Sunday, September 28, 2014

Repairing brokenness (Jeremiah 18:1-12)

The prophet Jeremiah lived around 600 years before Jesus. He was called by God to be a prophet to his people – the people of Israel. To be a prophet was to have a dual understanding of the state of the world and the message that God wanted to bring to its people. So prophets like Jeremiah pronounced both judgements and blessings – the blessings were often well heard, while the judgements were often ignored.

Such judgements (or critiques) were always brought offering a way out and a way forward. This would be to do with the people reforming their ways and returning to the ways of God. Any negative outcome of such judgements could always be contained or counteracted by new possibilities of walking with God.

Prophets like Jeremiah would have to observe well and be well attuned to the voice and leading of God, if they were to be accurate and effective with their messages. God often would give such prophets visions or visual concepts that would help them both understand and explain what God was seeking to communicate.

In the case of this passage, there is a rich metaphor of God’s desire and availability to remake people. In the first instance this is about the ravages of sin, and in mind might be those behaviour patterns and actions that we entered into ourselves. From here we need both forgiveness and rebuilding. But there is also the wider implications of sin and evil – behaviour patterns and actions that have brought brokenness to (often innocent) others. This is because of the violence and abuse and hurt that comes out of dark hearts. God is also desirous and available to rebuild in these circumstances. God is not willing to allow such crimes to have the final word.

Some of us carry on continually defeated by guilt and shame or stuck in certain habits, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Even complete failure can be turned around; case in point – Peter.

What is required of us?? It is one thing for God to be available and effective, but another for us to be ready and receptive!!

Let us say again that God is magnificent in what he is able to bring about! God gives Jeremiah this visual of a potting shed. There the potter was working at his wheel. This picture is of the traditional potting-wheel, with the two stone circles rotating on a single vertical axis, the bottom circular plate being spun by the feet, while the hands work the clay up top. There was a clay vessel on the spinning wheel that was currently imperfect and cracked, but that was being carefully reworked into something beautiful. There had been nothing wrong with the potter’s skill or creativity, the fault lay within the raw material. What a beautiful vision of what God can do for each and every human being! The “clay” will not be abandoned just because there is a couple of imperfections.

Are we truly appreciative of this great offer … this possible new reality??

It gets better!! Two further points of interest from verse 4. The Potter reworked the clay into “another vessel” – meaning that the new vessel looked nothing like the original marred version!! And this reworking was done “as seemed good” to the Potter – meaning that God was working out of his perfect unlimited creativity toward the best outcome for this individual piece of clay.

Now the context suggests more of a collective than an individual – the need for the whole nation to be transformed if it was going to avoid disaster. Unless Israel showed a willingness to obey God, then there would be an inevitability about their destruction at the hands of foreign powers. But I think we can extrapolate quite easily back to individual brokenness here, because for any nation to be transformed it will start with individuals being willing to heed the call. This reminds me that when we see something in our community, church, nation or world that we don’t like, any possibility of change may actually start with us. God may still have reworking to do on the clay of our lives … if we are to be part of the solution.

Verses 7 to 10 of our passage speak about actions and consequences. In the way these verses are expressed, we have to factor in the Hebrew mindset of God determining everything. However, we know very well about our God-given freewill, and the resultant connection between actions and consequences. Our actions are never neutral or devoid of consequences. If we act in certain positive ways … we might call these ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ – then encouragement and goodness are the likely consequences. However, if we act in less appropriate ways (contrary to the ‘fruit of the Spirit’) … then the consequences are likely to be far less happy. This is where we have to look deeply into ourselves to see what effect our various behaviour patterns have. It is part of the way God has set up the world, that if we abuse, rather than care for, any facet of God’s creation, then we will all suffer for this. As verse 11 poignantly points out, if we want to avoid disaster then we need to be open to a reformation – “amend your ways and your doings”! Sometimes we have to rise above just accepting our faults as “just [a matter of] who we are”.

But again there is also the times where we have been victims. This passage is of the greatest encouragement to us, because whatever abuse we have suffered is never the end for us and cannot entirely define our future. We have sometimes be marred by the actions and attitudes of others – but God the great Potter will place his fingers upon the clay of our lives and gently remould us. This doesn’t remove or deny the offence done to us, but does allow for a new freedom and a new future. In this way we can release all bitterness … that would otherwise turn in on itself and destroy us. Have you ever seen the change in someone when they have let their bitterness go?!?

So what do we need to bring to this???

·        Trust; that God is faithful and will do what he has promised.
·        Patience; big change may not happen overnight … it may take an extended period, there may be a process of continual reshaping involved. Often problems created over a long period, will also take a long period to fully resolve.
·        Openness; that God’s best outcomes for us may be different to what we would have chosen for ourselves.

I would say also that we have to be prepared to meet God halfway. What does this mean? We have to, at the same time as seeking personal healing, be open to treat other people as God would have them treated (and as we would like to be treated ourselves). We have to, as well, understand that the world does not revolve around us, and that God works with a big picture in mind. To get a good balance about this, I like to think in terms of a jigsaw puzzle. We are just one piece of a jigsaw puzzle that has so many, maybe thousands of, complex and unique pieces. Yet, at the same time, without the piece that is ourselves, the whole will never be complete.

Unfortunately this passage has a very sad footnote (read verse 12). Let us not be like these hearers of the prophet’s message, and completely ignore Jeremiah to their own detriment. In Jeremiah’s time this meant political and military defeat for Israel and the people of God being taken into exile (with the resultant loss of land, community and spiritual connectedness). But, it didn’t have to go down this way!!

Imagine … just imagine … you yourself going down to the Potter’s house, and allowing the Great Potter to use his loving re-creative fingers to work in some of the broken places of your life. Here we will likely find emotional healing, a new sense of well-being, and all sorts of new possibilities opening up. Each one of us is so valuable to God, that no matter how many queue up at the Potter’s door, there will be room for us. Sometimes we may be a little dubious as to what the results will be, however possibilities never before thought of may actually be unleashed.

I can’t quite believe that someone like me gets the opportunity to speak with you about this … but then, I’ve been to the Potter’s house (and hope to continue to find encouragement, nurture, healing and growth there).

If we go the Potter’s house, this will be a good thing, not only for us, but for our close friends and family, and also for our church as we seek to connect with our community and show them the light. It was when Israel listened to her true prophets and obeyed the will of God, that this nation got back on track, enjoyed good pasture, and were the envy of their neighbours.

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