Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Message for the Journey

A Sermon for 25 September 2016

 Today we’re in the latter half of what has been attributed as Paul’s first letter to the young, zealous Timothy. Scholars generally agree that this letter actually wasn’t written by the Apostle Paul – more likely by a scribe or other mature leader in the movement who was trying to stand on the authority of Paul to address rising opposition from false teachers in the church, likely in the community of believers in Ephesus. These words at the end of 1 Timothy read like a letter of encouragement from home to a struggling protégé who is bone-tired weary from keeping the faith in the midst of constant challenge. . . . In case we need that same encouragement today, listen for God’s word to us in a reading of 1 Timothy 6:6-19.

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

In the earliest days of Christianity, it was common for new converts to the faith to be connected with an older and wiser mentor. 1 Timothy is a good example of why this personal support was needed. The one receiving this letter already was mature in the ways of Christ and was trying to teach others too. If even he needed a message of encouragement for his journey, then wouldn’t those just starting to show interest in what this radical movement of the Way was all about, certainly need it too? I know I would have loved to have someone early in my faith life sit me down to give me a little talk about how it all would unfold. Maybe for our baptisms, or when we each were confirmed; it might have been really helpful for a wise one in the faith to school us in how it would be. Not so much teach us the Apostle’s Creed, all about Presbyterian polity, and the history of the Reformation – as typically happens for many young participants in Confirmation Classes today. But more so someone sitting us down to give us the real scoop of how difficult it can be to keep faith no matter what in a world that isn’t all that interested in the ways of self-giving love, the forgiveness of second-chances, and the joy of living generously with who we are and what we have.

It’s kinda what we get in the sixth chapter of First Timothy. A sort of pep talk on what to expect in the life of discipleship – a message for the journey on how it most probably would be. And the great encouragement to keep the faith through it all. Likely, we all need the very same charge. So for a little something different today – and despite the fact it may be a bit embellished, listen. Hear as if a wise one in the faith is sending this message to you for your own journey. Listen.

