Thursday, April 18, 2019

Year C Maundy Thursday 2019 Real & True

Year C Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Real and True”

Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

When I wrote a book, I had one idea in mind. I wanted to get down in one place what I hold most dear, what I treasure. I wrote it with my girls in mind. They were my audience. I wanted them to hear from me, what I hold most dear from living this life. Now I treasure them more which is why I wrote it for them, but also I obviously treasure my ideas, which is why I wrote a book.

Lora Robins Gallery at the University of Richmond opened when I was in school. It was the most eclectic, bizarre collection of nature items, fossils, realistic clay figures, all kinds of stuff. Taken from the Robins family home, the museum was a glimpse into her treasures. Walking through it gained an insight to a fascinating, different take on the world. Her treasures spoke to who she was and what she loved.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is a way to see people, to ponder their hearts.

Think on this. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you get up and do? Who would you run to see? What would you treasure most in all the world so much that you would run to it and hold it close, if only a moment in your final hours?

Jesus treasured his friends, his disciples. He even says in our readings opening verse that he “loved them to the end.” He wanted them to learn from him one last time. He did not run away to save himself. He went to the planned dinner, the Passover meal. He modeled servant leadership. If you want to be my disciples, what did he want them to do? “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Later they did. They remembered how he humbled himself. How he touched them. How he took the role of the servant even though they called him Lord.

Even more, he led them in a sign and symbol they could take with them. The Bread. The Cup. Taking the ordinary on and making it sacred. Whenever they take this, he will be there. Real and true.

When I was a boy, I won the Good Citizenship Award in kindergarten. I got a badge made out of a pie tin, and I got a sheet of Goetze’s Caramels. When I got home I was so proud. I wore my pie tin Good Citizen badge all day. That night when my dad got home, after dinner he went out to work in his workshop. I took that flat of Caramel Cremes out to him. My dad said that that was his favorite candy. I already knew that which is why I took it out to share. We sat in the bench swing between two trees and ate every last one of them. When I see a bag of Goetze’s Caramel Cremes to this day, I think of my dad. When I taste one, I immediately am six again, and my dad is with me. Real and true. Those sensory memories do not go away.

Jesus did the same for us in the Last Supper. He gave us a sensory reminder, a touchstone through sight, and touch, and taste where we can pause and connect with this one we love. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them, and they handed it on to those they brought up in the faith, and they their pupils, and so on, and so on, and so on tonight we may feel Jesus there. Instantaneously we trigger those memories, those feelings, that presence. Real and true.

Lastly, he gave them final instructions before he went away.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

When we are loving, we are claiming who we are and whose we are.

But wait, there has to be more to it than that, right? Nope.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him..” I John 4:7-9

That is what it takes, real and true love makes us real and true disciples. Not conditional. Not situational. Not self-serving. Real and true.

Tonight as we ponder the last supper, that intentional and deliberate time Jesus chose to take and share with his friends may we cling to that. What do you pour your life into? What do you treasure?

No one on their deathbed says they wish they had spent more time at work.

Watch the sunset. Share the joke. Sit and hold hands. Love people through their worst selves and call them to a higher place.

Now unlike Jesus, we never know when our last may come. We never know when we have our last anything. Few of us are cursed with that knowledge. So what do we do with that knowledge?

Live each day like its your last. Don’t postpone joy. Even more, don’t postpone love. Be Real. Be True. As I have blessed you before, I do so now:
Life is short and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be among you, and remain with you forever. Amen

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Year C Palm Sunday 2019 The Time of our Visitation

Year C Palm Sunday 14 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA
“The Time of our Visitation”

Collect: Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today's Texts Because of the length of the Passion narrative, I am just providing a link to today’s texts.

Grief takes many forms. We linger in anticipatory grief knowing the rest of the story.

There is an irony amidst all the joy of this day. Despite the of the shouts of Hosanna, Jesus grieved, for what he saw coming, and for what has been. In fact, the opening reading outside stopped short of a very important verse in Luke. Peeling it back, hear again why we call this day Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and why from Luke’s account I lean on a reading in grief...

Luke 19: 37-44
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
     “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
          Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

And then immediately the text goes on to this...

