(A sermon based on Jeremiah 18:1-11 & Luke 14:25-33 for Sunday, September 5, 2010)
It matters what First Baptist Church as a community of faith decides to be and what we decide to do. It matters what the people who make up First Baptist Church decide to be and to do.
God has purposes and plans that God is working out. But our decisions and actions matter. How we allow our hearts and spirits to be formed and shaped matters.
Whether or not we follow in the way of Jesus matters.
The Bible presents tensions with which we just have to live. Some people like to stress the absolute sovereignty of God; they insist that God is working God’s purposes out and that human actions cannot change the purposes of God. Others like to stress human freedom; they insist that pretty much everything is contingent on the choices that people make. Our text shows that this is not an either/or matter; rather, it is a both/and situation. God is working God’s purposes out but our actions do affect what God decides to do. We need to hold God’s sovereignty and our freedom in tension because that’s what our Bibles do. That’s what our text does.
The practical implication of that deep theology is that while God is ultimately in control but at the same time how we are and what we do matter very much.
God told Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and when he did he saw the potter at work. Most of us know how that process works. The potter puts the clay on the wheel and as the wheel spins the potter works to mold and form the clay into the shape that the potter desires. Where the vessel in progress becomes too thick the potter works to make it thinner; where it becomes too thin the potter works to make it thicker. Where a flaw emerges in the vessel the potter works to remedy the flaw. It is an ongoing process in which a kind of partnership emerges between the potter and the clay; the clay responds to the potter’s touch but it is the will of the potter that ultimately matters. If the vessel being formed becomes hopelessly flawed, the potter has to work it into another kind of vessel entirely.
So the Lord told Jeremiah that his people Israel were in his hands like the vessel in the hands of the potter. God could do with them what he wanted. If God planned to do good with them and to them but they turned away from God’s way for them, then God would have to change God’s mind and work them into a completely different kind of vessel that would more accurately reflect his purpose and will and way.
Unfortunately, Israel of the Old Testament consistently and habitually chose to go their own way, to follow “gods” other than the Lord, and to violate the ways that God had set down for them to live in establishing a covenant with them. So their history was one of God the potter continually having to change the course that God had planned for them and to reshape them, sometimes through very painful means, into who they were supposed to be.
Now, such forming and shaping and redirecting has to take place even under the best of circumstances. The truth is that even in those brief shining moments when Israel came somewhat close to being what they were supposed to be they still had a long way to go; the same is true for the church. Moreover, the Bible ultimately makes it clear that even when things are going well or when you seem to be having success it doesn’t mean that all is right or that all will go right.
Still, sometimes God has to intervene to change our course for us. The point for today is that it is a good thing when we follow God’s leadership and change our own course. The biblical word for such a change is, of course, “repent.”
As a church lives its life and moves through its history, making decisions all along the way that affect the direction it will go and the ways that God will work through it. As the people of First Baptist Church have lived out its life and moved through its history, we have chosen courses, no doubt believing that we were following God’s will, that have made a difference.
It matters, for example, that the church bought this property and moved here rather than staying in town; it mattered also that we decided to renovate our buildings and stay here rather than do something else.
It matters that we called the pastors we have called over the years rather than calling some others that we could have called.
It matters that we have chosen the various ministry paths that we have chosen over the years.
It matters that we have handled our conflicts in the ways that we have.
In every case we were on the potter’s wheel. God was working to form and shape us into the church that God wanted and needed us to be. In some cases God was able to step back and say, “Now that’s a church that’s shaping up rather nicely” and in other cases God had to say, “Well, there’s a flaw that’s going to be hard to work with; I may have to do some serious reforming.” In every case, the best course for us would have been to seek to know and to do God’s will for the church.
Now, we are where we are. And we are still on the potter’s wheel. We are basically healthy and we are basically doing well. We nevertheless need to seriously think and pray about where we go from here.
How do we need to turn around and go a different way? How do we need to choose a different course, one that is more in tune with God’s will for us? And how do we know what that will is?
The main way is this: we need to look at Jesus Christ. He showed us how to live as obedient children of God. He showed us how to follow God selflessly and sacrificially. By his words and by his actions Jesus showed and taught us what we need to know and to do.
As a church, will we take up our cross and follow him? Will we, like Jesus did, put our commitment to God absolutely and completely ahead of everything else? Will we give up whatever we have to give up, including those things in which we find our security, in order to serve God? Will we focus on loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves? Will we do everything we can to turn our inner attention to God and our outer attention to others?