September 8, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
God the Potter. Me – the dust mixed with water, mixed with life, mixed with God’s holy breath – spinning on the wheel like I’m on one of those rides at the fair. God’s strong, gentle, loving hands guiding and shaping me, caressing me into the person I am, the person I’m called to be. Its like a spiritual spa day. All I have to do is relax, be present, let God do the divine work, and I will emerge new, changed, alive, reborn.
With a torrent of words against the corrupt kings of Israel Jeremiah shatters my relaxing spa day. God is the potter, he tells Israel’s leadership. You are the misfired pot, the ruined glaze, the piece the apprentice accidently bumped into. Just as I shaped you I can break you. If you’re still on the wheel, if the clay is still wet, I can punch you down into a ball and reshape you. If you’ve already dried out, already been through the kiln and hardened, I will simply drop you; shatter you on the floor; sweep you into the pile of shards.
We like words of comfort from our bibles. Jeremiah give us words of discomfort. Luckily Jeremiah wasn’t speaking to us. He was speaking to Israel’s political elite. He was speaking to the king and the courtiers, to the president and cabinet, to senators and representatives, to governors and local legislators. We are not they, to the elite who support them. We can breathe a sigh of relief for we are not they. Or are we?
Corporate corruption begins with personal corruption. In addressing a nation Jeremiah also addresses the people who are the nation. In shattering a nation, God will also shatter the people who are the nation. Perhaps only by becoming nothing will they see the error of their ways. Perhaps they can only be born anew after they’ve been broken.
I look at my life and wonder: what needs to be broken inside me so I can become new, so I can become the person God calls into being? What needs to break in you? An attitude? A habit? A lifestyle choice? A relationship? A core belief or assumption? What needs to break? What needs to change so you can become the person God calls into being?
Jesus, traveling with his disciples, offers us two suggestions. Great crowds have begun following Jesus and he’s concerned they don’t really know what they’re getting into. And now we’ve jumped from Jeremiah to Luke chapter 14. If you’re just here because your friend urged you to come, Jesus suggests, go home. If you’re just here because I healed you but you don’t really want to change your life, go home. If you’re just here for the free food, or the spirit of comradery, or it feels cool to be a little rebellious as long as it doesn’t go too far, go home. Only if you’re willing to let parts of your life break, shatter, be swept with the shards into the corner can you follow me. Only when you’re willing to clear space for my Spirit, can I remake you anew.
Jesus singles out two places for change: Our personal relationships and our possessions.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself,” Jesus says, “cannot be my disciple.” He also says, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Give up family? But isn’t a strong, connected, Biblical family what God wants for us? But aren’t our families also major sources of anger, hurt, resentment, abuse, false assumptions and unholy teaching? The hands of our family can shape us as much, if not more, than the hands of God – and sorting all that out would be a perfect sermon series, or even a class – like the one Patti Smith and I are teaching starting in a few weeks, so I’m going to let this one hang and move onto Jesus’ second challenge:
Give up all my possessions? Is Jesus crazy? I earned all my stuff. I worked hard and God blessed me. God blessed me with a house with enough rooms there are some I only use on occasion. God blessed me with multiple cars in my driveway. God blessed me with beautiful, quiet, space that is mine. Space where I don’t have to deal with anyone. Where I can be self sufficient. I earned all that. God gave it to me. What do you mean give it up?
Do we own our stuff or does our stuff own us? I knew a homeless woman, a starving woman, so attached to her mother’s furniture she spent all her limited money on a storage unit filled with furniture she would never use. I think about my neighbors and our collective investment of thousands of dollars in lawn mowers. Our wealth allows us to mow and care for our own lawns on our schedule, on the equipment of our preference. We like being independent, but dependence – in the form of sharing a lawn mower, would pull us out of our siloes and form us into community. We’d have to communicate, share, work together, resolve conflicts, celebrate strengths, compensate for weaknesses. We might be able to go from sharing a lawn mower to sharing burdens such as child care, elder care and transportation, to sharing our faith, to supporting each other in this holy journey called life.
Now I’ll be the first to admit, while walking through the implement dealers at the Canfield Fair, I thought much less about sharing a lawnmower than about how nice it would be to have my own zero turn. I’m much more likely to finance a new Club Cadet than I am to organize my neighbors. And honestly the last thing I’m ready to do is give up my house, give up my cars, give up my books, give up my power tools, give up my iphone, empty my bank accounts and put my entire faith and trust in God’s providence and care. My stuff may control me but it also defines me. Without it I begin to wonder who I am, why I’m here.
Perhaps that’s one place where I need to break in order to experience the completely fullness God desires for me. Where do you need to break? Or have you already been broken?