I once knew of a pastor who informed his Elders that he was meeting a great deal of resistance to the innovations he was trying to implement. They offered some tacit support, that famous passive aggressive stuff that says yes to your face and no to your back. The pastor then told them, “you have a choice, either you can help the church change, and participate in that change, or we will do it when you are dead.”

This is the message of Jeremiah.

Some people see the pastor as the one who is part of the journey, the one who is hurriedly pacing among the porters, seeing that they have proper nourishment, rotating them from the back to the front of the line, caring for the crew. Others see the pastor as the one who is out in the front of the column with their compass, being sure that the next few steps that are taken are in the right direction. And there are some who realize that the pastor is really the person who climbs the highest tree, surveys the landscape, and after carefully reviewing the big picture, calls down to the column saying, “Hey, you’re going in the wrong direction!” To which, the column yells back, “shut-up, we’re making progress here!”

Jeremiah is this kind of pastor.

The problem with the “Called Community” is that they have failed in being that.  I do not know how that happens, how a whole body of people can somehow get derailed like this.  The leaders are to blame, to be sure.  But doesn’t the rest of the people have some responsibility in this? 

Perhaps the problem is relevance.  It is always tempting to set aside whatever it is that God is calling you to do and be so that you might focus on what you want to do and be.  I suspect that the genesis of this is an attempt to address the issues of the day, rather than asking how discipleship comes to bear on the issues of the day.  It could be that people forgot their central purpose, why they were created out of the dust of the earth in the first place.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that it is much more appealing to strive to get something out of our faith rather than put something into it.

If we somehow managed to get our minds wrapped around this alternative, to put something into it, what would it be?  Jeremiah seems to suggest it is submission.  The key may well be to set aside our own goals and to allow God to shape our community into that which is pleasing to God.

My sermon today is titled “Created for a Purpose.”  

Some of you may have jumped ahead here and wonder if I am going to bring up a once wildly popular book titled: “The Purpose Driven Life.” I am not. It is a perfectly good book as books go, but it (and its variants) seem to focus on kingdom building, and kingdom building as if we knew exactly what that looked like. If we use Jeremiah as one example, it becomes clear that Israel never had any real trouble building ‘a’ kingdom, given half a chance. What they did have trouble doing was remaining faithful. The message here is self-denial, not self-fulfillment. The hope of Jeremiah is a message about redemption, not about life’s purpose.

See the real problem here in the text is when people set up their own will as God’s will. Like it or not, says Jeremiah, the potter will have the final answer in all of this.

Our Jeremiah passage is about getting another chance to change, to get it right. It’s about the potter who realizes that the work in his hands has gone wrong, but, rather than throw out the clay, he gives it a new start and makes something useful and beautiful out of the redeemed lump.

“Can I not do with you, O house of Israel,
just as this potter has done?” says the Lord.
Change is always difficult, especially for self-assured people like us.  We have been practicing church for some time and things are going pretty well.  Ok, not as well as they went a few decades ago, but we’re still here!  Why should we step out into uncertain territory, relying on nothing more than the belief that if we listen and respond God will shape us, mold us, move us in ways that serve God’s intention?  There is no real reason, unless we believe, too, that we must continually and prayerfully wonder just how God intends to use us.

I, for one, believe that faithfulness is not all that difficult.  Attention to loving God and our neighbor in everything can carry us a long way.  What is hard is to allow ourselves to be maleable enough to change direction when needed, alter our point of contact, utilize new gifts and abilities, adopt new language, so that we really bring love to bear upon the world around us. 

Relevance can be just another self-serving kind of rigidity that keeps us safe and secure within our own comfort zone.  There won’t be any strange ‘other worldliness’ in worship, we won’t be asked to be in service to strangers, and we can just do those things we like to do and make us feel good about ourselves.

As useful as it may be to see this text from Jeremiah on an individual level, Jeremiah is speaking about the ‘community of faith,’ not the individual. God means to shape the Community of faith into something that may serve to further the Kingdom of God in its religious, social, and political life.What is hard to hear, is that this word from the prophet informs the called community that if they do not change they will be destroyed.

 
 If our clay becomes hardened like the jug in Jeremiah 19:10, then, as Jeremiah said, it must be taken out and broken to pieces, and it shall not be mended.

 

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