About Me

My photo
Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

Popular Posts

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Maker and Appraiser, part 2
Jeremiah 18:1-11

(This was the Men's Day message for the 8 am service at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church on September 9, 2007.)

If we turn to today’s text, I think we can gain some solid footing for an answer. Jeremiah’s prophetic hermeneutic urged the people of Jerusalem in his day to think again about the measure of a man. He told them about going down to the potter’s house to watch the skilled craftsman work. The potter was throwing clay on the wheel. He was shaping it with his hands and maybe with some specialized tools of the trade. A lump of clay that seemed ready for service was being transformed into a pot, a vessel, a useful implement and a thing of beauty. But somewhere along the process, things went wrong. The clay took on a mind of its own. It warped and got out of shape. A crack appeared in the soft clay that would be a fatal flaw in light of the purpose the potter had for the vessel. As Jeremiah said, the vessel “was spoiled in the potter’s hand.” What had begun to look like a fine clay pot turned out to be a warped, cracked, useless vessel.

Had it been our day, in our throwaway society, we might have tossed it in the landfill and run out to Wal-Mart to replace it with something else we can throw away next month. Sometimes that’s the way our society deals with boys and men, too. When they get out of hand, when their problems get too big to handle, when their frustration builds up to the point of lashing out, we give up on them. The problems seem to hard to solve, so we throw them away. Put them out of school. Put them out of the house. Put them in the jail. Put them out on the street. Put them in the ground. But human beings are not throwaway commodities. We are not single-use, disposable items. Thank God for showing Jeremiah another way.

When the vessel was spoiled, the potter did not throw it away. The potter reworked it. He found the hard spot in the lump of clay and worked it with his hands until it become smooth and malleable. He kneaded the place that had cracked back into the rest of the lump to get rid of the variations in moisture and flexibility and build up the stability in the clay. He wanted the lump of clay to have the character required to make a pot hold together, be useful, and last a long time. He wanted it to be sturdy so that it could be adorned and display the beauty and goodness that already lay within it as a potentiality. So Jeremiah said, “he reworked it.”
The skilled potter did not go out on the street and grab someone who knew nothing about the craft to ask, “What should I do with this?” No, the skilled potter was both the maker and the appraiser. The potter knew how to make a pot, and he also knew a good pot from a bad pot. He knew good, reusable clay when he examined it. He had the ability to judge when a pot was spoiled in the making. He could appraise the measure of a clay pot.

I went outside this week and found a surveying crew next door. Someone is thinking about buying the house there. They want to know exactly what piece of land they are buying. Now I could have walked over and told them that as I see it, the property line runs along this driveway and this fence, comes to about right here and runs up through those bushes to a spot on the hill. But they don’t want that kind of sloppy guesswork. They want someone who knows how to spot and measure the lot. The survey crew was skilled, had precise equipment, and was trained to locate each corner of the lot.

Another example more directly about appraisal may be helpful here. Apparently it has become very popular to go to a big meeting hall, carrying some old stuff from your house, and ask experts how much it is worth. I’ve seen a couple of television programs that show people telling a story about a piece of furniture, a photograph, a sports souvenir, or some other item. Then an appraiser responds with some historical information, offers a few tidbits of trivia, and finally states an estimate of the dollar value of the item. It’s not a wild guess, but it’s based on experience of seeing other similar items and evaluating their condition. An appraiser knows a lot about certain kinds of items and is therefore qualified to make a statement about their value.

The potter was both the maker and the appraiser. Who knew more about the pots than the one who made them? He could tell when they would function and when they would fail. He could evaluate their strength and stability. He could appraise their usefulness, their value, their worth. And if he saw that they fell short of what they should be, he could rework them. It was his skill that gave them their value in the first place. He used high quality materials and high quality methods to produce a high quality product. He put high quality labor into the task and took pride in doing good work. And when he needed to, he reworked the pot to make sure it met the standards of quality that matched the vision of the maker.