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

For Jesus, what we see as Triumphant is heartbreaking. He knows the way the City of God should be, could be, and how so far from its intent it is. He weeps for Jerusalem, while the echoes of Hosanna are still ringing in the hills. It is what it is. Much like our hearts, there is so much more that could be, should be. It begs the question, “How do I cause Jesus to weep?”

Jesus knows what this week will bring, since at the Mount of Transfiguration he has turned his face to Jerusalem, the outcome was known. In the Gospels over and over he tells the disciples what is to come. Do they not listen? Do they not understand? Do they take it as metaphor, while Jesus is being open and honest?

Look at the Gospels, and see from sheer percentage how much of each one is devoted to this one week. From Palm Sunday to Easter we have so much in detail, the Whos, the Whats, the Wheres of the Story. We call it Holy, and remember Holy means “set apart.” One of the reasons it is so set apart is because we have it in such intimate detail. It is Holy even more for what those details are.

And we have only told a part of the story this morning. We stopped on the brink of Golgotha. We stopped when Jesus is grouped with two criminals. We stopped where he is at the point of no return. The Cavalry is not coming in for a dramatic rescue, for we are at Calvary. There will be no rescue. And even here we see his life shaped by the Grace he preached. Even here we see him living the message to the very end.

Like the Centurion at the Cross may we also see and believe. Do we proclaim like he did, “Surely this man is innocent. Surely this man is the Son of God.”

I said this day is tainted by grief. Grief for what was to come. Grief for what was not ever to be. Grief over life. We grieve because we Love. We grieve because we Hope. We grieve because we Live. It has been said that “Man is the only animal that knows it's going to die.” In his death we see our own. In his grief we see our mortality. If one so good, so righteous, so loving can be treated thus, what can we expect?

Would we be able to walk with such faith, such hope, such love? Would we be able to walk between the shouts of Hosanna knowing that they would so quickly shift to “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”? Would we turn the other cheek with the mocking, the scorn, the gloating when we knew how wrong those others were? Would we restrain the very angelic host of heaven for Love’s Sake?

God loves us so much that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. [John 3:16-17] Stay with us this week. Stay with us as the greatest story ever told unfolds. The deeply moving goodbyes of Maundy Thursday, the depths of the shadow of death on Friday, and the surprising and unexpected third act of Easter. I said it last year, and I will say it again, if you can make only one service a year I would ask you to make it the Easter Vigil Saturday night at 8 p.m. If you can only make three this year, then come for all three acts of an unforgettable drama. Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday night at 8. It is all we say we believe in three distinct acts. The choir has been gearing up for weeks, Harrison and I are getting our sermons in gear. But even in all the preparations, it is service to the life-changing story of the Passion of our Christ, our Messiah. My prayer is that you will come and be a part, and take this good news with you into your life and work. Amen

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Year C Lent 5 WED 2019 The Good Shepherd's Goal

Year C Lent 5 WEDNESDAY, 10 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Good Shepherd’s Goal”

John 10:1-18
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Once I heard the famous seminary professor Fred Craddock talk about the skill and craft of Preaching. In fact his text, Preaching, is required reading for many a seminary student. His argument is that most preachers preach from a single text, most a single verse. Because he was speaking to a room full of preachers, he encouraged us to filter down our preaching, what is it that we repeatedly come back to, what touchstone keeps coming up in our teaching and preaching.

It did not take me long to get down to my preaching Least Common Denominator. It is even in my Facebook description of myself. Not the whole verse, but the phrasing and homage is there.

It is even in today’s passage. Now the second half of this passage was one of the readings at my ordination to the priesthood, the part that begins “I am the Good Shepherd…” And I asked Bishop Shannon if we could include my key verse, my Fred Craddock One Verse, in the reading. I so appreciated that the Bishop said yes.

So I am opening up the curtain, and telling you something to look for in my teaching and preaching. I am giving you one of my tells, my main one. Look for it whenever I get up to talk, because in all of Scripture I cannot think of anything that summarizes the point of goal of faith better.

It gives us a direction, a purpose, and a way to get there. So have you figured out what I seem to have found so important?

