Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Jesus Field...


 “The Jesus Field”

 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar.

32:2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah,

32:3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

32:6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me:

32:7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours."

32:8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.

32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.


32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;

32:12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.

32:13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying,

32:14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.

32:15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

 

The commentaries tell us that this chapter begins with an historical “place marker” that puts this prophecy of judgment around 588 B.C.E, just before the second siege of Jerusalem, and just before the eventual fall of the city in 587. Remember that prophets aren’t sent to warn the people that if they don’t repent, something WILL happen, but to tell them the water is already over the dam, and the result of their disobedience is about to befall them. That is the case here—Jerusalem will fall. 

 

We can get into a big theological debate over whether God is “causing” the fall of Jerusalem as a punishment (judgment) against the people, whether God is “permitting” it to happen, or whether God is sending the prophet to bring the “word” that it WILL happen, because the people’s disobedience has set it up. I guess we could all agree that God does at least “permit” it to happen, because it does, and this goes to whether your theology requires God to be involved in every happening, or whether God is capable of “sitting out” an occurrence as a kind of divine spectator, letting God’s children learn a tough lesson they brought upon themselves. I tend toward the latter argument, and I think this fits in more with the Judeo-Christian idea of deity who tends to “act” more human (anthropomorphic) rather than as the “unmoved mover” of the Greco-Roman world. I think our people have been mostly schooled in the latter, but hope for the former, and it is up to us as preachers to connect them with the more biblical view of God. 

 

The problem with the “unmoved mover” view of God is that God is detached in this model. A detached God too easily becomes a distant God, not affected to any great degree by the suffering of human creature, and most especially when it comes to the one. This God is “high and lifted up,” as Isaiah stated, and doesn’t seem like the type to take a “field trip” into the middle of the human condition. This God is also a rule-maker, predominantly. On one hand, the rules are “commanded” to keep human beings from wiping each other out, thus preserving the whole of creation. On the other hand, the rules “handed down” divinely by deity may be viewed as “what makes God happy,” and therefore we are coerced to obey them by this “on high” authority. The Hellenistic society of Jesus’ day would affirm this “in charge” view of God, and its leaders took their authority from a god like that and transferred it downward, empowering their leadership over their lesser “subjects.” Maybe this is why Jesus arrived when he did? Maybe this gravitation of the human species toward the “divine authority” of God signaled such a threat to the future of it that God saw this as “the fullness of time,” the appropriate era to intervene in human history.

 

The Jews had a quite different view of God, as I alluded to earlier. They saw themselves as so connected to their Creator that it was unimaginable to think of life without God. They obeyed God’s commands simply because it was a sign of both respect and honor to the one who was the “source” of all that was precious to them, and when they neglected God’s commands, it was more likely that their “sin” was taking God’s continuous presence with them so much for granted that they felt immune from any negative effects of doing so, kind of like the teenager who regularly steps one step beyond what is safe. Jews worship God, but they also argue with God. They keep God’s commandments, but they also push the edges of that “envelope” in experiencing life and standing up for justice. Jews believe in God’s divine power, but believe God has told them to “fix the world”—a loose translation of the Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam. Thanks to millennia of “life with God,” they believe as much in God’s ability and willingness to “pull them back from the brink” as they do in God’s good guidance to safer paths. The prophets served at both ends of this “risk vs. reward” continuum. This is why they generally weren’t popular in their day, and yet are venerated by the Jewish faith community today.

 

With that in mind, let’s talk about hope again! Even when the most horrible thing that Israel can imagine—the fall of Jerusalem—is about to occur, the message from the prophet is one of hope for what God will next do to help them pick up the pieces. As we learned earlier in Jeremiah, God will not give up on the “clay,” and will keep trying to rework it, if we give ascent to this. The commentators also remind us that the prophets often “give the word” by carrying out some symbolic action, in this case, Jeremiah buys a field. When a siege is underway, and the fall of the capital city is imminent, putting money into real estate seems like a really bad idea, but this is the point! There is a future for Israel, for Jerusalem, and God will help them rebuild their land. 

 

Think about a time when you, or someone you love did something like Jeremiah as a hopeful gesture when things looked bleak. I remember when I was a kid, we were about to leave on a family vacation (which were always just “get in the car and go” affairs, with little planning, other than a possible destination, or two in mind). We were waiting for the mail to arrive with my dad’s commission check, the day we were to leave. The check arrived, but due to a dishonest manager he had at that time, it was about HALF of what he was counting on. I remember my mother bursting into tears, and telling us kids were weren’t going to be able to go on vacation. We started to cry, too. My dad stepped in and boldly announced: “No, we’re GOING! Let’s load the car!” We were as excited as mom was perplexed. It had been a difficult year, with my dad’s company moving its headquarters to a faraway state, and his losing his job, unless he chose to move, too. He had taken a new job as an insurance salesman, and was living on commission, which proved to be quite a change from a steady paycheck, and a parasitic boss didn’t help. I’m guessing that the vacation we eventually took was much scaled down from what the original “plans” encompassed, but we kids didn’t know any better, and we had a blast! This is Jeremiah’s field. How about you? I’ll bet you have a few stories of your own that can well explain the “hopeful action” of Jeremiah in this text!

