OBJECTS OF NECESSITY! Sermon by The Reverend Dr. E. Neil Hunt

Sunday September 30, 2007

The Reverend Dr. E. Neil Hunt
The United Church of Marco Island

JEREMIAH 18:1-11
The Potter and the Clay
18The 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.
5 Then 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.

LET US PRAY:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When Sharon and I came down to Marco Island last fall, recycling was one of many new things that we had to learn.  Oh sure we did some of it up in Novi, but not nearly to the extent that we do it down here.
When it comes to recycling, Florida and Collier Co. are way ahead of Michigan!
We recycle newspapers.
We recycle bottles.
We recycle our cans, as long as they have been rinsed out.
Sometimes we recycle old batteries and we turn in empty computer printer cartridges.
But how many of us have ever done it with old rotary-dial telephones?
Not many I would guess.  Junk like that just gets thrown in the trash.
If we lived in Cuba, however, the story would be different.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the economic crisis in Cuba deepened.
Poverty became pandemic, and Cubans were forced to engage in some truly inventive recycling.
Since they had nothing new to work with, they found creative ways to make something out of nothing.
One person took an old rotary-dial telephone and turned it into an electric fan.
Another took an empty plastic bottle, one that used to hold antifreeze, and transformed it into a sign for his taxicab.
Still another person took a little plastic bear, a child’s old squeeze toy, and attached it upside down to a set of bicycle handlebars so that it would become a horn for his bike.


Not simply putting old newspapers out on the edge of the road in the recycling can on garbage day!
This is the kind of reinvention that stands as a true tribute to creativity.
And there is no waste!
It is this kind of appreciation for the recycling potential of the old,
the tired,
the tried and true,
for which the prophet Jeremiah gained a new appreciation when God suggested that he take a look at what was happening in the potter’s house in Jerusalem.

The people of Israel were on a perilous path of perversity and injustice and idolatry, and Jeremiah could see that they were likewise on a collision course with judgment and exile.
But then he saw what the potter was doing, and he listened to the word of God.
Jeremiah began to see that divine creativity might allow for a very different outcome.
Jeremiah said, “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.”
The potter did not give up when the first vessel was spoiled, but he reworked it into something that was good and useful, like the Cuban recyclers who turned a telephone into a fan, or a plastic bottle into a taxi sign.
Then the word of God came to Jeremiah:  “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?…Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
God makes it very clear, I think, that God can smash a spoiled pot and throw it in the trash, or God can recycle it into something that is good and useful and pleasing to God!
The key, says God, is repentance.


Jeremiah, in his visit to the potter’s house, sees that God does not want to trash us, GOD WANTS TO RECYCLE US!

Although God describes God’s self as a potter who is bringing judgment against Israel, God also stresses that there is a recycling option that is always open, it was open to Israel and it is open to each one of us, “amend your ways and your doings.”
Repentance is the key, turning ourselves around, and beginning to work in the way of God.
If we make a move away from that which separates us from God and move back toward God, we will find that God is willing to rework us into something that is remarkably fresh and creative and new!


Yes, indeed, sometimes we all feel like old anti-freeze bottles, empty and dirty and cracked, but we don’t have to end up in the trash.
God is not the God of the landfill, anxious to get rid of anything that is ruined, spoiled, damaged goods.
Instead, God wants to rework us, recycle us, and turn us into something that is pleasing and useful and good.
The next time you feel bad or useless and too far from God to do any good, just remember:
Noah was a drunk,
Abraham was too old,
Isaac was a daydreamer,
Jacob was a liar,
Joseph was abused,
Moses had a stuttering problem,
Gideon was afraid,
Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer,
Rahab was a prostitute,
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young,
David had an affair and was a murderer,
Elijah was suicidal,
Isaiah preached naked, (no wonder someone invented the pulpit!)

Jonah ran from God,
Naomi was a widow,
Job went bankrupt,
John the Baptist ate bugs,
Peter denied Jesus the Christ, (not once, but three times)
The disciples all fell asleep while praying,
Martha worried about everything,
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once,
Paul was too religious,
Timothy had an ulcer,

So, no more excuses!  God can use each one of us to our full potential! And the church can use us also!
But we have to make the first move, and turn ourselves around.
Actually, that is the second move.