Thanks be to God for the potter that reworked the clay. On Men’s Day, we need to praise the God who reworks spoiled lumps of clay. We need to call on that same God to rework our spoiled lives and make us useful, good, beautiful vessels for God’s service. God will rework us. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, God will rework you.” We need to admit our sins, the ways that we have been spoiled for service to God, and pray, “God, rework me.” Say it with me, “God, rework me.” And Mt. Level needs to be ready to let go of the pebbles that are mixed up in our clay, the cracks in our vessel, and cry out, “God, rework us.” We know we are flawed as persons and as a congregation. We know we leak and can’t sit right without wobbling. We know we do stuff we don’t need to do while we let slip away things we ought to have done. But the God who is like the potter has no intention to toss us in the trash heap.

God will rework us. It may not all feel good. An effective muscle massage may have to work some sore spots to get the tightness and knots out that are keeping us down. A successful cycle of physical therapy means fighting through some tears when the pain seems more than we can bear. But all through the struggle, and waiting for us at the other end of the struggle is the God we know in Jesus Christ. God has already envisioned what we are to become. And God’s purpose for men, and for all of us, is that we grow up to the measure of true humanity in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the measuring tool. And God is able to appraise the measure of a man because God’s own self became flesh, became clay, and lived among us. He has thorough inside knowledge of what a human being is capable of being. He is the maker, he is present in creation with us, and he is the appraiser, the measurer. God knows the measure of a man. God has shown us the measure of a man. God will rework us into the measure of a man.

A good measuring tool must be precision made. If you are trying to measure a board, you don’t want a measuring tape that marks off a foot as 12 inches, give or take an inch. You need to know precisely how many feet and inches you measure. Otherwise what you build will be crooked and unstable. If you are trying to measure a piece of fabric, you don’t want an inch to be sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. You want a tape that is precise. Otherwise, the waistband may not go around you when you finish, or one leg of the pants may be shorter than the other.

Well, Jesus is the precise measuring tool for humanity. He is begotten from eternity, the very Word of God, the true Adam, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. He knew temptation just as we do, but he did not give in to sin and evil. He was faithful to the end. He loved those God had sent his way to the end, even to his death on the Cross. He is the firstborn of the dead, the firstborn of many brothers and sister. He is the measure of humanity. He was loving, just, and merciful in the use of power. He took time to give of himself to those who could not repay him, and he took the lowest place when he could have tried to claim he highest place. He was the same non-violent, faithful friend in private and public, in comfort and in trouble.

Today on Men’s Day, I profess to you that Jesus is the measure of a man. And just as God raised him from the dead, God will rework you and bring you from death to life, out of darkness into his marvelous light. God will rework us. God, rework us. God, rework us. Say it with me, “God, rework us.”

Perhaps this morning you have come to see that the flaws and irregularities of the way you are living have spoiled you as a vessel of love, as a vessel of service. This may be the day when you need for the first time to say, “God, rework me.” This may be your hour to come to Jesus, to call on him to be the Lord of your life. If you want to place your life into the hands of the potter who is your maker, who measures by a righteous standard of love and grace, then come to follow Jesus today.

Perhaps you already have started down the path of following Jesus, but you find yourself wandering and going astray. Maybe you simply have lost the passion of bringing good news to the poor and setting at liberty those who are oppressed. Maybe you have left off the weightier matters of justice and mercy, and find yourself going through the motions of tithing your mint and your cumin. Your heart is on treasures that rust and rot and can be stolen away. This may be your day to come to God and say, “Rework me to be a useful vessel for your service. Restore unto me the joy of my salvation. Make me a channel of blessing to all those I meet.”

There may be someone here who is a follower of Jesus but is not a member of a congregation in Durham. Maybe you are actively looking for a church home. Or maybe you have been drifting without committing yourself to be part of the work of a church. If the Holy Spirit is prodding you to put your life alongside the lives of others who are serving God here at Mt. Level, then don’t resist. Come and unite with this congregation today, so that God can rework all of us together to be a better witness to God’s love in this community.

The doors of the church are open. Whosoever will may come.

No comments:

Baptist Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf
Christian Peace Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf