The Pas 16th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 23
Proper 18 – Ordinary/Lectionary 23 – Pentecost + 16
4 September 2016
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 BAS 896
Almighty God, you search us and know us: may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the reading from Jeremiah, this morning, we see the potter at work. We see him in the act of throwing clay, of making objects out of clay, using a potter’s wheel. In fact, we see this potter at work by God’s direction. God has told Jeremiah, told each one of us to go and watch the potter at his work, at his wheel.
“So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jer 18:3-4)
Now, those of us who have the skills to engage in such tactile crafts and skills know that what we want to do with such substances as clay, paint, and carving doesn’t always turn out, and something else emerges from that creative process.
In some cases, the artist, craftsperson is happy with that new object that has emerged from the paint, the clay, the stone or wood. Today, however, the clay is a metaphor by God to show us how we are still a work in progress, that we need God as much as the clay needs the potter. But, in saying that, for as much as the potter attempts to form the clay into something beautiful and at the same time useful, the clay didn’t want to be formed in that way, and so another form had to be decided by the potter.
Today’s lesson from Jeremiah shows us how God perceives the people of Israel, as the potter perceives the clay in his hands, and on his wheel – something that is never in its true form, and is able to be reformed, recreated, even reimagined into something new.
The interesting part is that God is talking about the people of Israel. Jeremiah is hearing about how God sees the people, but God’s perception is that the people, like the original pot in the potters hands, hasn’t turned out as imagined and a new pot will have to be formed from that same clay.
When we look at the events that have dominated our news in the past few weeks, we can see many similarities to what Jeremiah is being shown, today, as well.
Our community is stressing itself out over the loss of Tolko, and the jobs related to that industry. Then there is the news that the casino will be relocating in the next couple of years, leaving our community.
We have heard of discussions with the provincial and federal government representatives, in order to attempt to provide some kind of social safety net for the community in this time of uncertainty. In addition, the news has reported that there is the reemergence of the CDC, with this current local administration, to strive to provide ideas of new industry, or even new applications for the current Tolko property.
And in all of this effort to look to the future, to look to the possibilities that are contained within our community, within those who make up the community, we can see a similarity with the reading from Jeremiah for today.
And what Jeremiah shows us is a potter at work. A potter, whose final creations aren’t always what comes first to his mind; but rather what forms in his hands, sometimes needing to be taken back to the lump of clay and reformed, again, and again, and yet again. Formed over and over until the desired form comes to his hands, and so makes it to the ovens to be fired.
But what does this say about us, not just as a community in flux, at the moment, but individuals within that community?
How are we being formed, and reformed by these experiences? Where are we finding our sense of hope in this time of community distress and panic?
“Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” (Jer 18:5-6)
Looking at today’s readings, it may be difficult to find hope, until, listening to the gospel, we focus on Jesus, we focus on the cross, and we focus on the work God is doing. The work of God, not only in each of our hearts and lives like the clay, like Jesus words to encourage good disciples, but in all of creation to help us see our role as stewards, and as the children of God.
While I was writing today’s sermon the movie “Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters” played in the background. This is a movie aimed at youth, where all of the characters are the human-ish offspring of the Greek gods.
At one point, their camp was at risk from Greek monsters and the son of Poseidon sitting next to his newly discovered cyclops of a half-brother hears, from his newly discovered sibling “Hey, you ok? Don’t worry. Camp will be okay. You got to have faith, right?”
Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by sources of hope, from our literature, from our entertainment, from the word of God, from God’s guiding in our lives directly, even from the calm we can find in our hearts when we contemplate creation. The difficult part is looking beyond our current circumstances, to see the hope that God is sending our way.
However, this is God, who is the potter in Jeremiah’s lesson, so we have to remember that we, as the clay will, in some way be reshaped, reformed, and repurposed by God for God’s plans.
