Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 3rd, 2017
Isaiah 64: 1-9
The Potter’s Clay
Hear now these words of scripture found in the Old Testament, from the book of Isaiah, chapter sixty-four, verses one thru nine. May God open our hearts and minds, as-well-as our ears to the hearing of this ancient writing.
1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
“Let us now ponder the meaning of this writing as we consider its intended meaning for us here on this first Sunday of Advent.”
The prophet of Isaiah sets the stage. In so doing, he reminds us of the still lingering hope; hope which shall reshape who we are as a people! Bringing us back to a time when humankind still dreamed dreams of God’s abundant grace and mercy; a time when hope flourished and blossomed! A time when the love of God was celebrated in the midst of the human dramas of life! Having heard this ancient appeal, this invitation by the Prophet Isaiah for God to intervene into the world order of things, the world order in which we live, let us begin to ponder the wonderful things which God still may mold and prepare us to ‘be’ and to ‘do’.
As we set our eyes upon the new season which we have just entered into… let us acknowledge: “This lament sets Advent in the context of a real world in which things are not going well. The world is not a perfect place; people are disillusioned.” Diane Jacobson understates this profound and obvious reality of the present time. Once again, the threat of nuclear war is very prominent in our daily news. Distrust and isolation, these have come front and center in the world order of nations, they are no longer held in check with ‘diplomacy’ and ‘goodwill’ between our partners and allies throughout the world. It is difficult enough that economic growth often comes on the backs of marginalized and overworked and underpaid laborers, laboring in inadequate working conditions. Our national denomination, The United Church of Christ, has often pointed out how some of our most favorite fast food restaurants, depend on cheap foods that are produced in what are referred to as ‘sweat camps’ in South American, Asia, and other third world environments! No, we must admit, at least to ourselves, there is much we could lament and weep for also, as we turn ‘expectantly’ to the new beginnings that the birth of the Messiah is projected and presumed or believed to bring!
A Twenty-First Century Prophet could easily lament even further about warring factions in our own cities and towns. Violent deaths by organized crime and gangs of all sorts rule the back streets of many of our large American cities. Mass shootings by disenchanted citizens whom buy into the poisoned minds of international terrorists’ groups; often using high caliber, automatic weapons designed for war fare. Many of our children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren, go without health insurance while health care continues to increase in cost. Ideological differences separate our government and our nation. Bigotry, racism and white supremacy invade large segments of our population. A blight, a sickness once thought to have been wiped out of our free democracy, created for we the people! Rather, these troubling maladies seems to be on the rise and tolerated by a large segment of U.S. citizens. Yes, there is much to lament and our pleas for help to our God increase daily!
Isaiah did more than simply cry for help, and he did more than weep and moan about God’s lack of perceived presence in the Israelites situation, at that point in history so long ago. No, this prophet, pushes his listeners into a moment of hopefulness! He does so by reminding God of our subservient relationship to our Creator! He does this in the context of verse eight. “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” /Isaiah 64:8/ When Isaiah puts forth this thought, we are reminded that it is our Creator God who has the controls over who we are and what we have become! Ever reminding us, that God can remold us! When we mix this thought with our modern conception of God, and all we have learned about the ways of God, this becomes a very, very powerful statement. Fully explored, it can give us a lot of hope! Hope for our very lives. Hope for our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren and their offspring as well! As we bask in the flame of our newly lit Advent candle of Hope, let us be reminded that there is indeed hope for us modern Christians, living here in the Twenty-First Century!
As we continue to move closer and closer to our annual celebration of the Christ Child, let us be reminded of the miracle it lifts-up. God, incarnate, personified and embodied in the likeness of a baby whom is named Jesus! This means God loves us ‘so much’ that our Creator comes to share in our struggles and live as we live. This is not a God whom has forgotten us! No, the Living Spirit of our God still lives! This is where the candle of Hope points us to. Hope needs to steer and direct our energy and guide our hearts! Hope needs to propel us ever forward, confident that our God will give us all that we need, when we need it. Enabling us to flourish and fulfill all that we have dreamed about as we gaze toward the future light! Hope means – “Hold On, Possibilities Exist”! /AA-Alive.net/ Having been reminded via the words of Isaiah how God can mold us, like a potter molds clay, we can begin to pray, to our God, for some rework at the potter’s wheel!
Somewhere in my past, now that I am seventy, I am not quite sure which decade that was in, much less which year! Never-the-less, sometime ago, I was watching a potter create a beautiful earthen vessel. I have seen both male and female potters, so I am unsure of whom it was that was at the wheel. But I remember the potter took a large chunk of clay and set it on the wheel. Not gently either, for the potter pushed and kneaded, pressing and manipulating the clay vigorously, until it let go of its former shape and became pliable, flexible, and adaptable in the potter’s hands. Sometimes, I ponder how God works to make us humans ready for retooling, reshaping us, as our Creator prepares us for ‘remolding’ and ‘redirecting our energies’ and our ‘attitudes’ about our daily tasks. As I look back over my own life, I begin to realize that some of the hardest moments or times in my life, were when I was being prepared by the Master Potter Himself! Or Herself! Either way, the potter must first pound and bend, thereby forcing the clay to let go of its ‘stiff cold hardness’ and to become willing, pliable, adaptable and compliant, before the important remodeling can take place. How about you, can you remember a time, perhaps a troubling or difficult time, when God was beginning the process of redesigning you for a new journey or a new task which needed doing in your life? Or, are you going through the retooling process right now? Do you feel that you have lost control over where you are headed and what God has in store for you? Perhaps you are being massaged by the Master Potter as ‘She’ begins to revamp and redirect your life!
If you were sitting at the potter’s wheel, how would you reshape the world? What edges would you pound out? What bulges would you reform? Just how pliable and flexible do you think people need to be – for the potter to get the job done? What are your goals? Remember, there are millions of different opinions as to what is acceptable and what is not! Just as there are many and varied shapes of homes in our community. It will take a multitude of different talents and personalities and abilities for a team of dedicated workers to make a ‘difference’ in most any project put before them! Whom shall we put our faith in? Whom shall we allow to reshape and reform us? Be careful now… you are at the helm, you are the potter. Where would you start? How would you reshape humankind? The paradox of course, is in the complexity of this delimma, this catch-22. Thank God, you and I do not have all the power of a Master Potter, in our indecision, not much would get accomplished!
With, hopelessness still a real part of our world view, we need to once again direct our lives to the beacon of hope in front of us. Let us allow Advent’s hope, be the inspiration which shall once again reawaken our spirits! We are a community of believers. You and I, we believe that the Master Potter is not finished with us yet! There is still clay that needs to be made pliant and usable for the work of God’s vision for the world to take shape! Let us remain willing to be redirected and reshaped by the Spirit of God. We cannot tackle the world’s problems by ourselves. Yet, if we stay open to the hand of God, at work in our lives, we shall become something shinny and new. Possible as exciting as a new model of: a toy red fire truck, or a pink fuzzy sweater, which a child is praying ‘Old Saint Nick’ will leave under their Christmas tree this year!
Let us never forget, we are God’s people. We are the work of our Creator! However, we cannot remain blind to the troubles of our lives, our communities, nor of our world. Therefore, we must be, we must pray to our God, that we shall be, or we shall become, the model, or the remade mold of that which God would have us be! It is only through our faith, our willingness to allow God to work with us; it is only via this avenue by which we shall fully see… the ‘Hope’ which ‘shines forth’ for all to see! The dawn of a new age, a new beginning, on this First Sunday in Advent, the Birth and origin of our faith is before us! These are the tools by which we shall be a part of the emerging solution to the ills of humankind. Amen.