It is the second half of almost a throwaway verse. The first half, out of context, makes us wonder what on earth Jesus was trying to get at, but it becomes clear with the second half.

Enough talking around it. My key verse is John 10:10, emphasis on the second half, please. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. And who is the “they” that Jesus came to bring life? We, YOU AND ME, we are the “they.” We are the sheep who go in and out through the gate, where the Good Shepherd resides. We are allowed to go in and out, not controlled, but cared for. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He encourages us to go out, live life to its fullest. To be the best you you can be. Thanks be to God!

So that begs the question today. How is your life Abundant? How can you live that Abundant Life? Maybe you are. Jesus wants you to be all that you can be and more. He came for that. His teachings lead you to that. He died for that. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Not fear, Abundance. Amen

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Year C Lent 5 2019 Don't Look Back

Year C Lent 5, 7 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t Look Back"

: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

How do you say “I love you.”? J’taime. Te amo. Ego amo te. Ich liebe dich. Medo wo. But I am not talking about language, necessarily. We all have our ways to say I love you.

For some it is saying the words, words of affirmation, “You are so wonderful.”, “You look really nice today.”.

For some it is physical contact, holding hands, a hug.

For some it is acts of service, doing the little things that make life easier.

For some it is quality time, time set aside with special effort and intention, a party, a candlelight dinner, a getaway.

We all have our ways of saying I love you. We all have our ways of needing to hear I love you. One of the greatest needs in relationships is speaking the language our loved ones need. The stereotypical Ugly American going to another country and assuming people need to speak our language is what happens in many a non-functional relationship. Speaking louder is not going to help, overseas or in a relationship. And too often that lands people in my office or marriage counselors.

For some saying I love you is the giving of gifts. That could mean bringing home a favorite ice cream. Or something special in a box from Tiffany’s. Or an alabaster jar of perfume. My guess would be that Mary’s love language was the giving of gifts. And she took her greatest possession, and gave it freely, openly, extravagantly.

Notice here that Judas, and John presumes a motive, complains about how she says I love you. He does not speak her love language, and calls it a waste. Garrison Keillor said once, “Anything done for a child is never a waste.” I thoroughly believe that. Anything done for Love is much the same. Last week I told you that the Prodigal means Lavish, and we have slapped it on the Lost Son in the parable. But Prodigal Mary is far more an apt description. She is lavish in her public statement of how much she loves Jesus. She gives her absolute best in expressing her devotion.

Let us not forget, Martha, though. What is her love language? Acts of service. Remember when she complained to Jesus about her sister, “Tell her to get in here and help me?” Her love language is service. [Thank you, Altar Guild. Thank you, Facilities Team.] Let us not forget that the place of Martha’s prodigal, lavish act was a dinner Martha made and served. We tend to forget that part because it is less flamboyant and memorable.

The other part of the story we need to acknowledge is the context. We are in Chapter 12 of John. What happens in Chapter 11? The raising of Lazarus from the dead, Mary’s brother. And Lazarus is sitting at the table with Jesus, no longer rotting in the grave. Mary’s act of love is an act of worship in response to Grace. She COULD NEVER pay Jesus back for the gift of life for her brother. NEVER, EVER. All she can do is live in that gift. Live in that Love.

When we are in Love we do all kinds of things that make no rational sense. As my grandmother used to say, 
Love is such a funny thing, it’s kind of like a lizard. 
it curls itself upon its back and crawls into your gizzard.
And when it gets down in our gizzard, we do things that are unexpected, extravagant, and beautiful.

It makes us forget what has come before. There is a reason we still read Romeo and Juliet, because we probably remember being that crazy in love. At least for a moment. We are willing to fling off everything. We are willing to forsake whatever has come before. In the famous balcony scene, Juliet expresses this:
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet…
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
And that is what it all comes back to, how do we say I love you. This is the very thing Paul is getting at in our reading to the Philippians. He is pleading with them to forsake their fathers and forsake their name. He did, and he didn’t look back!

