Sermon Colossians 4:2-6 August 5, 2012 “When We Stay Open”

Once there was an ordinary young man. As a matter of fact, the only extraordinary thing about this young man was his great-aunt. She was truly great in more ways than you or I could imagine. Since this young man had grown up and moved away from home, he hadn’t spent much time with his great-aunt. Actually, he hadn’t seen her in years.

So we can understand why he wasn’t terribly upset when she died. However, his interest in her death increased when he learned that his aunt had remembered him in her will. He didn’t hope for much money because she had always been a humble woman, far more generous in spirit, than rich. Then again, one never knew; it just might be that she had wealth no one could have imagined.

His fantasies had become quite elaborate by the time he arrived at the lawyer’s office and were dashed only slightly when he was given what his great-aunt had left him: a key and a note. The note said the key was to a room in her apartment. It said further that if he wanted, he could go to the apartment and take whatever he found in the room.

So, he went to the apartment, found his aunt’s room, turned the key in the lock, and opened the door. Inside was a single table. On the table sat a pure white pitcher. Next to the pitcher was another note. Other than these three items, table, white pitcher and note, the room was empty. He read the note, which said:

In this pitcher is the gold of God.

You may empty it once a day,

and it will always be full the next.

But take care,

for only one vessel

will hold this gold long enough

for it to be of any use to you.

 

 

With growing disappointment and much disbelief and skepticism, he looked inside the pitcher. Sure enough, something gold-looking was in it, but the gold of God? That was hard to believe. Then again, what could it mean? Was it some sort of joke? Was it a puzzle that would lead him to some real gold if he figured it out? He looked around for something to pour the pitcher’s contents into, but there was nothing else in the room. Well, she said he could have what was in the room if he wanted. He didn’t want the table, so he took the pitcher and the note home with him.

Once inside his own house, he got a glass. He tipped the pitcher forward; a stream of something gold poured out and filled up the glass. Then suddenly – almost before the pitcher was empty – it began to disappear, as if the glass had a hole in the bottom. Soon there was nothing left in the glass and nothing left in the pitcher. Puzzled, he went back and reread the note.

 

In this pitcher is the gold of God.

You may empty it once a day,

and it will always be full the next.

But take care,

for only one vessel

will hold this gold long enough

for it to be of any use to you.

 

It must mean what it says, he thought. So, he waited until the next day and sure enough the pitcher was full again. This time he carefully considered what sort of vessel might hold this “gold.” He tried a pan from his kitchen. Metal to hold metal, he thought, but once again, the “gold” ebbed away. Over the next few weeks he tried one container after another. He tried containers made of different materials and in different shapes. He even sneaked into the church one day and poured it into the chalice. But, unfortunately, the result was always the same, and then he had to wait another day to try again.

As time went on, he became obsessed with the pitcher and its contents. He did wondered what had come over him. Why this obsession? After all, it only looked like gold. It never stayed around long enough for anyone to prove it was one thing or another. But try as he might, he could not go a day without pouring it into something new or different.

 

One day, as he was pouring the contents down the slender neck of an exotic Chinese vase, he spilled some on his hand. This startled him so much, he almost dropped the pitcher. He had never considered what might happen if he got some of the stuff on himself! Now, his first thought was to wipe it off as quickly as possible, and he nearly fell while lunging for the towel by the sink. But how strange! When he went to wipe it off, he discovered that the gold had stayed on his hand no longer than it stayed anywhere else. Just as before, it had disappeared. All that was left was a slight warmth, but even that was beginning to fade away. He stared at his hand for a long time, rubbing the spot where the “gold” had landed. Then he got out the note from the room and read it one more time.

In this pitcher is the gold of God.

You may empty it once a day,

and it will always be full the next.

But take care,

for only one vessel

will hold this gold long enough

for it to be of any use to you.

 

That evening, he pondered the note’s message again. Sometime in the middle of the night he knew what he was going to do. It should have terrified him, but it didn’t. As a matter of fact, he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it sooner. The next morning he took the pitcher, raised it to his mouth, pressed his lips to its softly turned edge, tilted his head back, and drank.

When he died, many, many years later, some of his old friends remarked how his life had changed shortly after his great-aunt had died. Others could only say that for them he had shone like the sun and had lifted their faith on more than one occasion. Still others called him a saint. His great-niece, who hadn’t seen him in years, simply wondered about the meaning of the note and the key he had left her in his short will. [1]

The story of the man who found a pitcher of gold is a story about conversion, change, transformation. I guess for many of us, the word conversion is a word we find uncomfortable. It conjures up other words … “born again” holy rollers, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, revivalists, tongue speakers, and television evangelists. All of these words, though familiar, may hold a negative meaning for us. They are religion done the messy way, with emotional bursts of explosive spiritual energy that transforms people and changes them in distinctly different ways. For the most part, we are pretty comfortable meeting God in the same way we’ve always met God. But, conversion, well, that suggests something new is about to happen, something different, a change in how things are, and let’s face it –none of like change.

 

Though I claim a time, a place, a moment when I experienced conversion, I now know this experience was a beginning, a step on the road toward a more meaningful faith. I know I haven’t arrived – faith is a process not a destination. I didn’t learn that right away though. It took a few, well… actually many tips of the jar filled with gold to realize faith is something we take into ourselves. It’s a gift that can only enrich us when we stay open to new possibilities. It comes to us when we allow God to fill us fully with divine grace and life.

Kathleen Norris, a lay woman who has taken the vows of service through the Benedictine order states it this way. “Conversion is a process; it is not a goal, not a product we consume.” She goes on to say” … it’s a bodily process, not only an emotional or intellectual one. The very cells in our body are busy changing, renewing themselves, every few days. Yet we remain recognizably ourselves. That is how conversion works, a paradox beautifully expressed in two vows that are unique to Benedictine life. To join a monastic community, people promise stability, pledging to remain in that community for life. At the same time they also promise to remain always open to change, to what is loosely translated as a “conversion of life.”[2]

As we shift, as we change, as we grow, we interact and relate to others who are also shifting, changing and growing. Without realizing it, we are not just speaking about faith, but we are learning to live out faith. As in our story, the man who found the pitcher changed the vessel day after day until he realized he was the vessel. God’s gold in him became a rich blessing to others. His awareness, his conversion opened the way for others to see the glory and richness of God’s love in each of their lives as well and he was remembered for the ways in which he had changed and lived.

Paul writes to the church in Colossae, “Devote yourself in prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.” This should be our prayer-to stay open to God’s leading and word in our lives so that we may be God’s leading and word in someone else’s life. We then become a means through which God might work to convert and transform others. It was Paul’s ardent prayer because he knew the power of conversion and the blessing of staying open to God’s grace and love. He wanted, with all his heart, to share what he had received and what he lived with those whom God placed in his path. Once again, Norris reminds us that ” … Like conversion itself: commitment is scary” but God asks us to make a commitment and then to live it. “Maybe the real scariness of conversion lies in admitting that God can work in us however, whenever, and through whatever means God chooses…” [3] Amen.



[1] David M. Griebner, “The Carpenter and the Unbuilder” p. 59-65 Upper Room Books c. 1996.

[2] Kathleen Norris, “Amazing Grace-A Vocabulary of Faith” p. 42 Riverhead Books c. 1998

 

[3] Ibid…p. 42.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.