 

Hope is a powerful thing—maybe one of the most potent forces in the universe. It rescues those in distress and gives rise to super-human coping skills on one end, and absolute heroism, on the other. As Paul said, “hope does not disappoint.” And as another Paul reminded us, hope helps us “take a sad song and make it better.” 

 

If you tuned in the most recent Ken Burns special on PBS—the episode on the Holocaust--you saw how the people who were almost wiped clean from the face of the earth—the Jews—rode the beam of hope to persist, survive, and to thrive again. For many who survived, it was some specific element of hope that provided the extra energy to overcome the hate and horror of the Nazis. In his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl tells his story (and that of others) of Nazi death camp survival. Frankl says that every day, he imagined himself standing at the front of a university class teaching psychology to his students. This image was the seed of hope that he needed to persist. For those who were not outright murdered by the Nazis, survival was almost always connected with hope. 

 

With all of this in mind, we come to the “Jesus field.” Could there be anything greater than God sending God’s own Son into our world to bring not just a word, but actions of hope for all of humankind? This time, God chose not to just send a prophet, but to “come himself” into our realm. In doing so, God buys the ultimate field of hope! The price God pays for this field, and for the salvation it brought to us all, was extremely high—Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. But it must have also been a great sacrifice for Jesus to “empty himself” of all of the “perks” of life in God’s realm to “tent” among us. The “field” that God bought becomes a beachhead against sin, evil, and suffering. Even those who may not yet fully believe in or accept the redeeming grace of God in Jesus Christ have hope that this grace is so monumental that they may never be shut out from it. And even the act of recognizing this, on their part, may actually provide their redemption. Jesus made clear the lessons of Judaism that God desires a relationship with us, but until an individual “gets it,” they are free to receive God’s pardon. Grace is that big. Few of the people Jesus heals and redeems asks for it, but they gladly accepted it. So it is with many today. Still, God’s ultimate aim is to relate to us as loving Creator to loved creatures. We have so over-empathized the idea of “original sin” and how it separated us from God, we have missed the “bigger picture” of what God really wants—to restore the kind of relationship between God and the creation—including us—that first existed. In this understanding, sin is anything that attenuates or blocks the reconciliation of this relationship, not just the “big nasty acts” that we tend to focus on. Salvation is less “forgiveness” than it is “disinfecting” any “disease” that harms our relationship with God and others. Unfortunately, the lure of the kind of “sins” that distance us from God is too often the illegitimate power they give us for self-determination and selfish gain. 

 

The “Jesus field” is not a cemetery for unrepentant “sinners,” but a field of dreams for all of God’s people. In establishing it here on earth, God never gives up hope for the restoration of God’s relationship with all of humankind. In fact, Jesus’ teachings make clear that this hope belongs to all of us, and even as it got Israel through its most challenging—and even life-threatening—times, it will see us all through, as well. If you are already in a loving relationship with Christ, hope is a tool available to you when “life happens.” If you are still one of those engaged in “independently” exploring life, not yet ready to yield to God’s saving grace, hope is for you a “lighthouse” beacon, pulsing often enough that you do not lose your way. The cash crop of the “Jesus Field” is hope. Amen!

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Not Exactly a Kodak moment...



“Not Exactly a Kodak Moment”

 

Amos 8:4-7
8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

8:5 saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,

8:6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat."

8:7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

 

Last week, we had fun with some images from one of my favorite TV shows, Seinfeld. Billed as a “show about nothing,” it turns out it well-illustrated all five of the lection passages last week by actually being a “show about everything,” just like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as they both are about relationships. Nothing is as important in life as our relationships, beginning with our relationship with God, followed by a healthy relationship within ourselves, and then, of course, with our friends, family, and significant others. Life without relationships is not only unhealthy, it is virtually impossible. I was pondering last week’s message this week, and thinking of the one “unpardonable sin” mentioned in the Bible, something called “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” There are a whole lot of hair-brained ideas about what that is, but I always thought it was pretty simple—a person who just keeps denying God’s attempts to love them and reconcile them, right up until there is no more time left, is probably “guilty” of this “sin.” It isn’t as much a “sin” as an eternal sadness, especially on God’s part. The closest thing I can think of in the human realm  would be a parent who deeply loves a child who gets caught up in an addiction to, say, drugs, and the harder that parent tries to embrace and “save” the child, the more they resist and pull away. I can’t imagine anything as painful as what that parent experiences if that offspring resists until they succumb to the addiction. There is such emptiness in that, and the grief is deep beyond imagination. “Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” must be like an addiction to resisting the grace of God and pushing God away until there is no more time left. How deeply grieved God must be. You see where I’m going—this “unforgivable sin” is just shutting out the saving power of relationship until there are no more chances to reconcile. 

 

One of the positive things about writing my “retirement sermons” for this blog is that I can do stuff like I just did—share some of my personal ruminations with you from a previous message. I would have never tried that in the pulpit, as it would have been too obfuscating for the current week’s message. I hope that hasn’t happened here, as we look to the Amos passage!

