“Getting in Shape” Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, September 4, 2016
You recognize this guy? I think anyone who has ever watched PBS recognizes him. That’s Bob Ross. His show was The Joy of Painting. When I was a kid, we didn’t have that many channels to select from so surfing channels for something to watch was frustrating and didn’t take long. I think we had 13 channels before cable came along, with PBS as #13. Whenever I would see this guy, I would stop changing the channel and watch. I wasn’t the artistic type but was drawn in first by this white man’s fro. Wow! I was also mesmerized by how this guy could take a blank canvas or page and, by the end of the show, turn it into a masterpiece. It was clear that he always had a design in mind. He didn’t just start throwing paint on the canvas and hope it turned into something eventually; he had a vision in mind for the end result all along as he painted.
Based on what we’ve heard in our Scripture reading this morning, that’s how God creates with our lives. God has a vision in mind for how we are to turn out in life and works all throughout our lives to shape us into that mold. Some days are easier for God than others. Some days we just don’t want to be shaped. Some days we aren’t willing to see that we are the clay and that God is the potter.
The people in Jeremiah’s time had days like this as well. As God’s spokesperson to them, Jeremiah shared what God had to say about their need to get into God’s shape. God told Jeremiah to “go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” It was there that he saw the potter working at his wheel. While watching him work, he observed, “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.” God wanted Israel to know that they were in his hands and that he would keep shaping them into his intended design. If they weren’t malleable, he would destroy them and start over. He urged them to “turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”
Now fast forward to Israel in the time of Jesus. Israel is still clay. God still has them in his hands and is working even more directly with them. God had sent prophets like Jeremiah to them; now he has incarnated himself among them as Jesus and provided a living model of what they were to look like and be. In our Gospel text this morning, we have heard some powerful words Jesus speaks for God to them about getting into the shape God has for them. The specific shape for them was a cross. He got right to the point: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Being cross-shaped would mean loving God even more than family. It would mean loving God more than self. It would require loving God more than possessions. Taking the shape God had for them would be costly and require them to determine if they were truly willing to pay the price to become what God intended them to be.
If you had to describe yourself as pottery today, what would you be? That sounds like a great question for a small group icebreaker! I love coming up with icebreaker questions for small groups. If you’ve ever been in one of my groups, you probably have hated them. There’s the question, “If you can describe your week as a weather report, what would it be?” Or, “If you could describe your day with fruit, what would you be?” The idea behind these is to get everyone in the group to reflect, inwardly and outwardly. And that’s something we need to do when it comes to the kind of shape we are in.
So,what kind of shape are you in this morning? Are you bent out of shape; too rigid and difficult for God to work with, too full of the inflexible impediments of possessions and misplaced priorities? Or, are you getting in shape but just need more time at God’s pottery wheel? Maybe you are cross-shaped, looking more like Jesus every day, but you struggle with your shape like someone with anorexia has a skewed self-image, unable to see who you truly are as God’s creation.
Jeremiah reminds us that we are creation in the hands of God. We are held in God’s hands. But we are also held in the design God has for us. Like clay in the potter’s hand, know that you have marvelous potential, great worth, and the personal touch of divine activity. Think about the difference it can make in your day at work or at school to know that you are a unique part of God’s ongoing creation; that God is shaping you into something special.
But you also have parts of you that get in God’s creative work in your life. There are parts of you that need to go. Jesus wanted the crowd around him to see those parts within them. And he wants us, here in this crowd today, to see what parts of us are keeping us from taking shape. It could be that the parts in you are the same as in the crowd that day—prioritizing relationships with people more than with God; valuing possessions more than carrying a cross. It could be that you are in an argument with God about the shape your life is to take. You may prefer something that looks more attractive than a cross. You may be frustrated with the molding process, preferring a different pace of development than God’s. Whatever the case, it is good to know that God doesn’t let go of you or of the design for your life.
I mentioned Bob Ross as I began. Apparently, he did not like abstract art. He once said, “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is.” He had a design in mind and wanted it to be clear to everyone who looked at it. In the same way, God has a design in mind for your life and when you take its shape, what and who you are won’t need to be explained.
[Click here for the Audio version of this sermon]