Sunday, June 6, 2021

Pain and Promise: God Stoops Down

Last week, we began our six week series through Jeremiah and, accompanying this, the Psalms because, just as with us, the songs of the people often express their experience.

We also talked about trauma. And how, after an experience of trauma, it is natural for people - and us - to try to make sense of what has been experienced, to make meaning of it. Much of scripture is an attempt by God’s people to make meaning out of trauma and traumatic experiences. If this is not done - if time is not taken to make sense of the experience, it can have devastating effects. Leaving people isolated and suffering. Leading to the breakdown of community and the broader society. And even leading to a loss of faith. 

Jeremiah and the Psalms offer a way. A way by considering the story of Israel’s exile to help us make sense of our traumatic experience that can help to lead us out of the chaos to a new way of being and a new understanding of God. 

Last week, in our opening texts from Jeremiah, we heard about Jeremiah’s call - two aspects of what God had called him to do. The first could be identified as the problem or the cause - what caused God to call Jeremiah as prophet to Judah.  The people have been going after other gods. They have been oppressors, particularly, of the alien, the orphan, and the widow - those who represent the most vulnerable members in society. The second aspect we heard was the nature of Jeremiah’s call. The reason he was selected by God and sent to the people. A twofold call. First, to dig up and pull down, and to destroy and to demolish. But, then, to build and to plant. 

Today, we move to the potter’s shed. And read from Jeremiah, chapter 18.

Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel. But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. Then the Lord’s word came to me: House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it. Now say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: I am a potter preparing a disaster for you; I’m working out a plan against you. So each one of you, turn from your evil ways; reform your ways and your actions. --Jeremiah 18:1-11 (CEB)

It might be hard for us, with our 21st century sensibilities, to accept the image of God as some remote potter, up in heaven, molding and shaping our destiny. Yet, the word in Hebrew used here for “potter” has the same root as the word in Genesis for “creator.” Just as God shaped every beast of the field and the birds, the heavens and the earth and all aspects of creation, so, too, God shaped humankind. From the very dust of the ground.

So, perhaps, it’s not such a stretch for us to imagine God as potter. Molding and shaping us. Sometimes needing to start over because of a flaw or blemish in the clay. There are no specifics as to what the blemish is. Just that, for whatever reason, the potter remakes the piece into another that is pleasing to his eyes. Do you notice, though, that the potter never tosses the defective clay away? But, continues to work it. To mold it and shape it with his hands. To form it into a thing of beauty.

This what God desires for our world and for each of us. That it and we might be things of beauty. That we might be fully transformed and made whole, and then serve in the world to share the fullness we have been given. A wholeness and a fullness that comes Christ. That is offered to each of us. And to everyone. Graciously so. 

But, too, often, as with the people of Judah, we turn to other “gods.” Money, prestige, power - those things that draw us away from God and often result in oppression, as we seek to preserve what we have with no regard to the fullness or lack thereof for others in our world. It’s why at the end of our reading today, there is a call to repent. To turn back from the evil that not only separates us from God, but that separates us from each other. God is affected by this evil. Both the Jeremiah text and the psalm report that God is impacted by the actions of God’s creation - displeased with the defects. Towering above the nations, the psalmist writes, yet stooping down to correct the injustices perpetuated by humankind. 

How do we turn back? How do we center ourselves in the midst of the pull of the world and, particularly, that which would pull us away from God and from God’s desire? This, too, is suggested by the psalmist in the opening words. “Servants of God, praise, praise, the name of the Lord!”

Each week, when we bring our worship, our attention, our ears, our hearts to God in this centering space, we can clear space in our heads and our hearts to discern that which pulls us away from God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can turn back to God and be re-centered again. Reminded, once again, that God is present. That God is not some distant, unmoved creator. But that God comes to us into the chaos. Restores us. And works to bring us and all people into relationship and into community. Because this is God’s plan. It is the purpose of the Great Potter - a purpose that supersedes all others. A plan to mold and shape and create out of our flaw and defect and trauma, a world, here on earth, that is a thing of beauty.

How can we not say, “Hallelujah!” Amen.

Preached June 6, 2021, at Grace & Glory Lutheran, Goshen, KY, and Third Lutheran, Louisville, KY.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 113.

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