Sermon: Under Construction (part 3)
Scripture: Isaiah 64:8
Date: September 4, 2016
As we try to unpack what Isaiah had in mind when he talked about the potter and pottery, I wanted to show you this picture. (show picture of bowl) Now this bowl, though in good shape is mostly unremarkable. Until we consider that it is from the time of or just after Jesus walked this earth. The time of the Roman Empire. 2000 years ago. Now most of the time when pottery such as this bowl is found by archaeologists it winds up in a museum somewhere. They consider the pieces to be invaluable in telling the story of ancient civilizations. But occasionally they are unearthed by more unscrupulous persons and they are smuggled onto the open antiquities market and they are then sold for huge sums of money, sometimes several hundred thousand dollars. This bowl is in great condition but much of the ancient pottery that is unearthed is not in such great shape as you can imagine after thousands of years buried. But here’s the thing, even pottery that is cracked and chipped and broken is of infinite value to historians and archaeologists and they have also been sold on the open market for huge sums of money Now as I read about this, I couldn’t help but think of all of the pottery that Karen and I have collected down through the years. Some of it is beautiful work and some of it is quite plain. Some of it is in great shape. And some of it has been cracked and broken down through the years. And in recent years Karen has started making her own pieces. It is hard to say what all these pieces might be worth today if we tried to sell them. But I wonder if thousands of years from now there will be those who consider our pottery of infinite worth. And it won’t be a matter of the most ornate, or the ones in the best condition determining the value. No what makes this bowl so valuable is the potter who made it. Pottery tells the story of civilization and culture. Did you know that there are cities in the ancient world that are built on the ruins of previous cities and settlements? Perhaps the one most familiar to us is Nazareth, Jesus hometown. Archaeologists have discovered that it was built around 100 years before the birth of Jesus on the ruins of a city that had been destroyed 6 centuries before when the Assyrians conquered Israel. Some cities are built on the ruins of 6 or 7 other cities that occupied that very spot down through the centuries. And the primary way that archaeologists know that- is through the pottery they discover as they dig down through the layers of human history. The pottery is given it’s infinite worth because of the potter who made it in the first place. Because of the story it tells of the people who produced it.
You know me, I love Charlie Brown. And there is a great scene from the Christmas show that gets at this understanding. (Show clip)
Which brings us to Isaiah. Apparently Isaiah was a potter. Because he uses this imagery of the potter and molding the clay several times in the course of his writings. These words in the 64th chapter come near the end of his prophecy. As he closes out his book and probably his life, Isaiah seems to have two goals in mind. One is to remind God, that as bad as the people have been, they (we) are God’s creation. And secondly he is trying to offer a word of comfort that even though terrible things have/will happen, through them all God is shaping and molding us. Now I am certainly not a potter by any stretch of the imagination. Karen and Anna got all of the creative talent in our family. But I imagine that before a potter creates a beautiful piece of pottery, there are numerous starts and stops. Times when the piece is just not shaping up as the potter hoped or envisioned and so they stop and kind of go back to the beginning, back to the lump of clay from which to start the work again. I suspect it takes a great deal of patience and persistence to shape a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of pottery. Every beautiful bowl, or vase, or chalice starts out as a lump of clay, and in the hand of the potter it becomes something of great beauty. It’s beauty is in the hands of the potter, patiently and persistently working that clay into a work of art. Well, that’s how Isaiah views the relationship between God and humanity. We are the clay, you God are the potter.
We are the work of God’s hands. God takes us all when we are just a lifeless lump of clay, and shapes and molds us and brings life to us – transforms us into a work of beauty and infinite worth in this world. In my view there are few things more beautiful than a soul who is a testimony to the skillful care of the Potter’s hand. And when those times in life come when our façade becomes chipped or even cracked and broken, as pottery can easily be in this world, God does not abandon us to the scrap heap of broken and misshapen vessels. The graveyard of worthless pieces. No he places us back on the potter’s wheel and mends our flaws and smooths our edges. Because to God the potter, there is no piece beyond restoration, no price too high to pay. To him we are all people of infinite worth.
