The Threatening Text
This is a threatening text,
A text that holds you at gun point and says “If you don’t behave I’m going to pull the trigger”, and then at some points seems to say “I’m going to pull the trigger anyway”
It is text that tells us the difference between God and Santa Claus
It is a text that we want to run from, and yet the greatest condemnation is reserved for those who attempt to silence it.
It shocks us out of our complacency
Takes away from any form of faith that attempts to buy God off with well intentioned gestures.
And calls us to deep change within ourselves
The text begins with an invitation for Jeremiah to go and hear the word of God down at the potter’s house.
He goes there, and he sees the potter make a pot,
And when the vessel is not good, he takes the clay again and remakes the pot,
He breaks it down and builds it up
So that it might be right in his eyes.
The first thing I want to note is that God is like a potter
It is the point that we were making earlier
That God is a maker, a creator
One who loves to bring from nothing something
To bring from chaos beauty
Who is immersed in the life of this world
Planning, measuring, pouring, igniting, plunging, hurling, moulding
The idea is of the potter, hands covered in clay, shaping, skilfully moulding the life of the world
In a way so intimately that it’s like the way you cannot tell sometimes where the pot ends and the hand begin.
There was a debate this week in some of the Newspapers when Stephen Hawking had said that Physics had explained the big bang and there was now no need for God.
Except people just wrote back and said “Well how do you explain the thing that caused the big bang”
And no one believed that the only thing God did was light the blue touch paper for the universe, and then take a holiday of 13 billion years. God is always creating.
And so also should we.
This is one of the philosophies behind the work of Carol Marples.
Have a look at some of these pictures here.
It is our job to be creative, and to find ways where we can create.
A life which has the creativity suffocated out of it has one of its main outlets for joy taken from it.
That is one of the reasons we want to think about creativity on Sunday.
But God’s care of creation is intimately bound up with the fact that he is the creator, the maker
Creator Makes Demands
A creator also makes demands.
You know the image of the stroppy film director, Michael Winner, making demands
You know the way that artists will rip up a canvas that is imperfect
Or a novelist will write and rewrite a novel until it is right.
It is the creator who makes demands over us.
And this is the Word of the Lord that goes with it
It is in the form of two statements of the form
“If, and if, and then”
“If I intend to destroy a nation that I will pluck up and break it” – remember that plucking up and breaking are at the heart of Jeremiah
And if that nation at any point turns back to me
Then I will relent of the disaster”
“If I intend to bless a nation that I will plant and build it” – remember that building up and planting are at the heart of Jeremiah
And if a nation becomes complacent
Then I will relent of the good that I intended to do”
This is behind the image of the prophets we have been holding throughout these last few weeks.
The wall, and the plumline,
The parts that are straight, the parts that are bent towards justice,
That parts that are bend towards compassion
Be that something as organised as the Eva Burrows
Or the quiet unassuming goodness of someone who goes in to clean for an elderly neighbour
God makes demands of us, that we be true.
That we be of the right shape
And the threat of God is against evil in the sight of God
Private evil that only God can see
Evil not as it is judged by our relaxed double standards
But the standards of God
Which are so often geared towards the vulnerable and the asylum seeker
The ones who slip through the net
As well as geared towards a kind of sacred morality that treats sexuality and life, and our bodies as sacred gifts, to be enjoyed and not be abused
That is what God the artists demands of us.
That we be truly a vessel of God.
A few years ago when I was at University, training to be a minister
A poor student for the second time in my life
I had parked my car for too long on University
And had got a parking ticket
The ticket said on it “£25 if you pay within 14 days, £50 if you pay after that”
My systems of personal organisation were not in those days the models of well oiled efficiency that surround me today, and I forgot about it;
Then one morning two weeks later I woke, worrying about the thing,
And looked at the date, it was 15 days overdue
I was distraught, £25 had become £50 entirely from my own stupidity
I was raging, not only £25 but £50 completely wasted.
Later on that morning, I did phone the parking folk at Glasgow City Council
I gave the number of my ticket, and asked the fine
“£25 she said”
I kept quiet
“Are you sure?” says I
“£25 she confirm”, and the second time I keep my mouth quiet
She then asks my address, “Flat 3/1 1 Elmvale Row Springburn”
“Thank you very much, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to put you on hold for a few moments”
As I was waiting, a friend of mine, a fellow student came along
“Who are you on the phone to”
“I’m on the phone to the parking folk. They’ve made a mistake,
“I could barely conceal my delight”
“they’re meant to be charging me £50 but they made a mistake are only charging 25.”
“I’m not on hold and I can hear everything you’re saying” says the woman at the parking.
In the end she still let me off.
But what do we gain in moment like these, these sly moments of getting ahead
We gain the £25, we get the new phone even though it was under warranty
We get the drugs we wanted the doctor to give us, even though we keep quiet about all they symptoms
On a bigger scale we get to live in more comfortable communities,
Able to not to be confronted with the deep pain of those who lives slip through the net
On a bigger scale we might get lower taxes
And freedom to be entrepreneurs
Or travel at higher speeds in bigger engined cars
But what do we lose
We lose the shapes of the vessels of God
We lose the rightness of creation
We lose the beauty that gave the creator such delight
We lose our character
And the threat of the episode at the potter’s house,
Is that in such circumstances we will be remade.
There is a part of us that says we are beyond redemption
There is a part of us that will silence the threat
And if do that, we risk not only being remade, we risk being discarded.
Being remade is painful
Being remade is extremely painful.
For Israel they were remade, they were cast into exile into Babylon
It was a trauma that still haunts the nation today,
But curiously it was also the making of Israel
It was out of their exile that their faith was remade into the form that kind of exists in today
Much of the writing of the Old Testament comes from the pain of that time.
In Jewish religion today, the most holy book, the Talmud, exists in two forms;
The Jerusalem Talmud, the writings from the capital city
And the Babylonian Talmud, the writings of those who were remade, were thrown into exile
And do you know which of the two is the most holy,
It is the one of the exiles, the ones who underwent the excruciating pain of being remade.
I want to ask, do you know anyone who in their live is enduring excruciating pain
Who is haunted, broken
Who has lost all that they once had
Who speaks frequently of giving up, of ending it all
Who has been a source of exasperation, of exhaustion in your life for a long time
Or who has visited upon them circumstances which they have not deserved.
This is not guaranteed, but it is possible
That they are undergoing the excruciating pain of being remade
During the initial writing of this sermon yesterday we had a phone call from someone in desperate pain
And you pray, let it be the pain of the potter,
Of the spoiled clay, that has to be remade
For it is a better thing to be reshaped in the hands of the creator
Even mysteriously remade in death
Than to be left untouched, and also alone.