Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Matthew DeLoera
December 3, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church
The prophet Isaiah prays, "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." I remember elementary school, when we had art class a few days a week. Oh, the things we used to do with paper and fingerpaint and yarn, and whatever else the teacher could think of, bless her heart. God only knows how much paste we ate in that room. I always loved art, except for those days when we got the ball of clay. This palm-sized magenta ball of cold, hard clay, and it's like you had to warm that stuff up forever with your hands before you could do anything with it, and maybe by the time the bell rang I had a snake and that was about it. Or at least that's all I can remember.
We are the clay and you are our potter. It's such an earthy image, God working at the potter's wheel, slowly turning and shaping some unremarkable lump into creation. God's skilled fingers furrowing crevices and curves, folding into the middle to push and pull and create space where there wasn't any before. But that's just the romantic part. You have to start at the very beginning, with a cold, hard lump that needs so much preparation to soften up. Moisture. Temperature. Time. Patience. Some kind of faith to know that this worthless hard lump of earth could be transformed into anything of value.
That's really what Advent is about. Time. Patience. Faith to know that God really is doing something of earth-shaking proportions, even if nothing seems to be changing. And right now we're desperate for change, because things are getting worse. Every day we hear more allegations of violation and harassment. More victims saying "me too". But we don't always believe them. We think they lie. Or we say "but you can't be a victim, you're so successful!" Or sometimes we believe them but we wonder if maybe they had a hand in it. Wrong place, wrong clothes, wrong words. We're hell-bent on figuring out a reason. And even if we've been victimized ourselves, we still cling to some kind of fantasy that people aren't capable of that kind of violence and damage. Our hearts can be hard as clay in our convictions. But we also think about the grace of Jesus. We constantly teach each other to interpret our neighbor's actions in the best possible light. We remember how Jesus warns us over and over again about judging. Except, holding our tongues doesn't seem to save anyone from danger. So, what's the difference between God's grace and our denial?
This is the question that plagues Isaiah. Imagine with me - Israel has grown into this incredibly rich and powerful nation. Once upon a time we wandered the desert for a drop of water. But look at us now. This is surely God's grace and favor, because God chose us. Doesn't that sound familiar? Except Israel has a problem - epidemic levels of injustice. Countless poor families struggle to get by, while elite classes of landowners and priests get richer by the day. The system is corrupt and broken. The emperor has no clothes. So the enemy Babylon finally attacks. Israel falls. A house divided can't stand. And Babylon takes Israel into exile, but they don't take everyone. No, they only cart off the powerful and elite from Israel, because they're useful. They'll fit into Babylon just fine. So who gets left behind? All those poor Israelites who never mattered in the first place - the tenants and the sharecroppers. Yet, we have all these scriptures that lament the exile. Israel mourns what it's lost. They talk about exile like God's punishment for their faithlessness. But the exiled Israelites actually prosper in Babylon. They start businesses. They run temples. They learn a thing or two in Babylon about how to win friends and influence people. All those laments about exile?They start to fall a little flat. So when the day finally comes that these exiles are released to go back home to Jerusalem, do you think they repent? No, now they've picked up an agenda about how they're going to make Israel be more like Babylon, because Babylon wasn't so bad after all. It's like no one learns a single thing. All their hearts are hard as clay.
So Isaiah laments to God. If you would only tear apart the heavens and come down, the mountains WOULD shake. The nations WOULD tremble. But where are you now? Where is your righteous anger for the ways we've exploited each other? Where is your grief? You enrobe yourself in the heavens, but would you not tear your robe in mourning and wailing for your people? Because you hid yourself and we transgressed. If you had only been here Lord, we would not have victimized each other. If you would raise your voice just once, our silent tongues would be loosened, and we would know EXACTLY what to say. But the thing is, when we issue demands to God, when we want God to tear open the heavens and come down and shake the mountains, it's because we're so sure who the REAL villians are, and God has to see it the way we see it, and we're tired of words. We want action. But the real problem is us. Because deep down that's the God we really want. The God who judges and destroys. But when that God shakes a mountain, it's not an earthquake. It's rocks and boulders that shatter down and destroy everything in their path. And who gets crushed? We do, because that's what retribution does to you. It kills you.
That's why God doesn't give us what we want. Instead, God gives us Jesus, God's only Son, who refused to say anything but this - I forgive you. And we hated him for it, because God didn't show up the way we wanted him to. We crucified Jesus and buried him. But that didn't defeat him. He goes to the dead to free the captives by the power of his word, and after three days, he is risen from the grave by the power of the Spirit. Resurrected, once and for all, for us. And he has to be, because it's the only way we could ever know the truth about God - that this is the God of life. Isaiah says - Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter. God is turning us on the potter's wheel, pushing and pulling to make space where there wasn't any before, empty space so that God can breathe new life into us. And God's breath only comes in that one word from Jesus, I forgive you. It's the only word in all of creation that gives life. It's the only thing we have that has any value at all. It's the only word that's eternal, because Jesus is eternal, and now, so are we.
Deep down, we know we're clay. I confess it to you. So stiff-necked. So stubborn that we even turn repentance into this futile game of shoulds and woulds and never agains like somehow we're actually going to conquer our sin this time. But that's not real. That's death, and we don't have to deny it anymore. We know by faith that Jesus is working within us, filling us with his Holy Spirit that won't be confined or tamed.
That Spirit makes us into the people who dare. We dare to sit with our brothers and sisters who have been victimized, because we know the truth that they are beloved children of God. We dare to pray with perpetrators because we know there IS another way. We're so bold that we confess we don't always know what to say. We dare to be in community with each other even though we disagree and spit out those stubborn faux-pologies. "I'm sorry you feel that way." But at the end of the day, we dare to hope that God really is reconciling all things to God's own self, all in all, by just by the simple fact that we all belong to our creator. You know, it's just like what happens with pottery or any kind of art. You can give it, you can buy it, you can resell it, you can show it off on your wall. But somehow you alwauys know who it truly belongs to, who it truly reflects. It's the one who made it. And so it goes for us. Lord, You are the potter and we are the clay.
But enough with words! What are we supposed to do? Some people think we Christians just like to say a bunch of hypocritical words. Some Christians think we don't say enough words. It doesn't really matter, because we the words we do speak have power. They do things. They raise people from the dead. The only way they can even come out of our mouths to begin with is because we actually see the beloved community that God has created, where absolutely everything has meaning and value. What forgiveness really says is that we are more than anything we've ever done or left undone and that's power. Such power that it will surely drive everything you say and do. Of course, I've got some bad news. You're going to be endlessly frustrated because you can't tell the difference. But thank God others will. Amen.