Pentecost 14 C – All or Nothing…

As I worked on this message, the approaching hurricane had everyone on edge.

Good old Earl – a tremendous burst of excitement to see the summer out.

My brother cutting his vacation short – leaving for home a day early.

People checking supplies and talking about what might happen.

I found myself checking the sky more often – though I wasn’t sure what I might see.

Hurricanes, for me, are events that always happened to someone else.

Not that I missed all the fun – I grew up in tornado country,

so I am quite familiar with the problems caused by wind related weather.

It can be total destruction – whole rows of houses –

entire stands of trees – suddenly gone

but tornadoes have another interesting habit – they can be selective.

Wiping our the house, but leaving the garage untouched.

Tearing out trees on either side of an old wreck of a car,

that remains just as it was.

The weather is like that – both the good and the bad – an all or nothing transaction

that leaves you with a new respect for nature

and a renewed sense of how little influence we humans have.

So I find it very interesting that this morning’s lessons

ask us to imagine an all or nothing scenario.

Jeremiah at the potters house has long stood as a symbol for the kind of God we wish for

God who, upon seeing our imperfections –

imperfections caused by the way God shaped us –

is only too happy to squash us flat and start again – always aiming for perfection.

Such an image lets us imagine that the search for goodness – for perfection – is out of our hands

the potter will decide what is “good enough” – the potter will make the necessary corrections.

But Jeremiah seem more clearly than that – He sees an all or nothing transaction of a different kind.

The vessel is formed by God’s hand – the people are blessed by God’s grace –

but the flaws seem to come from deep within.

Can I not do with my people, as the potter does with this clay? Asks the Lord..

give up and start over when the flaws become obvious –

when it becomes too hard to work with, can I not break it down and start fresh?

It is a frightening idea – that God might really be like that –

that at the sign of some deep flaw, God would simply give up and start again.

The story of the flood in Genesis, and the almost constant barrage

of natural catastrophes that we encounter in the news

seem to suggest that God has a history of that sort of behaviour.

But God is not so frivolous as that –

this prophetic warning is offered to a people

whose lives and circumstances have been reshaped by God’s grace

more often, and more radically, than they realize.

The metaphor of the potter at his wheel reaches deep,

and recalls the history of second chances

that are the foundation of Israel’s relationship with “God-who-Is”.

This all or nothing gambit is not some game that God plays with God’s self

seeking only to improve the artistry of creation.

it is, I think, an option that is offered – in grace –

to those who would call themselves God’s people.

An option that invites us to acknowledge a power beyond our own;

a power that can move us in ways we would not ordinarily go.

It is hard to hear grace when the prophet says “take it or leave it”

it is harder to hear grace when Jesus says – you cannot follow me unless you hate those things you say you love – friends, family – you cannot truly follow me without leaving that behind.

This is an all or nothing scenario that we cannot imagine –

there is too great a gap between who we want God to be (generous, caring and “family-focused”)

and Jesus who speaks God’s truth to us…but once again we are invited to choose –

between own own safe havens – family, friends and those whose ideas are familiar and comfortable – and the wide open spaces of God’s promised kingdom.

Comfort or challenge, Jesus asks – which will it be?

The truth of the matter is that we have long decided that both is an option.

Never really caring to leave the comfortable surroundings

of hearth and home – of tradition and (training…) –

We are quite content – (and that is the problem) –

to be challenged only as far as the door of the sanctuary, (or the evening Bible study)

because we cannot imagine changing our ideas, our lives, or our relationship to God too radically.

But the very idea that God asks something of us –

the notion that, in Christ, God calls us into a new and very different relationship

with God’s great act creative imagination cannot be ignored.

There is a cost to making so great a change – a cost that must be considered.

To commit our lives to the way of Christ – to devote our energy to the worship and work of God – is an act of pure foolishness in a world that measures success in personal terms.

Selflessness is not understood. Humility cannot be measured.

Compassion and mercy are not legal tender in the world of selfish comfort that trains us

to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass – to consider only our safety and survival.

But Jesus promises that the cost is nothing when the reward is considered.

The benefits of harmony with God’s vision for creation

restful peace for today, and glorious joy for eternity

are far greater than any temporary loss of comfort.

The storm may well be upon the church in this time of public indifference.

We could continue to stress security and “storm-worthiness” in our institutions –

but maybe we have an opportunity to submit to the re-forming hand of the potter.

To endure the crush – to accept the shift and change –

and to see more clearly the perfection of God’s plan for us. Amen

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