Lectionary Readings for September 9, 2007
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 18:1-11 with Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 with Psalm 1 and
Philemon 1-21 and
Life has a language.
And Scripture has a word for us.
These two thoughts guide these Lectionary reflections.
Life is speaking as we sense the Sabbath’s approach long before its arrival.
We read over the texts that connect us with God.
We discern their meaning and trace the tread of coherence that runs through them.
We know they are intended to influence our words, our actions.
We are grateful for the hope they inevitably give.
And we anticipate our study, our worship, our observance of the Sabbath will be a blessing.
Life continues to speak we, we make a choice. Will it be Jesus’ admonition that we are to “hate” interfering relationships? Does he really mean “hate?” Or is it a Semitic way of saying “prefer?” Is the text linked with Deuteronomy because it also asks us to make a choice for life? And isn’t an embrace of life the gist of Paul’s words concerning Onesimus? And that clay in the potter’s hand, isn’t it the clay of creation? Where to begin.
I go to the clay.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Like you I can’t help but first ground the text in experience.
There is a hymn based on the lines of this text. Its melody is easy, its harmonies pleasing. Much as I find it soothing, I realize it misses the raw power of God’s formative words to Jeremiah. I had a plan for you, but it spoiled. So we started again. Chose life this time and let’s see how it turns out. If it turns out well; good. If not, I will reshape it again. I am the planter; I am the builder; I am the crusher; I am the reshaper. Turn from your evil ways and amend your doings.
First an experience flashes through my mind and then a thought. There were few parts of church life I loved more than working with seventh and eighth graders as they came to own their faith. What had worked for their parents might or might not work for them. And so their confirmation experience had to be authentic. For each one of them there came a Sunday when they were to give the sermon after a year of preparation in which they considered the intersection of the Word with their lives.
I had an admonition for them. “You can be good; or you can be bad; but you must not be cute.” They inevitably took the words to heart and Sunday after Sunday, the congregation inevitably reached for the tissues beneath the pews to wipe away their tears. An easy choice is often no choice at all. Following Jesus; taking the Deuteronomist’s teaching to heart; running against the prevailing norms of slavery—these choices are too deep, too wonderfully complex to not receive serious attention. The reshaping of life, on the part of an individual, or on the part of God is a serious matter.
And now the thought.
A pastoral application of the Leading Causes of Life requires an appreciation of time. No institution is better suited for such an appreciation than the church. When you are born your church receives you. When you graduate your church celebrates with you. When you wed your church clarifies the moment. When you did your church lifts your name in prayer. When you have an argument with you pastor your pastor does not abandon you. When a committee meeting appears to be the very last straw, your church stays with you and you stay with the church.
A piece of clay.
A plan for that piece of clay.
A piece of clay, misshapen.
A piece of clay reworked.
A piece of clay fired.
A piece of clay warned.
A piece of clay shaped yet again.
“There will be times in your life that you fall away from the church,” I’d always say to the kids. “But your church will never fall away from you.”
Is it as true as it sounds? Not quite. Ministry has an intent. Ministry falls short. Ministry is reshaped. Ministry makes choices to begin anew.
Thanks be to God for the gift of time that allows us to take the word to heart over, and over again.