Dear child of God, the road before you shall be long, no matter the number of your days on earth. You’re following the Lord Jesus Christ; one whose life was filled with great joy and immense pain. After his own baptism, he went about telling of God’s love for us all. He’d enact God’s grace as he welcomed and listened and laughed and encouraged. He healed those in any need, setting free the Spirit of God alive in them already. He kept the faith – resolute. Centered. Content to live in this world with the clothes on his back, the food set before him, and a few good friends at his side. Striving only for the kingdom of God, his life is our pattern. . . . So we must remember that everywhere he went, some misunderstood. Some were striving for other things. Some were misguided in the ways they thought they knew of God. They didn’t make his life easy. Questioning and snickering and in the end setting him up for the biggest fall. . . . Too often that’s still how it is in the world. So get ready, precious child of God, for a life patterned after Christ will be a life of great joy and continuous struggle. Right-relationships are to be your aim; though everyday you will be surrounded in this world by people who like otherwise – those who use others for their own ends. Sometimes those you love most dearly won’t know how to be connected to you through the purity of love God commends. It may hurt because they won’t know how to be due to the wounds they’ve endure. Still, as for you, pursue these right connections. Live in proper relationship to every other creation of God. See God’s Spirit alive in it all and give thanks as you seek to honor each one. . . . I’m not telling you to live as if you are holier than everyone else, but do aim to imitate our God. Love others, even as you love yourself. Forgive, even as you want to be forgiven. Trust and be one in whom others can trust. . . . Endure patiently as one filled with hope in the life-giving power of our God. We’re with God on God’s mission to re-create the whole world into the kingdom of enduring shalom, the wholeness of everlasting peace. Whether you experience it in full in your lifetime or not, carry on. With gentleness, not with the kind of force you will see around you in the world each day. Remember that the good fight that you are to fight is one that heals. Builds. Repairs; not destroys. The power within us is the power of God. The smallest word we might speak has the ability forever to transform a life – for good, or ill-spoken, for ruin. So be care-full in the fight of faith. . . . God desires to give Life – amazing, Spirit-infused life here and now to all things. When you promised (in your baptism) to turn from the ways that separate us from God and others, you promised to turn to the ways of Christ. So live as one who bears his name. He is the King over all kings. He is Sovereign over any other lords. Remember that because when you open your eyes each morning it may look like someone – or something else is winning. It takes immense trust to remember it’s not. To bear hope when hopelessness seems to prevail. . . . It all can be so confusing because things that are good, when not kept in check, can become what we put ahead of our True Lord. Riches will be the biggest challenge for those of us alive today. The world around us seems to think wealth is the point of it all. That more and more money is our only security. That what we have will ensure our life is good. But we follow one who had very little in terms of the wealth of the world. A simple man who trusted God would provide every need. Relationships were his greatest treasure. Touching the life of one in need to make it better brought him the greatest joy. Being aligned with our God no matter the cost was a commitment worth dying for in his eyes. Such is the life that truly is Life. . . . Child of God, guard what has been entrusted unto you. Each breath is an amazing gift from God for you to awaken each day to the joy of the most Generous Giver. Say yes to this life daily – Real Life; for just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. Let grace be the hallmark of all of your days. Living as graciously and generously with yourself and others as God is and ever will be unto us. . . . When you tire, as you will, gather with other children of God. Listen to one another’s woes. Encourage each other. Build each other up so you may return to the kind of Alleluia-living God desires. . . . Enjoy who God has made you to be so that the God living in you may enjoy the goodness of life through you. . . . I urge you, child of our Most Amazing God, even if you fall some days. Get back up. God is the God of second chances; grace is sufficient to cover you. . . . So keep at this Life that truly is Life. Knowing that the presence of God is with you always; at the beginning of your journey, in the middle, at your end, and beyond. . . . This we know is Grace forever with us. May peace remain in your always, Dear one! In the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Clash of the Generations

A Sermon for 18 September 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 16:1-13. And just a warning in advance: this really is one of Jesus’ more confusing parables. One commentator writes about this text: “A parable is a grassroots lesson connecting the ordinariness of life with the extraordinary nature of God. Parables usually are gifts of clear insight into God’s choices for our lives. However, this parable is difficult to read and difficult to preach. The reader is oftentimes left to struggle for meaning, just as the preacher struggles to interpret. Both end up frustrated” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, Helen Montgomery Debevoise, p. 92). In other words, get ready to join me in how I’ve felt all week about preparing a sermon on this text! . . . Another commentator writes of this text: “None of the parables of Jesus has baffled interpreters quite like the story of the dishonest steward (or is he better labeled ‘the shrewd manager’ or ‘the prudent treasurer’?). The story is clearly set in a context in which wealth is of paramount importance” (Ibid., Charles B. Cousar, p. 93). That part seems clearest in this text – the admonition at the end, which scholars believe to be a move on the part of the gospel’s author. The thought there is that the parable was floating around along with a bunch of other sayings folks had heard from Jesus. And when the gospel story was being written down, the author decided the parable needed the saying from Jesus about wealth and God to follow it. Maybe the text came to us in that way. We don’t really know. What we do know is that we have a puzzling parable before us today. Hold on, and if you find yourself saying: HUH? It’s ok! Just listen for the word of God to us in a reading of Luke 16:1-13. And remember this comes right after the gospel of Luke’s unique parables about the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Brothers – also called the Prodigal Son. Listen:

“Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Did you hear that the new season of Survivor begins this Wednesday? If you’re a fan, record it so you still can come to our gospel of Luke Wednesday night study! I’ve never watched the show. But I think it’s a whole competition to be the last one standing – avoid being the one voted off the island. Survive to the end and you get a bunch of money, I guess. This new season it’s the Millennials versus the Gen Xers. And it’s got me thinking about the clash of the generations. While many Presbyterian Churches really don’t have among them a whole lot of people born after 1964 and before the turn of the 21st Century in the year 2000, the two generations of those who are between eighteen and fifty comprise about 43% of the total population of the United States ( We’d do well to know something about them. The Millennials are slightly larger as a generation than are the Gen Xers – so they’ll have the numbers advantage in this upcoming season of Survivor. Each generation has its own flare – based upon general worldview, societal realities in their most formative years, and lived values passed on through their parents. Well, these are the first two generations of U.S. adults who primarily experienced two working parents in their household – if they still had two parents in their household. Their parents’ and older siblings’ anti-authority push of the 1960s was ancient history for these two generations. The Millennials are the first generation to grow up experiencing the realities of school shootings – mass violence at the hands of their peers so that factors like bullying, mental illness, gun-control laws, and other realities coming to light in their formative years (like sex-scandals, harassment, and college campus rape cases). All of this significantly shapes the way they understand the world. The way they view the institution of the church, and how they choose to connect with God. . . . Rachel Held Evans, the blogger who is the author of the book we’re about to study for Home Book Club, describes herself as “having one foot in generation X” while “identifying most strongly with the attitudes and ethos of the millennial generation” (Searching for Sunday, p. xii-xiii). Thanks to the 1992 de-regulations regarding marketing to children, about millennials Evans writes: “We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell (BLEEP) from a mile away” (Ibid., xiv). Millennials demand authenticity. Gen Xers pretty much want it too. Both generations tend to be drawn more to what they are for rather than what they are against. Millennials seem to be a bit more optimistic about life than many Gen Xers do, and for the most part are more ready to throw themselves into working together to make a positive impact in the world. Gen Xers and Millennials alike all were born after postmodernism began – the movement that stepped outside of the box, was more comfortable with AND rather than OR so that pluralism became an expected norm, and wasn’t about to buy into top-down authoritarian anything. Grassroots is a typical term for Gen X and Millennial adults – not only because formation from within tends to be their way, but also because sustainability of the earth is a crucial value for them. In fact, most of them have grown up believing earth to be only one significant part of this universe thanks to the readily-available-on-the-internet photos of it all from the Hubble Space Telescope. For the most part, Gen Xers and Millennials aren’t all that interested in the sweet by and by. If they’re not dreaming about how to make it to Mars or beyond, they’re focused on the ground under their feet and the community that will accept them to provide a stable sense of belonging in the chaotic world into which they were born and in which they continue to live. . . . I’m not about to watch, but it’s bound to be a very interesting season of Survivor!

Jesus presents a clash of generations too. Here in the gospel of Luke he paints a picture of the generation of this eon – or the shrewd children of this age – and the children of light – who he seems to call here the overly-naïve generation of those following him. The text points to the clash of those chasing wealth against those chasing the ways of God. It’s hard for us to believe, as the parable seems to state, that Jesus would want us to embrace practices of securing dishonest wealth. When the squandering manager realizes he’s about to be fired; he indebts the rich man’s debtors not only to himself but also to the rich man. While still in the role of representing the rich man, the manager decreases their debts in what surely seems to them an act of great generosity. The debtors now may see the rich man as one who cares about them. And as the agent of that kindness, the debtors now owe the manager a favor – which he hopes will secure him somewhere to go when the boss cuts him loose – brilliant really as everyone seems a winner in the end. But it sounds like Jesus is saying the end justifies the means – the sneaky, conniving-to-save-his-own-skin act is something that shouldn’t irksomely rub against our sense of right and wrong. Is this parable really promoting that we act likewise?

