Scripture: Jeremiah 18: 1-6
Let us quiet our minds, and open our hearts, as we listen to prayerful words written by a 2nd century Christian named Irenaeus:
It is not you who shape God;it is God that shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the Artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer the Potter your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which the Artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard and lose
the imprint of the Potter’s fingers.
(Voices United 275)
Throughout history, people have drawn inspiration from, and made connections with divine mystery, in the simple and yet complex world in which we live. Jesus told stories about salt, light, a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, the lilies of the field, just to name a few. He did this in order to connect people’s everyday experiences with the power of faith, and God’s presence in their lives, in understandable and tangible ways.
Six hundred years before the time of Christ, in the last years of independence enjoyed by the kingdom of Judah, there was a prophet named, Jeremiah. Jeremiah was concerned that Judeans were turning away from God and he accused them of injustice and corruption.
Prophets are not often popular in their own time and Jeremiah was no exception. Jeremiah preached that temple worship was worthless without justice and for his efforts he was arrested, beaten, and kept under house arrest. (This is a familiar story for prophets and social justice advocates throughout the course of history.)
Jeremiah, unlike some other prophets, did not have a soft touch with his people. Jeremiah’s words and accusations were not often tempered with kind words of encouragement. He called for repentance and the restoration of God as central to the lives and actions of his people. The excerpt from Jeremiah 18 that we heard earlier, is perhaps the most well-known and most positive passage in Jeremiah. This reading inspires the listener to imagine watching the mysterious nature of a potter as he and the clay become one in a creative process that evolves and adapts as necessary. When there is a fault in the clay the potter simply reworks the clay into something more wonderful than was formerly possible. This creative process has an almost mystical quality about it that easily solicits
parallels with human spiritual formation and the relationship with God the Creator. It is not surprising, given the importance of pottery in Jeremiah’s time, that he would turn to such a familiar practice to illustrate God’s creative movement at work within his community.
I’ve learned from my limited experiences with the art of pottery that the readiness and character of the clay is crucial in the potter’s ability to create something good from it. The clay first needs to be worked and kneaded to make it soft and flexible. It then needs to be centred on the potter’s wheel so that in the shaping of the clay it doesn’t become unbalanced and out of proportion. Potter, Pat Krug, who has often taught the art of pottery at Naramata Centre, describes her creative experience by saying that,
“…each pot begins with hope. I hope it will be a certain shape and try to help that happen. If, in the process, that shape doesn’t work, my ideas change so the shape can be corrected to make a different curve, or perhaps I will change my ideas radically – starting to make a pitcher that becomes a bowl. …At times the clay collapses and I need to let it rest, then rework it to enable it to make another pot. There is rebirth.”
(Arts and the Spirit, page 15, United Church Publishing House, 2007)
Pat also talks about the care needed in the creation process:
“All through the stages of creating a vessel, it needs to be supported, protected, and exposed at the same time. Care needs to be taken not to force change too rapidly. Gradual change needs to take place when my hands are forming the clay, changing its shape…Each individual step is important for the whole.” (Pg. 16, Ibid.)
Preparing and centring – the interplay of potter and clay – call and response – forming and re-forming. The clay doesn’t always respond as the creator intends, and sometimes in the creative process the clay is overworked and needs to rest before being shaped and moulded again.
It was in this context, in the summer of 2009, the General Council of the United Church of Canada gathered in Kelowna and had as their theme, “Down to the Potter’s House,” based on the reading from Jeremiah that we heard today. (Jeremiah 18:1-6) The invitation to the General Council commissioners from then Moderator, David Giuliano, was to consider that “Out of this most basic substance, the earth, God continues to shape and breathe life into creation. …Together we will imagine how we are being shaped as a community of faith and how we are being called to respond to Christ in the world.”
As most of you know, the United Church of Canada continues to be reshaped and reformed in our response to Christ’s calling in the 21st century. A Comprehensive Review of United Church structures and policies has lead to a “simplification” of the United Church Manual (The Manual 2013) which came into effect last month (August 1, 2013). The United Church knows that it must reform and adapt to changing circumstances and continue to be faithful stewards of available human and financial resources.
Similarly we at Kimberley United Church are preparing ourselves to be open to God’s creative movement in our midst. Next week our Council, committee members and anyone else in the congregation who is interested in attending, will review our Kimberley United Church Mission Statement and explore ways that we can more effectively continue to embody Christ’s ministry in our community and in our world. Any process of this kind requires careful and respectful listening to each other, an openness to the possibility of adapting and doing things differently, a spirit of enthusiasm that embodies our calling as followers of Christ, and prayerful discernment of God’s presence and guidance.
Also, this morning you will receive an envelope containing an introductory letter from me about our stewardship focus beginning next Sunday and continuing until Thanksgiving. Included with my letter is a Narrative Budget prepared by our Stewardship Team. A Narrative Budget is different than a traditional financial budget in that it highlights the many and varied ways that we, as a community of faith, have offered the gifts and resources of our lives in God’s service.
Individually we have been shaped by the experiences of our lives. As a congregation we embrace the diversity of these experiences and celebrate our unity of purpose as followers of Christ. We are people of faith: gathering, learning and growing together in faith, holding each other in prayer and love, being a visible presence in the wider community, and in knowing ourselves to be blessed we seek to be a blessing to others.
We are constantly discerning God’s call for us as people of faith and we will respond as best we can at any given moment. Regardless of the changes or challenges we face, now or in the future, we can be assured that with God’s gentle guidance we will be touched and moulded by the impression of God’s love and grace.
Remembering the reading from Jeremiah, I’ll close with a contemporary paraphrase by retired minister and potter, Darryl Auten:
“Then the word of God came to me: ‘Can I not do with you…just as this potter has done?…Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand…I am the potter and you are the clay… I am a potter reshaping your world and devising a new plan. Come join me in this task.’
And then Jeremiah said to God: ‘May we be creators with you, sharing this desire for beauty in creation. Support us, we pray, to be your creative people.’ ”
(Arts and the Spirit, p.46, United Church Publishing House, 2007)
May this hope be embodied,
in our community of faith,
this day and always.