Sermon Summary 2.6.22 "Spoiled Vessels and Clay Jars"
2.6.22 Sermon Summary
I opened the sermon reflecting a bit on music and worship planning. Many pastors follow a Revised Common Lectionary and that is a wonderful resource. If followed, and all 4 readings are used, a congregation can be led through about 70% of the Scriptures over 3 years. However, few congregations use all 4 readings. I’m not against using the lectionary but I tend to try to work 3-6 weeks out in a series format and seek a variety of sources and inspiration to help guide worship themes. A common one is music. One of the things I appreciate about “Thy Word” is that it feels very traditional - indeed many people think it’s an “old hymn” - but it was written in 1981!
I also shared briefly about how United Methodist read scripture - a topic I’ve been discussing the youth group. We hold the Bible is “inspired” by God, and written by inspired human authors over thousands of years. We do not hold that the Bible is “inerrant” - those human authors were impacted by the biases and assumptions of their time - just as we are. And even if you hold the Bible reflects exactly what God wants us to know - inerrancy too often becomes an assumption that our own understanding the Scriptures is flawless and complete. Thus closing us off to learning and growth. Instead - the Scriptures are inspired - that we may be too as we wrestle with them and grow with our ancestors in faith who shared their journey in these texts.
This brought me to today’s anthem - in planning our “Lord, Teach Us to Pray” series, Pat immediately suggested “The Prayers I Make.” I agreed with her it was beautiful and appropriate - but I asked her to hold off on using it - I wanted to pair it with today’s scriptures using the metaphor of the potter. It became the spark for the whole service! In preparing, only then did I learn the poem the anthem is based on was by Michelangelo - the Italian artist of Sistine Chapel painting, and sculptures such as Pieta and David. I had not known he was also a poet - but I’ve been fascinated reading some of his work - and how he expresses his faith through the poety - asking for God’s guidance in all that he does. “My unassisted heart is barren clay, which of its native self can nothing feed… unless thou show us then thine own true way, no man can find it! Father, thou must lead! Breathe those thoughts into my mind by which such virtue may in me be bred that in thy holy footsteps I may tread…”
Michelangelo prays for inspiration. Through his poetry and artwork I am again reminded that, God can do (and I hope this phrase I keep citing from Ephesians 3 is sticking with us) “abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.”
Then I shared a bit more of my story. In 1995, Robin and I had just started our family with the birth of Ian (after an earlier miscarriage) - and I was working, and increasingly feeling trapped in, a job I was growing to hate. I was a computer tech - spending my days driving between different sites, checking trouble logs and - in the days before the internet - being frustrated that I always seemed to be at the wrong site when things went wrong. Coping with my frustration, I tended to listen to loud, angry rock while driving on Rock road. When one day, a new song came on T95. It was by a band being marketed as “alternative rock” - their first single “Flood” was produced by Adrian Belew of King Crimson and legendary producer of bands like Talking Heads. The world did not yet know “Jars of Clay” as a Christian band, nor did I. I played a snippet of “Flood” which evokes the stories of Scripture in a personal plea for God’s help.
Rain, rain on my face It hasn't stopped Raining for days My world is a flood Slowly I become One with the mud
But if I can't swim after 40 days And my mind is crushed By the crashing waves Lift me up so high That I cannot fall Lift me up Lift me up when I'm falling Lift me up I'm weak and I'm dying Lift me up I need you to hold me Lift me up and keep me from drowning again
The song transfixed me. I started pulling over into a parking lot as it came on - entering into a form of prayer before I really even understood what was happening. While I “attended” church with Robin - I had not yet really begun to actively, intentionally participate in my faith. It would still be a few years before that happened - but this was a pivotal moment. I bought the album and began listening to it and songs like “Love Song for a Savior” and “World Apart” became a big part of my journey.
Jars of Clay believed - and so they spoke - and their music, encountered in an unexpected place - touched my life and helped God’s grace enter in.
We then turned to our readings - Jeremiah is already hearing from God - yet he is told to “go down to the potter’s house and there you will hear my word.” Jeremiah obeys. He is willing to learn, grow. To listen humbly - and to do what God calls him to. I shared a graphic about “getting out of our comfort zone.” Our journey of faith certainly includes times God comforts us - but as I read scripture - the constant theme is that we are not called to remain comfortable, but like the prophets and the disciples before us, to stretch, learn, grow and share.
Jeremiah gets to the potter’s house and sees a pot being worked. Something goes wrong and the pot is spoiled. The potter regathers the clay, reworks it and begins again. “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, as the potter had done” says the Lord. It is a profoundly comforting, hopeful passage - that comes in the midst of challenge. The point is that Israel - and too often we - are excusing our own sinfulness. This is a call to repentance - to “amend our ways and our doings.”
God can form and reform us. With our response to God’s grace we can be remade - and remade as “clay jars” that proclaim that the light and grace we share are not from us - but of God, as Paul proclaims to the Corinthians.
As we engage in the journey of faith, we will encounter difficulties and challenges - and we will continue to learn and grow - often working beyond our comfort zone. And yet, Paul writes: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
We are engaged in the work of building the Kingdom - of revealing the beloved community God calls us to and towards. In all that we do, we are to center ourselves in God’s grace and share it with others as we grow to be like Christ. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever. Amen!”
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this summary helpful. Blessings on your journey.