We forget the backdrop of the story. The Pharisees are within earshot – at least according to verse fourteen of chapter sixteen. The gospel records: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So Jesus said to them: ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God’” (Luke 16:14-15). While it seems this parable is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, clearly some are present who are squandering what was entrusted to them. Maybe they really care about the little guy getting a break in the eyes of the rich man. But it sounds a whole lot more like they’re just putting first their own desires for wealth, power, and security – even if they have to align themselves, as was happening in Jesus’ day, with the powers-that-be in Rome. Is it possible that Jesus is trying to expose the ways of the children of this age while teaching a lesson to the children of the light? Is this parable supposed to confound us so that we find ourselves going right along with Jesus as he speaks until we have to perk our ears because he suddenly sounds like an unexpected trickster? Is he backhandedly saying you can put your hope in securing your own wealth, or you can put your hope in God? You can take on the values of the ways of this world, or you can stay true to being light in the darkest places?

It’s clear we cannot put our energies to both ways. There’s a Cherokee legend of two wolves battling within. The legend goes that a grandfather is trying to teach his grandson about life. He tells him: “’A fight is going on inside me.’ . . . ‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One (wolf) is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’ He continued: ‘the other (wolf) is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’” The grandfather wisely states: “’The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’” The story goes that “The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’” (

We cannot feed our striving for the accumulation of wealth, as is typical of the children of this age, and our striving for the ways of God. With the ways of God growing in us, we share when we see someone in need. We welcome the stranger. We walk alongside those going through any kind of need just so they know they are not alone and they will make it through. Maybe we need to get a little bit wiser in dealing with the powers-that-be around us. After all, there really are those who starve the good wolf in them while sumptuously feeding the other wolf that also is in us all. Maybe the children of the light need to wake up to that. To open our eyes to see what too often is right before us. Maybe the most important thing we need to know is that the clash is real. Children who live for the Light walk differently. They live differently. They feed in themselves the way of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. They seek first to serve the One we know in Jesus the Christ. And in so doing, we are welcomed here and now, and forever, by an incredibly Gracious Master.

In this we can trust.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)


The Forming Family

A Sermon for 11 September 2016 – Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service

(NOTE:  The NRSV Scripture reading below has pronunciation hints included for some of the difficult names listed.  Use them to aid you in your reading and not just skip over the gospel writer’s message of a very important heritage!  If you stumble over any of the names below, call to mind names in your own family line — perhaps unique family names passed on through the years.  Let all those ole’ family names surround you to steep you in your own long, proud lineage!)

A reading from the gospel of Luke 3:23-38. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli [Heé-lie], son of Matthat [Máth-that], son of Levi, son of Melchi [Mél-kigh], son of Jannai [Ján-nigh], son of Joseph, son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum [Náy-humm], son of Esli [éS-lie], son of Naggai [Náy-guy], son of Maath [Máh-ahth], son of Mattathias, son of Semein [Sah-máy-in], son of Josech [Jóe-zech], son of Joda [Jóe-dah], son of Joanan [Joe-án-nan], son of Rhesa [Reá-sah], son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel [Shih-áll-te-al], son of Neri [Nár-rye], son of Melchi [Mél-kigh], son of Addi [Áh-die], son of Cosam [Có-sam], son of Elmadam [El-ma’dám], son of Er [Air], son of Joshua, son of Eliezer [El-ee-á-zar], son of Jorim [Jóe-rim], son of Matthat [Máth-that], son of Levi, son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam [Jóan-ham], son of Eliakim [El-ee-á-kum], son of Melea [Mah-láy-ah], son of Menna [Mén-nah], son of Mattatha [Máh-tah-tha], son of Nathan, son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala [Sáh-lah], son of Nahshon [Náy-shan], son of Amminadab [Ah-mín-ah-dab], son of Admin [Ád-min], son of Arni [Ár-nigh], son of Hezron, son of Perez [Pée-rezz], son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor [Náh-hor], son of Serug [Sáir-rug], son of Reu [Rue], son of Peleg [Péll-leg], son of Eber [Éb-ber], son of Shelah [Shéll-lah], son of Cainan [Káy-nann], son of Arphaxad [Ar-fáx-add], son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech [Láh-meck], son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel [Mah-háh-lah-lel], son of Cainan [Kén-nann], son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


