Looking South East from Hilltop Farm, Gladstone South Australia

Potter or Politicians?

Week of September 8 - Pentecost 16
Hebrew Scripture:
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Hebrew Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The 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.

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can 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.7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but 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. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but 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. 11Now, 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.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

34 ‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

The Sermon
I do not know how Jeremiah imagined God worked. When he saw that "at one moment [God might] declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that [it would be] pluck[ed] up and [broken down and destroy[ed.]" I don't know what mechanism he had in his mind, but the essential truths he saw still stand. They remain true:

If we go against the basic realities of the universe, it will not go well with us. If we keep crossing the road without looking, we will sooner or later be hit by a bus.

The basic realities include; for example, that too many people on this earth, and too much disruption and destruction of the environment on which we depend for life and survival, will leave us with an environment in which we cannot survive. Greed for possessions will kill us. The potter in whose hands we are clay, will begin to work in another way.

There are things which upset the balance of the potter's wheel even more quickly than the looming environmental disaster with which we live; other things which spoil the clay.

Another basic reality of the universe is this: You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength. And the measure that you are doing this is that you love your neighbour— all the other people on earth— as you love yourself.

The Hebrews learned this principle, and Jesus affirmed it, as the greatest commandment. In our language it means that the further we step away from justice, from equity, from respect and honour of all people, the more likely it is that the wheel will become unbalanced, that the clay will be spoiled, and that the nation will come to ruin.

When God taught Jeremiah the lesson of the Potter and the clay, this was the word which followed: (18:11)

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.

 We have just had an election campaign full of injustice and lies. There has been a constant effort by both the major political parties, and many of the minor parties, to gain our vote by departing from justice, from equity, from respect, and from the honouring of all people.

The lives of refugees— you shall remember the widow and the orphan and the stranger among you, said the Lord— have been used a racist tool of un-compassion to stir up our fears, and to stoke our greed. The rich have been promised more money at the expense of the poor. And those who are less rich have been told he lie that this is to their benefit!

Nothing else matters, all the other policies are irrelevant, for if we voted for these parties, we have not loved the Lord our God, with all our heart, and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength...

because

 ...  we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves. It does not matter who is the government. What matters is if we have decided that we, the clay, are the Potter. If we have decided that, for our personal benefit, we will live out of harmony with the basic realities of the universe, and in opposition to the basic realities of the universe, we have refused the demands which God the Potter makes of us the mere clay.

If we have voted to throw the poor to one side; we have put the wheel of the potter out of balance, and so the whole vessel will be spoiled.

Now, therefore, say to the people of Australia and the inhabitants of Canberra: 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.

- - -

The good news in Jeremiah is this: (18:8)  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.

There is no mechanical, button pushing, intervening-tomorrow kind of God in Heaven. We will pay a cost for our actions during this election and in the years leading up to it. But we can refuse greed and injustice; we can refuse support and affirmation for the politicians of greed and injustice; we can insist on justice for all people; and then we will find the nation will again be balanced in the Potter's hand.

- - -

The good news in Luke is this: we can be Jesus' disciples. We can travel with him along the road of life; (14:25)  be his brothers and sisters; share and bear his burdens; (14:27) and sit in the great banquet of life. We can be with those who "come from east and west, from north and south, and ... eat in the kingdom of God." (Luke 13:29)

Today's reading from Luke is part of an extended appeal throughout the last couple of chapters to hold on to the promise of the Kingdom, and to live out the Good News. Today's reading says three times—  it warns us— that we cannot be his disciple if we do certain things, or live in particular ways.

I'll read the lines:

26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple ... 33 none of you can be... my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

We need to unpack this, because it seems outrageous that we should hate life in order to be follower of Jesus, let alone hate our family in order to be a follower of Jesus.

It's a Hebrew way of speaking. Hating our family and our life itself is a way of saying family, and our love for our own life and survival and well being, should come second to our love for Jesus.

But we shouldn't say this too quickly or too easily. Jesus is making an absolutely uncompromising statement. There is no room for divided loyalties. Our commitment to him needs to be first,   foremost,   and absolute.

Every time we compromise our loyalty to Christ to keep family happy, every time we decide to play it safe for the sake of our wages, and refuse to carry the cross, we step away from following him; we move to the outside of the Potter's wheel and begin to unbalance the basic, natural order of reality which leads to life and fulfillment.

26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple ... 33 none of you can be... my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

The Potter and the Christ know that to leave our mother starving, and without a place to live, is to cease loving our neighbour as ourselves. But they are not stupid. They know when we seek unnecessary gain; when we are storing up harvest in the barns of a greedy rich fool, (Luke 12) instead of sharing our gifts for all people.

The Potter and the Christ are not hard hearted; they know that we live in a world infused with greed; the Christ who walked among us knows how hard it is to resist the temptation to have more-for-the-sake-of-it that assaults us every day.

And the Potter and the Christ know that for a politician, life is often about supporting the least of the evils on offer in order to avoid the worst. It is rare that a politician can act purely for the good. But a politician, and a voter, can also choose what is clearly wrong; and make it their policy. Politicians can promote what is clearly evil in order to get votes, and we can vote for them; we can choose evil instead of choosing life.

We cannot be a disciple of Jesus
if we choose to live for evil;
if we choose to live for ourselves;
if we choose to live against love;
if we decline to carry the cross.

- - -

Let us repent.

Lord, these words are easy to write.
They are easy to read out.
When we listen to the sermon,
or when we read your Scriptures,
they are not so hard to hear and to affirm.

But in their living... we fail again, and again.

Forgive us when we give in to greed.
Forgive us when we give in to fear.
Forgive us when our heart is small
and has little room for love.

We repent.
We turn again.
We commit ourselves to the way of God.
We will seek harmony with Your reality.
We will love you with all our heart
and soul, and mind and strength,
and we will love our neighbour as ourselves.

God help us, we pray. Amen.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Kathy Donley 08-09-2013
Preach! Preach!

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