A Pound of the Eternal in a Paper Sack!Fr. Barnabas Powell
OK, I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about gift bags. I guess I have too many fond memories of my mom laboring over just the right wrapping paper and then getting just the right bow for that paper and then attaching the matching name tag to the gift and then sliding the gift under the tree. She is an artist when it comes to gift wrapping.
But nowadays giving someone a gift is reduced to either a gift card “in a decorative holiday envelope” (how thoughtful!) or even a “gift bag” with a drawstring, just like the garbage bags in the kitchen! (Oh, you shouldn’t have!)
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done both, and I am a bit conflicted because I love the convenience but feel guilty that my “presentation” displays my love of convenience over my thoughtfulness in the gifting.
It’s so hard to give gifts in a modern society awash in abundance. And that fact alone should inform us of both our priorities and our spiritual poverty. True gifts, thoughtful gifts, gifts with actual value seem to be harder and harder to come by in a society that has everything it needs.
I think, for me, the challenge has to become in learning how to see beyond the glitter of consumerism to the authentically valuable “gift” of the person before me. We give meaningless gifts when we lose the ability to see into the real person before us and we forget the “real” person in inside us.
This is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our Epistle Lesson today. His letter to the Corinthian church is written to a group of believers who live in a very prosperous city of the Roman Empire. It’s a trading city with an active sea port and a this city acts as a hub for transporting goods around the Empire. The citizens are from all over the place and it is a cosmopolitan area. It also has a vibrant (if, at times, unruly) Christian congregations.
St. Paul reminds them : “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:6-15
We have “this treasure” in earthen vessels. Of course the treasure he is referring to is our faith in Christ, our gift of eternal life given to us by Christ. So, the first step in recovering from this blindness of our lives is waking up to the gift that has already been given to us by God.
In fact, St. Paul goes on to suggest that the only reason he has been able to survive and stay faithful to Christ even in the face of all his hardships and difficulties is precisely because of this foundational awareness of the “treasure” given to him by Christ.
He then goes even further and says that the very ability he has to keep going in spite of being “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” is because, not of his own strength or ability, but the “transcendent power” that belongs to God. Even his faithfulness St. Paul regards as part of the “treasure” given to him by Jesus!
Then, he reveals the most shocking truth of all. He says all of this tragedy in his life may be leading to his own death, but it, ultimately, means life to these precious believers in Corinth. And he can say this because he truly understands and values the “treasure” given to him by Christ in the faith St. Paul holds. Amazing perspective overcomes shallow blindness every time!
Today, especially as we approach that “gift-giving” season, stop and realize the wisdom of the Church in setting before us the “gift” of Winter Lent. On the 15th of November we begin our purposeful approach to the Feast of the Nativity. We begin the fasting disciplines of the Faith that brush aside the all-too-easy clutter of shallow blindness to the revelation of the “treasure” already gifted to us in Christ. We fast to overcome the temptations of perpetual plenty and “see” the treasure put in the earthen vessels of our lives. Created from the dust of the earth, we humans “house” the Uncreated Image of Him Who made us and loved us! And now we purposefully recognize this “treasure” and value it properly in our lives.
Today, you have within you a “treasure” you must come to fully appreciate. All of the work of the Faith is meant to drive that point home to you. And today, you are invited to begin to see that “treasure” in your neighbors, family, friends, and, yes, even your enemies. In fact, your ability to be authentically Orthodox Christian hinges on this revelation becoming a reality in your life. As you begin another week, stop, be grateful, say “thank you” to God, and then live out that gratitude in every act, thought, word, and deed.
Who knew that “X” really does mark the spot of the greatest treasure in the universe? Make the sign of the “Cross” and realize the treasure that lies beneath your hands!