I heard a quotable quote this week. It stated: “Your life will be determined over the next five years by the books you read and the people you hang around” (Jim Rohn, source unknown). It was the second time I heard that sentiment this week. During an interview, an inspirational speaker said something like: who you love and spend your time with drastically impacts who you end up becoming. . . . It gives us pause to consider the people who are around us each day. They affect us – for good or ill. Think about it: if you are a young child who spends each day in a classroom of an angry, bitter, cutting teacher; I dare say you’re going to face pretty significant problems. If you are a teenager who surrounds yourself with other teens that try really hard to make a positive difference in the world; then even if it’s against your own will, it’s likely you’ll be pulled along to find yourself helping out others a little bit each day. If you are a grown adult who always is alone, your own mind may take over – leaving you in a state of constant worry, causing you to think you don’t matter to anybody else in the world, or maybe over-inflating how wonderful you may think you are. But if you surround yourself with friends who make you laugh, co-workers who encourage you instead of compete, family members interested in knowing more about what really matters to you; then it’s likely your life will grow into a garden of great joy. For you not only will love and cherish yourself. You’ll find yourself grateful for the amazing people with you on the journey. You will become someone who makes others laugh, encourages instead of competes, and wants to know more about what really matters to others. Your life will blossom to bring a beautiful fragrance to the world.

Though two of the New Testament gospels give the genealogical ancestry of Jesus, we are left to speculate about who surrounded him those first thirty years of his life. Before he stepped out into the Jordan River to be baptized by John; who greatly impacted his life each day? He wasn’t a loner – the culture in which he lived really wasn’t set up that way as is ours. He was a part of a family – a clan of a nation that long had known tremendous upheaval. In chapter three of the gospel of Luke, he’s traced back through the one thought to be his father, named Joseph. We’re told he came from the line of King David – which was why Joseph had to take his about-to-burst pregnant wife with him to Bethlehem when the Romans wanted to count up everyone in the lands they occupied. They were to be registered, not for any sort of upcoming election. More likely it was to know how much tax the Romans could expect from each of the lands they occupied. So Joseph loyally and courageously took Mary with him – ensuring a young woman impregnated before she was properly married was not left undefended back home in Nazareth. The story goes that Mary gives birth out back in the cave for the animals in order to ensure no other travelers to Bethlehem are defiled by her unclean state that night. And, though I doubt men were involved in childbirth in those days, we like to believe that dutiful Joseph is nervously pacing right there at her side the whole way. The infant descendent of King David through his father’s line, and likely of the great line of Israel’s priests through his mother’s side, is born into humble conditions while his parents were on the move out of town.

Luke seems to tell of Jesus’ birth more from the perspective of his mother Mary – leaving out a whole lot of details about the one thought to be his father. But it is made clear that both of his parents were God-loving Jews. They saw to the Jewish rites of his naming and presentation in the Temple. Luke 2 records: “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it was written in the law of the LORD, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the LORD), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the LORD, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). Skip ahead a few years to when Jesus was twelve, and the gospel of Luke records that “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (Luke 2:41). They were a faithful family practicing the religious rites of their people in order to be connected with their God. . . . These parts of Jesus’ story are unique to the gospel of Luke which leaves us to wonder – especially on a day like today when we come together to celebrate our family and faith ancestry. We’ve got to wonder how much this gospel writer wanted to emphasize the importance of being grounded for our work in this world by a faithful, God-loving family.

It may not have been the case for us all. Maybe our parents were or maybe they were not God-lovers who ensured we were raised early on as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Maybe today you brought with you a tartan or other family symbol that leaves you flooded with memories of love. Maybe you are finding yourself today nourished in this time of remembrance by moments when your mom took you along to help out aging neighbors, or your father taught you how to say your prayers at night before closing your eyes to sleep. Maybe your family symbol reminds you today of the grace you experienced from a grandfather who always had a soft spot in his heart for you, no matter how you messed up in your choices. Can you recall a great-grandfather or great-grandmother who taught you how to bait a fishing hook or feed the birds in order to just enjoy the beauty of God’s amazing creation? . . . Even if the particulars aren’t the same, I hope you can dig down deep enough inside to be sustained by experiences of at least one family member who treasured you as a precious gift from God. That’s worth celebrating today. Worth giving thanks to God for being born into a circle of love that has dramatically impacted for good who you have become!