God makes the first one, by inviting us to return, reminding us that God’s love is constant, begging us to amend our ways.
That is God’s move!

So, as a people, we need to make the second move:  to turn around and face the One who is eager for reconciliation.
So why is this “turning around” move such a tough one for us to make?
Part of the problem is that ANY KIND OF CHANGE IS A HUGE CHALLENGE FOR US!
Even when we know,  WHEN WE KNOW, that a change, a move, a journey, would be good for us, we resist it!
Resistance: it is part of the psychology of change.
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy” wrote the French writer Anatole France, “for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another.”
That is why we prefer to stay in “retail therapy,” the clinical, if not more palatable term for shopping, guilt trips as it were, because it feels good to go out and buy the latest fashion or the most up-to-date electronic gadget.  It is hard to repent of gossip, because it feeds our ego to be in a position of superiority, with control over a tidbit of scandalous information.
It is hard to repent of gambling, for example, because we get such an adrenaline rush from making a bet and pursuing a jackpot.
It is hard to move away from other addictive habits because of their appeal to our baser selves.
As much as we might want to make changes, we know that our repentance will leave us feeling somewhat deflated.
When we turn away from such sensual delights, we leave behind a part of ourselves.
In short, we don’t change our ways, because, we don’t really want to.
That’s it!  We don’t want to, we don’t feel like it!
Let’s admit it.  Rebellion and being in control, can be fun.


Another barrier to repentance is FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN.
To do an about face and head in a whole new and different direction, which is the core meaning of repentance, is a truly daunting proposition.
After traveling on one path for weeks or months or even years, it can be disorienting and frightening to spin around and move in a radically different direction.
We have to wonder: Am I really going to enjoy living a life of simplicity after years of maxing out my credit cards?
Am I ever going to feel any heart pounding excitement if I focus on service projects instead of slot machines?
Repentance is the first step in becoming a whole new creation, like a squeeze toy changing into a bicycle horn, and it is not clear from the beginning that any of us is going to enjoy the transformation.

Yet, while we fear the unknown, we often come, eventually, to loathe the known.
We are tired of the despair. We are tired of feeling useless.
Tired of living in a spider hole of depression and meaninglessness.
We are weary of our search for guiltless pleasures.
We tire of our weakness, we long for redemption.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger calls this the “misery index.”
In his negotiations in the Middle East, he argued that people will come to the table when the cost of conflict becomes too high.
At the potter’s house, we come to the table, the potter’s wheel, when we understand that the cost of living away from God is just too high, and that only a reworking, a refashioning at the hands of the Master Potter will work to turn our lives around.
The Good News is that God is ready, in fact God is eager to take:
What is broken and fix it,
What is wounded and heal it,
What is defiled and cleanse it,
What is bitter and sweeten it,
What is impure and purify it,
What is incomplete and make it whole,
What is ugly and turn it into something that is beautiful!

With God, there is no waste!
Anyone and anything can be transformed by the power of God, changed as dramatically as a telephone turning into an electric fan.

The story of recycling in Cuba has at least one more lesson to teach each one of us as we ponder the work that God does in reshaping our lives.

Back in 1994, a Cuban designer named Ernesto Oroza first noticed the creative reinventions of his fellow citizens, their fans, signs, and horns, and he gave these creations a special name: “Objects of necessity.”

He said, “The objects of necessity represent the world I live in, and they express our desire to invent and not let ourselves be overwhelmed by our problems.”
Objects of necessity!
What a great term to apply to ourselves, as we come to see ourselves as lumps of clay in the hand of our potter God.
We are the creations that God has chosen to advance the reign of God in this world.  We are the clear signs of God’s desire to invent new solutions to the problems that arise in the course of human history.
It really doesn’t make sense for us to resist the changes that God is making as God recycles us for God’s purposes, because there is nothing more satisfying than being “objects of necessity,” key components of God’s world changing movement of love and peace and justice.

When God recycles, there is never any waste.

Only forgiven and reinvented people who are good and useful and pleasing both to God and to others.

Each and every one of us is God’s “Objects of Necessity!”  Amen.