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

In Christ he had found what he had always been looking for. When he studied the Law of Moses, the Torah, he wanted to know what God required. When he persecuted the Church in the very name of God, he was attempting to uphold what he thought to be true. Then in a moment of revelation, he saw the truth and the truth set him free. We look to that moment, but we forget the years in Arabia he spent wrestling with this newfound truth and learning to live in the path of peace, the way of Grace and Love.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection
, this is his driving force. And how does he say I love you to Christ? He says the words. He does the first century equivalent of renting billboards and proposing at a sporting event on the Jumbotron. He travels and preaches and suffers and eventually dies to let others know the wonders, the glories, the Grace he has found. He is so in love he strives to know Christ all the more.

C.S. Lewis castigates us for being half-hearted in our love.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We are in the season of preparation for the greatest story ever told, of how God loved us so much that God took away all hurdles and excuses. God slipped into our skin and moved into the neighborhood so we could hear it directly what he asks of us, to love God, Others, Self with all we have been given. Just like God loved us. And so we would get the picture God showed us this, that he loves us to Death. And then when we thought the story was over, he showed us that LOVE ALWAYS WINS. That story has been given a name, the Passion, because it is all about LOVE. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has repeatedly said in person and on the world’s stage, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.”

If someone loves me that much, I want to know everything about them that I can know. I step up, and give my very best. My alabaster jar of nard, whatever that is for me. It may be shouting it from the rooftops, or the pulpit. It may be visiting the friendless and the forgotten. It may be using a special skill, like accounting, to help the Church keep its financials ship-shape. It may have been coming to sweep down the cobwebs yesterday morning. It may be polishing the silver in the Sacristy, and ironing the linen. It may be showing up on Thursday to rehearse, to sing the glories of God on Sunday. It may be fixing coffee so we can gather and share the love after services. We all have our ways loving God. Let us not be Judas and pooh-pooh anyone else’s I love you.

Embrace that love. Live that love. And don’t look back. Amen

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Year C Lent 4 WED 2019 Reshaped for a Reason

Year C Lent 4 WEDNESDAY, 3 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Reshaped for a Reason”

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Here are portions of the today’s readings...

Jeremiah 18:1-11
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...

Romans 8:1-11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit...

John 6: 27-40

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

God shaping us and remolding us, in Jeremiah. No condemnation if we are in Christ, according to Paul. Believe, this is the work of God, that Jesus is the Bread of Life, according to Jesus himself. We have these competing images in today’s readings. Differing metaphors for the intangible spiritual life.

This, then, is what we are looking at today. Doing things differently. God is calling Israel to be undone and redone. A strong, clear image everyone hearing could envision. They knew when one throws a pot imbalances happen. The Potter takes the unbalanced vessel, and shapes it again making it stable, usable, better.

Paul looks at the human condition differently. The Spirit is in you, or it isn’t. There is no middle ground here, no wiggle room. If you are in Christ, you are focused on the Spirit. If you are of the Flesh, you are not. This metaphor is different, because it focuses on what is in the pot, not the pot. A big difference here is that by the time Paul has come along, Jewish thought, especially a kid raised in Tarsus, had been influenced by Greek thought, where the body and spirit were seen as separate. One good. One bad. To Jeremiah, a distinction like that would probably have been drivel.

And then we come to Jesus.
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’
Be careful not to read, This is the ONLY work of God. That is easily slipped in here. For those listeners on that day, the first step was for them to believe. As these words are still hanging in the air, they go on: So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Jesus, if he's anything like us, would need to breathe deep and count to ten. “Do you guys think that was from Moses, that Bread from Heaven? IT CAME FROM GOD!”

Then they ask for that bread, still missing the point. Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.” And hence we get the words. The whole bailiwick. The Potter shapes the Vessel, so that it can be filled with the One Who Was To Come. Blaise Pascal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

In my Beetle, I have to be very careful what I plan to put in the trunk. There is only so much that can go in, as the opening is small, and not easily crammable. It would be hard to fit most things in, but it is set and not easily redone. We are not like that. God takes us, reshapes us with WHO WE ALREADY ARE and MAKES US READY TO HOLD CHRIST. We are the Vessels. He is the Precious Commodity. Don’t balk at being reshaped. It might not be easy, and it may hurt at times, a nip, a tuck, a pinch. But in the Master’s hands we are being shaped for what is to come. We are being prepared for the Unimaginable. Amen.