 

What got me off on that tangent was thinking about how light-hearted the Seinfeld message was, compared with the stern indictment of the “minor” prophet Amos, this week! A reminder that “minor” prophets are only labeled thusly because they weren’t as gassy as the “major” prophets with their narrative. Amos is a good example of short and hostile. Major prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah tell stories, use allegory, and do their best to hook the hearts of the reader/listeners to “over hear” what they are trying to say to the people of God on God’s behalf. Minor prophets sent “tweets” more like “yield signs,” or in many cases, just a big, red “STOP” sign. They weren’t so much elegant as “electric,” like a charged cow fence. Unlike the major prophets, who often reminded Israel of the “Kodak moments” when all was well, with an eye to cajoling the people to return to the scene of the nice photo, the minor prophets are one of those hidden traffic cameras that catches you in the act and sends you a copy of the photo of you sinning boldly, with an accompanying “judgment.” Ever see the Mythbusters episode where they tried all of the rumored ways to “beat” one of those computerized traffic cameras? None of them worked. So it is with the minor prophets, and so it is in what we read today from Amos.

 

Amos not so subtly states his charge right up front: God’s gonna’ get you for taking advantage of the poor. He then gives a brief example of how Israel will do this, and then in the last verse warns that God will never forget any of their deeds. When I first read this, my initial assumption that the prophet is saying that angering God by taking advantage of the poor (180 degrees from what God COMMANDS they do for the poor and the “sojourner”) will bring God’s judgment for doing so. But if you read it again, one may come to the conclusion that the prophet is saying that “trampling on the needy” may totally negate God’s willingness to forgive any of the people’s sins. Not THAT’S a serious deal, akin to “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” in the New Testament corpus. As I related in an earlier message, nothing is as scary as the parable of Jesus where a guy is forgiven a great debt by his master, and then he goes out and has some poor schlep who owes him a five-spot thrown into debtors’ prison because he can’t repay him. This is pretty much what is going on here, only in the future tense. If God restores the fortunes of Israel, and they use this as an opportunity to scam the poor by using smaller containers to sell them grain, and then boosting the price for less quantity, God will be very, very upset with these people and will never forget their sins. Friends, no one wants a “Kodak moment” like that! Personally, I want God to forgive and forget my sins as far as the East is from the West. Amos is not only warning Israel here, but is telling us all what really hacks God off—“trampling on the needy.” Are we guilty of such things?

 

The appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday an Op-Ed piece by an architectural designer by the name of Adam Paul Susaneck, who writes a stirring “expose” of modern “urban renewal.” Susaneck points out that in the 1960s, when urban renewal became a “thing” in most of our larger cities, homes were taken from predominantly Black and Brown people under the process of eminent domain, and bulldozed to create new highways and modern “urban centers” that mostly benefitted white people. Persons of color were inadequately compensated for their properties, pushed out of their homes and indigenous neighborhoods (which were often also bulldozed), and then “redlined” from being allowed to purchase property in the growing “suburbs,” which were mostly becoming homes to “white flight,” or the white people moving out of the cities. Persons of color were either just “sent away” to fend for themselves, or were forced into  government-built tenements that ruined their culture and superimposed its own on them. The unrest and poverty this action created caused crime rates to increase, and civic leaders responded by building larger fences and hiring more police, even going to the point of “militarizing” them. In some cases, where persons of color were not necessarily uprooted, huge new highways and overpasses were built, catering to the growing popularity of the automobile, and cutting off the Black and Brown neighborhoods from the rest of the “renewing” urban landscape. 

 

I attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, located in East Liberty. Back in the 1960s, urban renewal there meant closing off the downtown, building a multi-lane “circle” of roads around it, and putting all the parking out of the city. The theory was that persons could drive to the “renewed” East Liberty, circle the downtown in your car, park it in one of the new “outer rim” parking areas, and then walk into the new “urban mall” on foot. Honestly, it wasn’t even a practical theory then, but it’s what they built, and businesses downtown began to fail, because people weren’t willing to navigate the traffic patterns and often didn’t feel save walking into the downtown, especially at night. Even the police couldn’t drive into the center of the city, which gave way to rising crime rates. In the ensuing years, East Liberty almost died. Sometime just before I attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the f1980s, downtown East Liberty was opened up again, and with traffic flowing, it began to recover. However, much damage had already been done to the fabric of the city, and persons of color had again been displaced or “cut off” by this urbanization.

 

If Amos were alive today, he’d be taking his message of “trampling on the needy” to city councils and these “urban planners,” offering his strong warning. I wish I could share some good news that we have learned from these “urban renewal” projects of the 60s, but NO, the article by Susaneck covered a variety of BRAND NEW urban projects going on around the country that will potentially be just as destructive to neighborhood cultures and persons of color as those of the earlier era! He “lowlights” a big urban road project going on in Houston, one of the nations fastest growing cities, that will cut off or destroy several large, predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. The Biden administration, invoking the Civil Rights Act, has placed a freeze on the project, but since the infrastructure bill that was passed frees up billions of dollars for “urban renewal,” this may be nothing but a “finger in the dike.” Oh, and East Liberty? A number of low-income high-rise apartments have been raised to make way for an upscale “regentrification” of that area, and low income persons—most especially Black persons and families—are being forced out again. “Urban Renewal” is just one huge example of how we continue to “trample on the needy,” to make way for better life and higher profits for “the chosen.” There are more.

 

Car companies are “upsizing” their vehicles again. Ford, GM, and Chrysler are all killing off lower cost, small sedans in favor of SUVs and trucks. And even as we push for more electric cars to help save the environment, all of these “new designs” are far more expensive than, say, a Ford Focus or a Chevy Spark. And with the vehicle shortage brought about by the COVID pandemic, used car prices are through the roof. Who is mostly being affected by this? Again, low income persons! The continued popularity of automobiles has also marginalized public transportation, making it less and less viable. And how to the “needy” among us travel when it’s too far to walk? You guessed it—the bus.

