Sunday, September 04, 2016

Sermon; 16 Pentecost/Proper 18C; Jeremiah 18:1-11

This reading from Jeremiah can seem to portray God as the omnipotent potter or puppeteer who does what he wills and we have no say in any of it.  It can be read in an unfortunate, free-will absent, Calvinistic, predestinational way.  God will do what he wills with us.  God will do what he wills to us.  As Judas sang in Jesus Christ Superstar, “Everything is fixed and you can't change it.”

That is a hopeless, helpless, and careless view of God, and a view I choose not to follow.

There are a few things in this reading that indicate this is not a monstrously Calvinistic reflection of predestination.  First, notice that God doesn't dictate words to Jeremiah.  God doesn't say, “Speak these words to Israel.”  Instead, God says, “Go down to the potter's house and I will let you hear my words.”

Jeremiah went to the potter's house where he watched him mold clay.  The word of the Lord can come to us in some surprising places; all we have to do is be open to listening.  I’ve mentioned this before, but this is what I’ve referred to as, “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.”  Jeremiah heard the voice of God while watching a potter at work – one of the most ordinary things he could have done.

And what did he see?  He saw the potter begin shaping a vessel and, when that didn't work out, shaping another.  By now we've probably all heard songs or poems or sermons about God being the potter and we are his clay.  I won't disagree with that.  But, as usual, there's more to it than just that simple, homey image.

Notice that, as clay, we don't change.  Clay remains clay throughout the process.  We remain us as we allow God to work with us.  Clay can be re-molded over and over again.  So can we, if we allow it.  Our outer nature may change, but we are still us.  Clay starts out as a hard lump, difficult to work with, and it gets easier over time.  We can be the same way.  We are a lump that God has trouble working with; but over time, it does get easier.

Maybe that's where the change comes from – the more we get used to having God work in our lives, the easier and more refined and defined we become.  Which, of course, means the more willing we are to be shaped by God, the easier it is to live into that which God is shaping us.

And finally, there's a tenderness in God's voice here.  Go to the potter's house and I will let you hear my voice.  If you live rightly, I will change my mind.  Turn and amend your ways.  There's a sense of pleading here on God's part.  There's a sense that we are in this together.  It's not all about punishment and wrath.  There is the sense and knowledge that God allows us to behave as we wish, but in allowing that free will, a sense of sadness at choosing to live apart from God.

I think this passage applies equally to us today as it was meant to apply to the people of Israel in Jeremiah's day.  First, we need to listen for the extraordinary voice of God in the ordinariness of our every day lives.  I’m reminded of that great psalm of praise here that heard the extraordinary voice of God in the ordinary of every day life:

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

God is everywhere if we but open our eyes and ears.

Second, we are God's clay.  Sometimes we are hard to work with.  Sometimes what was planned doesn't come out just right or isn't right for a particular job or there's another thing we can become altogether.  And like clay, the more we allow God to work with us, the more easily we can be molded.

Finally, God is pleading with us to make right choices.  God is not dictating the choices we make, but God does desire we make right choices.  Sometimes those choices are easy – don't steal, don't kill, don't bear false witness.  Other times the choices we make are not always as clear.

St. Luke's is in a period of fuzzy decision making.  Or maybe I should say that St. Luke's is needing to make good decisions in a period of fuzziness.  And the only advice I can give you is this:

Listen for God in your daily life;
Allow yourselves to be molded and shaped often enough so that being formed into something new isn't a painful experience;
Understand that God really does want the best for you.

Because this reading from Jeremiah isn't a reflection on predestination, it's a reflection on being willing to hear an extraordinary God in ordinary places and allowing yourself to be molded into what God has in mind for you.



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