Jeremiah: Resilient Prophet 8/25/13

August 25, 2013

Jeremiah: Resilient Prophet 

Wet and malleable, the clay oozed through his fingers.  Clay.  Jessica took a bigger handful from the bucket and rolled it into a ball, threw it on the table again and again.  Her fifth grade art teacher, Ms. Cammerer, let them all play with the dark gray balls for a while and then, as the clay became more of a lump, she encouraged them to throw it and work it more purposely, push it and squash it on their work tables to get all the bubbles of air out of the clay.
Jessica liked the throwing part.  She was tempted to throw some at Erin, who was always good for some great squealing, but she was becoming intrigued with the idea of creating something out of this lump and decided not to risk getting thrown himself – out of the class.  She wanted to make a statue of her dog, Curly.
When she got it made, she decided it didn’t look very much like a dog, so she told her classmates it was a monster.  When they fired it in the kiln, one ear got broken, sheared off by a flying clump of Ellery’s exploding pony.  Jessica was angry at Ellery, but secretly wished she’d left a bubble in hers, because an explosion seemed cooler than what her monster turned out looking like.

Clay is one of the analogies Jeremiah is most known for and a popular analogy in the Bible for the human creature. Jeremiah was really good at analogies. In the passage from Jeremiah 2 today, he bemoans Israel forming cisterns out of clay that crack and end up holding stale water, when God is available to them as a constant freshwater source of renewable love.
Then later in Jeremiah he uses the clay analogy again, imagining God as being like a potter who can take a piece of clay that is misshapen and make it back into a beautiful creation. Several classic and contemporary hymns use this image of God as the potter in prayer form, praying that God would melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.  Change my heart, O God, make me ever new; change my heart, O God, may I be like you.
The problem with these hymns in relation to the Jeremiah reading is that they are all about the individual – change me, mold me – when Jeremiah is clearly referring to the big picture, the whole nation of Israel.  He declares God’s anger with the whole nation, and God’s inclination to destroy the whole nation, if they don’t stop worshipping idols, and living a lie.
We can hardly imagine a world view which is so tied to the nation, so connected to the community, but the Bible constantly calls us back to that kind of understanding.  At times in our community’s life, we could sing, ‘Melt us, mold us’ or ‘change our heart, O God.’
And certainly, that will help us look at the bigger picture, to see the disaster that we are creating.  As we use up our world’s resources, redistribute wealth toward the richest and away from the poorest, starve our public schools, we can easily imagine God’s judgment coming upon us as viciously as Jeremiah predicts.

As schools open this fall, I am particularly aware of our society’s dereliction of duty in relation to young people.  How long can we tolerate 2 school systems, one for the rich and one for the poor, and pretend that that does not effect us all?  The way we have set things up in our public schools is a disaster for all of us and is leading to a bigger disaster.

Jeremiah holds out very real hope in the face of the disaster which he feels is coming to his people.  He declares very clearly that God will change and turn from destruction if the people will just turn their hearts toward the divine will.  We begin as individuals, opening our hearts and minds to God in our lives.  We begin as individuals inviting God to mold me and use me.  Toward that end we remain flexible and malleable like clay, rather than rigid and dry, so that God can continue to work with us.  Jeremiah implies God can even work through disaster when the clay can be reshaped and remolded.  The whole batch of clay can be reworked according to God’s will.

Then, after we have opened ourselves to God’s molding, we work with the Great Potter to help mold a society with heart, a community of caring, a nation that cares for the whole earth and all of its children.  Thirteen years ago, I think I fancied myself a latter day Jeremiah, sending my son to a Philadelphia public school, even though it was totally a privileged position to send him to a brand new Philly school. That school is still there, and very popular, but the school system as a whole is being destroyed. City schools can spend $10,000 less a year per student and we wonder why they have a harder time educating young people!
God has called us to be co-workers, to work with the Master Potter for schools that work for everybody.  I’m not talking about prayer in the schools; I’m talking about resources in the schools, resources so children can really learn.  God calls us to be co-workers for a world where all God’s people are shaped with care, loved and molded and blessed.  God has shaped us from the beginning and works still to reshape the human community.  Even if it takes some pounding, God will make this clay into something good.

Responsive Hymn: 731 Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken