Salvage Work


Jeremiah 18: 1-6 and Matthew 6: 9-13

One of the first theological conversations that children have emerges when they are setting the rules for a game. “Are there, or are there not, do-overs?” It isn’t a simple matter. The answer to that question reveals a fundamental understanding of the nature of life. “Is there grace and an opportunity to begin again, or are you stuck with a mistake you have made?” In a game, admittedly, the stakes are fairly low – but that fundamental question of whether or not there is grace in life may shape assumptions and world understandings for a lifetime. Those stakes are high.

  1. God votes “YES,” on the do-over question. God is in the SALVAGE business. It’s a recurring theme in scripture: Mistakes CAN be fixed. Errors CAN be corrected. New possibilities exist within the old, broken stuff of our lives. Yes, we can begin again.

God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house. Jeremiah needs a teaching moment in order to hear God’s truth – to actually experience God’s truth. God shows Jeremiah that the potter WORKS the clay. The Potter salvages the clay.

Jeremiah was a prophet in the area around Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE. He was deeply involved with politics and often was at odds with the king and those in power. He found himself in trouble fairly frequently because he told the people what GOD wanted from them. It wasn’t a popular message – and he was an intensely unpopular messenger. So Jeremiah needed a word from the Lord himself. And he was told to go down to the potter’s house and watch the potter work the clay.


WEDGING is the working of the clay so that the tiny air bubbles and the bits of minerals within the clay are worked throughout. The clay that begins as hard absorbs the water that the potter adds, as well as moisture and oils from the potter’s hands so that it becomes soft and pliable. When the clay is ready to be shaped, it is added to the wheel.

As the wheel turns, the movement of the clay against the hands of the potter begins to shape the clay into a vessel. Sometimes something goes wrong – the clay seems to resist the guiding hand of the potter. Then the vessel is out of balance. It may be ruined.

But the potter will begin again. Re-shaping the clay, the potter works the ruined pot or messy lump of clay into another vessel. It isn’t ruined forever – it can be reshaped by the Potter’s Hand. The potter may splash water on the wheel, or use a sponge to gently apply water to the clay to soften it. The water keeps the clay soft and pliable. It enables the clay to be reshaped, re-formed, and be used to make something useful or beautiful.

Reshaping happens all the time anyway. We are either being shaped in the divine image, the image of Christ, or into a “horribly destructive caricature of that image – destructive not only to ourselves but also to others.” We can be remolded into a community of agents of God’s healing and grace. God says, “I am like the potter. I am in the Salvage Business. I will reshape my people”


Rebellion.


It’s a really good thing that new starts are a part of God’s plan because we mess up a lot. Sometimes it is even on purpose. If God asks us to do something that we don’t want to do – we may rebel. In those moments when we are honest with ourselves, we can see our rebellious moments. We know what we SHOULD do, but we choose to do what we WANT to do.


God calls us, most of the time, to follow in a harder path. Jesus said that path was narrow that led to God’s kindom…and wide that led to destruction. He also said that to follow him meant picking up our own cross and carrying it – maybe not something on our “to do list.” There are understandable reasons that we don’t get excited about “the cost of discipleship.” The truth is that DISCIPLINE is not usually fun. No one likes to deny themselves. No one WANTS the cross. Life is much easier if we take care of ourselves and our family and let doing things God’s way wait…however long.

We don’t like to think of the ways we push God to the margins of our lives as rebellion – but it is.

  • When we choose yet another ball game or show we are currently bingeing to watch instead of doing Bible study – we are in rebellion. And we know which is actually better for us.

  • When we spend more money on meals out in a week than we give to the Lord – we are in rebellion. And those meals are nice, but they don’t last like a contribution to Housing Forward or Beyond Hunger. We actually do know that indulging ourselves when some of our neighbors don’t have enough to eat would not please God.

  • When we watch the news and dismiss tragedy because it doesn’t touch us or our family – we are in rebellion. Jesus not only instructed us to love our neighbors, but also said that when we ignore the needs of others, we are ignoring him.

We KNOW when we are in rebellion. And we do it anyway. We indulge our own desires instead of following in God’s path. We want to believe, rather desperately, that we are capable of directing our own lives without any help from God. We don’t want to internalize the hard instructions that God provides us on how to live. We don’t want to think about the needs of others – we prefer to focus on ourselves. We focus on ourselves, and thus separate ourselves from God. This is our rebellion: we reject God’s leadership – God’s lordship over our lives and walk in the way we PREFER to go. We come up with some very creative excuses to do what WE want instead of what God wants. We have a commitment to our bridge club, so we can’t help with a worship service. We’ve done a lot for the church in the past and we deserve a break – everyone deserves a break once in a while. We’ll just give some money instead of volunteering to help the homeless – after all, both are needed.


It is a bit uncomfortable to think about ourselves as being in rebellion from God. It’s more than a bit uncomfortable to think about admitting that we need God to reshape us, to admit that we are far from perfect. We don’t want to admit that for ourselves, or for our church. BUT if we have even a little bit of discontent with how we are…if we long for things to be different, new – we need to hear and speak these words of truth.