And if you were not, know all is not lost. You are here. Now. And your commitment to Christ transfers you into another family. A family that better be sustaining you and showing you every moment that you are a treasured, precious gift to this world from God! It’s so easy to lose our way, as Christ’s body, the church. To forget why we really exist. We are here together in this world to be the kind of people, to each other and to all those we meet every week, to be the kind of people who positively impact the lives of others. We are here to lift each other’s burdens, and to be examples of faithfulness even when it’s costly, and to inspire others to commit to God’s way of love. We are together to ensure no one has to try to go it alone in this life – that all are welcomed and cherished for who they are just because they are our brothers and sisters in the human family – gifts given by God to shape us more fully into that beautiful fragrance needed in the world today.

We are family to each other now – whether we have a loving biological family beside us each day too or not. We are the family of God. Sons and daughters, and siblings to one another, of the One who once took on human flesh to be about a great work in and for this world. Surrounded in such a way, it’s a joy to consider who we shall become.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

The With-us Potter

A Sermon for 4 September 2016

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 18:1-11. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


I wish we each had a lump of clay in our hands today. That would be the best way to spend some time with this text from the prophet Jeremiah. All of you sitting there with a ball of the soft stuff. Squeezing and kneading and working it in your hands. . . . If you’ve ever held clay before, then you know that it has such potential. It can become anything you want it to be: a pinch pot, which typically is the first thing you learn to make in a pottery class. A long snake of clay that you then can wind together into a flower vase. You can flatten it out in your hands as thin as a pancake in attempts to make a plate. Tear it into smaller bits to fashion little balls for earrings or even into the shape of a cross for a necklace.

Throwing a pot is a bit different. First you have to work the clay. Push down one way, then turn it to force it down the other direction. It’s kinda like warm up stretches before running. You’ve gotta get the clay ready before you put it on the wheel. It’s a process of moving around the molecules and getting out any air. In pottery class, they always said this is the most important step, which never ever should be skipped, even though so many novice potters wanna get right to the wheel. . . . After you have your clay ready, you finally take it to the wheel. Water and equal pressure on both sides are key – it’s what is needed to center the clay. Something you have to get right if the clay’s gotta a shot of becoming anything. Next, cutting into the centered clay, all the while keeping the wheel turning at a slow and easy pace. Too fast and the clay goes spinning out of control. Too little or too much water and the clay won’t form as you’d like in your hands. Too much pressure too quickly from one hand or the other and the next thing you know, the clay is collapsing between your fingers. Your intended beautiful bowl falls into a misshapen mess. . . . It’s fascinating to watch a master potter at work – and if you’ve ever attempted it yourself, you know it’s no where near as easy as it looks!

A lot of potters will tell you you have to listen to the clay. Let it tell you what it wants to become. . . . But not according to this text! According to Jeremiah, the potter has a good plan for what the potter wishes to make. That clay in the potter’s hands has an intended purpose. . . . I remember the pottery instructor always saying that to create on the wheel, you have to be willing to let go. Fail and begin again when the clay wobbles off center out of the form needed for a bowl. It’s not really that there’s only one way to make it, but it is the case that a pot thrown with too thick a bottom or too thin a wall won’t last the firing in the kiln. When the clay goes array on the wheel, it’s better to scoop it off to begin again because once it begins to set out of form, the clay will be wasted entirely. No use at all when it breaks in the scorching fires of the kiln.

