The Agony of the Tea Leaves

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from 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 made visible 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 made visible in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

It was at a celebration of Pat’s life that I learned about “the agony of the tea leaves.” Pat was still very much alive in her long battle with cancer as we gathered to celebrate her life in a church hall. We told stories about Pat, laughing and crying, while we munched on goodies and drank tea.

It was then we were told about what tea lovers call “the agony of the tea leaves.” We learned that it is “agony” that sets apart the brewed, perfect cup of tea from insipid tea in a bag. The agony is that moment stored oils of tea leaves are released with all of their aromas and flavors.

Hearing about the agony of the tea leaves that night, helped us to better understand what we had been seeing in Pat’s life. Her long months of chemotherapy, radiation, suffering and uncertainty, released winsome character and joy. Through those difficult days Pat’s dogged faith and perseverance blessed all who knew her.

Pat comes to mind as I ponder today’s scripture describing what agony releases in God’s children. Notice the words of the apostle Paul emphasizing the intensity of his agony. Each verb Paul uses grows in the depth of his pain: “afflicted – perplexed – – persecuted – struck down.” Yet in all of his agony Paul can say, “not crushed – not driven to despair – not forsaken – not destroyed.”    

Paul speaks here of the wondrous mystery at the heart of our Christian faith, i.e. our experiences of “death” release the “life of Jesus” in us. Our adversity actually manifests Christ’s power “made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and martyr who experienced the life of Jesus released in his agony. In his Letters from Prison Bonhoeffer writes:

 “I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe God will give us all the strength we need to resist in times of distress, but he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on Him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future. I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are turned to good account.”

Those gathered that night to celebrate Pat’s life had seen the resurrection power of Jesus released in her daily struggle. We came to better appreciate that God does give the strength we need, when we need it. Through Pat’s life the sweet aroma of grace and Gospel good news were released. God made known to us, as he made known to Paul: “the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

Sweet memories of Pat and a life revealing the resurrection power of Jesus in trouble!

A fellow traveler,
Tim

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