Mark later felt quite embarrassed when he thought of his outburst. He prided himself on being a person who was always in control. Lately he felt like the whole world was spinning out of control. Luke had looked at him with such compassion and whispered in a quavering voice, “I miss her, too.”
Friday night Ethan arrived with a piping hot pizza and ice cold beers, announcing that he planned on staying the weekend. Saturday morning Luke came for his usual visit toting a box of fresh donuts. “Hey, you guys have to stop feeding me, or I’ll be big as a house!” Mark quipped. Luke gave his godson a bear hug and they all sat together at the table feasting on fried dough and hot coffee. Luke was engrossed in Ethan’s latest news.
After thirty minutes or so there was a clatter from the bedroom followed by a soft whimpering. Conversation immediately stopped, the men all rose as one and walked to the room. Ann was on the floor rocking back and forth. A lamp had been knocked off the bedside table. She looked up at them when then entered. There was such fear in her eyes that Mark’s heart dissolved within him. He got down on the carpet and held out his arms to her. She leaned into him and allowed him to put his arms around her. Gently rocking back and forth, Mark hummed softly, tucking her head neatly under his chin. Luke and Ethan looked at each other and waked quietly out of the room.
On Sunday morning Ethan encouraged his dad to go to church. Mark declined saying he’d rather spend the time with his son. “Dad, really, it’ll be okay. Mom and I can have some time together. We’ll sit in the living room and listen to one of her favourite CDs.” Mark finally agreed. He dressed and got into his car. He didn’t want to attend church. He hadn’t been in over six months. Going now would be uncomfortable.
He started the engine and backed out of the driveway. I’ll just go to the city garden and park the car under a tree, he thought. He drove with his window down enjoying the feel of fresh cool air against his face, his mind empty. He came out of his reverie as he realised that he’d driven to the church building. He pulled into the parking lot, intending to turn around and drive back out, but several families recognised him and waved. Now he felt obliged to stay.
Creature of habit, Mark sat in his usual pew — halfway up the aisle on the right. A handful of people said hello as they found seats. He smiled back and mumbled a return greeting. No one else sat in his pew. He was relieved when the service started. Soon the familiar liturgy began and Mark repeated all the familiar phrases. There was something soothing about the rhythm, something tranquil in the worship. He felt his body slowly begin to ease.
Luke took his place behind the lectern and smiled out at the congregation. His eyes seemed to linger on Mark. He read the epistle passage from 2 Corinthians 4, verses 6-9:
“God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the 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. He gave this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not 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.”
Luke looked up, smiled and said, “This is the Word of the Lord.”
“Thanks be to God,” the congregation recited.
“I want you to think of the possession you value the most,” Luke began his sermon. “Does it have monetary value? Car? Camera? Computer? Maybe it has sentimental value. Family heirloom? Photo albums? Letters?”
Mark immediately thought of Ann. Then he shook his head; Ann wasn’t a possession.
“Now think of what you do to protect that possession. You have to protect it from rust and decay. Mould, mildew. Protect it from damage or thieves. You lock it in a safe. Put it in the bank. Pack it in cotton wool. Insure it.”
I can’t protect her, Mark thought. She’s slipping away and I can’t hold her.
Luke went on, “God, as we have seen time and time again, does something that seems foolish to us. He does the opposite of what most of us would do. He takes the most precious thing and he puts it in a clay pot, in a fragile, flawed, ceramic jar. As I am sure you have gathered from the reading, those clay jars are us!”
Luke continued talking, but Mark wasn’t listening anymore. He was thinking about clay pots and treasures and how easily ceramic jugs break. He was thinking that Ann was his treasure, his most beautiful and precious treasure, and that she was hidden deep inside a broken vessel. He wondered whether the treasure was still there. Maybe the treasure that was Ann seeped away when the container broke.
Mark was brought back to the sermon when he heard “diamond wedding ring . . . “
“ . . . diamond wedding ring in a ziplock. It’s like putting a Rolex watch in a brown paper bag. Why does God do something so crazy?” Luke paused. “So that it will be obvious that it is his power in us, not our own. Our imperfections show up all the more clearly his greatness. Later in this same letter to the Corinthians Paul says to them that he will boast gladly of his weaknesses, so that everyone can see that it is Christ’s power in him. God tells us, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
Mark wasn’t thinking of Ann anymore. He was uncomfortably thinking of himself. I am weak. I’m falling apart. My whole world is imploding. But God wants me to be weak?
Luke’s next words went straight to Mark’s heart. “We don’t have to be in control. We don’t have to be perfect to earn anything from our God. We don’t have to have all the answers, all the ticks in all the right boxes, all our lives sorted out. God knows that we are flawed and broken people. He chooses to put his treasure in these broken pots. He does that so that his light and life will shine brightly through the cracks.” Luke smiled out in love at his little flock.
It doesn’t make sense, Mark reasoned. Boasting of weakness? “I’m falling apart, coming undone.” Is that how it goes, God? You want me to be humiliated?
“That’s why Paul goes on to write,” Luke continued, “‘We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’ God who began the good work in you, God who put that treasure deep inside your broken lives, will continue by his power to perfect his good work until the broken pots are made new and whole. Amen.”
Mark was stunned. It was almost as if Luke were speaking directly to him. The words echoed around and around in his head. You don’t have to be in control. Let go! God knows. God understands. God has put a priceless treasure deep in you. Let him shine through you. His grace is sufficient for you. His grace is sufficient for you.
Mark’s body went through the motions of the service with the rest of the congregation. Stand. Sing. Receive the blessing. Sit. But his mind was whirling around the revelation he’d received. As the rest of the cheerful, jabbering company slowly filed out of the sanctuary, Mark sat, head slightly bowed pondering what was happening to him.