively so as to help us walk faithfully into an unknown (but God-filled!) future.  I hope you will continue to be as generous as you are able to be.  I hope you will pray for the Board of Directors, and for the conference staff, and for me.  Add to your prayers our partners in the national settings of the church.  And don’t forget to pray for yourselves and your own local church and your pastor. 


The places to which God is taking all of us are impossible to know with certainty.  However, the identity of our travel companions are not unknown – they are you and me and untold others who love Jesus and in following him want to better love their neighbors. 


We’re in this together, friends!  Thanks be to God!!


Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa



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