1st Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11 & Psalm 139
The prophet Jeremiah is a mouthpiece for God. He listens for the Spirit of God to speak within him, and then he feels compelled to share what God has spoken to him with the people of Israel.
This is a famous piece – a reading we have all heard before – about God as the potter – the shaper or moulder of nations and of human beings. As a sometime potter I can relate to this process – the building up, and the breaking down to make something better… the lop-sided pot gets pushed down, squished together and re-started to make a perfect one. God is in the process of making us perfect! But as an old employer of mine used to say: “If you want to make an omelette, you have to break the eggs!” Sometimes the process is painful indeed, but the endurance, the patience, the humility we all learn thru it, makes us better people for the next round!
And this does not mean that we are garbage, no not at all! For as the psalmist says: “I praise you (God), for I am fearfully, wonderfully made. Wondrous are your works, that I know very well.”
God knows us thru and thru, and will help us grow and develop into wholeness. Physically, the Creator has already made us incredibly beautiful and complex – a wonder of inter-locking systems and abilities. Our spiritual development, our ability to discern good from evil, and our capacity for empathy and direct caring for the needs of others is embryonic when we are born, and these things will be learned and put into practice as we grow up. We will make mistakes, we will fall down, and we will get up and try again - this is how we mature and become the best we can be. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we too must learn to listen for spiritual guidance from God who knows every hair on our head, every step we take wrong, and loves us anyway.
People of God, we are clay in the hands of the Potter – rejoice and be glad to be “Soil of God”, for this way surely lies our salvation.
Hymn #174 MV “Soil of God”
2nd Scripture Reading: Philemon 1-21 & Luke 14:25-33
Soil of God, you and I… and Philemon too, and even Onesimus, and even more dramatically, Paul himself! Paul, on the road to Damascus, had his life changed forever. Philemon, a slave owner, is being asked to change his whole way of thinking about Onesimus, his runaway slave, who has become a follower of Christ under Paul’s tutelage, and who therefore must be accepted by his owner, as an equally beloved child of God.
These are huge changes for every one of these three men. The old ways must be discarded, and new lives embraced. This is challenging work folks – this is how we are made perfect in Christ.
And some of us will be dragged kicking and screaming into our new reality. Paul had to use all his powers of persuasion to ensure that Onesimus would find a welcome response when he returned to Philemon. The slave trade was alive and well in the lands of the Bible, and so normal a part of everyday life that it was not questioned in terms of morality. At the end of his entreaty to Philemon, Paul even asks him to prepare a guest room for his eventual return – clearly signalling that he intended to make sure that Onesimus was treated well.
The Gospel of Jesus the Christ is not always welcome news. Sometimes our old ways, our entrenched beliefs, our cultural norms are so deeply embedded in us that it is difficult, even painful to give them up.
In the reading from the book of Luke this morning, we hear Jesus talking about exactly that. We may be required to deny the power of our parents or teachers to dictate our behaviours and our stated beliefs. This may cause terrible disruption in our families and our communities. But we can’t follow Jesus half way. He makes that very clear. And so he invites us to be aware that there may be costs, consequences to accepting his teachings that we may not be prepared to pay.
When Jesus says we must be prepared to give up all our possessions, he is not really talking about material wealth. He is talking about our most cherished beliefs about who we are and our place in society. He is talking about letting go of traditional ways of doing things, traditional roles in society, traditional ways of responding to grievances. He is talking about equality of all God’s children within a society – about justice and about sharing, and about caring for one another – no matter what. He is asking people to give up revenge, discrimination, sexism, child abuse, slavery, violence – and all these things were sanctioned within these societies – all these things were NORMAL!
To change any one of these abuses was a huge paradigm shift – a dramatic, disruptive change in the way people lived. And we are still coping with how hard it is for some of us to give them up.
We are presently grappling with the discrimination that up until recently was common against the LGBTQ community, and still working on equality for men and women in the workplace and at home.
In terms of climate change we are facing the ever clearer fact that our reliance on fossil fuels for our energy needs is damaging the planet, and therefore the future for our children.
We are being asked as followers of Jesus, to open our hearts to the fragility of all God’s creation – to stop hurting each other and the earth. That is what it means to be a disciple – a willing student of the Master Jesus. That is what he calls us to do. With God’s help we can do this – we must do this for the love of God.
Hymn #12 MV “Come Touch Our Hearts”