 

Check out the grocery store shelves. Inflation aside, we see more and more food being packaged in smaller packages, but with escalating prices. Bacon, for example, is really expensive, and much of it is packaged in 12 ounce packages, instead of one pound ones. Likewise with cereal, laundry detergents, and certain other staples. “New and Improved” usually means “you get less and will pay more.” Again, it is the low income persons who suffer the most.

 

If we turn the binoculars around and look at the “macro” picture, we might hear Amos’ warnings aimed at the larger question on income and wealth inequity. The systems we have built—at least here in the United States—are designed to make it easier for the already-well-healed to become even bigger “heals,” while it preys on the middle class and the poor. Much has been written about the “shrinking middle class,” but what is really happening is that those on the upper half of the traditional middle class are fighting to move into the more monied group at the top, because they don’t want to slide into the “needier” group below. Unfortunately, the “lie” that is being proffered, that “anyone” can be financially successful, is pushing something it will never deliver, and those who do not make it ”up,” will most assuredly fall down, and this is especially true of the traditionally marginalized groups such as women and persons of color. The “system” we have evolved gives a wonderfully “high tech” look to “trampling on the needy,” doesn’t it? Keep your eyes open, people. When you hear someone extoling the virtues of how “anyone” can be a great success in America, look at the color of their skin and the content of their bank account. Amos and Martin Luther King, Jr. will both be rolling over in their graves.

 

How do you think God feels about all of this? Amos would say, “Not too good.” So would Jesus, I’m afraid. When he talked about “causing the little ones to stumble” and “not giving a cup of cold water to the least of these,” what do you think he was saying? My educated guess is that 99.999% of you reading this message are middle class folk, and probably mostly white. What can we do? We certainly can give to charity and volunteer to help those less fortunate, but we’re probably not going to make too many waves in the sea of poverty, as we just don’t control the lion’s share of the resources. But we can VOTE, and we are the largest voting bloc in the country! What if we acted like righteous persons and started putting people in power who would work for fairness for all of God’s people? Voting for those who have a plan for creating more equity in America, and giving everyone a chance at a quality education? Stood up to protest against “urban renewal” projects that displace low-income persons and persons of color? Organized to expand widely the “privilege” we have enjoyed as white people in middle class America? Might we head off the judgment Amos warns of? 

 

I know this: it IS time to stop putting persons in power who “practice deceit,” as Amos says—those who claim to be for all the people, but who clearly represent those with enough money to keep them in power, and who are “colorblind,” but in the most prejudicial way you can imagine. We in the middle class can do that, but we must be willing to move out of our “bubble.” Oh, and remember, that “bubble” is protecting less and less of us, as our “power” is being drained off to feed those at the top of the Darwinian financial and political ladder.

 

If we continue to grieve God with our “trampling of the needy,” we will at some point pass the line of “no return.” We will have “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” to the point that we run out of time to fix things. I don’t know what that will look like, but between pandemics, financial crashes, and runaway inflation, maybe we are seeing a sample of it? Let us “turn from our wicked ways” and seek reconciliation with the Divine, AND the Divine in our fellow human neighbors, before it’s too late.

 

Not exactly a “Kodak moment,” is it? 

 

PRAYER: Dear God, help your people heed the words of the prophet Amos and wake up. Prompt us to get over ourselves and fulfilling only OUR desires, that have resulted in “trampling the needy” all around us. Show us the wisdom to reverse the trends that make this worse; give us the “want to” to make it better for all of your beloved people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

A Show about EVERYTHING...


 “A Show About Everything”

 OK, friends, we’re going to have a bit of fun in this week’s sermon. At least I HOPE it will be fun? As many of you already know, I measure most of the important things in my life by how it relates to a favorite movie or TV show, having grown up in front of an old, black and white, Crosley TV, and later, one of the first color TVs in Oil City, PA (my dad was a “gadget” freak, like me, having bought one of the first color TVs, and was the first dad I knew to trade the family sedan in on a red convertible). SO, this week, is Seinfeld week in my commentary, the legendary TV sitcom that billed itself as "a show about nothing." The New Common Lectionary texts this week each reminded me of a personality from that historic sitcom. If you are not a Seinfeld fan, what’s WRONG with you? No, seriously, you can ignore that part of my verbiage, and I hope the rest may be helpful. Here we go…

 

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

4:11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse--

4:12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

4:22 "For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good."

4:23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.

4:24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.

4:25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.

4:26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

4:27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

4:28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

 

This is the “Frank Costanza” text. He’s the father of George, one of the central characters. Frank was played by comedian Jerry Stiller as a short-tempered, swift to render judgment kind of guy. In the “Festivus for the Rest of Us” episode, he announces to the assembled dinner guests during the “Airing of Grievances” (part of his made-up holiday, “Festivus”), "I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" 

 

Don’t you wonder if Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld (both Jewish) “borrowed” from biblical themes when they wrote this show? Frank Costanza’s “airing of grievances” sounds EXACTLY like what the prophet Jeremiah is saying in this text, on behalf of God! Here are the specific “grievances”:

 

*”My people are foolish…they are stupid children…they are skilled in doing evil…”

 

*Their lousy behavior has even “laid waste” to the earth (which God had made and called “good,” remember, before WE got ahold of it?)

 

*The people are so bad, even NATURE has “run away” from them (“all the birds of the air had fled”)

 

*The earth and the cosmos have turned their backs on us (“Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black”)

 

God is setting up for the “Feats of Strength,” wherein God will allow the results of what the people have “sown” to come upon them. It seems that Israel is in a never-ending wrestling match with the Almighty, a test of “who is stronger” that is still going on today in the politicized State of Israel. And in the Christian church? Youbetcha. Remember that the OT prophets weren’t sent as much to “warn” Israel about what “may” happen, as to tell them what WAS going to happen because they have already “grieved” God with their self-centered and disrespectful behavior against God, the earth, and each other. Verse 27 in this text holds out a hope for them, however, when the prophet tells them that while desolation will result from their sin, God will not bring this to a “full end.” In other words, God gives them room to improve, repenting of their behavior before the next “checkup,” or when the next “Festivus” rolls around!

 

Psalm 14 

14:1 Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

14:3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?

14:5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

14:6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

14:7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

 

This is George Costanza’s Psalm. Like his father, George tends to see things as “black and white,” and views most incidents as either a blessing FOR him or a curse UPON him. He plays the role of the Medieval “fool” (Shakespeare’s “Tartuffe”) in the sitcom. “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’” While George does acknowledge that “Jesus is cool” in one episode, in another, he “converts” to Latvian Orthodoxy just to win the heart of a girl he likes. Again, is George not a great analogue for the “People of God,” be they the Israel being addressed in today’s texts, or the Christian church we witness today? We make snap judgements, do “religious things” for self-serving reasons, and grovel before God when caught red-handed, just like George, when he thinks he has cancer. In Seinfeld, George is always the one looking for some sort of deliverance, just like the psalmist: “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people…” When Mr. Wesley wrote of “going on to perfection,” don’t you think he was trying to get us to FIX our issues (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course) before the curses we have sown begin to sprout? Remember, the word “righteousness” ( δικαιοσύνη, most often in NT Greek) means “right living,” including not just eschewing “sin” on an individual level, but on a society-wide one as well, something the Bible labels “justice.” Let us not be George Costanza characters who are most often seeking “short cuts” to the benefits of right living, or who are cheating to win them.

 

Exodus 32:7-14

32:7 The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;

32:8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'"

32:9 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.

32:10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

32:11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"

32:14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

 

There is no doubt that this is the Jerry Seinfeld passage! The timeless and fascinating dialogue between Moses and God from high atop Ararat is one of the most profound conversations in all of divine comedy. God tells Moses that the divine wrath is ready to roll against this “stiff-necked” people, and Moses adeptly—and rather indignantly—talks God OUT of it! It is a funny “court scene” with God suddenly becoming “the accused” by a clever “attorney,” Moses. Moses uses God’s own promises to Abraham (and his “seed”) against God. In the Seinfeld show, the title character, Jerry, strives to bring “equilibrium” to his out-of-balance friends and life circumstances. In fact in one episode, the script brings this right to the surface, but Jerry suggesting that if something goes BAD for him, something just as GOOD will happen to balance it all out. In this passage, Moses is using the Seinfeld principle to outwit God, and it apparently works. Oh, we could go all out on the “God is all powerful, all-knowing” schtick and say that God is just making it LOOK like Moses wins the argument, but that is what we might expect of the Greek Gnostics, not the “earthy” Hebrew people of the Old Testament. This “argument” or comedy court scene of Exodus 32 may just be the most honest and revealing passage of scripture in the whole Bible, or at least until we get to John’s wonderful Prologue to his Gospel. Likewise in the popular sitcom, Seinfeld plays the friend who is always trying to bring harmony to his “community” of friends. In the show, Jerry seems very proud of his Jewishness, but resists it when its teachings don’t reflect the direction he wants to go. Sound familiar? Even as Moses ends up leading a “stiff-necked” people when he resisted so strongly God’s call to do so, so Jerry Seinfeld regularly reminds his friends in the show that he is not in charge of their lives, even though the reality is that they really all DO revolve around Jerry! Fans of the TV show and its goofy cast of characters would most likely understand if every episode of Seinfeld were to end with verse 14: “And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” 

 

Psalm 51:1-10  

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

 