When we were in the process of electing our new bishop, I talked of eschatology – the end of times, yet at the same time, the beginning of times. Not only does eschatology meet us every day, when we look in the mirror, when we make choices in our lives that change how we do or see things around us, but this is a time of eschatology for the community as we contemplate the changes in the industry and of employment for our town and region.
In our gospel for today, we find “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’” (Lk 14:25-27)
Now, I have to admit, this isn’t an easy message to hear. How often in reading our gospels do we encounter God using the word “hate” in regards to our attachments to people, places, and even our own lives. However, Jesus does this with a greater message, a greater call, a greater vocation in mind.
Where Jeremiah is pointing out to us that our lives are able to be dramatically reformed at the will of God, as the clay is formed by the potter, we have to remember that the clay doesn’t always work in the potter’s hands as the potter would wish.
Jesus is telling us that to being attached to our lives, and our families blindly and not seeing anything, aside from our attachments, will hold us back from being what he envisions for the lives, roles and tasks ahead of the disciples in the spread of God’s message across the face of the earth.
I mean how would it look if Peter, the rock upon which the church is built, a disciple of God, refused to give up his fishing practice? How would Christianity have taken root in Jerusalem? Where would Peter have been when the Holy Spirit was in the upper room appearing as tongues of flame over the h3eads of all gathered there? Would he have been at the Sea of Galilee haling in and grading for sale his latest catch? Who, then would have given that rousing speech of how these people, blessed by the Holy Spirit with the gift of languages weren’t drunk but enthusiastic with the love of God.
Jesus looks at the crowds of people following him, and knows that they want miracles that will change their lives with the snap of his fingers. In the same way, some in the community, right now, would wish for miracles that will change lives, that will revolutionize the community, that will give jobs and opportunities to advancement to all who would want them, once more putting The Pas on the map.
And for one crazy moment, in all of this uncertainty, perhaps this is what God has given us? Sure, Tolko will soon be leaving our community, but perhaps in God’s grand scheme of things, this will give The Pas and OCN the chance to pull together; to find new solutions, together; to grow our communities, together.
In opposition to this we will always find those who long for the return of what they had, those who will always find another to blame for their errors, for their problems, for their lack of moving forward in life.
Jesus points out that we need to focus on the tasks at hand, as the potter concentrates on the creation that emerges from the clay in his hands. We need to look out for more than just our own or our family bodily needs. Yes, they’re important, but we are a community of more than just one family, more than one individual, more than the needs of one.
Today, we, our community, ourselves, are the clay on the potter’s wheel, we are being poked and prodded, shaped and smoothed, spun and formed. It’s an uncomfortable process, but we are being shaped and given purpose.
Jesus reminds us “28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Lk 18:28-30)
Jesus also tells us, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62) One who does that, who looks at the furrough ploughed instead of the ground to be ploughed will not make straight furroughs.
We are currently in a state of unease, an eschatological place and time. We are in the stage of anticipating a loss that has not yet happened and there are a lot of unhelpful finger pointing emotions that tend to go along with such a time of change.
The world is before us, change has come upon us, and will give us the opportunity to grow and to become something we never envisioned for ourselves. But this future will take planning, it will take the participation of the whole community, and it will take time to put all of the pieces in order.
God will walk with us through this time of uncertainty, fear, and change, and in the end, when the community emerges from this moment, we will stand strong, together.
We are the clay on the potter’s wheel. We are the ones in the crowd hearing Jesus words telling us to not be too attached to the lives we currently live, because in all things, in all ways, God is with us, guiding us, forming us on the wheel, helping us to become something we may have never imagined we have the ability to become.
Is this an easy process? Absolutely not.
Is this a worthwhile process? If it benefits all of God’s people and God’s creation, then how can it not be worthwhile?
All we have to do is trust God, consult with each other, look for God’s hand in the solutions that are presented, and remember the words of a cyclops to his demigod sibling: “Hey, you ok? Don’t worry. [Everything] will be okay. You got to have faith, right?”