Sermon Proper 18C 2019                                                                                               The Rev. John M. Atkins

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The 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. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can 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. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Gospel of Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

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Jesus wanted to be honest.People flocked around him so they could be recipients and witnesses of Jesus’ miracles. But the two primary miracles Jesus desired for his followers were changed hearts that would change the world.

The miracles Jesus risked his life to accomplish are difficult and dangerous. Societal, cultural, religious and family influences in the ancient world and today tend to view the world in categories. These set up an ‘Us’ / ‘Them’ world-view.

In contrast, Jesus taught his followers that differences are never a reason for denying that all people are our neighbors. Jesus went so far as to insist that we love our neighbors in like manner as we love our self.

So, why such strong language by Jesus? Is Jesus really telling his audience to hate their closest relationships? Not at all.

Jesus used shocking words to get people’s attention. Jesus’ message is a reminder that who we listen to, who and what we value, and who and what we cannot say “No” to all have the power to derail our focus.

Parents, spouse or partners, children, siblings, peer groups and the acceptable norms we’ve learned all have the power to sabotage the rebellious way Jesus encourages us to live.

Writer Lindsey Paris-Lopez suggests, “Jesus calls us to die to our ways of defining ourselves against others that we may find new and abundant life, and he wants our understanding of family to die that we may see the whole world as our family, all of us in loving connection with one another.” – Jesus Unmasked: Hate Our Families? Really??  BY LINDSEY PARIS-LOPEZ, Sept. 5, 2019, Patheos.com

And, then, Professor of New Testament (at Columbia Theological Seminary,) Mitzi J. Smith, writes: “Perhaps what Jesus means by hating family is to refuse to live by narrow, exclusive ideas of family when it comes to meeting human needs and contributing to the wholeness of all human beings…”  – Textweek.com

Jesus was oh, so aware, that family,and all sorts of allegiances, especially allegiance to self, will likely battle against Jesus’ rebellious way of living and envisioning the world.

Jesus wanted to be honest. He wanted his followers to know the difficulties they would experience before embarking on this life-giving, adventurous journey.

Jesus grasped hold of God’s vision for the world as it could be – a world in harmony.   Jesus knew this vision will never come to pass under the present societal, cultural, religious and familial loyalties which drive us and determine our variance of change.

Today, Jesus invites us into God’s vision to be his companions on this difficult journey. He encourages us to see the beauty in one another and the value in releasing into God’s hands our allegiances, prejudices, self-absorption, and even our possessions.

One of the most magnificent images in the Bible is of God’s hands shaping clay at the potter’s wheel. While this imagery has its limitations,  it is worth our attention –  as it was to the prophet Jeremiah.

Clay that has not been fired in a kiln is elastic. Our lives are elastic – they are changeable. If we release all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands and focus our energy on God, then God’s imagination and passion can re-shape our lives to reflect God’s refreshing, symphonic vision for the world.

One good that has come from the horrific Oregon District shooting is a call to this community from those who were wounded in the ordeal to see one another as sisters and brothers in one human Family.

Our diversity is a gift from God.It is not to be used as a stumbling block to valuing one another and caring for one another in ways that defeat the boundaries that separate and oppress.

There is a group of Christian Episcopalians in Jerusalem.These Episcopalians are Palestinians who value not only other Palestinians, but also their Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters.

One of the vital ministries of these Christian Episcopalians is the ministry of dialogue and reconciliation. In a part of the world most vulnerable to violence sparked by differences, these Christian Episcopalians are committed to a vision of peace. 

When we grasp hold of God’s radical vision of love, justice and harmony we enter with Jesus into God’s realm of infinite possibilities of love and the unapologetic joy of heaven.