Now we come to Kramer. “Cosmo Kramer” (we don’t find out his first name until season SIXof Seinfeld!) is the divine comedy’s “Everyman.” The hapless figure seems to be just drifting through life, on one hand, but on the other, is clearly the most passionate ABOUT it. Kramer, for all of his off-the-wall antics and seemingly amoral behaviors, is often the moral “voice” of the show! He calls Jerry out for being an “anti-dentite” for joking about dentists, and shows serious remorse when it is revealed that it was one of his Titleist golf balls he drove into the ocean that almost killed a whale. On the other hand, he’s never against a little “playing the system” to help a friend, like when he smashes Jerry’s malfunctioning, out-of-warranty stereo and mails it, planning to blame the U.S. Postal Service for doing the damage, so Jerry can claim the insurance. “They just write it off,” he tells Jerry. If anything explains Kramer’s character as the eternal “Everyman,” it is verse five of this Psalm: “ Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me,” especially if you review the episode when we meet Kramer’s biological mother, “Babs.” We are ALL Kramer, friends! No matter how you try to dress up the pig, it’s still a pig, and Psalm 51 is bringing us to the honest assessment that we are all “born guilty,” when the first word most of us have to hear from our parents is “NO!” United Methodists (and most Protestant Christians) do not believe humans are “born in sin,” but in innocence. It is this innocence that leads to such early guilt. In the mythical Genesis story, Adam and Even did not partake of the tree of “sin,” but of the “knowledge of good and evil.” When we are innocent, we act on what gets our attention, with no knowledge of where it is “right” or “wrong,” whether it is “healthful” or “harmful” to us. We’re back to Kramer, who is basically an adult “child” in the show. And yet, the scriptwriters see him as a person with a HUGE heart, who always seems to have the welfare of others in mind. The cry of this psalmist to “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is the cry of the Everyman to be restored to blamelessness and purity, even though none of us “deserve” it. Like our man Kramer in Seinfeld, our “warts” are never in dispute, but our need for healing—redemption—is not, either. And this redemption, this “blotting out,” must be a divine act.

 

1 Timothy 1:12-17

1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service,

1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

1:14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost.

1:16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

This Timothy text most reminded me of “Newman,” one of the most important, and regularly reoccurring “secondary” characters, in Seinfeld. There is such a profound insignificance to his character, at least at first, but between Wayne Knight’s acting, and clever scriptwriting, Newman gets a life of his own on the show. The Apostle Paul sees himself in such a negative light, as described in this text: “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” And yet, because of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, he is given new life—just like Wayne Knight’s character. Newman goes on to be a “cult hero” on the TV comedy, once arranging the mob-like kidnapping of an incessantly barking dog, “cleaning up” the muffin top mess with four bottles of milk and his appetite, and turning his job as a postman into a “G-Man” inquisitor in the infamous “broken stereo” incident precipitated by Kramer, on Jerry’s behalf. Newman is the only character not ostracized by the “Soup Nazi.” Even as the character Newman is given “new life” by the creators of Seinfeld, and a superb acting job by Knight that boosts his own career, so the “blasphemer” Paul is not only redeemed by his encounter with Christ, but his new life includes becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. If it weren’t for Paul, there might not even have been a Christian church. And as far as we’re concerned, like Knight’s career resurrection, our encounter with Christ elevates us from the mundane, flawed rank of humanity and “seats us in the heavenlies with Christ,” as the apostle says. What we have, we do not deserve, but in the Creator’s mind, we are given such a high status that the psalmist says we are “a little lower than the angels (or, as some translations say, “than God”). Like Kramer’s stumbling “Everyman,” Newman’s character represents hope for us—a character that wasn’t meant to be more than secondary, but who ends up with a large fan base. In our case, it is Christ himself who is “rooting” for us! May any of our listeners who judge themselves terminally “unworthy,” or even as “blasphemers” like Paul, come to believe in the unexpected, unearned, and often underestimated MERCY of God in Christ! To all who feel left out, God says, “Hello, NEWMAN!”

 

Luke 15:1-10  

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

15:8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'

15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

 

Now it’s Elaine Benes’s turn! Like all of Seinfeld’s other characters, Elaine is a composite of people Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David know in real life, and as such, she’s a gem. She is typically immaculate in appearance (one episode where she let herself go and “became George” was hilarious), has a penchant for detail that often drives the other characters crazy, and likes to be fully in control, of both friendships and affairs of the heart. She so much reminds me of the dear woman in the second of the two small parables in this text from Luke—if she lost a coin, one of ten, she would go CRAZY, obsessing over it until it was found. Honestly, do either of these parables make any sense? Would a shepherd who had 100 sheep “leave the 99” to go looking for the one which is lost? Not if he wanted to stay in the shepherding business! That makes no animal husbandry sense at all, and neither does turning the house upside down to find ONE lost coin, only then to spend far more than its value throwing a party for her friends to celebrate finding it. Both of these parables are nuts…unless you factor in one important, hidden factor. You see, Seinfeld’s Elaine is all about relationships. Her desire to control stems from her need to belong, to love, and to be loved. These are the hidden factors so often in “irrational” behavior. The parables are about relationships. The shepherd DOES care about that one lost sheep, as an analogue showing that GOD cares for each and every one of us, and desires that NONE should perish. There IS a celebration in the Realm of God when one of God’s children finds her way “home”! And the party for the found coin also is about the FRIENDSHIPS, and the finder’s desire to SHARE her good fortune with her besties. This is our Elaine. And while Seinfeld bills itself famously as a “show about nothing,” it is anything BUT that—it’s a show about relationships, friendships, and affairs of the heart, about how important they are, and also about how difficult sustaining them can be. It is a tragedy when one is lost, and “party time” when one is restored! 

 

Of our “show,” we can say that it, too, is all about relationships—ours to God, our friends and loved ones, and even with ourselves, and our internal dialogue. We can have all kinds of theological debate about what Jesus was getting at in his enigmatic, parabolic stories, but one thing is for sure—they, too, are all about relationships, and if we approach them with this in mind, it is much easier to uncover what he probably meant as the central meaning of each. Relationships rarely make “sense.” In fact, the closer and more intimate ours are, the less sense they usually make. Logic and love rarely walk together. In his film, “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen’s character Alvie Singer tells a story about relationships. First, he tells of a crazy uncle who thought he was a chicken. When asked why the family didn’t get the uncle help, Singer said, “Well, we would, but we need the eggs.” He goes on to say that relationships are like that—they are crazy, they don’t make sense, and they are often difficult or complicated. So why do we keep them? We need the eggs.

