First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
June 2, 2019
“Be Careful What you Ask For”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The 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. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can 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.
10 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
In honor of reading this great text from Jeremiah about the potter’s house, we just have to sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord. We’ll get started with one verse and then do the whole thing after the sermon. (stay seated)
Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.
You are the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me
After thy will
While I am waiting
Yielding and still.
It’s such a lovely song. Such a nice melody, the words just flow. And the words, what gentle words of faith and trust. Have it your way with me, Lord. Mold me into whatever you need me to be. Isn’t that lovely? It could almost be exciting… the creator of the universe creating something important out of me, out of us. It’s every seminarians anthem. It’s every new Christian’s heart-song. It’s these words that are on the lips of everyone who sets out on a spiritual pilgrimage, or something like them. Make me, mold me, fill me, use me. How… inspiring. How…. naïve. How… uncontrollable. How….frightening.
Because the whole thing isn’t just about a nice relaxing day at the potter’s wheel throwing perfect jars and pots. It’s about what happens when things don’t turn out as planned and then all the niceness just goes away. The beautiful, earthy pot goes all wonky and off kilter. Then it gets all mushed back together, wadded up, reshaped, thrown down a time or two to get the air out and it starts all over again… pushing and pulling and shaping and more pushing and pulling and shaping and trimming and cutting away. This is not easy work.
Do we realize that this is potentially what we are asking for when we sing, “You are the potter, I am the clay? Make me and mold me after thy will?” Are we really ready to be “yielding and still” so God can form us into what God desires and needs of us? Do we really trust God that much?
Sometimes the church and the people within it think that we’ve become God’s finished product. We like to think that all the shaping has taken place, the glaze of righteousness has been applied and we’ve been fired in the kiln of tradition and are so absolutely beautiful that everyone should be flocking to our doors with their oohs and aahs and dying to be part of us. But Jeremiah is telling us something different. The gospel is telling us something different. The church is sometimes like a bent over woman who can only see her own feet and the beaten path upon which we stand. The church is always like an unfinished pot which God can reshape as God needs. If we’re not living into that which God needs us to be for our time, God will find a way to do something different with us. Sometimes we make the mistake and think that God is changing all the time. But look more closely. It’s not God that changes but the ways that God interacts with humanity that shifts and changes. Sometimes those ways are all cuddly. Sometimes those ways are prickly, especially when the church is involved in or turns a blind eye to injustices and evil in the world.
We must not confuse the unchanging nature of God with what the church itself is. The church has never been unchanging. Because the world in which the church exists is always changing. God has been shaping and reshaping the church since before it was called church. I think we all know that in our heads but think that it’s about history… that which is behind us and that which is yet to come. But, what if that reshaping is happening now? How eager are we to really let God shape us and mold us? How excited are we about yielding to God’s new vision for us? Probably not much. We’re not alone.. think of Moses and his reluctance. Think of Sarah and her laughter at the thought of giving birth at the age of 90. Think of Jeremiah himself who thought he was too young. Think of Paul who, at first, was more interested in destroying the church and he ended up being remembered as one of it’s biggest fans. I wonder how many folks let their reluctance take over and God skipped over them to find someone else to reshape into God’s holy purpose?
Jeremiah tells about a time long ago when the entire nation of Israel was on the brink of being remade because it just hadn’t turned out the way God intended. Israel was meant to be a holy nation that would reveal the love and justice of God to others. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. When it worked, great! and we rejoice in the teddy bear God that’s all warm and snuggly. When it didn’t the thing that we dislike the most about the Hebrew Testament or the Old Testament took place: God’s judgment. We tend to look at this activity of God and call it the Old Testament God and turn our noses up to it and flip to the Greek or New Testament and lean on things about lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin yet God clothes them. Yea, this is a God we can curl up with in front of the fire with a good book and rest in for a long time.
Guess what? It’s the same God. Different actions, different circumstances, same God. The God that creates the world in goodness and seeks to partner with humanity in its care is the same God that weeps at the extinction of species and a climate that is changing so fast the existing species can’t keep up with it. The God who hears the cry of the enslaved and the oppressed and spares no effort to liberate them is the same God who calls on the carpet not only those who are doing the oppressing and the enslaving but those who are benefiting from it as well as those who are turning a blind eye to it. The God who expects of us acts of justice, kindness and some humility as we walk through the world together is the same God who condemns greed and privilege that is used to maintain one’s status and not to the benefit of others. God’s judgment comes and goes but God’s character of love and mercy does not. God is just expecting that we remember that that’s the image of God in which we are created, to have at our heart the ways of love, justice, mercy, compassion and peace.
If we are afraid of being remade, it could be an indication that we question God’s desire for us. If we doubt God’s ability to really do something new to and through us, could it be that we ourselves lack some religious imagination? If we don’t think that we can’t pull it off, could it be that we are missing the message of the resurrection itself? It’s not about what we can do ourselves. It’s about what God can do in and through us.
May we, as individuals and as the church, have the courage to allow God to remake us in the ways that God needs so that God’s eternal nature of justice and love will be known across the land. We need not fear for in the end, love winds every time. Thanks be to God.