Repent and be Transformed – Lectionary 09/08/2019

Jeremiah 18:1-11

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.

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;  you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sermon Text

There is a lot that we have broken in the Church. People have a lot of baggage about coming through those doors for a reason, and that reason is usually us. People associate the Church with judgmental prudes who spend their time scrolling Facebook sharing hurtful memes and conspiracy theories. People think of the Church as protestors with big signs and as street preachers calling down hellfire on everyone around them. People think of the Church as an old, outdated institution that has lost touch with the world around it. I am not going to argue with them on any of those points.

It is easy for us to become self-congratulatory. We are God’s saved after all. God died for us. If there is a problem with people coming into the Church, it cannot be with us. Other Churches maybe, especially if they’re a denomination we don’t like. Catholics and nondenoms, they’re the source of evil, not us. Certainly not our congregations, certainly not our pew, certainly not… our heart.

The difficulty of the life of Faith is that we are not just a group of people – we are the body of Christ. We are not saved by our works, but by our faith. If that is true, then we can do as the Super Apostles did in Paul’s time. Literally, “Upper Apostles,” they looked at everyone and said, “I’m saved. Because of that I am also perfect. Since I am perfect, you all must follow me, and don’t you dare question me.” One day we will have an entire sermon on this group, but today they serve as an extreme example of what I am talking about. The Church looks at itself and says, “Yeah, we have trouble… But I’m not why we have trouble, and neither are the people I know. It’s just those people over there!”

Well, as we discussed a few weeks ago, when we start pointing fingers that usually indicates that someone struck a nerve. We feel vulnerable when we are asked to confess for our sins and repent of them. Remember the reaction of the Pharisees, many of which would fit into our church just fine. They were good people many of them, did their duty to the poor and to God. They loved God and worshipped him often. Yet, when the reality that they still were lacking, that they did not have something needful, they killed the people who said it to them. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod because he spoke against him, Jesus was crucified because he dared to say we were lacking in love for one another and God. Stephen for saying we don’t love those different than us. Paul for saying the Emperor was not God. And so on, and so on.

When good people are told they are not what they should be, they get defensive. Because we associate what we are now with what we are. We cannot know what’s ahead of us, what is past is already gone. We get defensive when someone tells us we need to change, because we cannot see the potential in us in the same way that other people can. It was once put to me this way – that we know God’s voice when it sounds like someone else, and that Satan will only ever speak to us in our own.

There are several things which bring us to a point where we might understand our need to repent. To literally turn away from the path we have made for ourselves and back toward God. However, one of the simplest ones is the presence of God. When God appears to us, we know that we are not where we should be. The majesty of God is so great that the soul is utterly lost in its presence. When God shows up in a moment of worship, when we are wrapped in our savior’s arms. Then we disappear into the fullness of that moment, the smallness and the fragility of our little existence in this massive universe strikes the infinite love of its creator and we are left starstruck. The Psalms tell us about this time and time again.

Today the Psalmist does not even have to look away from themselves to see the majesty of God. “You formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” The Psalmist had no idea that in this phrase they described a miracle that we sometimes can forget. That we are miracles. Inside each and everyone of us is a complex system of biological machinery. Everything finely tuned, everything balanced just so, and all of it made up of dust.

If you take up a rock, if you dig in the dirt, if you ever touch a flower, then you see all the ways that dust can come together to make something special. The same basic bibs and bobs, the cosmic clay that are the chemical elements. These are arranged just so in anything you ever see, everything you ever touch. The intricate ionic bonds in the rock you pick up are not unlike those that make up your bones, the pastiche of carbon and nitrogen in a flower are nearly identical to the ones that make up our soft tissues, and even the dust of the earth is made up of what we are. We are all, each and everyone of us, knit together in the depths of the Earth because each and everyone of us are made up of the same stuff as it.

How can we look at how intricate we are, how marvelous we are, and not see that something very great must have put us together? The Psalmist knows that if God made something as complicated as this, that God must have invested more time into them. God must know what they think, what they feel, what they do. The Psalmist imagines running into the deepest pits of the Earth, to the grave that is Sheol. Up into Heaven too they could fly. From one end of the other of this 13.8 Billion lightyear wide universe we live in, they imagine running and they know that God would be at each and every stop along the way. They respond to this with love, with worship, but also… With a degree of fear.

The Psalmist looks at how much God knows and God does, and knowing that God is good makes a request of God. “God, if only you would destroy the evil people of the world.” “Lord if only you would chase down everyone who commits evil and wipe them out.” Then, the Psalmist supposes. Justice would be complete on the Earth.

The Psalmist does not stop with this request. The Psalmist does not look at the wickedness of the world and say, “God just get rid of that.” They look within. The Psalmist takes a deep breath and then says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The Psalmist has called down Judgment on God’s enemies. They have asked God to do right and avenge those who have been hurt, all those who have had their blood spilt unjustly. They realized though, as we all must do, that the same wickedness that was in the so called, “Enemies of God,” was also in their heart.

People cry against the church constantly, “They are judgmental!” “They are hateful!” “They sit on their judgment seat and they condemn the whole world but do not look at themselves!” Imagine, if instead of fighting about whether or not they’re right. If instead of discounting the hurt which the Church has caused them, we were honest. I am judgmental. I am hateful. I sit on my seat of judgment and condemn the whole world, but not myself. Imagine what could happen.

Even now, as we hear this word we recoil back. “I know I’m not perfect, but they won’t ever acknowledge it.” Something within us will not even let us repent without being self-righteous about it. God does not want us to turn half heartedly away from our problems. God does not want us to look at the paths we are taking in life and say, “Yes I know its bad, but I’m saved aren’t I?” Because if we do that. If we just walk on our own path without really turning back to God, then we will never find God. Words mean nothing. Actions mean everything.

God invites us to be scooped up and reshaped. The potter can take the clay and remold it, but only if the material is willing. I do not know much about pottery, but I know that a piece of clay with the wrong balance of water or of silicate will explode in the kiln. When put under scrutiny it not only destroys itself, but all those pieces around it. The material which God plucks up must be willing to be transformed, atom by atom if necessary, so that it can be conformed to the goodness which God has set aside for it.

We do not like a wrathful God. We should not like a wrathful God, because any honest person who hears of one knows that their head should be on the chopping block. A God of wrath will not spare you simply because you know that they exist, nor because you pay lip service to them. A God of wrath would want you wholesale, would want you to ask yourself honestly what in this life is important.

I’ll be quite honest that this month is going to be one of scrutiny for us. Today we talk about repentance, next week about judgment, then about how God will lift us up, then about what it really means to mourn, and finally what it means that God is our king. This month is brutal in how the scripture will speak to us, this month is not going to be gentle. This month is not, however, going to be hopeless. There is never a time that we will meet together and leave without hope.

The hope which remains today and everyday is this. That God, the potter of our lives, was not content to destroy the vessels he made. God instead took on one such vessel. God became like one of us, and when God told us the way ahead of them was one of love and peace, we shattered him. That vessel was put together again though, and we who fought against the call of God are the same people now offered to be transformed ourselves. We must repent and be transformed, each and everyone of us, but the promise remains. One will follow the other. Repentance is not the end, it is the beginning of something new, something better, something abundant. Turn back, foreswear thy foolish ways, be born again in the Spirit of Christ. – Amen.

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