 

As Jesus revealed God to us, it was clear that God is LOVE, but not always “logical.” Relationships are the key to understanding God, as we see from several of today’s scripture passages. Whatever, we are left with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a “show” about EVERYTHING important! Amen.

 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Patient Potter, Stubborn Clay...

 


“Patient Potter, Stubborn Clay”

 

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you, from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

I took a pottery class in high school. It was taught by a very gifted, young art teacher who was also a professional potter, and who sold his creations all over the Eastern United States (had there been Etsy or Amazon back then, I’m sure his reach would have been much wider!). He was a joy to watch on the potter’s wheel. His hands were almost poetic, as they gently guided the clay into ornate pots, vases, plates, or pitchers of some sort. The clay just seemed to flow obediently under his competent and creative hands. One day, after he had prepared a large lump of clay, he centered it on the wheel, and he began throwing a pot. First, he started to draw up a tall, intriguingly shaped vase, which soon started to wobble out of control, so he smashed the rotating clay back down into a centered lump and began again. This time, he formed a bulbous water pitcher, but it, too, started to warp uncontrollably, and had to be destroyed. With the potter’s wheel never stopping, he recentered the lump and tried creating a broad, thin-edged plate. No luck, though, as its elegant edges began to scallop, before collapsing back onto the wheel. Finally, the teacher stopped the wheel, gathered the lump of clay, and slammed it back into the large, green clay tub at the center of the room, exclaiming, “The clay just isn’t COOPERATING today!” While he may have been frustrated, he showed no anger toward the clay. He always worked with clay from a common bin, where others, too, had discarded excess clay, or clay that was too dry or too wet, or that which was being resurrected from unfired greenware. He explained to us that even though he tried to thoroughly knead and prepare the lump of clay he had extracted from the bin, there were times it just wouldn’t “work.” Maybe it was too dry, or too moist, or the types of clay that had been mixed in the bin weren’t all that compatible. But he also explained that tomorrow was another day, and that he could always find a way to make the clay work. 

 

This was great news for those of us who fought with even better samples of clay every day in the class! I confess, though, that while I found success making pots using other methods (such as hand-built or coil pots), I was never able to finish one successfully on the potter’s wheel. I fought getting the clay centered, and rarely ever could, and you can’t throw a pot when the clay isn’t centered perfectly on the wheel! And even when the teacher would center it for me (which he did ever so effortlessly), I could still never draw up a successful pot on that wheel. The teacher used to just shake his head, after watching me, and observed, “You are just trying to force it. You have to work in harmony with the clay—guide it, but go along with it.”

 

I hope you see why I tell this personal story in an attempt to offer commentary on this incredible passage from Jeremiah! We make it sound so simple when we sing that hymn, “Thou art the potter, I am the clay.” And while for me, attempting to form a pot on the potter’s wheel was a wrestling match with the clay, for the teacher, it was a labor of love, and he never gave up until he had successfully reworked the clay into something for which he was proud. Ditto, God. This is the central theme of ALL of the other passages in today’s lectionary selections, as well. 

 

It's way too easy to make this text (and the others) be just about “choices” we make, with the overly simplistic message that if we “choose rightly,” God will be able to do something with us, but if we choose unwisely, God will “judge” us and even reject us. THIS IS NOT THE MESSAGE! The message is that God will do what my teacher used to do (whose name was Mr. Wiser, by the way): keep trying to redeem the uncooperative lump of clay until something beautiful could be created, which might mean waiting on the clay to be “ready.” 

 

Israel is the subject of the Jeremiah text, but any time we see “Israel” in a Bible text, we modern, Christian preachers should translate it “the people of God,” for this is who the universal audience is. God was trying to turn flawed Israel of Jeremiah’s day into a cooperative, collaborative, peaceful community of faith that would get along with one another, despite their tribal differences, and that would also lovingly and obediently serve God. Sound like the same “clay” we are dealing with today? Something we call the CHURCH? Maybe even more specifically the UNITED METHODIST Church? Never forget the liturgical prayer of confession our tradition uses at Communion: “We have failed to be an obedient church…” (We are an uncooperative lump of clay—keep working with us, Dear God!) 

 

Think of the many ways we—the clay—resist the artistry of the potter—God. I have known several persons whose story it is that they had perceived a “call from God” to the mission field, to the ordained ministry, or to some other area of Christian service, and they resisted and resisted, until finally, the “urge” went away. Most of their stories continue with their sadness that they turned God down, something that kept coming back to haunt them as they grew older and wiser. Seriously, though, the “potter” never gave up on these stubborn “lumps of clay.” While the ones I am thinking of never entered full-time ministry, they did become active members in a local church, and many got involved in hands-on mission like Volunteers in Mission endeavors, food pantries, or community volunteering. They taught Sunday School. They chaired stewardship campaigns. They became successful parents, engaged in a noteworthy career, and at least two I know had children who themselves answered a call from God to the mission field and/or the ordained ministry. I hope their pastors encouraged them with this “loving potter” story of how God simply does not GIVE UP on us, even when we are the most resistant, stubborn “lumps” one might imagine. God is never through with us, and never throws the “clay” out, but puts it back in the bin to be “seasoned.”