It’s a mighty metaphor for our lives in God’s hands. . . . At God’s command, Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house to hear a word from the LORD. He sees a potter at work. A typical potter who’s obviously mature in his craft. For the potter doesn’t hesitate one moment when the clay spins off track. He scoops it up to begin again. He’s not about to waste his clay. I’d imagine that potter Jeremiah was watching had been through quite a process to get that lump of clay in the first place. I don’t know everything about where you get clay and what all the right ingredients have to be, but I know clay is found in certain parts of the ground. The potter either paid a high price for his clay, or did the hard work himself of digging for it. Each piece is precious to the potter. If it all goes array, he’s going to scoop it up to re-work, re-center, and begin to create again. He’s a committed master potter, who’s not afraid to let go of what it’s become because he wants the clay to be what he knows it can be.

The process is a little scary, however, when we start to understand ourselves as the clay. That’s what Jeremiah is hearing as he sees the potter at work. The house of Israel is in the process of going array. It’s an act of love that God won’t just let it be, though the words the prophet hears seem kinda harsh. “Can I not do with you . . . just as the potter has done? . . . Just like the clay in the potter’s hands, says the LORD, I can pluck up and restart” (paraphrase of Jer. 18:6, 7). All this talk about disaster on those devising evil. We don’t really want to face this seemingly harsh-sounding God. It sounds so like: turn or else! A threat with punishment if not heeded – which doesn’t fit so well with our warm-fuzzy notions of God. And actually it isn’t the best way to bring about true, sustained transformation.

What we do know is that this is the same God, through Jeremiah, who says to the people: “For surely I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 28:11). A few chapters later, God declares: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33-34). . . . Like the master potter, God has a plan for the people’s good use. When the clay goes array on the wheel, when the people turn from who God intends for them to be; like the master potter, God will re-work the vessel as seems good to God.

If you’re familiar with the work of Brené Brown, then you may know about her research on shame and the power of vulnerability – acts that take a whole lot of trust. The first thing Brown underscores is that all of us have a need for love and belonging. Shame leaves us feelings as if we’re not worthy of such love and belonging, which in turn makes it really hard for us to be willing to be vulnerable – to be willing to trust. Brown’s research testifies that: one powerful way to send a message of shame, which leads to one being stuck immobile, is to disengage. No longer be involved with someone when their behavior is unacceptable. Refuse the healthy act of engagement by setting proper boundaries with them. According to Brown, when we fail to do so – to set those proper healthy boundaries, it actually creates a deeper sense of shame in the other. Disengaging sends the message that you’re not worthy of a sense of love and belonging from me. . . . Do you hear the truth in that? The worst possible thing the potter could do to the clay when it goes array is to let it go array. Disengage from the process and just let it be. Scooping it up to re-work, re-center, and re-create again may be a process that really hurts – a process that seems like destroying. Plucking up and breaking down in order to re-build and plant may sound kinda vicious; but with the clay, the potter stays engaged all the while. The potter sends the message to the clay that it is so entirely valued, so deeply loved, that the potter just won’t let it go into whatever the clay itself might want to be. For surely the potter knows the plans the potter has for it . . . plans for the clay’s welfare – not harm – to give an amazing future overflowing with hope.

We are the clay – not just us individually, as we so often read into this text – but us collectively as a part of the body of Christ, the church. And the Master Potter seeks to re-create us into what is needed today in this world. It’s not easy to know what exactly that will look like. After all, the clay being re-worked doesn’t know if it’s going to end up a beautiful bowl that will be able to feed those who hunger; or an amazing cup that will quench all those who thirst. The process is a mystery that takes all of our trust. . . . It has been said that “we are not so at home with the resurrected form of things despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, and the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and life . . . resurrection offers us a future . . . one that is unknown and thus scary. . . . (it’s not a) resuscitation of an old thing, but the raising up of . . . an utterly new thing” (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, 2013, pp. x-xi). In this we can trust. For a Master Potter holds us every step of the way. Indeed our Loving God continues with us until all things are entirely new! For this we give great thanks!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

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