Shaped to Serve
By Ken Dale
September 15, 2013
? ? ? ? ? ? It often seems that one of the greatest challenges in sermon creation is the beginning.? Not this past week.? First thing Tuesday morning after I read the lessons it came to me.? There is no better image than last Sunday when we worshipped at Pemaquid and that potter sat there during the service creating and recreating.? Remember?? Remember when she created that really nice pot and then just destroyed it?? I?didn’t?see it ? but I heard the sighs and the comment ? ?but that one was so pretty!?? Again, it was all in the hands of the potter ? and in that instance she chose to knock it down and start over.
??????????? Same thing happened to the Apostle Paul.? He was God?s faithful servant ? Saul and to use his own words from today?s reading, ?a persecutor and man of violence.?? Saul was very faithfully living out his faith and saw it as his faithful duty to be bad news and worst nightmare to the early Christians.? When Paul began that persecution he thought he was doing something right and noble and good.? He believed he was acting in righteousness.? Persecutors are that way – doing something right and advancing some cause by acting on what they believe to be true knowledge.
Through the eyes of faith we know that God saw more in Saul than Saul did.? For Saul, he did not see that something new God was doing in and through the person of Jesus.? But by the grace of God he did ? he had that conversion experience getting knocked of his horse ? and his life was changed and redirected.? Look what happened to that clay pot!
Saul becomes Paul ? called by God.? Saul experiences mercy ? forgiveness.? His life is not one that has earned God?s mercy ? Paul experiences it because it is God?s nature to do so.? Paul experiences a recreation ? again ? think of that new pot coming up from the potter?s wheel.
What message does that bring to us?? Good news for those who wonder if they are ?good enough? for some things, for people who find it easier to focus on their faults than their strengths, for those who see themselves as hopeless cases, or feel like giving up.? The wonderful point is that our past does not have to dictate our future.? God?s grace can literally be life changing ? yes to varying degrees ? small changes to great changes.? For Saul become Paul it was huge.? All that he thought he had to earn to be ?right with God? he discovers comes to him as gift of God.? And in that experience he gains a new purpose for his life ? he becomes a messenger of that good news ? of that experience of God?s grace ? and he sees it as being for all people.? His message is delivered both in his word and his way of being.
We too have been shaped and maybe reshaped in our life?s journey by that same loving God and the gifts of God?s grace.? And we have been gathered in this church for a purpose and for an opportunity to share the gifts of both who we are and the gifts we have.? Those gifts vary ? are as diverse as the pots that are created by the potter.? Like those small pinch pots we have all created this morning we need to be open and receiving to that which God may be seeking to fill us with ? and we are also meant for service ? to share that which we have.? And what of our faith?? Is that not also something to share ? including our doubts and struggles.
In one of my preaching resources a pastoral perspective for each reading is offered.? In this week?s I couldn?t help but think of confirmation class being offered this year.? Confirmation involves mentors and mentees.? And the image raised of Paul and Timothy is a letter offered by a mentor to a mentee.? The question was raised ?who are the Pauls and Timothys of the 21st century church.? I loved the thoughts and perspective shared by the author Jane Anne Ferguson but I couldn?t help but think that the mentees also included so many others who have either wandered away from church or never have been part of it.? There is a message for us all.
Ferguson writes that those 21st century Timothys have been raised in a mainline congregation and understand faith in terms of social justice and intellectual inquiry ? encouraged to ?be the change you want to see in the world.?? They believe deeply in acceptance of all people ? ages, genders, races and orientations.? They are ?alternately passionate about changing their world and paralyzed with anger and fear about the world.?? I remember being so disturbed watching the morning news earlier this week to see that now white boards for school classrooms are being offered in bullet-proof material and you can buy a bullet proof insert to slide in your child?s book bag.? This is the world in which we live!? She writes that living in a pluralistic religious world these young Timothy?s are searching for a living relationship with a living God who is also the God of their Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, [and so on] neighbors ? not to mention that wide variety of Christians.? And they want to know if there?s any substance behind the ancient language of faith.
The Pauls?? Well Jane Ferguson says that we are being invited to reexamine the language of our Christian faith ? not dispose of it, but revitalize it.? She told the story of a discussion of parables ? Mustard Seed faith and the yeast in Matthew.? A young man asked the pastor to explain the kingdom/realm of God in ?plain language? and not in ?church words.?? So the pastor began picturing the organic unfolding of creation and all that is in it ? including human beings, as a part of the Divine, a revelation of the Divine, the continuing work of the Divine.? ?Oh,? the boy replied, ?The Oneness of all things.? The way we are all connected energetically.? I get it.??? Twenty first century Timothys long for personal experiences of the mystery of life ? and wholeness of body, mind, and soul ? wholeness of creation.? Sin is disconnection from that wholeness ? and that wholeness is what scripture calls shalom.? She says we Pauls really need to listen to those Timothys ? and listen carefully, so that together we can participate in experiencing God in Christ Jesus.? She says those Timothys invite us onto unknown paths where worship is experienced beyond language.?? The point is that we need to talk about our faith with each other.
We are shaped by God to serve.? God does use us each and all ? and sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways.? Sometimes, understanding faith as a journey, we may see ourselves as mentees.? Yet at other times we serve as mentors ? sharing our own journey with others, that they may grow in faith in some way as well.? We serve as receivers of God?s love and having received we pass it on to others that they too may know a life of blessing.
God the Potter also works with the clay of our lives to accomplish God?s will ? to reach out in many ways, offering faith, support in many forms, wisdom, and all those gifts of the Spirit that together we have and are for our community of faith and beyond.? It was interesting wasn?t it, to have that potter at work at her wheel as we worshipped last week? ??We saw so many things created and recreated out of that clay.
So may it be for us each and all as we journey in faith ? and as God shapes and reshapes us in service and according to God?s purposes.? It doesn?t matter who we are ? where we?ve been ? or even how long we?ve been around.? Alexsondra told Kathy and I over lunch that some potters own clay that has been around for at least a hundred years ? and it is still workable in the hands of the potter.? Individually and collectively as this community of faith ? it will be interesting to see what God makes of us and how God puts us to use. ?How that shaped vessel is filled is Laurie Chandler?s topic next week!