The old story goes that the newly-ordained pastor encountered the first death in his parish. The local funeral director informed him there would be only a graveside committal service at a small country cemetery in Iowa. Sadly, the deceased had no family or friends left in Iowa.
The young pastor started early to the cemetery but got lost on the back roads. Finally he made it – a half hour late. The hearse was nowhere in sight and the workmen were relaxing under a nearby tree, eating their lunch.
The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service.
As he walked back to the car, one of the workmen paused between bites of his sandwich and said, “Maybe we should have told him that’s a septic tank.”
Jokes about preachers are as common as those about lawyers. It is perhaps a reminder of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians – that we have this treasure of the gospel in “earthen vessels” (KJV) – “jars of clay” (NIV) – so that the all-surpassing power may be of God.
The message of the gospel is the serious business of joy. Those who preach it and those who hear it must take it seriously. It is the pearl of great price. Jesus, priceless Treasure!
But we who have this treasure and preach it are so frail and breakable, so perishable and plagued by sinful weakness. Christ summons no angels to spread His Good News. He gathers no shining, white models of moral perfection. Recklessly, it seems to us, He chooses, as Paul once put it, the weak things, the foolish things, the despised things – to shame the worldly wise and to make the power of the gospel stand out for what it is.
So if it can happen for the preacher to get the names mixed up at a baptism or wedding…or for the church to credit your gift to your brother-in-law…or for your unchurched neighbor to quote the Bible better than you can…it will! The world calls this Murphy’s Law. The Bible calls it the infirmity of the flesh.
It is a mark of the Bible’s integrity that it does not gloss over the faults and frailties of the heroes of faith, nor paint an idealistic, sanitized account of their lives and labors. Today’s text from Acts highlights the going forth of the gospel amid much human frailty, amid weaknesses we all understand. We shall be both humbled and encouraged as we look at these “jars of clay” who went forth with such a priceless treasure!