 

Here's another one for you. Many years ago, when I was involved in leading young adult fellowship groups and Bible studies (long before my call to pulpit ministry, I might add), I was offering leadership in one such group. A high school friend was in the group, and he was leading the singing with his guitar, as we sang some of those 70s era “Jesus” choruses. He was raised as a “preacher’s kid,” and from everything I ever saw in him, he was a model Christian young man, whom I greatly respected. At the study, I was asked by the group to share some of my story, which was really “phase one” of what would later become a call to ordained ministry. I shared how I was raised in a wonderful Methodist/United Methodist church, and had accepted Christ as my Savior “several times” throughout my youth. Still, while not seeing myself as a “stubborn” lump of clay that God was trying to do something with, I was most certainly a clueless lump, holding on to an extremely limited view of what “ministry” was, or could be. I shared how I realized that “accepting Christ as Savior” wasn’t the same as putting myself in the hands of the potter. As a “saved Christian,” I was like that lump of uncooperative clay in the green bin, back in art class. My story was about my willingness to “get on the wheel” and get with the program, all the while being patient for the potter to do his work. We finished the Bible study with a prayer, and went for the refreshments. My high school friend/preacher’s kid came up to me and said “After listening to you tonight, I truly accepted Christ as my Savior in a way that is REAL!” I soft-soaped him, ALWAYS believing him to be a good Christian. It wasn’t until a year or two later, when we were having a really deep conversation together, that he explained what happened at that Bible study. He, like me, had made “confessions” of faith in Christ, which is what he learned at home and at church. But it had never been “internalized” in his own, personal heart, and he never felt like anything but a stubborn, uncooperative “lump of clay.” During our prayer that night, he put himself “on the wheel” and began to get centered so the “potter” could do his “art.” Not only was this a heart-felt confession for him, but it was an enlightening moment for me, as I realized that my story “would preach,” and that there were many clueless “lumps of clay” out there that just needed encouragement, guidance, and a “nudge.” It wouldn’t be until much later that I would learn about John Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience” wherein he had his “heart strangely warmed,” and never looked back, eventually founding what we know now as Methodism. Like my story, and that of my friend, I am fully convinced that “Aldersgate” was not a “conversion” experience (for Wesley, too, had probably confessed Christ many times before, having ALSO been a “preacher’s kid” and attended theology school), but was when “the clay” got “a clue” and put himself in the hands of the potter. 

 

So, what about you? Are you one of those lumps that just keeps getting thrown back into the green bin as “not ready yet?” Or are you one that resists being “centered” on the potter’s wheel? Or, are you just now realizing that God never gives up. Never. Gives. Up. This is your day. Have your own Aldersgate moment. Believe that “the potter” wants to work a little “potter’s magic” in your life! And it's never too late, either! Clay has been in the ground for centuries before being “harvested” by the art supply people, and it is given “new life” by simply being discovered and given a new venue. 

 

The Jeremiah text has that little “troubling” verse at the end of today’s passage that makes it sound like God is prepared to do nasty things to Israel, in judgment. However, if you look at the wider context of the message, God is again promising to “form the clay,” if it will simply “yield” (or repent and climb onto the wheel). The “evil” God plans is not really evil, but maybe it’s Mr. Wiser’s slamming the clay back into the bin, and saying that tomorrow is another day—“Maybe the clay just isn’t ready.” Note, also, that the act of slamming the clay into the bin is not done in anger, but in doing so, it immersed the uncooperative lump into the larger vat of more seasoned clay, with the goal of it mixing with the whole “community” of clay, that it might likewise become seasoned and “ready.” God never “throws us down,” but “mixes us in,” that the community might season our souls and soften our hard hearts!

 

Jeremiah’s wonderful prophecy in chapter 18 is less a threat of judgment than a foreshadowing of grace. Having watched a real pottery artist at work on the potter’s wheel, I can say most assuredly that it is an act of grace—centering a raw lump of clay, moistening it ever so gently with a fine-grained sponge, and with a soft, loving touch, guiding the clay into something exquisitely beautiful. It IS grace. No wonder the wise prophet Jeremiah chose this allegory for what God desires to do with God’s people!

 

By the way, it would be so sweet if the story stopped here, but three steps remain for “the pot” before it is ready for service. 

 

1.    It is cut off the potter’s wheel and set aside to dry, so it is ready for step two. This drying gives the “green” pot enough strength to be handled during the next two steps.

 

2.    The pot is glazed. Glaze is a special coating painted on the pot, and it may be a simple, pedestrian “waterproofing” that allows a finished pot to hold liquids, or it may be an ornate, decorative, and colorful application that gives the pot beauty and uniqueness.

 

3.    Finally, the pot is placed in a kiln with a large number of other pots, and is “fired” at a very high temperature overnight. This firing bakes all of the excess moisture out of the clay, activates the glaze, bringing out its colors and protective properties, and gives the pot its ceramic “permanence.” 

 

These would each make a good sermon, wouldn’t they? Together, though, they serve as a reminder that God is never really finished with any of us! They also remind us that forming us to the place where we can be “beautiful” and fully useful is a process, and the more patient “the clay” is, the more incredible the outcome of God’s hopes and dreams for us. Amen!

 

 

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...