Jeremiah 18:1-11 Gospel Luke 14:25-33
Let us pray: Holy God, without you, we are nothing; but with you, through the Holy Spirit, all things are possible, all things can breathe anew. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
How poetic, how earthy, even, to talk about Israel, and by extension, us, in terms of the potter’s work with clay. We like that, we want to think of ourselves as being molded by God’s hands into what we should become. The truth of that resonates with us, does it not? Hold onto that image, we will need to return to it.
To help us grasp the full impact of Jeremiah’s prophetic message, however, let’s step back and engage in context our Biblical memories for a moment. The book of Jeremiah is considered one of the Major Prophets in the Old Testament. Most Old Testament prophecy takes place during the period of Israelite and Judean monarchies, continuing through the Exile into the early postexilic period, roughly 830 to 430 BC, with some earlier well-known figures appearing as early as 874 BC.
The political time-line goes like this: Three hundred years before Jeremiah’s time, around 930 BC, the people of Israel split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. 100 years before Jeremiah’s time, around 730 BC, the Assyrian Empire successfully invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and annihilated it.
When Jeremiah received his call from God to become a prophet, probably around 630 BC, he was a young priest, the son of a priest, living in the town set apart for priests in the territory of Benjamin, in the Southern kingdom of Judah. He was probably well educated and quite aware from a young age of the surrounding political scene as well as the challenges of being born into a priesthood pledged to serve God’s people – even when only 2 out of 12 tribes are left.
Scripture tells us God calls Jeremiah personally, sending him to Judah to tell them of what is to come. God says, “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations; now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Most of the 40 plus years of Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet is telling the people of Judah that they will be invaded and exiled because they have not kept their part of the historic covenant with God. Sure enough, around 586-587 BC, Judah is overrun, Jerusalem is sacked, the First Temple is destroyed, and the People of Judah, including Jeremiah, are deported to Babylon.
Some of you may be wondering, “Okay, Mr. Scott, where are you going with this doomsday message?” Nowhere. I wanted you to get a sense that even when bad things happen and the future looks bleak, God may have a higher purpose in mind, leading us through potentially kiln-like hard times, even as God was with Jeremiah through the of destruction of Judah and his suffering as a refugee in Babylon.
Ultimately, God told Jeremiah to prophesy that Babylon, too will fall for what they have done to Zion. Meaning, God was with the Israelite people, refining them and re-forming them into the people of God they were supposed to be.
When we look through Jeremiah’s eyes at the potter doing his work…learning to see, perhaps, how flawed we are as God’s people, through Scripture we also see through God’s eyes that we are as clay in God’s hands. Even when we are flawed, and I know I am, we can still be remade into what God needs us to be, even if our newly remade self is also imperfect!
I submit to you we are living in and through the midst of a great re-making; a re-molding of Christianity itself. Phyllis Tickle’s two books, The Great Emergence, and Emergence Christianity, are explorations of our current times and the changes Christianity is in the midst of facing. Her basic premise is that every 500 years, the Judeo-Christian world is shaken up and something new comes out of it. I already alluded to one of these events-the destruction of the First Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Judaism changed drastically post-First-Temple. Tickle traces the past several Christian upheavals in her books, beginning with the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door on October 31st, 1517.
Another theological hypothesis emerging today rests like a page from a set of blueprints, superimposed upon Tickle’s ideas. It is this: the past 2000 years have been about Jesus. The previous 2000 years were about God the Creator. Some are saying the next 2000 years may be more about the Holy Spirit.
That is what big-picture religious scholars are saying is happening today. What will Christianity look like? What will the Church look like? What will your worshiping community look like? What will your ministry be?
Since no-one knows, really, what the result of this current emergence will be, only educated guesses can be made based on observable thriving ministries. Where are churches growing? Why are some thriving and others not? Why are some denominations thriving and others are not? How do some churches stay on a plateau while others either drop or rise in membership, in ministry, and in service? Is it possible to take the pulse of this new emerging Christianity and find a way of living out the Gospel in new and creative ways?
One of the current mission initiatives of the Presbyterian Mission Agency is “1001 new worshiping communities.” Several of the successful pilot programs looking nothing like traditional church at all. One is a coffee shop called Bare Bulb Coffee. It is a very different expression of doing church, and doesn’t even look like or meet in a church building. It is a community of servants of Jesus Christ, engaged in a ministry of hospitality in the form of a coffee shop.
We might also try to look forward by looking back at the early church and our own scriptures describing what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Turning to the Gospel lesson from Luke today, we are faced with some difficult challenges from Jesus:
25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Jesus, can you just explain yourself plainly for once? Do you really mean, we must actually hate our family members when your own Word elsewhere tells us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and, “Love your enemies?” It is told that your own favored disciple John, in his old age, was carried into his congregation in Ephesus mumbling “little children, love one another.” After the others got tired of hearing this over and over again, he was asked why he kept mumbling that, and his response was, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and it is enough if it is really done.”
Let us pray:
O Spirit of the heavens, blow into our lives and refresh who we are so that we might untangle our lives and become free to be what you want us to be. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
It is God who is the Potter,
It is we who are the clay.
It is God who does the shaping
Of our lives each single day. ~ stc
Go now into the world, to love and serve the Lord, being molded to God’s shape and purpose, in this community. Amen