So as we think about the ways that God is building this church, the next building block upon which he is building His church is, quite simply, people. All people. Because all people are being molded by the potter into persons who are infinitely worthwhile. Of infinite worth. From the very beginning St. Luke has always understood the call to embrace all people. To not let our earthly values devalue any human being but rather he calls us to embrace every person in and out of the church as a person of infinite value and worth. That’s exactly what our value statement says: We value each person as having infinite worth. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, in the Social Principles, says that all people are people of sacred worth. Last week I talked about our church vision statement which is, of course, Jesus Christ In Every Life. In many ways that word every is an extension of this understanding that all persons are persons of infinite worth. I love this graphic of the vision statement (show Jesus Christ In Every Life graphic) because it clearly shows that the Church of Jesus Christ is for everyone, not just those who are somehow deemed worthy. Now most of us say, of course the church is for everyone. But that has not always been our practice down through history. It started with the Disciples who occasionally tried to exclude persons like beggars and women and children and lepers and sinners from Jesus. But Jesus always insisted that He had come for everyone. And there are those Pharisees in the church today who pass judgement on persons based on lifestyle, perceived sin, skin color, gender, economic status, place of origin, and try to deny them a place in God’s church, and when that happens we are basically denying persons access to grace and redemption of Jesus. Everyone, even the most broken of vessels, is of infinite worth in Jesus’ hands. He is the potter. We are the clay.
So as we prepare to receive Holy Communion, there are two parts of this building block that I would like for you to see.
First, each one of us, no matter how broken or flawed we might be, is of infinite worth because Jesus lived for us. Isn’t that the whole point of the Christmas story? Coming as a baby born to poor parents (and most at the time would say unforgivably sinful parents for having a child out of wedlock) to a manger in a cattle cave on the outskirts of an insignificant little village – doesn’t really seem much of a way to save the world. But He came for us by living with us and for us. And by doing so he made our lives worthwhile. In fact, he said I came so that all may live life and live it to the full. He came so that all of us, no matter how broken we might be, can live a life of infinite worth. Think about the people in scripture whom Jesus offered that full life to. There were blind men and beggars. There were lepers. And there were Kings. There were Gentiles and there were priests. There were poor widows who had just a penny to put in the treasury and there were wealthy men like Zachaeus. There were temple officials like Jairus and Nicodemus. There were prostitutes and there were kings. People of privilege like Joseph of Arimithea. And there was a demoniac chained up in the cemetery because his people considered him to be already dead. Most of those who approached Jesus were considered nobodies, unclean, worthless by the church. The priests and the Pharisees could not understand why Jesus would waste His life on them. But they were all people whose lives were made infinitely worthy because Jesus lived for them. . He lived for us. And because He did, it makes no difference where we come from, who we are, the state of our brokenness, because we are all broken vessels at times, the hands of the potter has shaped each one of us into a beautiful creation, a life of infinite worth. What the world defines as worthless or unworthy, Jesus lives for and gives new life to. From the very beginning God put in the people of St. Luke the desire to serve everyone. To help everyone have a life of meaning and dignity and infinite worth. And we do that by allowing Jesus to live in this messed up world through us. And God will continue to build St. Luke until every person, sinner and saint, weak and strong, rich and poor, outcast and one of the “in” crowd – until everyone can find life in Christ here. Jesus Christ in every life. Many years ago Bill Gaither expressed it so wonderfully when he wrote: Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and my life, your life, our life is worth living, because He lives.
All persons are persons of infinite worth because He lives for us.
And then I would say that we are persons of infinite worth because He died for us. In talking about His own death, Jesus said: There is nothing greater than to lay down your life for another. And then He laid down His life for us all. He died for a woman about to be stoned to death. A sinner on the cross next to His. His good friend Lazarus. For Peter. And John. For lepers isolated and dying. For Jairus’s daughter. For a woman about to be stoned to death in her sin. The Samaritan woman at the well. For the lame. And the blind. Because every time he ministered to the unclean and the outcasts, with every miracle and accolade, he drew that much closer to His own cross. I saw a show once about Jesus and every time Jesus would reach out to one of these outcasts, there would come from off stage the sound of a hammer hitting a nail. The implication was that every time he did something for those who were not welcome in the church he was driving the nail that held His hands and feet to the cross just a little bit deeper. The Apostle Paul wrote this to
the church at Rome: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. And to the Corinthians Paul wrote: Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one (Jesus) died for all. He died for all (so) that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and was raised again. And Peter picks up on this same theme when he writes: He committed no sin. No deceit was in Him. When they insulted Him and made Him suffer, He did not threaten them. Instead He gave Himself to the the one who judges all justly and bore our sins on a tree, so that we might die to our sins and live in righteousness. We have been healed by His wounds. Our unworthy lives were made infinitely worthy because He died for us. Sometimes we celebrate this Sacrament as a Sacrament of death. The Cross looms large over us as we come and receive the elements. But that is not the way Jesus intended it to be. This is a Sacrament of life. Because Jesus died our lives became infinitely and eternally worthwhile. And God is building this church on lives of infinite worth. So come let us celebrate life this morning.