Proper 18 – 9-8–2019 – St. Paul’s
Too often we feel as if we have no control over our future. There are numerous other forces at work beyond our control. Worse still, we find it all too convenient to blame someone or something else for how things are turning out. Common targets of such blame are parents, genes, society, diet, music, peers, the Church, multi-national corporations, congress, the White House, the judiciary, the media – the list can go on and on and on.
Against such a fatalistic world view, Jeremiah the prophet was given a metaphor by God in an attempt to establish a more responsible world-view. The people of Judah faced a crisis that would cost them their political independence and lead the people into a generation of slavery in Babylon. Pottery, clay, was as common to manufacturing in Jeremiah’s time some six centuries before Christ as something like steel or plastic is for us today. Such things as bricks, lamps, toys, ovens, roof tiles, figurines, tableware, storage jars, cooking pots, even jewelry were all made of clay.
The Lord God of Israel says to Jeremiah Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words. This would be a familiar image.
This is an invitation for all of us to come, go, see and hear what the Lord has to say. And what we see is the Lord sitting at a potter’s wheel throwing a vessel of clay. It is spoiled, somehow not what the Lord has in mind, so the potter reworks the vessel until it seems good to her. God starts over – God begins again – God begins anew.
The initial lesson is perhaps obvious: God can choose to deal with us – individuals and nations – as God chooses. God has the freedom and the power to shape us and re-shape us. God can simply destroy us or start over with us as God pleases.
What is revolutionary in Jeremiah’s portrayal of this scene is the suggestion further on that the clay, the vessel, we, also makes choices: we can choose to be good or to be evil, we can choose to listen to God’s word or not. Clay cannot choose, but we, individuals and nations, as clay in God’s hands, can and do make choices every day – choices that either reflect God’s will or not. We can choose to repent and return to the Lord’s way, or not.
According to the choices we make –as individuals and as nations – God says, I will change my mind about the good I had intended to do. God as potter wants to do good for us, but when we stray from becoming a vessel that looks good to the potter, the potter can and has and will destroy one vessel to fashion a new one.
The choices we make matter. How we choose effects our future. We are responsible for what happens – we have a moral responsibility for creating the world in which we live.
Jesus makes a similar point to those who would be his disciples. All his talk about hating family, counting the costs and giving up all our possessions takes the importance of God’s choices and Our choices to a whole new place.
Jeremiah calls people to return to traditional moral norms and values – Jesus calls us to go beyond such traditional norms. What Jesus asserts is that living in accord with traditional moral choices is not enough to respond to God’s new movement in their lives. It will involve making choices that seem to make no sense at the time, but will lead the people to shape their future by making such radical new choices in the present.
Our calendar of Feasts and Fasts in the Book of Common Prayer celebrates the lives of individuals who have made such bold choices in an attempt to reshape the future of the church, the nation and the world.
Last Wednesday, we remembered one such individual: Bishop Paul Jones, born in 1880 in the rectory of St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA. In 1914 he was elected bishop of the Missionary District of Utah, at the outbreak of World War I.
Bishop Jones spoke openly of his opposition to the war, expressing his belief that war is unchristian, a position for which he was attacked in the headlines of the Utah press. As a result of his position, a Commission of the House of Bishops investigated Bishop Jones, and in a commission report concluded, The underlying contention of the Bishop of Utah seems to be that war is unchristian. With this general statement the Commission cannot agree. Leave it to the Church to come up with a committee that would make such a conclusion!
The report called for his resignation, and in the spring of 1918 Bishop Jones resigned as Bishop of Utah. For the next 23 years, however, until his death in 1941, he continued a ministry within the church and society dedicated to peace and conscience, speaking always with a conviction rooted in the Gospel. That ministry is called the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
Where I serve the church is of small importance, so long as I can make my life count in the cause of Christ, he said in his farewell to the Missionary District of Utah.
We all pray for a world without war, without violence, without the kinds of hatred and thirst for power that leads us into one conflict after another. God keeps sending us one voice after another with names like Gandhi, King, Day, Berrigan, McCalister and Jones. We sing, You are the potter, we are the clay, the work of your hands…. Forgetting, perhaps, that we have the choice to be molded by God’s hands, or not. Or not leads to war, global warming, poverty, racism, etc.
God’s choices, our choices, new choices – Jesus challenges us to shape our future by the choices we make in the present. Jeremiah and Jesus both offer a hopeful view of the future by saying the choices we make in the present will shape our future. It is up to no one else but us – one choice at a time – to join with God in creating the world God wants this to be.
The art of congregational life is about starting with who we are and what life has given and done to us, and discovering together, through the imagination of God, a form we would never otherwise have assumed.
I enjoy looking and pondering works of art. One reason is that it reminds me that we are God’s artifacts—sometimes beautiful, challenging, profound, incomplete, delicate, or mysterious. As we return again and again to magnificent art works, which stretch our understanding of material, form, and idea, we turn even more inspired to one another, seeing new treasures, absorbing texture, and rewarding relationship.
What is St. Paul’s and the church in general except a community in which we see the artist at work refining, caressing, transforming, remolding, and restoring? Artworks invite, inspire, and provoke us to allow the Holy Spirit to make us into something good and beautiful and true.
Which of us can say that we are not vessels that are broken in the potter’s hands?
Which of us cannot say, looking at the idea of a church as a community in which people are being transformed by the artistry of God, that our deepest longing is to be remolded by that potter into something even more beautiful?
This church is being continuously remolded into something which looks more and more like the beloved community in the Kingdom of God.
“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” May we come, go down and listen. Amen.
Friends in Christ,
come apart from the chaos for a while,
and linger in the presence of God who is our source of life.
God calls us to renew ourselves, and to find our life’s purpose.
The One who has made us would not have us journey alone.
We gather as a sacred community of love,
together on the quest
to know God’s hope for our lives and for this church.
May we truly seek to live more faithfully
as Christ’s family,
listening for the voice of God in our midst
It is time to share a portion of our earnings.
Let us get excited for God has blessed us
to make a deposit into the Kingdom.
Remember, we can’t beat God’s giving
no matter how we try.
Let us cheerfully share our gifts
As we walk in love…..
With empty hands and open hearts,
go forth to follow Jesus
in love and service to the world