Jeremiah, Preaching, Writing

Back to It

This morning I meet with my preacher group again after a break of a few weeks. Although I preached only once a month at Y1P, we kept the group together. But now I need it! I'm way off a weekly preaching rhythm. I'm off a daily writing rhythm, too, which was the whole purpose of this blog. It's earliest posts are "365" posts, little writing exercises that go back to early 2007. Now I'm doing the online equivalent of Morning Pages at 750 Words. I've been at it for two weeks, and I have a streak going. It's a different sort of writing practice, not the the formulation of well-crafted thoughts and images but a dump of what's first in my mind. I know I'm better in touch with God and myself when I'm writing. I also know I've fallen into the world of Facebook and Twitter over the past year, writing tiny thoughts and not building them into bigger, fuller or deeper expression. 

When I looked ahead to this week's passages in the Revised Common Lectionary, I must admit I was not excited. It's mostly pretty tough stuff. But I'm going to try writing about it. In the old days, I wrote about the passages I wasn't preaching, one at a time, then wrote the sermon. Or something like that. I'll be trying to get into a practice again here. But when I read Jeremiah this morning, I knew it wouldn't be easy. 

It starts well enough:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words."

So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The 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.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can 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. (Jeremiah 18:1-6, NRSV)

Nice. I like it. Even when we're messed up, God can still fix us. Full of preaching goodness, right?

But wait. God's just getting started.

At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. (Jeremiah 18:7-8)

That part sounds good, sort of. I mean, even though our badness may make God angry, we still stand a chance, right? God can change God's mind.

But hang on:

And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:9-10)

Oh. So it cuts both ways.


Qumram pottery  
Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
(Jeremiah 18:11)

I have to tell you, I am not going to stand up in my new pulpit on the first Sunday and say, people of North Yarmouth and inhabitants of the general neighborhood, God is a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. 

There's been enough of people telling other people they are going to smash. We're so quick to condemn each other and use scripture to support it. We see it in the way people attack Islam, and particularly in the outcry about a Muslim congregation already worshiping in the neighborhood of Ground Zero and wanting to be in a space that feels more permanent than a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory.  We see it in the way people attack other Americans when they disagree politically, using charged words such as "honor" to suggest that those who disagree have none.

This dear church has been challenged by people with a different theological stance who think that the UCC's openness is really a signal of the departure of the Spirit from the people's lives. I disagree, heartily. 

And I despise the way such texts are taken out of context. Take verse 11 and preach it to upset people. Go on ahead. Maybe you think you serve a church full of evil, crafty sinners. 

(Be sure you include yourself in the indictment, if so.)

But remember that people are using the same text to condemn you because you think differently, twisting the words of the prophet intended for a particular people in a particular time and place, putting the decline of the mainline down to the ordination of women or gay marriage or the feminization of church or the wrong interpretation of scripture, ignoring that it's happening everywhere and probably has as much to do with soccer on Sunday mornings as anything else.

Remember that people will believe what you say if you describe a God acting so directly, people who will take the words personally and maybe even literally, who will hear them and remember the things in their lives that have seemed misshapen and wonder why God wouldn't take the time to work with them and help them find their shape again. 

It's a beautiful metaphor, but it is incomplete. We are not simply clay. And God is more than a potter. We can't stop there. God creates us and we have freedom and agency and vibrancy and yes, we make the most awful choices sometimes, don't we?

All of us? 

Well, I do. Sometimes. 

But I don't believe that God is taking the time to destroy us, one by one, for failing. The Good News is a more complete picture than just the potter.

And so, I move on! More tomorrow.

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You can find the image here; many thanks to Vanderbilt's Lectionary site for art resources!

I also want to commend to you Carmen Andres' post about God's wrath, at In the Open Space.

2 thoughts on “Back to It”

  1. I am at the very beginning of a pottery class. I have thrown exactly one thing. But, what I remember is that the potter can do only what the clay will allow. If you try to build too high or too thin, the clay will droop and drop. You have to build strong walls. The clay has to be worked to get the air bubbles out or it will break when the piece is fired. I’m preaching on this passage: how God changes God’s mind as my last sermon.

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  2. “God creates us and we have freedom and agency and vibrancy and yes, we make the most awful choices sometimes, don’t we?”
    Or…extend the metaphor of the clay…clay, before it is hardened, is friable, malleable, and full of potential. It only when it is hardened that it becomes brittle and prone to being smashed. There are so many metaphors of hardened hearts both the Jewish and Christian texts…perhaps another motivation to keep our hearts soft and open to the possibilities that God sets before us.
    Just thinking of that part of the liturgy…”Lift up your hearts… We lift them up to the Lord..”

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