Andrew Colman’s sermon for September 4, 2016 on Jeremiah 18:1-11
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Before I start, I would like to say a couple of short things.
By the Grace of God I would not be here without this community. I would not be exaggerating if I said, most days in Toronto I think back to this sanctuary, to one of your many tables, or one of the tables at Wannabe’s, the Grove, Stella’s, Finale’s, Stella’s, Cousin’s, Stella’s…
And I know, that many of you here know many of those same tables. And you can think of who you’ve sat across from and broke bread with at the ones I’ve mentioned and at the many more I haven’t.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that when I think of the people here I always think of the table around which we sat. That’s what I find special here… we are a community centered around the table. So much so that the tables we find between Sundays are not second and third tables, but the same table we are about to stand around with a few extra extensions when needed.
Okay, as Jamie has reminded us time and time again, the lectionary is an important part of our life in the church because it doesn’t let us get away with skipping over the messy parts of the bible that we’d rather not talk about.
So, with that a Prayer…
Come Holy Spirit, come like a fire and burn, come like the wind and cleanse. Convict, convert, and consecrate our lives for our great good, and for Your Great Glory.
Today our lectionary has us staring into the face of that “Old Testament God;” that God who says things like “I will repent of the evil I intended to do.” We think: “Phew, God is merciful… wait God intended us harm? And, only after we turn from our ways??” Then God follows it up with “If you turn from me after a time I will repent of the good I intended.”
Repent is a really strong word! We are asked to repent from our sins. Truly repenting from all our sins is the near impossible task set before us. And yet, this is God’s attitude towards Israel when they turn from the Lord.
To be honest, I’m not sure I have ever read a clearer message of it being our responsibility in earning salvation. And yet, have we not heard time and time again that earning our own salvation is, simply something we cannot do… and often it turns out the harder we try; the worse things turn out.
So how in the world does this prophecy of the potter and the clay being delivered to the people of Israel show us an image of the First Person of the Trinity to whom Jesus prayed “Our Father, who art in heaven”
It is indeed that quick glimpse at the Potter at work at the wheel that shows us how. Why would God send Jeremiah to see the Potter at work -before- Jeremiah was allowed to hear the Lord’s Words? Because those words needed to be understood in the light of that very particular moment. And what Jeremiah describes to us is just that, a moment.
A potter at their wheel, reworking a spoiled vessel into a new one, as it was good in their eyes to do. This by itself is a beautiful image of God’s relentless pursuit of Israel. It is through Israel that God intended to pour God’s blessing out on the world. God as the potter would first need to choose the clay, the daughters and the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and shape them into a people who so reflected God that God’s blessings were delivered through them, a vessel.
Those sons and daughters have had times of resembling that vessel and some times where they didn’t.
Imagine with me for a moment watching a potter work. She is making a round-bellied water jug. Her hands are working at the very top of the jug… almost finished. The movements of her hands are becoming more and more gentle, more and more nuanced, finer and finer. And then for no good reason other than we live—on this side of the fully realized Kingdom of God—the belly drops out and the whole thing is spoiled. What’s a potter to do?
Unless she wants to toss out that piece of clay and start a fresh she’ll need to compress, those, now collapsed, painstakingly crafted walls of the jug into a solid block to start again. This means getting rid of every air pocket and eliminating every seam. This is not nuanced work. This is where we will see that our potter has some serious power in her hands. The clay will be pressed, squeezed, folded, and smoothed until it is once again a workable body of clay from which a new jug can be formed.
Now, for a moment we need to pay little closer attention to, not what is being said, but who is saying it. Jeremiah was a prophet. He was called by God to speak the words that were put in His mouth. Tonight we meet Jeremiah in chapter 18 where he has been proclaiming the destruction of Jerusalem for seventeen of those eighteen chapters. It would be fair to say that he was in a dark place. That he might not be able to see the positive side of the image of the potter. That the potter is doing what they must to the clay that they love.
So when we hear Jeremiah talk about God’s repentance of Good and intention of evil… it’s coming from a dark, dark tunnel. He can’t, nor does God expect him, to see the image of Relentless Grace that precedes it. And that’s ok. That image was there for his original hearers to hear and it there for us today.
Jeremiah is painting for us a picture of our pain when it is at its deepest. When we are in the midst of what seems like nothing but destruction all around us; God shows us here that it is all framed by God’s Relentless Grace in the image of the spoiled vessel.
If we are the vessels that God is shaping at the potter’s wheel, we will spoil… there’s no if, and, or but about it. God knows this; that’s why we see the spoiled vessel in the potter’s hands. We don’t see it on the floor or in a bin. We are in God’s hands being shaped back towards God’s vision for us. Whether at the moment it’s gentle guidance or a total break down… we are in God’s hands.
These are the lives we lead. We turn from God, and the bottom falls out. A wind blows in the wrong direction, and the bottom falls out. A fire breaks out, the bottom falls out. An earthquake, an economic crisis, a mosquito bite… Sin is here all around us, and it causes the bottom to fall out.
But rest assured it has been defeated. And we rest in the hands of the Potter who knows who we are, what we need, what we can take, what can understand, and how to put us back together.
Jeremiah’s words in verse 12, the verse just after where we stopped tonight says: “And they say, it is all in vain, we will follow our own plans.” Though, because Sin has been defeated, they might very well be, And they said… “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever,” (Ps. 30:12) or “Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!” (Ps.106:1)
This is because Jesus himself came and became the vessel that did not have its bottom fall out. Jesus came and became that vessel so the Father could pour out His blessings upon us in spite of ourselves. So whether we are in the midst of being reworked into a lump of clay, where we can feel each powerful fold, press squeeze. Or we are in a place where we are being shaped gently. The Great Vessel is already finished and it pours out on us and everyone around us, near and far, that we might, in the midst of our constant shaping, find the joy and comfort that God intends for all of us.