Year C; Proper 18FB, 9.4.2022
My neighbor and friend in Plainfield, New Jersey retired early from his law practice and began taking pottery classes. He was already a collector of beautiful pottery, and he wanted to learn to work with the clay himself. Larry spoke of his classes in almost a spiritual way – spinning clay, using his hands boldly AND gingerly, knowing when to apply water to make the clay more pliable, knowing when to destroy a flawed object and start over, and finally, knowing when the object had reached its purpose and was ready to fire.
I have been the lucky recipient of Larry’s vases, plates and bowls. I received my first pottery vase from Larry when I returned home after spending 12 days at Memorial Sloan-Kettering with John as he lay dying of cancer. I came home to an empty Grace Church rectory and walked into the kitchen. There on the counter was this darling vase filled with bright yellow daffodils. [lift up the vase] The note simply read, “…and soon the night of weeping will be the morn of song.” (Such hopeful words from one of my favorite hymns!)
I wanted to share this pottery vase with you, a darling, short, round squat creation with a beautifully fired finished. It started out as rough clay. And now it’s a treasured object in my home.
Sharing this vase with you is my way to invite us to join the prophet Jeremiah in the potter’s house. In our first reading this morning, we heard the story of God, the potter in the potter’s house working the clay. Isn’t that a great metaphor for God? And the clay is a perfect metaphor for God’s human creatures.
As God the potter works with the clay, we can almost hear the distant words of from the book of Genesis, Chapter two, verse 7. “And God formed the first human of the dust of the ground, and breathed life into the nostrils and the first human became a living soul.” We come from the dust. We return to dust. And in-between, those human creations sometimes have clay feet!
This passage from Jeremiah is of hope for those of us who are “clay-footed,” awkward, clumsy, mistake-ridden and yes, sinful. The potter’s story seems harsh. Will God really destroy us if we stray? It’s a good thing that God changes God’s mind!! Yet, I don’t for a minute think that God is a God of destruction. We have no trouble doing that by our own willfulness. What is so hopeful in this story is that something destroyed is reworked and made new and useful by our loving, life-giving God. That’s the message and that’s our hope.
God called Jeremiah in the beginning to be the prophet to King Josiah who had integrity and was a spiritual reformer king. That’s when things were going well. Jeremiah didn’t have much to say in the early period because King Josiah was honest, cared for the common good of his people, and brought them back to authentic faith and relationship with God.
But King Josiah died unexpectedly and was replaced by a series of corrupt and greedy kings that weakened Israel. The worship began to be fake and empty. The religious leaders had corrupted and distorted the tenets of the faith in order to further their personal wealth and agendas. We can see this happening today in our country. In Jeremiah’s time, that’s when God began to speak through him. And it caused him terrible suffering.
I remember my Old Testament professor Richard Corney telling our class Jeremiah’s story. He had the entire class nearly weeping because Jeremiah was so alone, calling the people to turn toward God. But they rejected him time and time again. He was driven out of his country and dumped in an empty cistern to die. We all felt sorry for him!
Theologian Thomas Steagald writes this about the prophet Jeremiah: “Jeremiah is called…[to be] a steward of the [faith] tradition; he is considered foolish; he is lonely within his community…[he is a prophet]…called to remind people of both past mercies and deliverance – to summon Israel back to thanksgiving and service.”
Today is the first Sunday of several Sundays the Episcopal Church is calling “The Season of Creation,” I wonder what God’s “foolish prophets” of environmental care are summoning us to. I wonder what thanksgiving and service for the sake of our beautiful earth our faith community is being called to.
Oh, my goodness! Have you seen the rain garden at the west end of the church on Union Street? What a witness to God’s creation! The plants are native, and the deep ground gravel work together with the plants to naturally filter the runoff of our roof before it gets to the Androscoggin River. Have you seen the Memorial Garden? It is now planted with native oat grass, beautifully filling out a place for children and adults alike to run without need for lawn mowers and manicuring of grass.
And who of our children can tell me where the vine is growing in the garden and what it looks like today? Who loves the grass? Who loves the trees? Who loves the flowers and vegetables? Who loves God who makes all things grow? It’s as if our beautiful planet earth and the stars above and the galaxies and planets are in the “potter’s hand” who gives it all for our enjoyment and our well-being, and for our good stewardship.
I’m reading Kathleen Dean Moore’s book, “Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change.” Moore is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University and co-founded the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word. On page 217 in her book, she gives a prophetic voice to what our communities are called to do. These are her six beautiful hopes:
Number One: She hopes for “The greatest possible abundance of living things who hold in all their variety…ideas of how to thrive in changing conditions.”
Number Two: She wishes for “The greatest possible diversity of human beings who share ideas about mutual flourishing.”
Number Three: She envisions “The greatest possible abundance of fresh, clean water…”– PERIOD. Fix the water system in Jackson, Mississippi and in all the poorest places! NOW!
Number Four: She envisions “Layers of fertile soil.”
Number Five: She hopes for “The greatest variety of tools and skills of every kind shared in community.”
Number Six: She hopes for “Respect for abiding love for her vision…and the moral courage to nourish [it] without rest or fear…”
Let’s call her “Jeremiah” and join her, not in the “potter’s shed,” but out in the world to nurture, love, and care for this “fragile earth, our island home” because this is community work and doesn’t belong in the potter’s shed forever. This is the only home we have. So! Who loves God’s Creation? Who wants to be a foolish prophet for the sake of God’s Creation?