God created us for obedience. God invites us into obedience. But we turn away from God and God’s wishes for our lives. We follow the way that looks good, and are not content with what IS good. We know what we SHOULD do, but we do what we WANT to do. We are in rebellion from God, from goodness.


God, who loves us, wants what is best for us. God wants us to have a meaningful, rewarding life. God isn’t a spoil sport, giving unnecessary rules to make the game harder. God is like a parent who tries to tell a small child that they shouldn’t put their fingers in an electrical socket….even puts in safety plugs…and then the kind that have to be twisted to be opened…God isn’t trying to thwart our will – but protect us from ourselves. And God knows more than we do – like the aunt who told the teenager not to open the glass door to the screen because the puppy would jump through it. And the teen thought that was crazy, since the purpose of the screen was to let in air. She thought she knew best – until the puppy jumped through the screen. When we do figure out that God knows more than we do – and wants what is best for us, then we can begin to offer our lives to God and follow in God’s way.


The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. At that moment, they longed to follow God like Jesus did. Begin with “Our Father” or “Our Creator,” he told them. God is for all of us – and God is in a position of authority over us. It helps to know who IS and who ISN’T in charge. (God is – we aren’t.) And so the prayer begins with an acknowledgement that God is in power and the relationship with God belongs to all of us.


“Hallowed be thy name.” WHOSE name is holy and to be honored? Not OURS, Jesus didn’t say his either – God’s name is holy and to be honored. “Thy kingdom come…” we are to pray that God’s rule will come on Earth…God’s dream will be born. Not ours. Not anyone else’s. “THY will be done…” not mine. When we pray, “thy will be done” we are asking God to take over our lives – to remold us, remake us to be the people that God wants us to be. “Give us this day our daily bread..” this comes from an attitude of gratitude that all that we have comes from God. And as a gift from God, it should be shared with anyone who doesn’t have enough. Our grandparents and great-grandparents understood this. In the middle of the Great Depression many of them had the habit of setting an extra place for any travelers who came through asking for a meal. Those who were blessed to have food – even something as simple as vegetable soup and homemade bread – shared it freely because food was a gift from God. “Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us…” It means, “Lord, forgive me the way I forgive others.” “And lead me not into temptation…” this means that we will give up on our questionable behaviors – and then ask God to deliver us from evil – because we need help. We KNOW we need help.


We pray this way because faith is intended for desperate people who need to be salvaged and who long for something beyond what we can manage on our own.

The goal of faith, of Christian transformation, is to restore us as a community to being centered in God’s will, reshaped by God’s guidance for our community, our family, the body of Christ. We have to choose, very intentionally, to let God’s hand shape us. We must choose to be formed, transformed to the patterning of Jesus: his life of service, his willingness to suffer, and his restoration by God in the resurrection. It’s a decision to be subjected to the will, the shaping, of the Potter – rather than remain as we are, or in the patterns of the past.


In this moment, many of our assumptions of who we were as a community have been shaken, perhaps even gone forever. We find ourselves in a moment of opportunity where we can allow God to reshape us for a new day, a new world, into a different form so that we can be more useful in the present circumstances. It won’t work, however, if we refuse. It won’t work if we decide that the form we have been comfortable with is the form we want to maintain. It will only work if we allow ourselves to be re-molded by our Creator, working the impurities out, re-forming the brokenness as a new creation takes shape.


Here we are at the Potter’s House: needing to be softened up, centered on the wheel, and shaped, re-shaped and molded by God’s will. Potters are patient – they will rework the clay again and again until it is properly shaped – until it becomes what it can be. God wants what is best for us, after all. God knows more than we do. God is eager to do the needed Salvage Work on our flawed community of faith. And God’s wisdom can shape us into useful and beautiful vessels to serve the new world that is before us. A world that needs salvaging too. We who are being salvaged, “join with God in the ongoing salvage of the world. To salvage involves getting dirty, taking risks, courting failure, and social rejection.” It’s a process, being salvaged. It’s a process, doing the work of salvage with God. It requires submission and an acknowledgment that we are flawed and in need of God’s reshaping. But God wants what is best for us – and longs for a world that is different, re-formed. We can be a part of that.


We’re invited to the Potter’s house, perhaps not just to watch. We can put ourselves on the Potter’s wheel for reshaping. We’ll have some things to leave behind: old patterns, ways of being in the world, and some of that is painful. We’ve been practicing adjusting. We have already experienced significant losses. But this time, they come with a benefit: the reshaping we need at God’s hand. Our past rebellions can be re-formed to something beautiful. Our own need for salvaging can help us partner with God in the dream of salvaging and reshaping the world. Are we ready to be reformed by the Potter’s hand?




FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF OAK PARK
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324 N. Oak Park Ave.  ·  Oak Park, IL. 60302   ·  (708) 383-4983
 

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